The Amateur Naturalist

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April 25th 2008
Published: April 25th 2008
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Bako National park is fairly small in stature but not in content; the amount of flora and fauna squeezed into its environs is quite staggering. For someone like myself with a keen interest in the natural world but lacking in the time, means and money to go seriously deep into the jungle this place is just perfect. With relatively short excursions into the jungle we have been able to view, often at ridiculously close quarters, an abundance of wildlife I'd only ever dreamed of seeing. I was transported back to my late childhood when my fascination with nature was boundless, back to a time when I would lock myself in my room and read Gerald Durrel's the Amateur Naturalist under the covers (amongst other less reputable publications!). This fascination with nature has never left me (as neither has my love of the other - nature and birds, that's me!) and it truly felt like a privilege, maybe even a deliverance, to spend three days in this incredible place.

From Kuala Lumpur we moved on to Johur Bahru as this is where we were to fly from. Other than the lovely guest house there was very little to do so we decided to take a day trip to Singapore - more for another stamp on the passport than any great desire to see the place. It was as I expected it; towering, clean modernity as a backdrop for, and in strangely compelling contrast to, well preserved colonial beauties. It was expensive. We flew to Kuching very early in the morning which enabled us to make the bus, then boat, connections to the National Park. The accommodation was basic but quite acceptable and after depositing our bags we set off for a short walk to one of the viewpoints.

Not ten minutes into this walk and we had come across our first creature. As we were ascending a tricky section of the path I reached to grab a tree to help haul my tired legs upwards and was startled by a startled snake. This Whip Snake jumped off the tree, sailed past my head and came to rest a few yards away in the surrounding bush. These are beautiful snakes, in no way dangerous to us (I believe), only to the large insects and small mammals that it hunts in the trees. After reaching the top and drinking our fill of the magnificent views down onto the wide, clean, undeveloped beach, but not of water, we headed back to camp for refreshment. We still had a little left of the day so we spent it taking another short walk, this one in the other direction past the tangled roots of a Mangrove forest.

One of the more incredible aspects of Bako is the diversity of forest types to be found here. I cannot give you all the names but seven distinct ecosystems are to be found here, many in just one short walk. One of the most recognisable, and important, is the Mangrove forest that fringes most of the beaches in the park. This is a unique habitat and is home, or provides food for, a number of interesting animals - one of which being the strange Mud skipper. These fish (?) spend large amounts of their time wholly out of the water and when disturbed will skim, or skip, across either the mud or water to escape, rather than swimming. Their pectoral fins seem to have evolved into rudimentary legs and it is these they use for propulsion. I guess their gills have evolved in some way too, or perhaps they have a type of lung, though I don't think so. There were many birds to be found here as well but it was one of Bako's most famous residents that had bought us here, and as we walked further along the coast our eyes and ears were constantly scanning for the slightest sound or movement.

Our vigilance was rewarded when a crash of branches above our heads revealed a glorious leaping Simian, the incomparably comical Proboscis Monkey. These fascinating creatures are endemic to Borneo and though not common, are often seen in the park. Our first sighting was of the larger male who was sat, seemingly unconcerned, in the branches of a tree about ten yards away, slowly munching on some foliage. The males have the enlarged appendage that this species is named after, and it is their enormous, drooping olfactory device that gives these wonderful creatures their implausible, comic-book visage. Apparently the females (with their smaller, daintily upturned noses) select a male on the basis of nose size, the bigger the nose, the bigger the success! We spent ages watching these fascinating creatures and returned to camp with smiles on our faces bigger than the noses on the Alpha male.

As we were viewing the Proboscis, and at several other moments in the park, I was made to feel like an unsuccessful Proboscis by the size of other peoples equipment. My gear is perfectly workable, and has served me well thus far, Anny seems to really like the results, but in other peoples company I was made to feel distinctly inadequate. I saw one man whose kit was a good foot and a half long, and almost as wide; I looked down embarrassed at my meager four inches, wishing that I had more - a severe bout of lens envy! This is why some of my pictures tend to loose the creatures in the surrounding jungle, your loss not mine, as the memories will stay with me forever - or at least until dementia sets in!

The next day we went for a longer walk, climbing up past the Mangroves, through the sweltering Tropical Rain forest and out into higher, dry scrub land and then into a sort of Alpine forest (sorry bout the layman's terms). The walk was fascinating and the views incredible, as well as being very, very hot. We didn't see too many animals on this trek but we did get to see the amazing Pitcher Plant. This plant has evolved a way of getting more nutrients to aid its growth in the often very barren soil in which it grows. It has an extended and convoluted leaf that hangs from the end of one of its fronds that, through some beautiful twist of evolution, has developed into a trap for small insects - a semi carnivorous plant. The insects, especially and perhaps only ants, are lured by some process of smell or sight - anyway they find it irresistible - only to slip into the gourd shaped trap to have their body slowly decompose in the water found therein, which the plant then absorbs, thereby supplementing its diet - a little ant vitamin pill!

Back near the camp we were lucky enough to see another amazing creature, though this one we can't claim to have found ourselves. In a tree only yards from one of the walkways linking the huts we were shown a snake that had been there for the last five days. At head hight we were able to get as close a view as we dared of the beautifully colored, highly venomous, Green Pit Viper. I've never seen a snake in the wild as such close quarters, especially not one so potentially dangerous - just fantastic! Soon after that we were rewarded with another amazing sighting, this one much more cute and adorable. In the tree's nearby we found a large troupe of the insanely cute, Silver Leaf Monkeys. These lovable primates are a type of Langur and it is their silver fur, especially the way it sticks up in "a Beckham", that makes them so good looking. Anny fell in love with these guys, especially their bright orange babies that the mothers lovingly carried on their bellies as they moved from tree to tree eating leaves.

Other animals we were privileged to have seen: huge columns of ants that traversed the jungle floor for tens of meters in an amazing display of coordinated living, a strange, unidentified worm type thing that Anny found by brushing her head past a hanging branch, this odd creature was slimy, brightly coloured and had a distinct hammer-head shaped head, huge Hermit Crabs and Giant Snails in the Mangroves, bright Orange Kingfishers, Monitor Lizards, the incomparably odd and ugly bearded pigs, bats, cheeky Macaques who are so used to humans that they (and this happened to me) steal breakfasts out of hands and off of plates - one even grabbed a jar of Nutella from a friend, took it into a tree, and proceeded to eat it with its fingers! - small crabs who make modern art on the sand as they feed and many, many insects. Phew!! We also visited a spectacular, entirely wild and deserted beach on our last day, so much better than the developed resorts to be found elsewhere.

This has been one of the most amazing places I've yet visited and as Borneo is said to have the world highest diversity of plant and animal life I am looking forward to the next three weeks with undisguised relish.

Additional photos below
Photos: 19, Displayed: 19


6th September 2010
Green Pit Viper up close and dangerous

the first time i saw a green pit viper i was very scared,its a beautiful creature that God made
10th December 2010
Green Pit Viper up close and dangerous

this is the best pictur of a snake i have ever seen

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