ADVENTURES IN BORNEO - Feet in the mud, Head in the Clouds

In search of the Old man of the Forest ‘ August 26th - September 12th 2016

As they say in Borneo ‘ Selamat datang ‘ or welcome and so I hoped it would prove to be , having always wanted to go to this mythical place the land of The Headhunters and strange orange apes .Having reviewed itineries of various companies ‘ Wildlife Worldwide’ were selected and a fusion of their Sarawak and Sabah tours put together with it being a tailor made tour . The trip was timed to have the best of the weather post the monsoons which occur in this part of the world . The ground operations in Borneo were undertaken by Borneo Adventures who were exemplary in all aspects anyway enough of that lets get on with the tour .Flying into Kuching the capital city of the district of Sarawak via Kuala Lumpur ( KL ) gives you a great base for further local travels.On arrival here the hold luggage was still at KL so a swift window shopping trip was carried out but fear not it arrived on the next plane .

Having seen a big poster of Arsenal FC in a shopping Mall of which a picture text was duly sent to a mate who just happens to be a Spurs fan , he did see the funny side of it eventually.Day one took the form of a trip out to the Santubong River which flows out into the sea via Kuching . It was here that several Irrawaddy dolphins were seen interacting with the local fishermen as they sorted through their latest catches throwing their bycatch back for them . These dolphins are an esturine species and are named after a river in Burma they are also threatened in some of their range . Then heading seaward going past Tukong Ara island Great Crested , Bridled ,Black Naped and a local race of Common Tern were seen in close proximity . Further out towards Satang Island where a local conservation project monitors and protects nesting Green and Hawksbill turtles , we even had a couple in the sea close by whilst snorkelling.


The following day it was a trip to Gunung Gading National Park , Gunung meaning Mountain in Malay. The focus of this trip was to observe Rafflesia flowers ( largest in the World) at close quarters to see these it required the help of a local guide . Being parasitic on host vines they smell of rotting flesh to attract flies to pollinate them . Though this was supposed to be the highlight of the day, my own personal one was being invited into a Muslim wedding with my guide as a complete stranger, dined but not wined obviously it was a real emotional experience and one I will never forget .  


The next three days was spent enjoying the sights and sounds of Bako NP which was the first National Park in Sarawak. The only way in is via boat a brief view of a saltwater crocodile prior to landing at the jetty was the first glimpse of this magical place . All visitors have to be signed in and guided whilst there if you are stopping overnight , our guide Joe had incredible eyesight and found some of the more tricky species such as Brown Skink Lizard , Colugo male and female this is the nocturnal flying lemur and Bornean Pit Viper . On free time I just marvelled at the Proboscis Monkeys a real mangrove / coastal specie with a lot of its habitat threatened elsewhere but my real favourites were the Silver Leaf Langurs which are known as the David Beckham monkey on account of their trendy hairstyle.

All monkeys in this part of the world shake the trees as they climb to scare the snakes . Thborneoe stars of the show near to the canteen were the Bornean Bearded Pigs which took facial hair to an entirely new level along with the odd Long Tailed Macaques which were the original cheeky monkeys .Some stunning birds were seen such as Asian Starling , White Rumped Shama, Green Iora and Ashy headed Tailor bird. A notable sighting was an Ashy Minivet which was a very rare vagrant. A walk over the Lantang trail proved worth while as many specimens of pitcher plants were seen on the Kerangas ( Dry Heath ) plus many other types of plant which are used in traditional Malaysian medicines and cures. Tonkat Ali is one that has the same properties as Viagra but also helps blood pressure and diabetes quite a combination and as of yet not available on prescription in the NHS .Heading back via Semenggoh Orangutan sanctuary to Kuching it was an opportunity to catch up with the Old man of the Forest .Here they are semi wild and allowed to come and go as they please with a feed being put out in the morning and afternoon , there are several family groups / blood lines and we were very fortunate when Richie put in one of his rare appearances. He really is a big guy, he had his share of the spoils, posed for a few photos although I think he was unaware of it and then just disappeared into the undergrowth . Other younger Orangs came and went and it was fascinating to see their eyes and feel like you were looking into their soul. It was also interesting how the rangers got some people to leave as they were making just too much noise and spoiling it for others. It was so sad that some of these were here as a byproduct of logging , palm oil or illegal capture.T

Transfering to Mulu the next day to Gunung Mulu NP this would be an altogether different experience visiting jungle and a series of world renowned caves and viewing their inhabitants . Over the next couple of days Clearwater, Wind, Lang and Deer Caves were visited some via longtail boat and others on foot .

 The one that held the most interest from a nature point of view is Deer Cave getting its name from the deer which used to feed on the nutrients emanating from its 3 million inhabitants, which are 14 different species of Bats with WrinkleLlipped being the most numerous.It is just a waiting game then as dusk approaches out they come spiralling outwards and heading off to feed on insects in and over the forests particularly in Brunei, it is estimated that they will consume around 15 tonnes per night. The only things they have to look out for are Peregrine Falcons and the Bat Hawks which are their main predators.The next stage of the trip was a flight transferring from Mulu to Miri to Sandakan which is in Sabah. 
Here the first port of call was the world famous Sepilok Orangutan Centre. Timing here is key as your visit is time restricted. There is an area which really is the nursery where the very youngest are kept free but behind glass so as to limit the risk of them picking up infections such as the common cold from human contact. It was so sad to think of their individual circumstances that had brought them here.Moving further down the path some of the older ones were coming for a feed which had been put out for them they roam freely and are gradually spreading out into the neighbouring forest which is heavily protected, here they are breeding and beginning to build up for a future population expansion . 

Close by is the Sun Bear conservation Centre( the worlds smallest bear ) it is also known as the Honey Bear as they climb trees and raid bees nests for the honey. Hunting and the capture for the barbaric Chinese practice of extracting bile for traditional( <<< I hate that word) medicines has really pushed these creatures to the edge . 

A truly staggering place nearby is the Rainforest Discovery Centre where in excess of 300 species of birds have been recorded, here you can go on Kingfisher walk , up into Hornbill Tower , down Pitta walkway, Trogon alley, Broadbill pathway and a host of others . It really is a staggering place and derserves more than the two sessions I managed to fit in.Highlights were Rhinoceros Hornbill, Black and yellow Broadbill, Crimson Sunbird and Blue Throated Beeater. Moving back to the MY Nature Lodge which was truly stunning and had only been open 3 months an evening swim in the deserted swimming pool was a nice end to the day. At dusk the Red Giant Flying Squirrels left their daytime tree holes and glided through the canopy a truly staggering sight.For the next three days all transport would be via boat, first a two hour trip down the Kinabatangan river to the riverside lodge. Here Pied and Black Hornbills were added to the list along with Malaysian Blue Flycatcher, Storms stork, several species of Kingfisher, Crested Serpent Eagle , White Bellied Sea Eagle plus a whole lot more . A particularly large Saltwater Croc was seen in one of the side rivers lying motionless in the shade. The specie most hard to find was the largest – Bornean Pygmy Elephant which is a sub specie of Asian Elephant they ‘ allegedly’ come to the riverside to drink in late afternoon , we found evidence (fresh Poo ) but no Ellies in the flesh . This segment of the trip was really special as it gave several opportunities to see truly wild Orangs as this is one of their last strongholds. Leaving this area by minibus and travelling through extensive Oil Palm plantations it gave you a sense of what devastation has been struck to the original Dipterocarp forest. Just so so sad all of these oil palm plantations all being planted at the forests expense it has certainly swelled an economic boom but at what price to nature. 

Palm Oil is used in so many products worldwide, it crops throughout the year and creates jobs in more remote but is essentially a monocrop more of that in a moment. Upon arrival at Lahad Datu which is essentially a Palm oil town you have to check in at the airport based Office for Tabin Wildlife reserve before proceeding there .

After about 50 minutes of sheer bum shaking in the minibus on a terrible road we finally swept into Tabin Jungle Lodge. An Incredible place so far removed from everywhere else with some primary and secondary rainforest on site. Again over 300 species of bird can be seen here as well as a large number of mammals. We found out that our guide Herykahn had won the 2015 Sandakan bird race so we should be on a winner. With Asian short clawed otters in the river, and rather aggressive pig tailed Macques close to the lodge there was plenty to see without travelling far. There is a small group of Asian Rhino in a captive breeding programme here. The saying here is you wake up with Gibbons and go to bed with cicadas not literally but the sound of. So it proved with Bornean Gibbons the stars of the show as they crossed the trees just above the road over our heads singing and calling away .

They just have to be one of my favourite creatures on this earth, their call and their agility second to none . Day walks gave views of Mouse deer, Sambar deer but still no Elephants with the group here said to number 80+. Night drives with soft coloured lamps gave views of Buffy Fish Owl , Barred Eagle Owl , Malaysian Civets , Leopard cat , wild boar and more .Several more species of Hornbill were seen to take our list up to seven of the eight species found in Borneo . Many other raptors were seen as well as three types of Pittas . In this part of Sabah the rats and other rodents build up in the Oil palm areas this in turn helps some of the aforementioned nocturnal species as they are favourite prey items.After all of the Jungle activity a retreat to an off shore island spa resort was the only way to unwind . So to Gaya Island with lots of snorkelling over the pristine corals and all their life in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park . From Land you had great views of Mount Kinabalu at a towering 4095 metres above sea level.So as a place Borneo is a staggering place like no other, with incredible diversity it is facing challenges but projects like the heart of Borneo Initiative offer hope for the future before it is too late .     

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