Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Borneo Orangutan and Sun Bear


Our day began with a visit to the Orangutan and Sun Bear Sanctuary at Sepilok. Orangutans are an endangered species and endemic to Borneo. At the sanctuary orphaned animals are looked after until about 12 years of age when the process of returning them to the wild can begin. Babies and adolescents are completely dependent upon their mothers from whom they learn the life skills necessary to survive; orphaned animals stand little chance of making it to adulthood on their own.

The monkeys were very entertaining as they swung around their "nursery", masters of leaping from tree to tree, hairbrained creeper and rope manoeuvres plus hanging upside down when the mood takes them. It's amazing what you can do with effectively 4 hands. The young animals crave affection from their carers with whom they form a close bond, however this means repatriation to the jungle can be a long process.

At around 3 foot high, sun bears are the smallest bear species in the world. like the Orangutans, these creatures are high on the scale of cuteness but do not desire the same level of nurture. The bears remained completely unconcerned as we all looked on, instead they concentrated on sucking the milk and nibbling at the flesh from coconuts as if nothing else in the world mattered unless of course they were snoozing up in a convenient tree.

After the sanctuary we were ready for the real thing and travelled back from Sandakan where we boarded another power launch. Here we joined a lovely Finnish couple called Jukka and Marjukka, who were to be our rain forest buddies for the next few days. The launch soon attained warp speed factor 8 as we zoomed off on the 120km journey to the Sukau Rain Forest Lodge on the Kinabatangan River.

At first we passed through the mangroves along narrow winding waterways...... we felt like we were in a chase from a Bond movie!  Along the way, Jamil spotted a croc languishing on one of the sandbanks......it was a monster.....well over 4m long. It obligingly opened its mouth to show off its impressive dental attributes, so that our professional photographer ie Mrs C could take a snap...Geddit?

We arrived at Sukau at 3pm.....what a place! On arrival we were given cold towels and iced tea to refresh ourselves. There then followed a demonstration on how to put on traditional Sabah sarongs.....apparently there were his and hers in our rooms for us to wear for dinner. Well it had to be done didn't it?! The Lodge was top drawer and was where David Attenborough came to film Proboscis monkeys (another unique species) and Orangutans for one of his wonderful BBC Wildlife programmes. This was obviously THE place to be!

After a fast turnaround we boarded a small boat and Jamil ferried us downriver to a narrow tributary of the Kinabatangan. Almost immediately two huge rhinoceros hornbills flew overhead. I felt like I was entering Jurrassic Park. We soon saw troups of long and pig tailed macaques busying themselves by the water edge, crashing through the trees, preening and in the case of the young monkeys tumbling through the branches with poorly executed gymnastics.

It want long before some proboscis monkeys were spotted. These were slower moving than the macaques and larger (especially in the nose department!). The dominant males in each troup were impressive beasts. Over the next 2 hours we were held spellbound as we observed different groups of monkeys displaying all sorts of antics. As dusk began to fall we saw flying stork billed kingfishers and an oriental darters or snakebirds diving for fish. Wow! Returning to the lodge, our senses felt overloaded. It was time for a (magnificent) dinner and a cold beer as we sat on the terrace overlooking the river under a pristine, light pollution free sky. Wow again, what a day!

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