Thursday, December 08, 2011

Welcome to the jungle

The trees sounded, leaves clapping together like applause to announce the orangutans' arrival.

We had been waiting with more than 100 spectators at the Sepilok Rehabilitation Center, about 40 minutes drive from Sandakan town, which is next to a nature reserve in Malaysian Borneo.

We could hear, but couldn't see, them. Suddenly, one blasted across the tree canopy.

"An orangutan and a baby!"

Everyone cheered as an orangutan mother clutching a tiny tike landed on the feeding platform.

More came. The playful orangutans weren't shy. They showed off, jumping around and performing aerobics on a rope.

Others at the feeding platform turned their backs to the crowd for a little privacy.

The twice-a-day feeding sessions are part of the rehabilitation program to help the animals make a smooth transition from captivity to the wild.

Semi-independent orangutans on the forest's outskirts come to the feeding platform until they discover full confidence in finding their own food in the jungle's interior.

We journeyed further into the forest to search for more wild animals. We discovered a solitary orangutan in a tree nearby.

The largest arboreal, or tree-dwelling mammal, makes fresh sleeping nests from branches and foliage in the crowns of trees every night. They make simpler nests for daytime naps.

"Orangutan" comes from the Malay words for "man" (orang) and "of the forest" (utan).

"Man" is an apt word choice. Orangutans share 96.4 percent of human genes.

The orangutan population has shrunk over the past 40 years because of disruptive human activities, such as excessive logging and clearing land for plantations.

We had a little adventure on our way out of the forest.

We saw two, then three, long-tailed macaques marching toward us along the boardwalk rails. Then there were four, and five and, suddenly, a long line of long-tailed and pigtailed macaques and their babies hopping toward us single file.

I immediately recalled what our guide, Johnny, had told us about macaques.

"Macaques are social animals, who live and move in big groups. If you come across them, don't make direct eye contact and don't show your teeth if you smile. Macaques see these as intimidating and may attack."

As the procession of macaques captivated our attention, a huge long-tailed male appeared out of nowhere, screeching at us.

Johnny advised us to calmly and quickly move away from this frightening male.

We fled the forest and returned to town.

The town has two main roads and few traffic lights but many roundabouts. Sandakan's low-rises and old markets are reminiscent of 1960s' Hong Kong, when Hong Kong investors and immigrants flew in and turned it into what's colloquially known as "Little Hong Kong".

Sandakan's rich history, nature and wildlife have since made it a post-cruise destination in Sabah.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Welcome to the jungle

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