Borneo, Part 2: Monkey Business


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February 21st 2020
Published: May 24th 2020
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Kinabatangan River IKinabatangan River IKinabatangan River I

Morning cruise on the river, just before sunrise.
We arrived back from Libaran Island at around 9.30 in the morning, walked back to our car that we had parked in a parking garage in the nearby shopping mall, and headed off towards Sukau. We were got g to spend two nights in a lodge by the river Kinabatangan to see the wildlife in the area: different types of monkeys, birds, maybe even pygmy elephants or a clouded leopard. The distance is only around 100 km, but due to the road having only two lanes and being under construction in some parts it took us over 2.5 hours to get to Sukau, also partly due to heavy rain showers. The last part of the road had a lot of big potholes, but we made it to our destination alright. We parked the car next to the jetty and called the lodge, and they sent a boat across the river to pick us up.

We were staying at Naturelodge Kinabatangan, a lodge that is only accessible via boat. We were shown into a small bungalow overlooking the river and made ourselves comfortable before having tea with the other hotel guests and heading off for a two-hour boat cruise on the
Kinabatangan River IIKinabatangan River IIKinabatangan River II

Sunrise during our morning cruise.
river. Our guide, A.J. was very good at spotting wildlife. We saw several groups of proboscis monkeys. The male monkeys have remarkable noses, and we learned that the bigger the nose, the more attractive the male will be to females. Tastes are different, I guess 😉. Proboscis monkeys jump from tree to tree, often across big distances, and they are exciting to watch because at times one worries that they might fall. Usually, however, they manage to grab a twig and continue jumping from one tree to the next. Close to these monkeys we could also often see long-tailed and pig-tailed macaques.

When cruising down the river a bit further, we saw a big orangutan high up in a tree. It was a male, which we could see because of his cheeks. Male orangutans have crescent-shaped cheeks that make the face look wide. He was hanging around in the tree for a bit, and when comparing his style of climbing with the one the macaques and the proboscis monkeys displayed, I realised that there was a big difference. Orangutans swing from branch to branch and from tree to tree, whereas proboscis monkeys jump from tree to tree, and macaques
Kinabatangan River IIIKinabatangan River IIIKinabatangan River III

Mist in the trees in the morning, a magical atmosphere.
often rather walk on the branches than climb them, and they also spend quite a few time on the ground, which orangutans do not do at all. Also, macaques and proboscis monkeys sleep sitting on a branch, and their trails help then balance the weight. Orangutans are too heavy for that. The one we saw built himself a nest in the treetop. He broke off larger twigs and braided them into a real nest. These nests can sometimes have several “floors” or appear like a bunk bed. Eventually the orangutan put himself to rest, and we continued our ride down the river and saw more monkeys. There were also birds, for example an eagle and a beautiful and brilliant red and blue king fisher. There were also a few Asian black hornbills, and we learned that they are monogamous and stay with one partner for their entire life. When one dies, the other one does too.

After about two hours, we returned to the hotel for dinner, and after dinner we went for a night walk into the jungle. The ground was very muddy, and we were glad that we could borrow gum boots from the hotel. I hate
Baby crocodileBaby crocodileBaby crocodile

About as long as my forearm.
cleaning shoes, and I would have hated getting the mud off my own boots. We quietly followed A.J. along the muddy path. All that we could hear were the nocturnal sounds in the jungle. It was very dark, and we could barely see the sky, so it was good that we had our torches with us. We did not get to see any wildlife except for a few spiders and earth worms, but still, it was a special experience to be out there in the jungle at night.

The next morning, we got up at 5.30 and left for an early morning river cruise at 6 o'clock. Night turned into day rather quickly, as it does when you are close to the equator. The atmosphere was almost magical. There were a few low clouds in the trees, there was mist on the water, and the air was fresh. We saw proboscis monkeys and macaque, and they were wide awake and active already. We also saw a baby saltwater crocodile resting on a log. It was about as long as my forearm and sitting motionlessly. We learned that there are both saltwater and freshwater crocodiles in Kinabatangan River, and that
Proboscis monkeyProboscis monkeyProboscis monkey

With his rather large nose this male proboscis monkey should be really attractive for his female specimen.
the freshwater crocodiles prefer the swamp over the big river, whereas the saltwater crocodiles like the river. The one we saw was so small that it is prey for other predators such as birds. Later in the morning, we saw a large one on the bank of the river, probably two metres long. But it did not let us get close, plunged into the water and disappeared.

After breakfast, we had a bit of rest time, then we walked into the jungle. We did not get to see a lot of wildlife, but A. J. explained a lot to us. For example, when getting lost in the jungle, it makes no sense to call for help. The trees are son densely packed that one's voice will just echo between them, but it will not reach far. Rather, one should beat a small branch of a tree against the bottom of the trunk of a large tree, which will be loud enough to be heard, and then others can respond by doing the same. This is apparently what local people do. We learned about one plant that one can chew that has an effect similar to nicotine but that turns
OrangutanOrangutanOrangutan

A male orangutan high up in the tree building his nest for the night. It is on top of the tree to the right of the trunk.
one's teeth yellow. And there is one leaf that has a hairy surface and that can be used like a peeling. After our walk, we returned to the hotel and had some time to rest before lunch was served. After lunch, there was a long break that Mizzi and I spent in the hammocks to relax.

In the afternoon, after high tea, we set off for another two hour boat ride. At first, I thought there would not be much happening. However, nature proved me wrong. First, we saw another crocodile resting on the banks of the river. Then, when we were approaching the banks of the river a bit downstream observing some macaques, and just when I had asked A. J. whether it was not dangerous for the monkeys to stay so close to the water because of the crocodiles we saw a crocodile lurking in the water and observing the monkeys. We could see only its head, and the head was huge. However, with us approaching, the monkeys became more alert and moved away from the banks. The crocodile must have thought that we had spoilt its meal, and it disappeared below the surface of the water
MacaqueMacaqueMacaque

... being very sociable, not far from the river.
– only to come up again in full length and swim straight at our boat! Mizzi and I, as it turned out later, both had the same initial thought: another wild beast coming at us, like the elephants in Kafue National Park 1.5 years ago. This was a scary moment. But A. J. carefully steered the boat away from the crocodile, and it swam past us and continued upriver along the banks. It was big, maybe three metres long! Finally, it disappeared, and we continued downriver. We turned into a side arm of the river, and here it became evident to me why one can see so many animals along the river: They simply have nowhere to go! The palm oil plantations adjoin to the jungle on both sides of the river, leaving a small corridor if jungle only, and in the side arm the plantation even adjoined the river itself. I made a resolve to find out which products contain palm oil and to avoid them in the future. The plantations really take the animals' natural habitat, and I think this is part of the reason why they end up in rehabilitation centres like Sepilok. It is good these
CrododileCrododileCrododile

This one was about three metres long, and we got quite close to him.
centres exist, but I would rather not have them because the animals have a jungle to live in.

In the evening, there would have been another night walk, but we skipped it and relaxed a bit before having am early night. The next morning, we set off early for our drive back to Kota Kinabalu. We expected it to take around eight hours, but we made it in just over six hours due to much better traffic conditions than on our way out. We quickly checked into our hostel, organised a few things for the next few days, and then went to KK Wetland Centre to see the mangroves and to do a bit of walking after having sat in the car all day. There was not much to see, apart from the mangroves, of course. We could also see a lot of litter caught between the roots of the trees. However, it seems that a lot of effort is being put into educating children not to litter. We could see quite a few signs addressing school children visiting the centre and telling them how bad littering is for nature and wildlife.

The Wetland Centre itself is not
Night on Kinabatangan RiverNight on Kinabatangan RiverNight on Kinabatangan River

View across the river from our lodge.
in good condition. The boardwalks need maintenance, and in one place a sign told us to mind our step because the wood could break when stepping onto it. However, we still had a nice walk, could see the mangroves with their huge roots above the ground, a few crabs, lots of slugs, and a few egrets. Moreover, there was a tower from which one could overlook the Wetland Centre and from which one could also see the high rises of the city. This was the only thing that reminded us of being in the middle of the city. Otherwise being here felt like being somewhere far out in nature.

We had an early dinner at the night market and then went up to the observatory once more to see the sunset (which we had missed during our last visit here a week ago) and then went back to our hostel for the night.


Additional photos below
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Night walkNight walk
Night walk

... through the muddy jungle. We were glade we could borrow gum boots from the lodge - I hate cleaning shoes...
Our bungalowOur bungalow
Our bungalow

... with a little terrace facing Kinabatangan River.


24th May 2020
Our bungalow

Scenic Location
Very nice.
24th May 2020
Our bungalow

Re: Scenic Location
It was, we had a nice view of the river.
25th May 2020

Monkey Business
It does sound like you were off the beaten path.
25th May 2020

Re: Monkey Business
I think we were. And I think in general Borneo is a bit less touristy than other parts of Southeast Asia are.
27th May 2020

Beauty...
...is in the eye of the beholder I suppose. I find the proboscis monkeys so ridiculously comic that they don't even seem real! :) You seem to have had a great choice of lodges on this trip, we'll have to refer to your blogs for ideas when Sabah gets to the top of our travel list.
27th May 2020

Re: Beauty...
I fully agree, beauty is in the eye of the beholder :-) Nature creates peculiar features at times. Indeed, we were very lucky with our lodges on this trip, happy to share my experiences should once you plan your trip to Sabah.
27th May 2020

Palm Oil
Amazed at your observation that the palm oil plantations have taken away the natural habitat for the animals and they have nowhere to go other that thin strip of jungle along the river. That conveys a more uninviting quality to my lasting image of the miles and miles of orderly rows of palm oil trees by the road from KL to Malacca...I can now add "inhospitable" to my memory or is that unfair?
27th May 2020

Re: Palm Oil
I think it is fair to add "inhospitable". It is great to see all the efforts some humans undertake to help the animals that lost their natural habitat, such as in the Orangutan and Sunbear Rehabilitation Centres. But then, on the other hand, it is so sad to see that other humans are the reason these centres are needed for.

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