Sunday, April 21, 2013

Travel Gawker: When I Went to Borneo…

Ok so this week I wanted to do something a little different with my travel feature. We are always talking about the places we would like to visit but this week I wanted to tell you all about a trip I took four years ago with a group of friends that I had met at college.

Some might be surprised to know that I have a degree in animal biology and ecology and it is because of this very trip that decided I wanted to continue with my studies. It all began with a newspaper clipping that my dad had kept for me which included photos of an Orangutan swimming in the river Rungan in Borneo. The feature was detailing the stark reality that tropical rainforests are disappearing at such a rate that many animals are having to find ways to escape the islands they have become marooned on in order to find more food.

The Orangutan has always been my favourite animal so seeing these pictures made me determined to follow my dream of experiencing these animals in their natural habitat. I was lucky that I was in a class with other like minded students, so with the help of our college lecturers we raised enough money for a small group of us to make the trip to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Borneo.

The trip was rather gruelling but worth every minute and every penny. We spent 14 hours on the plane to Kuala Lumpur, with one stopover in Dubai. We then had to take an internal flight from to Kuala Lumpur to Brunei and this is where our journey really began.

We had a couple of hours to spend in Brunei before taking making the journey by bus to Kota Kinabalu so we decided to visit the worlds largest water village, which stretches over 8km and is home to some 30,000 people. Whilst there we learnt how to hail a water taxi, took tea with some locals and visited the water village’s cultural and tourism museum. It was a strange experience seeing so many people living on the water, the children hail these water taxis every morning in order to get to school – can you imagine that? It was a little bit different to hailing a cab let me tell you.

You must also see… the Sultan of Brunei’s palace. To be honest I would be surprised if you missed it, it is quite a landmark in amongst all the smaller wooden huts but it is a sight to behold!

Once in Kota Kinabalu we stayed at the Langkah Syabas Beach Resort situated in the quiet town of Kampung Kinarut Laut (which means village by the sea) in Sabah. Our first trip was to Selingaan island, otherwise known as turtle island, where I felt highly privileged to be one of only a few that will ever get to see the young of the endangered green turtle released into the sea. We had to wait for a female to come ashore before descending down to the beach, this was especially important so as not to scare the turtle into returning to the water without laying her eggs. Later that evening we got news from the ranger that a female had been spotted ashore so we were quietly led down to the beach to watch the giant turtle lay her eggs in her nest. Once she had laid all her eggs, she covered the nest with sand returned to the sea. This experience in itself was breathtaking,  I was totally mesmerized by the peacefulness of the whole experience and the sheer size of the female turtle was not something I had anticipated.

Once the female was gone, the conservationists set to work digging up the nest and carefully collecting all the eggs to take back to the hatchery. Here we were able to take a look at how the rangers monitored the eggs, we were also lucky enough to be able to witness a few of the tiny hatchlings emerging from their eggs and along with the ranger were able to be part in their release back into the open sea. This was just the first of many times that I cried tears of both joy and sadness on that trip. I was elated at being able to watch these tiny creatures being freed into the sea to begin their journeys but I was also afraid for them and what they may encounter in their future.

It is a well known fact that… adult sea turtles will probably never meet their young. Once the eggs are laid the resulting young are left to fend for themselves. This has caused serious problems for the population of many sea turtles including the green sea turtle and Hawksbill. The nests are threatened by both humans and animals alike,  the eggs are in threat of being harvested for sale by poachers or hunted by predators. Habitat loss is also a factor, Selingaan is one of  only a few beaches that is completely protected, meaning it cannot be used for human development and tourists are banned from using the beach except when escorted by a ranger.

The Next highlight of my trip had to be my visit to Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary. If I am being honest this was what I had come for and I was not disappointed. The centre was founded in 1964 to rehabilitate orphaned Orangutans, today there are around 60 wild orangutans living in the centre which spans 43 sq km of protected land at the edge of Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve. There are also around 25 young orphaned orangutans being housed in the nurseries, in addition to those free in the reserve. The centre provides medical care for not just orangutans, but other wildlife including bears, gibbons, Sumatran rhinos and the occasional injured elephant to name just a few.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Travel Gawker: When I Went to Borneo…