The thing about Borneo is the fantastic range of every natural thing. The smallest animals, the most colorful birds, the most unusual plant life and weirdest and wonderful of insects.
Fireflies do the aerial dance while spotters from back of safari vehicle or from river boat point their spotlights high into the tall trees that are the Borneo rain-forest. All the while looking to get a glimpse of something looking back that would encourage stopping to investigate further. Few birds and owls have been close enough to photograph and then at Bukit Pitoh after virtually nothing for 2+ hours, a slow loris.
This cute thing barely 20 cm long clinging to tree about 20 metres up with great big eyes.
Although we’ve seen a number of orangutan high up, surrounded and camouflaged by leaves of trees and usually cleverly back-lit by setting sun, it’s beginning to look like we will not get a decent photographable look at them in the wild. Just our luck! We see a couple building their beds (nests) for the night and watched them climb in and go to sleep, about 500 metres away in the forest canopy.
And, the next morning, I was lucky enough to get off the vehicle and go leech-evading, well nearly, clambering through jungle following one of the amazing primates hoping to get closer with the good people at Bukit Piton. It was fun though I did cop a leech or two while clever man of the forest kept right on swinging away, looking back at us periodically but staying just far enough to make a photograph problematic.
A morning trip to Taliwas lake and forest was organised by bikeandtours.com for our last day in Lahad Datu. With our bird guide and 3 local rangers we trudge through jungle seeing small critters and a few birds. Lovely forest and good exercise!
A couple of weird examples; on left two tractor millipedes approx 10 – 15 cm long joined in holy matrimony, and believe or not the ball is a pill millipede, it rolls up in defense presenting a hard shelled ball
the 100cm moon moth and kind of intricate Chinese lantern bug are a couple more of the amazing array of bugs and insects.
At Sukau on the Kinabatangan River the night cruise along the river edge yields a few interesting birds and on the day cruises we find monkeys, a snake and birds high up or flying overhead.
Long tailed macaques suggesting they don’t like us and showing off!
Our guide Othman continues explaining the differences between similar bird species and the traditional uses the natural fauna was once put to. Everything imaginable including cooling you down in the heat to giving any blood-sucking swine of leach that attaches itself you a real hurry-up and a leaf that was the original curry.
With over 700 bird species we were never going to see the lot. Compare that with the less than 200 we have in NZ.
Above are a selection of the oh so colourful birds, including 2 of the 12 kingfishers, 2 some of which are only about 10 cm big, the largest of all horn-bills the rhinoceros horn-bill, and another tiny beaut the black-naped monarch.
A nesting colony of diminutive Pacific swallow, there would have been about 200 of them in a recess in a riverbank about a metre square, and white browed shama (this one collected by Anne waiting for me to return from a bat cave).
Soaring overhead, a raptor, brahminy kite one of the dozens of birds of prey in Borneo.
It’s on Tuesday 21st, the very time we are due for our afternoon river cruise (that’s their fancy name for getting in a long dinghy and being propelled by an outboard) that thunder has struck with rain so heavy it could knock me over. However, we’re back on for night cruise. Screaming up the river in the black night cluttered with small and even bigger logs and clumps of water hyacinth keeps us mere mortal passengers on edge. We end up in an amazing tributary spotting some more sleeping tiny birds.
We move on to Sepilock Rainforest Edge Resort. Really lovely place. With orangutan and sun bear recovery centres and Rain-forest Discovery Centre nearby.
The sun bear, reputedly the worlds smallest bear, looking worried about what its seeing.
A night walk first up. Snakes, spiders, including tarantula and scorpion, long-legged centipedes and some weird millepedes included
Next morning about 6.30 I decide to head off solo on a handy bush walk. All pretty basic until I hear all this crashing and smashing in the tree canopy. Orangutans, several, what a thrill. Unfortunately, it takes half a morning for camera lenses to stop fogging after a night in airconditioned comfort so the photos are crap. An exiting experience though.
Turtle Island is our next stop.
Not a turtle, but a monitor lizard, he’s about 800 -a metre long amongst some rocks. The turtle experience is an after dark one in which we see an egg laying, and removal then transposing them into an egg nursery for a couple of months until they hatch and are then released with the hope some will survive long term.
Variety applies to everything in Borneo, no more so than to the islands flora.
Walking through the jungle, one comes across some amazing plants. This pitcher plant is one of over 25 Bornean species, but was in a botanical garden.
The giant rafflesia flowers about every 5 years, and grows up to to a metre in diameter
The striking bright red fruited kurrajong .
Brilliant red flower of one of ginger species seems to grow out of the ground.
Delicate flame flower
The variety of fungi and mushrooms surprises, in particular the very rare veil fungi on right. We stumbled upon this to real excitement of our guide who in 20 years has only seen one 3 times.
There are 32 tribes and 70 odd dialects on Sabah that is about 25% size of New Zealand.
Some of the people we “met”.
It’s hard poorly paid work we are told. Man cuts, wheelbarrows and stacks the oil palm fruit clumps to be picked up by and trucked to the factory.
Fisherman in small boat searches for his trap, not clearly marked he tells us to avoid theft, lifts and clears it when found and heads off looking for the next one, while not far away farmed fish are fed by workers. Fish farming is quite a big industry here, large 14 year old groper are fared for Chinese in one farm we visit.
Ismail sees us pull up on a country road near his family sales stall and runs to help.
From the white coral sand tropical beaches to 3rd world urban cities and the steaming dense jungles the landscapes of Borneo express the diversity that makes this country what it is.
And the seemingly endless oil palm plantations. The good news is, unlike other countries, Sabah has now stopped the spread of these plantations in a conservation effort. There is to be no more natural habitat destruction.
The sun sets on the tip of Borneo, the northern-most point of the island.
We certainly leave with the feeling we did didn’t get more than a taste of what is offered here, and I know that the best, the most colourful birds, the large range of cats including the clouded leopard, the small large animals, elephants and the incredible flora has still to be experienced.
And I haven’t mentioned the shopping malls of Kota Kinabalu, or the cuisine or the myriad of other experiences including our crooked guide and the actions that were required rectifying his influence on our trip. Those are stories for another time.
And there is amazing wildlife and rain-forest conservation going on now here in Sabah, while plastic and litter sickeningly clogs the sea and covers the beaches. Typically 3rd world I guess. Just wish those who seek to signal their virtue by telling us all how to manage our lives would actually make a real effort to help sort out the genuine problems in places like this. that would take action, not just words, though wouldn’t it?
Cloud around Mt Kinabalu at sunset.