Where the wild things are

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February 13th 2011
Published: February 13th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

Miskam the Orangutan Miskam the Orangutan Miskam the Orangutan

An 18 year old dominant male at Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary
When I was in South America 3 years ago, I travelled with a guy who had celebrated his 30th at Machu Picchu after doing the Inca Trail. I thought that was such a great idea to be somewhere really cool and do something really different to mark a significant birthday. I vowed from that moment on that I would do the same.

So, to mark my 30th birthday I decided to go to Sabah, which is on the northern tip of Borneo, Malaysia. Sabah is known as 'the Land Below the Wind' because geographically it is situated below the typhoon and monsoon belt.

Sabah ticked most boxes on my “appropriate places to spend your 30th birthday criteria list”. 1) It’s been on my ‘top 5 places to visit’ list for a very long time; 2) I want to start exploring more Asian countries; 3) I wanted to go scuba diving; 4) I wanted a place with culture, wildlife and beaches and 5) I had someone who wanted to come with me - my friend Paulette.

We arrived in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah, in the middle of the night on Sunday. After some sleep we spent the
Baby Orangutan Baby Orangutan Baby Orangutan

Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary
day exploring the city. We went to places such as Signal Hill, Sabah Foundation Building, Po Toh Tze Buddhist Temple, State Museum, and the State Mosque. We went to the night market for dinner and got a massive plate of Mee Goreng for only NZ$1.50.

Day 2 we went out to Kinabalu National Park - home to over 1500 species of orchids, 330 species of birds, 26 species of rhododendrons, fern, pitcher plants & others. We did a guided walk through the forest and visited the Botanical Gardens for a closer look at some of the plants from around the area.

Moving on from Kota Kinabalu we flew to Sandakan, the old capital of Borneo, and stayed in a lakeside eco-resort in Sepilok. In the afternoon we visited the
Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre
, to see the world's largest population of orangutan- "man of the forest" (in Malay). The total number of Bornean orangutans is estimated to be less than 14% of what it was in the recent past. This is due to an estimated 80% of suitable orangutan habitat disappearring in the last 20 years, and only around 2% of what remains is legally protected. The sanctuary is a rehabilitation centre
Orangutan handOrangutan handOrangutan hand

Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary
where orangutans can reap the benefits of inhabiting virgin rainforest in a protected environment.

We saw 2 orangutans here - an adult and a baby. The adult was sitting on the tourist platform so we got a really up close look at him. He was a real poser too and seemed to have great fun moving around the platform and watching everyone moving quickly out of the way.

The next morning we took a boat ride out to Lankayan Island, where we stayed for 3 nights in a beautiful dive resort, and where I celebrated my actual birthday. The boat ride out was a boat ride from hell. It took 2.5 hours (instead of the normal 1.5 hours), and I was drenched by the end of it. But after a lovely welcome drink and seeing the view from our chalet - it was all worth it.

We spent our time on the island checking out the island (took only 15mins to walk around the whole island!), swimming, and relaxing in hammocks. I also went scuba diving and saw lots of fish, shellfish, and stingrays. The water was lovely and warm at 28 degrees so only needed to
Yawning Orangutan Yawning Orangutan Yawning Orangutan

Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary
dive in boardies and a rash vest. The dive masters however, were in wetsuits and still got cold. Guess they've never experienced diving in New Zealand.

On the second night, a batch of baby turtles hatched at 7pm - precisely the time it became my birthday in New Zealand, so it was like a wee birthday present for me. There was about 70 green turtle hatchlings, and we walked down the beach and released them into the sea. This was a very special moment.

Turtles come to Lankayan Island (one of a few islands in the area they nest on) and lay their eggs. The staff transfer the eggs to a hatchery and release the babies back to sea when they hatch. If left to nature, some of the eggs would be destroyed before they hatch, or the hatchlings would not make the journey to the water without being eaten by predators. So this improves the odds for them a little bit, but even then only 3% to 5% of the hatchlings are likely to reach maturity. The females that do, will hopefully one day return to Lankayan and lay some eggs themselves.

I was also surprised
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Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary
on my birthday with a chocolate cake (that Paulette organised with the staff) and all the staff singing happy birthday to me. The kids at the resort were also very happy to be getting some cake for dessert.

On Saturday, we transferred back to Sandakan by boat- which was a much nicer ride on flat seas and only took the normal 1.5 hours. We spent the day chilling out and exploring some of the city.

The next day we went to Gomantong Caves to explore the bird’s nest caves in Sabah. The caves are renowned for their valuable edible bird nests (which are made from the saliva of the swift bird), which are harvested for bird's nest soup. The nests are a delicacy in Chinese cuisine and are meant to have anti-aging properties. They are also one of the most expensive animal products consumed by humans. I think I'll give that one a pass thanks. The Gomantong Cave was very grand however, despite the piles of bat guano and thousands of cockroaches.

Afterwards we continued our journey to Sukau by the Kinabatangan River, the 2nd longest river in Malaysia and a protected forest reserve which contains some
Feeding timeFeeding timeFeeding time

Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary
of Borneo's highest concentrations of wildlife i.e. where the wild things are.

In the afternoon we had a boat trip to watch the Proboscis Monkeys gather by the river bank and saw numerous species of birds and other wildlife (crocodiles, monitor lizards, long tailed macaques, snakes, hornbill birds, and silver leaf langur monkeys) until nightfall. The Proboscis Monkeys are called ‘orang belanda’ or ‘Dutchman’ by the locals. This is a reference to the Dutch traders who lived along the coast in the 19th century. The locals used to joke that when the Dutch, with their long noses, got drunk their faces turned red and resembled the Proboscis Monkeys!

Our second day in the river we had a morning and an afternoon river cruise. In the morning we were very lucky and got to see 2 orangutans in the wild. One of them was right on the side of the river so we got a great view of him. Even our guide was excited, as he had never seen them so close in the wild before. We also saw 4 of the 7 species of hornbill birds - the most impressive being the Rhinoceros Hornbill with its red and
Pitcher plantPitcher plantPitcher plant

Kinabalu National Park
orange beak.

In the afternoon we saw more proboscis monkeys, just before our boat driver got wind of another lucky-to-spot animal upriver. We motored on up the river, whilst I tried not to get my hopes up too high that there would be elephants. But, to my great delight (there may have been a few tears as well), we saw a whole herd of Borneo pygmy elephants, including little babies. The elephants have been named pygmy due to their smaller size. They grow to 2.5 meters, about half a meter smaller then Asian elephants. They also have rounder faces, larger ears, and longer tails that reach almost to the ground and are more rotund. We were quite lucky to see them, as our guide told us that they only see them about 5-6 times a year.

Day 3 in the jungle we trekked through the riverine rainforest to see the Ox-Bow Lakes. This involved us preparing ourselves, physically and mentally, for leeches. I purchased some leech socks, which were worn over my socks and trousers, and protected my legs from them. There is nothing bad about leeches - they don't hurt and they don't spread disease. It's just
Pitcher plantPitcher plantPitcher plant

Kinabalu National Park
the ick factor. There were plenty of leeches in the forest. I only got one though - on my arm and I managed to pull it off before it starting sucking. Paulette got 5 pre-sucking leeches, and our guide had 2 that happily sucked away. On our departure day an Irish girl had one on her head. Pretty unlucky since she didn't even go on the forest walk.

Our guide for the river trip was an 18 year old Sandakan local, who has been guiding for 1.5 years. He was absolutely brilliant, and also very entertaining - singing Beyonce and Lady Gaga tunes as we walked through the jungle.

The worst part of the river was the amount of palm oil plantations in the area - with some even along the river bank. 86% of deforestation in Malaysia from 1995-2000 was for oil palm plantations, resulting in a significant reduction in biological diversity and a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Orangutans become crop pests, which puts them at risk of defensive poaching by plantation managers and most large oil palm estates are also protected by electric fences, diverting elephants from their habitual migration routes. Unfortunately there is increasing demand from food and cosmetics companies for this oil. Though public pressure can sometimes work e.g. Cadbury New Zealand.

After our very successful jungle trip, we went back to Sepilok and back to the Orangutan reserve to see the morning feeding this time. We saw 4 orangutans this time, but only 2 on the feeding platform. There were also a lot of long tail macaques hanging around trying to steal the orangutans food.

Our last day was spent on Mamutik and Manukan Islands - about a 30min boat ride from Kota Kinabalu. In the morning we were on Mamutik Island, which is a peaceful and tranquil island with sandy beaches, where we snorkelled, swam and relaxed on the beach. In the afternoon we went to Manukan Island for a buffet lunch and more snorkelling and swimming. The snorkelling was great as there were lots of small colourful fishes everywhere.

My trip to Sabah was amazing and a fantastic place to spend my 30th. I will never forget it.

Additional photos below
Photos: 38, Displayed: 28


Sand dollarSand dollar
Sand dollar

Lankayan Island
Baby turtlesBaby turtles
Baby turtles

Lankayan Island

Gomantong Cave
Baby crocodileBaby crocodile
Baby crocodile

Kinabatangan River
Monitor lizardMonitor lizard
Monitor lizard

Kinabatangan River
Yellow ringed snakeYellow ringed snake
Yellow ringed snake

Kinabatangan River
Long tailed macaqueLong tailed macaque
Long tailed macaque

Kinabatangan River
Long tailed macaqueLong tailed macaque
Long tailed macaque

Kinabatangan River

13th February 2011

a very interesting blog and amazing photos!
13th February 2011

WOW fantastic photos and commentary Mel. Glad you enjoyed such an exotic celebration of your 30th birthday. I recently watched a dvd doco series called 'Last Chance to See', about endangered species around the world (with Stephen Fry and Mark Carwarden). One of the episodes was shot in Bourneo, so thought of you. Looking forward to hearing about your adventures when you get back! xxoo
13th February 2011

Awesome indeed!
What a trip! Hard being back at a desk after that! Great photos Mel :) And a really great holiday!!
16th February 2011

Great Blog, Mel!!
Well once again you have intrigued and entertained us with your vivid account of your trip to Borneo for your 30th birthday adventure. What a great way to celebrate such an occasion. Guess there's not too much of our great world left in the animal kingdom for you to explore? Certainly a far cry from what we are used to here in N.Z. Looking forward to catching up with you real soon. LOL Nan and Pop
23rd February 2011
Long tailed macaques

this photo obaserve that this monkeyes san is very beautifuland observ the physical strength
6th March 2011
Yawning Orangutan

Holy Molar
Thats a big yawn!
7th March 2011
Baby Orangutan

i like this photo i love it thank for publish

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