Borneo 2020 · family

Chilled day in KK

Unsurprisingly, our first day back in Kota Kinabalu (known as KK) was a very slow day.  Major sleeping in, major loads of laundry.  I have a bit of a thing about laundry – I like to ‘stay on top of it’.  At home I do at least one load a day – the clothes we’ve worn the day before, then often a load of towels/sheets etc (a load of fabric souvenirs if I’m lucky).  With a family of four it can really add up quickly!  Anyway, I’m not telling you anything that you don’t know there.

Chill day in KK

As it was Sunday, the Gaya Street market was on. We headed in to have brunch at Oldtown White Coffee, which we knew from prior experience would have a food offering to tempt every member of the family. For the Victorians reading, the girls equated it to Degani. It’s not hard to work out the food preferences of each of us!

Chill day in KK

We had just enough time after eating for a short wander through the market before the stall holders started packing up. We came across this man, Huang Poh Lo, doing calligraphy. As well as being a talented artist, he was quite the conversationalist. You meet so many interesting people when travelling! As well as being a self taught calligrapher, he’s a self taught musician with his own youtube channel. I found an article about him here and there’s a short documentary about him on youtube. Worth watching!

Chill day in KK

Clare was on a mission to find some teen clothes – we hoped that the the fashion stores may stock smaller sizes, given that the Malaysian population appeared to be smaller in size than the Australian population. Eventually we located E-teen, which appeared to be like a Korean version of Supre. Nothing had sizes on the labels, and some pieces had really dodgy sewing. Both Clare and Stella can spot poor construction nowadays! We were successful in finding a few nice pieces for each of the girls.

Chill day in KK

That’s Stella in one of her new tops – she wore it out of the store! She was in the queue for some crispy waffles. This day really was a food day.

Chill day in KK

Between the time that we left KK to head on our jungle trip and the time we’d returned, everything was gearing up for Chinese New Year. Decorations were for sale everywhere, and the shops were full of red and gold in all sorts of formats. It’s obviously a huge time of celebration in KK.

Chill day in KK

Chill day in KK

The afternoon was spent watching videos on the internet (Stella), doing laundry and planning for the next day (me), reading (Clare and Dan), and taking a dip in the air BnB pool (Stella and Dan). The pool looked especially lovely at night, as it has twinkling lights set into the bottom of it. Our room was a few storeys above, and it was so pretty to look down on.

Chill day in KK

Chill day in KK

Chill day in KK

Chill day in KK

We ventured back to Imago mall for dinner, then had an early night.  So that was it for the day! A relatively short blog post compared to the previous ones.

Borneo 2020 · family

From the Danum Valley back to Kota Kinabalu

Mike was really keen to find gibbons.  We’d listened to their call on the previous morning, but they were too far away for us to get to – they move fast through the trees!  So our morning walks today were the last chance for us to spot them.

Danum Valley to KK

Danum Valley to KK

Danum Valley to KK

Danum Valley to KK

Danum Valley to KK

Danum Valley to KK

We started off at 6.00am. Mike could hear the gibbons calling – so could we! Such a distinctive sound.  We headed over toward the area that the sound was coming from, spotting sambar deer and wild pigs along the way. Actually, the sambar deer also spotted us and let out an alarm call that was surprisingly loud!  Scared the pants off all of us!

Danum Valley to KK

Danum Valley to KK

The deer move fast; I don’t have many photos of the deer at all. The gibbons also move fast – but they weren’t anywhere that we could see them. We headed to breakfast, then back to another part of the jungle near an open air camping area – Mike thought that was the direction that the gibbons were headed to. And he was right! Before we knew it there was movement in the trees nearby – one young gibbon, then an adult female with a baby tightly clinging to it’s stomach, then an adult male! I’m going to deluge you with photos, but really they only give you a glimpse of how wonderful it was to watch them swinging about. Those long arms!

Gibbons - day 15

Gibbons - day 15

Gibbons - day 15

Gibbons - day 15

Gibbons - day 15

Gibbons - day 15

The Bornean Gibbon Hylobates muelleri is one of two species of gibbon inhabiting the island of Borneo, the other being the Agile Gibbon Hylobates agilis. The species is endemic to Borneo, and is confined to tall primary rainforest in lowland and lower mountain areas. Gibbons are exclusively arboreal, and do not descend to the ground. The species may continue to survive in forests affected by logging, as long as sufficient tall trees survive in close proximity to allow ease of movement from one tree to the next. In practice, most logged areas support few or no gibbons. Gibbons occur in small family groups generally comprising a male, female and their young. The whooping call of adult gibbons early in the morning is, perhaps, the most iconic sound of Borneo’s rainforest. (Source)

Now that’s a pretty special way to finish off our time in the jungle.

Danum Valley to KK

Danum Valley to KK

Danum Valley to KK

Danum Valley to KK

While on our six day/five night Sticky Rice Travel tour we spotted the following:

  • Seven out of the ten species of primate found in Sabah
    • long tailed macaques
    • pig tailed macaques
    • proboscis monkey
    • gibbon
    • orangutan
    • red leaf monkey
    • silver leaf monkey
  • Six of the eight Hornbill species found in Sabah
    • black (Asian) hornbill
    • oriental pied hornbill
    • wreathed hornbill
    • wrinkled hornbill
    • rhinoceros hornbill
    • bushy crested hornbill
  • mouse deer
  • sambar deer
  • Malay civet
  • flying squirrel
  • pygmy squirrel
  • prevost squirrel
  • giant squirrel
  • wild beared pig
  • sun bear
  • crocodile
  • grey tail racer snake
  • monitor lizard
  • green agama lizard
  • frog
  • many birds including
    • Wallace’s hawk eagle
    • Jerdon’s baza
    • crested serpent eagle
    • buffy fish owl
    • storm stork
    • grey heron
    • purple heron
    •  egret
    • kingfisher
    • woodpecker
    • forest crow
    • crested fireback pheasant
    • oriental darter
    • blue headed pitta
    • Diard’s trogon
  • and let’s not forget
    • tiger leech
    • giant millipede
    • cockroach
    • centipede
    • ball millipede
    • snail
    • tarantula
    • scorpion.

The primates that we didn’t see were the tarsier, slow loris and grey leaf monkey.  There weren’t any pygmy elephants around that we saw either.  All the more reason to come back one day!

While the tour was one of the more expensive parts of our holiday, it was worth every single dollar.  I cannot imagine how much we would have missed out on without Mike there to lead us down jungle paths, explain every bird, animal and insect call, spot creatures, inform us about the trees, plants and fungi, make jokes with, and generally provide us with an educational and enjoyable time.  He answered all our questions happily and enthusiastically and really does have a wealth of knowledge.  It’s pretty clear that he really loves his job, and sharing the wonder of the Sabah rainforests with others.

Danum Valley to KK

It took us around two and a half hours to get back to Lahad Datu to catch our late afternoon flight back to Kota Kinabalu.  There had been flash flooding and we drove through water that was streaming across the road on a few occasions.  Once back in KK we checked in to our Air BnB and made the most of the hot showers and washing machine before heading off to bed.

Borneo 2020 · family

The Danum Valley

As you can probably imagine, our full day in the Danum Valley was all about spotting living things.  We were up before 6.00am again to head out on our first trek of the day.  As we prepared to start our trek, a wild pig and it’s twelve piglets crossed the road ahead of us, followed by the boar shortly afterwards.  It had rained a lot, so the leaves on the jungle floor were all wet and the clay was slippery and muddy.  And the leeches were active.

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

That’s a tiger leech in the above photo.  They tend to live on leaves that are about 1 metre above ground level and attach themselves to your legs or any other part of you as you brush past them.  They move fast and are attracted to body heat.  They can grow up to 3 or 4 cm long, but plenty are smaller.  It mostly hurts when they fasten on to you, and they pump in a lot of anticoagulant when they’re feeding.  Yes, I know this from experience after one having a large meal on my back.  Eurgh.  We pulled off a couple of others from our bodies when they’d only just attached – it leaves a round bruise that looks like a blood blister (which I suppose it is, essentially).  The leech socks did work effectively to keep them off our legs and feet though!

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Now I have to admit – this is not Stella’s idea of how to spend a holiday. She does love the animals – especially the baby ones – but she most definitely does not love bugs, leeches, mud, sweat, treks and food with flavour. I was actually pretty proud of her – she showed courage in doing things that were out of her comfort zone and were things that she didn’t really want to do. And in the end we progressed to ‘I have complaints – but I’m keeping them in’. Well done! That’s the spirit!

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Clare also hates being sweaty, dirty, and threatened by leeches, but she’s a hardened Girl Guide and Gold Duke of Ed participant, so just gets on with it. That said, we were all pretty happy with our cold showers while in the Danum Valley – I think that Clare took two on this day! We did three treks – the early morning one, another straight after breakfast, then another before dinner. That did leave us with some time to chill before and after lunch. The girls and I took the opportunity to catch up on our novels while Dan went for a swim in the river (in the rain).

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

From the Danum Valley Field Centre website: Prior to may 1995, Danum Valley Conservation Area (DVCA) was an informal protected area in the Ulu Segama Forest Reserve of primary, undisturbed, predominantly lowland rainforest with an outstanding complement of Borneo flora and fauna. It was part of the almost one million ha forest concession assigned to Yayasan Sabah. In 1976, WWF-malaysia suggested that the area be declared a national park. The Danum Valley Conservation Area (DVCA) is a 438 sq. km tract. However, Yayasan Sabah Board of Trustess resolved on November 28, 1980, to leave the area within Yayasan Sabah concession but shall leave it unlogged for the purpose of conservation. Thereafter it is known as “Danum Valley Conservation Area”.

The Forest Management Plan for Yayasan Sabah Concession Area was drawn up and approved by the State Cabinet in 1984. Principle to this plan was the designation of two areas as protected conservation areas, one of which being the Danum Valley Conservation Area. In May 1995, the area was declared a Class I (protection) Forest Reserve by the Sabah Legislative Assembly, meaning that it cannot be logged except by decisions of a two thirds majority vote by the Sabah Legislative Assembly. In 1999, Danum Valley Conservation Area was further gazetted under The Cultural Heritage (Conservation) Enactment 1998, as a Cultural Heritage (Conservation) Area.

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

To facilitate activities realated to research. Education, training and wilderness recreation, Yayasan Sabah established the Danum Valley Field Centre (DVFC) IN 1986. Located on the edge of Danum Valley Conservation Area, the Danum Valley Field Centre (DVFC) is open to both international and local scientists/ researchers, who must first apply in waiting to the sectary, Danum Valley Management Committee.

Danum Valley Field Centre has evolved into one of the foremost rainforest research establishments in South East Asia. The extensive facilities include permanent research plots and an extensive trail system, well-equipped analytical laboratories, computer and email facilities, a library, climatic station data, phenology monitoring data base, trained field staff, vehicles, housing and sports facilities, a Nature Interpretation and Environmental Education Building and a Nature Discovery Centre, several canopy observatation platforms and towers, and a suspension bridge over the Segama River.

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

There was quite a bit of rain over the course of the day, which makes some animals harder to spot. Unsurprisingly, they like to get out of the rain too! But there were always other things to find.

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Research programmes at Danum Valley began in 1982….To date over 350 collaborative research projects have been completed or are underway resulting in about 400 publications. Major studies focused on natural forest dynamics, regeneration within artificial gaps, nutrient cycling and the effect of logging on water quality and vertebrate populations, and a long-term research related to climate commenced in 2008 by a consortium of 8 institutions with collaboration from Malaysian universities/ institutions and headed by University of Lancaster, UK.

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

A large group of botany and zoology students from Swansea University in Wales had arrived on the same night as us.  They were busy during the day in classes or trekking around on various projects.  They were all sleeping in the simple hostel accommodation that was a short walk from the dining room.  Dan and I had commented to one another on how subdued and well behaved they seemed on the first night; on the second night we could hear the murmur ‘there’s beer for 15 ringgit!’ travel from one end of the verandah to the next, shortly followed by a rush of students to get whichever cans they could.  They were much more chatty that night!

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley Conservation Area is dominated by dipterocarp tress, with the canopy reaching a height of over 70 metres in some places. Some 90% of the Conservation Area is classified as dipterocarp forest, with the remaining 10% being low canopy, sub-montane forest mainly found on Mt. Danum in the heart of the Conservation Area.

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020

After dinner we hopped on to the back of a 4×4 with a couple of the park rangers armed with spotlights. They were able to find a few creatures that we hadn’t seen previously! I have no idea how they can spot them from a moving vehicle in the dark – but they do!  This was Stella’s favourite activity in the Danum Valley.  We saw plenty of sleeping birds (all puffed up with their heads tucked under their wings, sitting in a row on a branch), a flying squirrel (that didn’t fly for us), sambar deer, mouse deer, Malay civets, and a tarantula!  And of course there were plenty of geckos around.

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020 night drive

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020 night drive

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020 night drive

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020 night drive

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020 night drive

Danum Valley 10 Jan 2020 night drive

Into the Danum Valley

I was a little sad the next day when I discovered that a couple who did a night walk (while we were out on the 4×4) spotted a tarsier!  This was one animal that I had really hoped to see while we were in Borneo; alas, for us it wasn’t to be.  However, we were really lucky to have seen the mouse deer, and this was the only time that we saw civets.   It really was an amazing day.  Once again many thanks go to Mike for his excellent guiding abilities.

Borneo 2020 · family

Gomantong Cave to the Danum Valley

After breakfast we hopped back into a boat – along with our luggage – and headed to the jetty on the other side of the river to await our transport to the Danum Valley.  This gave us just enough time for another wander around the buidings at the jetty location.

Gomantong Cave

Gomantong Cave

Most of the village houses are very simple constructions. They tend to be on stilts, or else have a lower floor built from concrete blocks. The top floor is usually timber (if not concrete). Rooves are usually metal. They tend not to have much ornamentation; if they do it’s generally a turned timber balustrade. Some are painted, some are not. In the towns there are apartments, often above shops, up to around five stories high. The benefit of concrete as a building material is that it isn’t affected by termites. We have found that even in newer buildings, fittings aren’t always well installed, or are of dodgy quality. I figure that they are just working with what is available to them – or what can be afforded.

Gomantong Cave

Gomantong Cave

It was only a short bus trip to the starting point for Gomantong Cave. We kitted up in hard hats and gloves – I’ll tell you why the gloves shortly! The walk in to the cave area was through more lush jungle. I have to be super careful on boardwalks – on all surfaces really – as due to the wet climate, surfaces are often quite slippery.

Gomantong Cave

Gomantong Cave

Gomantong Cave

Gomantong Cave

Gomantong Cave

See that cow? We happened to arrive on the one day of the year where the locals who live at and work in the cave were preparing for a ceremony to appease the cave spirits – and yes, the cow was an integral part of it. Fortunately for us the ceremony was going to take place later in the day.

Gomantong Cave

Gomantong Cave

As well as living beside the main cave opening, there were houses higher up on the cliffs beside other entrances. This cave system is incredibly important – and profitable – and there is no way that it’s going to be left unattended.

Gomantong Cave

Gomantong Cave

Stella only got as far as the entrance to the cave – it’s an assault on all the senses. The smell is unbelievable – an intense and concentrated mixture of bird and bat poo. It’s also incredibly noisy with the sounds of both bats and birds. There are droppings everywhere – underfoot, on the hand rails (hence the gloves), and in huge piles in the open areas of the cave. That said, it was amazing to visit. A boardwalk goes around the perimeter of the cave, taking you from one side to the other then back to the entrance.

Gomantong Cave

Gomantong Cave

Gomantong Cave

Gomantong Cave

Gomantong Cave

Gomantong Cave

That building in the photo above? Someone LIVES in that. It’s a guardhouse. Inside this incredibly smelly and noisy cave.

Gomantong Cave

Gomantong Cave

Gomantong Cave

Gomantong Cave

Gomantong Cave

Gomantong Cave

And had I mentioned the cockroaches? SO many cockroaches! Plus some poisonous centipedes.

Gomantong Cave

Gomantong Cave

Gomantong Cave

Gomantong Cave

Incredible to visit, but a relief to get out of! There is a display at the entrance to the boardwalk in to the cave area that explains more about the cave system and about the ways that the nests are harvested.

Gomantong Cave

Gomantong Cave

According to the government tourism website, bird nests that are produced in this cave are the best in the world. There are two types of nests produced in Gomantong Caves (Black nest and White nest).The harvest and collection of bird’s nests are conducted twice a year and is regulated by the Department of Wildlife, as provided in section 85 ( 6 ) EPHL97 . White nest harvesting is done in February and August, while the black nests are harvested in April and August. The task of harvesting birds’ nests in Gomantong Cave is done by contractors appointed by the government through a tender system, different from Madai Cave where the harvest is done by the heirs of the cave. Black and white nests produced in 15 caves and the remaining 4 caves just produce black nest only. The market price for a kilogram of white nests can reach up to RM7000 while for black nest is between 3,000 – RM4000 per kilogram.

Bird’s nests harvesting activities is an incredibly unique and impressive sight which can be seen during the harvest season. The workers who harvest these birds nest used traditional tools such as “piatau”, “gegulug”, “sesungkit” and “ambong” to harvest the bird’s nests. All equipment is made of rattan and bamboo. The ability of these workers which is climbing the “gegulug” and standing on the floating “piatau” provides an exceptional view for visitors.

After peeling off our gloves and refreshing ourselves, it was back into the bus for the drive to the Danum Valley,  via Lahad Datu.  In Lahad Datu we stopped off for luch at a local cafe – the food was delicious!  Wonderful combination of flavours.

Into the Danum Valley

Into the Danum Valley

Into the Danum Valley

But then Mike had planned a little surprise for us – a stop at Multibake to choose a birthday cake for Clare! Hip hip hooray! Red velvet cake went down a treat.

Into the Danum Valley

Into the Danum Valley

Into the Danum Valley

The drive in to the Danum Valley took around two hours, on what had formerly been logging tracks. It was a slow and bumpy ride. We were staying in rest houses at the Danum Valley Field Centre, a rainforest research centre.  Over the past couple of years it has added on facilities for tourists in order to provide more funding and to enable others to see the wonders of the Danum Valley.  It’s best to visit on an organised tour through a company like Sticky Rice Travel, as we did.  This means that you have your own guide who really knows what to look for and what you might find.  We were especially fortunate to have Mike guiding us, as he’s spent many years working in this valley and is passionate about it.  Once we’d settled in to our rooms – basic, but cofortable with fans and en suite cold water bathroom – we pulled on our leech socks for the first time and met Mike for an afternoon walk.

Into the Danum Valley

Into the Danum Valley

Into the Danum Valley

Into the Danum Valley

Into the Danum Valley

Into the Danum Valley

Into the Danum Valley

Into the Danum Valley

That hole of muddy water in the photo above is a pig wallow – the wild boar come to wallow in the muddy water to coat their skin to deter insects and provide some sun protection.

Into the Danum Valley

Into the Danum Valley

Into the Danum Valley

Into the Danum Valley

Into the Danum Valley

Into the Danum Valley

Into the Danum Valley

The tree with the black trunk in the photo above is ebony. And look – more red leaf monkeys!

Into the Danum Valley

Into the Danum Valley

Into the Danum Valley

We also spotted the pygmy squirrel – such a teensy little thing, that moved so quickly.  Can you spot it in the next two photos?

Into the Danum Valley

Into the Danum Valley

Into the Danum Valley

Into the Danum Valley

After a robust and delicious buffet style dinner, we headed on a night walk. At this stage it had been raining, so we were walking with torches along muddy and slippery jungle paths. It was quite the experience! I don’t have photos from our night walks, but we saw some colourful sleeping birds, plenty of insects, and colourful fungi. There are some nocturnal creatures that I was hoping we’d see – but no luck on this walk. After all, it’s a huge jungle out there!

Borneo 2020 · family

Kinabatangan Birthday

We were awake at 5.30am to get ready for a 6am boat cruise.  Sunrise is just before 6.30am, and sunset is at around 6.15pm.  We had the added excitement of Clare turning seventeen years old – what a place to spend your birthday!

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Okay, a heads up for all of you – there are SO many photos that I can’t resist sharing in today’s blog post! Your scroll finger might get sore.  I was so glad that we’d remembered to bring the rarely-used ‘real’ camera – Clare did a wonderful job with the zoom lens.

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Groups of proboscis monkeys were still asleep in the trees. There were around eleven that we counted in one group. Like all monkeys, they are social and travel in groups, often family groups.  Stella prefers to refer to them as ‘preposterous monkeys’.

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

And then we spotted more hornbills!  Such fabulous birds!  I am fairly sure that these ones are Malaysian pied hornbills, the most common.  They eat fruit, insects, shellfish, small reptiles, small mammals and birds including their eggs.  They nest in holes in tree trunks.

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

And in that next photo?  It’s an orangutan!  In the wild!  Woo hoo!

Birthday on Kinabatangan River

These photos really are all over the place in terms of the time of day that each one was taken – one of the hazards on writing a blog post so many days after the event.  My memory is becoming hazier, because we’ve seen so much more since!  Anyway, the water levels were very high, so our planned post-breakfast jungle walk was changed to a boat trip down river to the village of Sukau, with a walk through the village to see what we could see.

Birthday on Kinabatangan River

Birthday on Kinabatangan River

That white building on stilts is purpose build to attract swifts to it (it has a recording of the bird call playing) to prompt the swifts to build nests that will later be harvested for bird’s nests to be sold for human consumption, especially in bird’s nest soup.  Personally, I don’t see the attraction of eating bird saliva, but each to their own.  Bird’s nests are very expensive to buy, as their harvesting and then the preparation of the nests is all done by hand and is extremely labour intensive.

Birthday on Kinabatangan River

Education is considered to be very important.  This is a village primary school – there is a high school about 15 minutes drive down the road.  While there are private schools that charge significant fees, there are also government funded schools to give as many children as possible the opportunity to advance themselves through education, no matter the family income.  Sponsorships are available for children from poor families.

Birthday on Kinabatangan River

Birthday on Kinabatangan River

I am always fascinated by cemeteries (some of you many know that in one of my previous career incarnations I worked for a funeral director – I have spent plenty of time in cemeteries).  There are many small cemeteries dotted around near villages or even near roadsides.  You can tell the religion from the type of graves – the one in the photo below is a muslim cemetery.  We’ve also spotted plenty of Christian and Chinese cemeteries as well.

Birthday on Kinabatangan River

I had also been wondering about what alphanumeric system was used for car number plates.  The first letter is the state – in this case, Sabah.  The next letter is for the city in which the car is registered – in this case, Sandakan.  The numbers that follow are more random.

Birthday on Kinabatangan River

Birthday on Kinabatangan River

Birthday on Kinabatangan River

Birthday on Kinabatangan River

Our afternoon boat cruise was full of sights.  The long-tailed macaques really put on a show – we were able to get incredibly close to them.  There were large family groups of all ages – the smaller ones being particularly cute in their movements and interactions.  The larger ones scare me a bit – you definitely don’t want to get them off side!  Don’t stare directly in their eyes.

Birthday on Kinabatangan River

Birthday on Kinabatangan River

Birthday on Kinabatangan River

Birthday on Kinabatangan River

Birthday on Kinabatangan River

Birthday on Kinabatangan River

Birthday on Kinabatangan River

Birthday on Kinabatangan River

Birthday on Kinabatangan River

Birthday on Kinabatangan River

That’s a red leaf monkey in the photo above – there are plenty more photos of them to come in later blog posts, but this was our first sighting of one.

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Some of the trees had these large drums in them, placed to provide nesting opportunities for hornbills.  They were really big – I have no idea how they managed to get them high up into the trees!

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

More hornbills!

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

That’s a hornet’s nest built on a dead branch in the river – we gave it a wide berth.  If one hornet stings, the rest then attack as well.  Very dangerous.

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

The monkeys are more active in the late afternoon, as they move from feeding down to their resting places for the night, higher in the trees.

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

There are a few places where ropes have been strung across the river.  These are orangutan bridges, giving them a way of getting from one part of the jungle to another.  Generally, orangutans can’t swim.  Proboscis monkeys and macaques can swim, but considering that there are crocodiles in that river (yes, we saw one) why would you swim when you can cross a bridge?

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

It was fascinating watching this pig tailed macaque cross over!  He’s huge, and looked very determined (and unhappy)!  That’s a whole lot of baboon crossing a wobbly piece of kevlar tape, a long way up in the air.

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Phew, he made it!  There were quite a few times though when he appeared to slip and hung from the tape rather than walking along it.  It was very impressive.

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

One more pig tailed macaque crossing to watch on our way back to the lodge as the sun set.  What an amazing day!  As always, our guide Mike did a superb job of spotting wildlife and answering questions about all manner of things.  It’s definitely worth having a private guide who really knows their stuff.  This was definitely a birthday that Clare (and the rest of the family) will always treasure.

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Birthday on the Kinabatangan River

Borneo 2020 · family

To the Kinabatangan River (Tuesday)

We’re back on good wifi after an amazing five days in the jungle, first at the Kinabatangan River, then in the Danum Valley.  I’ll do my best to catch up, mostly with photos.  We’re now in Kota Kinabalu for another few nights.  So much washing to do, so many blog posts to write….

Kinabatangan River first half

Kinabatangan River first half

We had a leisurely morning sleep in at the resort in Sepilok.  Well, the kids did!  I woke up early, as usual, and enjoyed watching the light intensify and listening to the sounds around me.  The resort put on an excellent buffet breakfast.  Dan and I took the opportunity to explore the resort grounds – they’re a decent size – and examine the vegetation.

Kinabatangan River first half

Kinabatangan River first half

Kinabatangan River first half

Kinabatangan River first half

Kinabatangan River first half

Kinabatangan River first half

Kinabatangan River first half

We then headed off to the Kinabatangan River. Our route was shared with many trucks and other vehicles, many working on road repairs and road projects,or else involved with the oil palm plantations that lined the route.

Kinabatangan River first half

Kinabatangan River first half

Kinabatangan River first half

Kinabatangan River first half

I think that as Westerners, our kneejerk reaction to the mention of palm oil is that palm oil is ‘bad’. Like many things in life, it’s not as simple as that. Palm oil is the major export of Sabah, and is vital for the economy of this developing country. Wikipedia has a good summary of palm oil production in Malaysia.  From the local people I have spoken to, many of the plantations are on land that was previous logged and cleared as part of the timber industry.  The oil palms grow very quickly, produce numerous crops that are harvested by hand and turned into oil in the mills that are dotted throughout the fields, and when the palms reach the end of the their productive life they are chopped down, used for many other purposes, then the same fields replanted.  Everyone agreed that the environmental impact was an issue, but that since 2010 legislation has been put in place to make the entire industry more sustainable and to reduce the impact on the jungle habitats.  This National Geographic article on palm oil is worth a read.  If it wasn’t for palm oil, many people in Sabah would not have the opportunity to have an education and improve their standard of living.

Kinabatangan River first half

Kinabatangan River first half

We only realised when our minibus pulled up next to a little jetty that we would be continuing our journey to the Borneo Nature Lodge by boat!  In we jumped, along with our luggage, and zoomed down the river.

Kinabatangan River first half

Kinabatangan River first half

Kinabatangan River first half

Kinabatangan River first half

The Borneo Nature Lodge is an eco-friendly resort, with just twelve rooms.  Air conditioners can only be used during certain hours, and they also provide the hot water.  Most of the power is solar.  The buffet meals provided were delicious, with a mix of local foods and flavours plus some options that Stella was more likely to eat.  She’s a fairly picky eater, which can be a challenge in places like Borneo.

Kinabatangan River first half

Kinabatangan River first half

Kinabatangan River first half

Kinabatangan River first half

Shortly after lunch we headed off on our first boat cruise for the day.  So many creatures to spot!

Kinabatangan River first half

Kinabatangan River first half

Kinabatangan River part 2

Kinabatangan River part 2

Kinabatangan River part 2

Kinabatangan River part 2

Kinabatangan River part 2

Kinabatangan River part 2

Obviously, the primates are a big drawcard, and it’s fascinating watching them moving about in the trees. One of the reasons that the Kinabatangan River is such a great spot for finding native wildlife is that the oil palm plantations have forced them to move to the available jungle that lines the river.

Kinabatangan River part 2

Kinabatangan River part 2

Kinabatangan River part 2

The birds are really quite amazing. The one in the blurry photo above is a woodpecker! The sound it makes is very loud – rat tat tat tat tat tat tat – as it drills into timber.

Kinabatangan River part 2

Kinabatangan River part 2

Kinabatangan River part 2

We had another lovely meal before retiring to our rooms for the night, in anticipation of an early morning boat cruise the next morning. As you’d imagine, early morning and late afternoon are the times to spot animals and birds being active.

Borneo 2020 · family

Sepilok

Sepilok is not far from Sandakan.  After our early morning flight we met up with our tour guide Mike and driver Jeffrey, and headed straight to the Orangutang Rehabilitation Centre.

Sepilok

Sepilok

The first orangutang we spotted was right beside the raised boardwalk that led to the feeding areas.  We were ushered past that one quite quickly, with warning not to look him directly in the eye.  The orangutangs at Sepilok are semi-wild, in that they have been rehabilitated after being injured, orphaned or displaced, then released into the forest.  Food is provided twice each day, which prompts them to return to the feeding platforms.  However, it’s completely up to them – if there is plenty of food to be found in the forest they may not turn up at feeding time.  These animals are not caged (in fact, it’s the tourist who are behind glass in one area) so can go where they like.

Sepilok

Of course, much of the appeal of watching the orangutangs lies in marvelling at the similarities in their movements, expressions and interactions to those of humans.  That’s in addition to marvelling at the ways they swing across ropes and branches, shifting from upright to upside down in mere moments.  There were many yoga-like poses, and playful wrestling between the younger animals.

Sepilok

From the centre website: Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre was conceived in 1961 and by 1964 had become reality, funded by the Sabah Government. The reserve is named after the two rivers flowing into the Sandakan Bay. The aim of Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is to return orphaned, injured or displaced orangutans back to the wild. Many orphans have successfully undergone the process of rehabilitation and have been released into the 4294 hectare Kabili-Sepilok Forest, a virgin jungle reserve rich in tropical rainforest and mangrove swamp. The rehabilitation process starts as soon as the orangutan is admitted to the centre with a thorough health examination, followed by a quarantine period to eliminate diseases being transmitted. Young orangutans spend their time in the ‘Nursery’ learning skills essential to jungle life, for example finding food, building nest and climbing. Once ready, they will move to the ‘Outdoor Nursery’ where freedom is increased and dependence on food and emotional support is decreased. Last but not the least, most animals achieve total independence and become integrated into the Sepilok wild orangutan population. 

Sepilok

Wikipedia tells me this (and much more) about the orangutang: Orangutans are the most arboreal of the great apes and spend most of their time in trees. Their hair is reddish-brown, instead of the brown or black hair typical of chimpanzees and gorillas. Males and females differ in size and appearance. Dominant adult males have distinctive cheek pads and produce long calls that attract females and intimidate rivals. Younger males do not have these characteristics and resemble adult females. Orangutans are the most solitary of the great apes, with social bonds occurring primarily between mothers and their dependent offspring, who stay together for the first two years. Fruit is the most important component of an orangutan’s diet; however, the apes will also eat vegetation, bark, honey, insects and even bird eggs. They can live over 30 years in both the wild and captivity. Orangutans are among the most intelligent primates; they use a variety of sophisticated tools and construct elaborate sleeping nests each night from branches and foliage. The apes have been extensively studied for their learning abilities. There may even be distinctive cultures within populations. Field studies of the apes were pioneered by primatologist Birutė Galdikas. All three orangutan species are considered to be critically endangered. Human activities have caused severe declines in populations and ranges. Threats to wild orangutan populations include poaching, habitat destruction as a result of palm oil cultivation, and the illegal pet trade. Several conservation and rehabilitation organisations are dedicated to the survival of orangutans in the wild.

Sepilok

Sepilok

Sepilok

We were as interested in the rainforest/jungle that we were walking through as the animals, birds and other creatures we came across!  The variety of plants, the size of the leaves, the sheer height of the trees, and the amazing ecosystems that could be evident in each area.

Sepilok

Directly across from the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation CentreMalayan sun bears are the smallest bears in the world and are only found in Southeast Asia. These bears continue to be threatened by forest degradation, illegal hunting for bear parts and poaching to obtain young cubs for pet trade. The results of these threats has caused young sun bears found to be living in unnatural captive conditions in Sabah, with no access to outdoor areas. There are currently 43 rescued ex-captive sun bears residing at the BSBCC. The facility includes large forest enclosures to provide a natural environment suited to the needs and welfare of the sun bears and facilitate their rehabilitation back into the wild.

Sepilok

It constantly astounds me that people would try to make pets out of wild animals such as these.  It is of course illegal, and those found keeping endangered species as pets are fined, and the animals taken to a sanctuary such as this one.  The sun bear is the smallest, most arboreal and least studied bear. It is the second rarest bear species, after the giant panda. Their name comes from the pale horseshoe shape on their chests, which is said to resemble the setting or rising sun. No two markings are the same. They have a very long tongue at 20 – 25cm. This helps them extract honey from bee hives, earning them the alternative name ‘honey bear’ or ‘beruang madu’ in Malay and Indonesian. Sun bears live in tropical lowland forests and are the only bear in SE Asia. They are mainly diurnal and do not hibernate but build nests in trees to sleep in. They are omnivores and primarily eat invertebrates, fruit and honey.

Sepilok

We checked in to our accommodation, Sepilok Forest Edge Resort, and enjoyed a delicious lunch for resting in our airconditioned rooms to escape the heat and humidity of the day.  Later in the afternoon we met up with Mike again to head for a walk through the jungle canopy at the Rainforest Discovery Centre.  This walkway took us about 40metres above the ground, where we tried to spot some of Sabah’s more exotic bird species.  And we were in luck!

Sepilok

Sepilok

Firstly we found a hornbill!  There are 8 species of hornbill in Sabah.  This one is the Asian Black Hornbill.  We were very grateful for the zoom lens of our rarely used fancy camera, as well as sets of binoculars.

Sepilok

Next we were incredibly fortunate to have a pair of Rhinoceros Hornbills fly across and land in a nearby tree. The Rhinoceros hornbill is one of the largest birds in rainforests of Asia. They spend their entire lives on treetops. Found in primary forest throughout Borneo. Heavily hunted for feathers used in traditional ceremonies. Male has red iris and female white iris. They have a colorful red and yellow bill, with curling casque on top of the bill. The long white tail has a broad, black band near the center. Their wings beat ‘swoosh, swoosh’ are prominent when in flight. Call: a series of loud honks, barking-like call as the bird flies off.

Sepilok

Sepilok

Sepilok

Sepilok

Sepilok

Sepilok

Sepilok

Sepilok

We are so fortunate to have Mike guiding us – he’s a wealth of knowledge, is obviously passionate about his job, and also has eyes that can spot all sorts of details – a clear advantage when trying to find wild creatures in the jungle!  Dinner last night was back at the resort, followed by a family swim before retiring for the night.  Today we’ll be heading off to Kinabatagan River, after a leisurely breakfast.