Monday, May 23, 2016

Graduate Adventures Diary: My fleeting visit to Borneo to see George’s family

When I was about 7 years old, my grandparents took me to Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre in Dorset. I instantly fell in love with a baby orangutan called George.

Native to Malaysia and Indonesia, these gorgeous primates can be found solely in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra… So there was my decision.

15 years on, I find myself in Borneo to see some of George’s family in their original habitat.

I’ve had just four days here, and as good as it’s been, I don’t feel I need any longer. (That being said, any avid trekkers may well fancy the three day hike up the sacred Mount Kinnabulu. I on the other hand decided to simply admire this from afar… with a cocktail in hand!)

I’ve based myself in Sandakan in the Sabah district, which is central to all of the things I wanted to see.

Oddly there aren’t many tourists around, so sometimes I feel a bit like an animal in a zoo being gawked at, but everyone’s smiling so that’s ok!

It’s a grubby but lively city during the day, but bizarrely everything closes really early, and becomes a ghost town at night, and no one can seem to give me an answer as to why this is.

Too eager to wait, on my first day I went trekking through Kota Kinabatangan, one of the supposedly easiest parts of rainforest to try and spot the baby-faced, ginger primates.

I thought Cairns was humid, but that has nothing on here. Try 80% humidity. Everyone just has to get used to being covered in a perpetual layer of sweat. Charming, I know.

It certainly seemed worth it though when the ranger finally spotted our first (which sadly turned out to be our last!) of George’s relatives swinging in a tree.

It was disappointing that it was our only orangutan sighting, but it’s all down to luck with wild animals, and it still felt pretty cool seeing at least one in his natural, wild habitat.
On my second day I got the bus to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, which takes in orphaned monkeys, provides medical care for sick/injured ones and tries to return them to the wild where possible.

I got to see a few more of George’s long lost relatives in this semi-wild environment (but even still they were quite elusive!)

Later on I had a great afternoon walking around Labuk Bay to see the Proboscis monkeys, which was a brilliant tip from my cousin Emma.

Found only in Borneo, these large pot-bellied monkeys, with even larger noses, are absolutely intriguing.