Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Borneo: Nosy in the jungle

Deep in the Borneo bush, Jim Eagles breaks off from his tour group to snoop on some proboscis monkeys going about their business.

I tip-toed carefully along the rough jungle trail in the direction of the periodic loud grunting sounds, peered cautiously through the leaves, and there he was: a big proboscis monkey sitting on a branch in a shaft of sunlight, munching on tender young leaves.

His fur glinted reddish-brown in the sun and his enormous red nose - the proboscis that gives the monkey his name - testified he was the alpha male of the band of monkeys I could hear crashing through the treetops all around.

At the clicking of my camera shutter he briefly flicked his eyes in my direction, confirmed I was no threat, and resumed filling his face.

Although to his harem of females he was obviously the pinnacle of sex appeal, to my eyes he was a strange sight, with that massive conk and a big, round stomach, apparently swollen with the gases produced by the process of digesting those leaves.

The natives of the eastern portion of the island of Borneo once ruled by Holland, who had no love for their masters, apparently called the proboscis "Dutch monkeys", considering both to be ugly creatures with big noses and pot bellies. A bit unkind to both parties, I thought.

This was the first proboscis monkey I had seen close up and, though he certainly wasn't beautiful, he did have a certain ... hairy charisma.

We were in Borneo on the inaugural visit of the new expedition ship Orion II, a cruise I chose because I was keen to explore the island's tropical jungle, experience the diverse local cultures and see our close relations the primates, especially proboscis monkeys, which have long fascinated me (partly because I used to joke unkindly that my dad looked like one).

In the course of the 10-day trip we saw orangutans at Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, met Dyak headhunters outside Kota Kinabalu, visited a traditional fishing stilt-village in Bandar Seri Begawan, marvelled at the golden palaces and mosques of the oil-rich Sultan of Brunei, and admired the spectacular colours of massive hornbills, delicate butterflies and prolific fungi in the forests of Sarawak and Sabah.

But during our first few forays into the Borneo jungle, though we heard the calls of proboscis, gibbons and macaques, we didn't see any. Now, at the Bako National Park, we were surrounded by them, and felt like true explorers.

Even getting here from the ship had been an adventure, involving a long Zodiac ride past amazing rock formations, a squelch through thick mud to the shore and finally a sweaty walk to where a network of boardwalks extended through a mangrove swamp.

This is where the crab-eating macaques and proboscis monkeys come to feed at low tide and as we arrived, a proboscis troop was right at the end of the boardwalk.

Unfortunately, the racket made by a lot of eager tourists clattering over a rickety wooden path was rather off-putting so the troop promptly headed off.

Continue reading (incl. Pic) at: Borneo: Nosy in the jungle

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