Monday, December 24, 2012

Borneo: Over the Wallace Line. Part I: Kubah National Park

In April, I took a trip to Malaysian Borneo with a mate of mine, George, with the simple aim of seeing as many animals over there as humanly possible.

We began our trip in Kuching and headed for Kubah National Park for a couple of nights' stay. We dumped our bags and walked straight out into the rainforest, filled with anticipation. Within metres of our accommodation we saw a couple of crimson-winged woodpeckers and a greater racquet-tailed drongo. I glimpsed a streak of grey-brown on a branch. It took me a few moments for my mind to come to terms with what I was seeing: a squirrel (it turned out to be a Low's squirrel). We were definitely not in Australia any more.

Here was a perfect illustration of the reason that George and I had chosen Borneo as our destination - Borneo is west of the Wallace line - an important biogeographical division that separates the fauna of Australia and the islands to its north from the Asian fauna and well, essentially the rest of the world. So while squirrels and woodpeckers are common elsewhere, Australia has no representatives from these groups. Back in Australia, the land of possums and quolls, to browse through the field guides of Borneo was like reading a fairy tale: animals such as civets, leopards, porcupines, monkeys and other primates, deer, otters, shrews, mongoose and of course squirrels were as foreign and fantastical to us as goblins and leprechauns. Even common animals in Borneo would impress us with their novelty.

As well as these completely different orders of mammals, the frogs, reptiles and birds have some groups (at the family level) that do occur in Australia but are represented in different ways over here. For example, in Australia we only have one ranid frog, confined to the far north of the continent, while in Borneo the group is widespread, has several genera and a wide diversity of shapes and sizes. The situation is the inverse with Elapid snakes - only a few representatives of this family occur in Borneo (though the diversity of colubrid snakes is high). Then, as with mammals, there are the completely foreign groups of reptiles and amphibians such as vipers, flying frogs and toads.

Needless to say, we were filled with eager excitement as we began our trip.

Kubah is characterised by steep terrain, with pleasant, moderately long walking trails, creeks and a waterfall. It even featured a frog pond, of all things. We spent our time here walking the trails and road day and night. We quickly found out that Kubah is an absolute paradise for frogs (and, by extension, froggers).

The first frog we came across was a charming little ranid, the Black-Spotted Frog, Staurois guttatus. Many individuals were active in the day, perching on the rocks beside a small swift stream, making a bird-like, chirping call. I was even lucky enough to view a display of territorial behaviour in the form of foot-flagging - that is extending the hind foot and spreading the toes to reveal light-coloured webbing. Returning to this stream by night, these frogs were still out and about though seemed to sit on vegetation rather than rocks.