Abai Jungle Lodge, Kinabatangan River

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October 25th 2015
Published: October 27th 2015
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After seeing the orang-utans and sun bears at sepilok, I was taken to the Sim Sim jetty in Sandakan for a boat journey to the Abai Jungle Lodge. The boat journey took just over an hour and was a bit choppy in parts. I arrived at the lodge and was taken to my room which I'd been warned was basic and had no air-con, I have to say I was really quite pleasantly surprised, the room was lovely and although there was no air-con there was a huge fan on the ceiling which did a lot in helping cool the room.

The lodge is situated the river, surrounded by thick rainforest. I had a little time before my first boat ride up the river so walked round the jungle boardwalks around the lodge to see if I could spot anything, as it was early afternoon and really hot there were no animals about really, apart from the resident bearded pig, Junior. He's huge! He stays around the grounds of the lodge because the staff feed him so I can see why he hangs around!

A little later I went on my first boat ride up the river to go wildlife spotting, I found there is quite a lot to be seen in the area because a lot of the upper part of the river has been exposed to deforestation at the hands of logging and palm oil plantations. Protected reserves have been created in the lower basin which is around 200km along the river.

Very quickly, we found a group of proboscis monkeys high in the trees next to the river, they were jumping from tree to tree - although, it looks more like falling and grabbing on to a branch for dear life! The dominant male with a massive nose was easy to spot and wasn't against posing in the tree for a few photos.

After watching the monkeys for a while we went further upstream and our guide spotted a pygmy elephant in the long reeds at the edge of the river. Having been a fan of elephants since I was little I was so excited to see one, they tend to be a bit elusive and I really didn't think I'd get the opportunity to see one whilst I was here. Pygmy elephants are only found in Borneo and grow to a height of around 6ft and I consider myself to be very lucky to have seen one so closely. It was a female elephant and our guide estimated it would be around 15 years old. It stayed there for ages on the river bank eating away giving us an occasional glance before continuing.

After the elephant wandered back in to the forest, we carried on up river and spotted a few birds, mainly some of the different kingfishers and a hornbill flying over. As it was getting to dusk, the boatman stopped the boat and made us a cup of coffee and gave us some biscuits, I wasn't expecting it and it felt very strange! We waited for the sun to go down, which happens incredibly quickly and took the ride back toward the lodge looking for fireflies in the trees. We stopped by a tree close to the lodge and it was covered in fireflies, it almost looked like a Christmas tree all lit up with white flickering lights. We sat and watched for a while and headed back, spotting a baby crocodile on the way.

After dinner we went for a night walk on the boardwalks around the lodge with our guide in an attempt to find some of the nocturnal wildlife and sleeping birds. It's amazing how dark it actually is around there. We spotted a few sleeping birds and a juvenile snake. When we were coming to the end of the walk we came across an owl sat low down in the tree. I managed to get quite a few photos, I wasn't sure how they'd come out but with a torch shone on whatever we found, it worked quite well. On the way back to the restaurant area, we found a small praying mantis and that was the end of the night walk.

The following day, it was an early start with a 6:30am boat ride down river for more wildlife spotting, going out early morning and late afternoon is the best time to go as the animals begin to venture out of the shade of the forest. Our guide had heard the call of a wild orang-utan shortly after we set off and mimicked the call to entice it out of the rainforest to no avail. We saw quite a few different birds throughout the morning, birds of prey and a couple of different kingfishers. Then, back to the lodge for breakfast in the 'jungle kitchen' which is in the middle of one of the paths around the lodge. We were very quickly joined by a group of macaques, a silver leaf monkey and of course, Junior was there waiting for his toast!

After a couple of hours of free time, we went to plant a tree in the rainforest, this is part of a project with WWF to improve the rainforest, each tree has a tag and is registered to the person who plants it. After it's been planted and established, it's then moved to where it's most needed and the tag remains, so in theory at some point, I could come back and find my tree - who knows, I might just do that! As we got on the boat It started to rain and then it REALLY rained. I was absolutely drenched, but i planted my tree. Happy we were finished and the rain had stopped, we jumped back on the boat to head across the river to a village of river people who had cooked lunch for us. Lunch consisted of rice, veggies, spring rolls and chicken curry all served on a banana leaf. We took a walk around the village and took a few photos. The best part for me was the village toilet! It was a rickety portaloo on a platform in the river - now I understood why all the boats slowed right down as they went by the villages... I wouldn't fancy being in that if a boat went speeding by!

After lunch and a bit of free time we headed out for a bit more wildlife spotting. Our guide was keen to try and find the orang-utan he'd heard in the morning and I certainly wasn't disappointed! Not long after we set off the boat pulled over to the bank and I saw a wild orang-utan high up in a tree eating fruit. I was totally amazed to see a wild one. Again, it's something I never thought I'd see. After a couple of minutes he went down the tree and we couldn't see him anymore so we continued down river to see if we could find anything else. A hornbill in the tree, more macaques and proboscis monkeys and then we went back to the area we'd seen the orang-utan. He'd climbed further up the tree and we had a much better view of him. We sat for ages watching him and took plenty of photos. That was the end of my wildlife spotting on the Kinabatangan River, but what an ending to have!

The following morning it was time to leave the Abai Jungle Lodge and make my way to Kota Kinabalu for the remainder of my stay in Malaysian Borneo.

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