Wild Borneo

Mary Weber

30 Dec 2019

Adventures in the jungle

My fascination for orangutans was a key reason for choosing to venture into Borneo – the third largest island in the world.

Because this is an atypical vacation destination, it required a lot of research in order to find the right company to make arrangements for a private tour for the four of us (two of our friends along with Ron and me). After speaking with a number of representatives from a plethora of companies, we settled on Natural World Safaris and were not disappointed.

We flew to Sandakan to spend a few days before our official adventure commenced at the beautiful Sepilok Nature Resort, our base for getting initiated into the Rainforest and its creatures prior to heading deep into the jungle. At the Rainforest Discovery Centre, we got our first glimpses of red giant flying squirrels.

We then had a private tour of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre with the founder of this important sanctuary, Dr. Wong Siew Te, to learn about the project to save these adorable bears, the smallest and least known members of the species, whose population is rapidly diminishing. While marvelling at the cuteness of these bears, we also encountered a venomous Bornean pit viper – fortunately at a far enough distance to not feel threatened.

Our next destination was the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, where previously captive or orphaned (through deforestation, poaching, etc) orangutans are prepared for their release back into the wild. This was the perfect place to get up close and personal with these primates who are the most arboreal of the great apes, spending most of their time in trees. In fact, orangutans make a new nest in the treetops every night, and occasionally during the day if they want to take a nap.

Our last stop before hitting the rainforest was the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary. These endangered monkeys are indigenous only to Borneo and have lost much of their habitat and food sources to palm oil farming. A local landowner has dedicated 400 acres of mangrove forest to help to preserve these darling animals. Though the monkeys are wild, food is provided for them at the sanctuary twice a day. Later we saw many of these animals near the river in the rainforest, but never again got this close to them.

On our fifth day in Borneo, we traveled by water to the charming Kinabatangan Wetlands Resort tucked in the wilderness and accessible by wooden walkways. From here, the four of us ventured out on several small boat journeys to different areas of the river. We saw monkeys, orangutans, fireflies, kingfishers, hornbills and even a crocodile swimming with a pig in its mouth. We only spent one night here -which was not quite long enough.

However, our next destination down the river - Sukau Rainforest Lodge – proved to be as delightful and luxurious as our previous lodging. Ron and I stayed in the villa that had been used by Dame Judi Dench a few months earlier when she had been there filming an ITV miniseries on Borneo. I had a lovely welcome during my lunch at the outdoor restaurant. Shortly after I sat down, I felt something soft wrap around one leg and then the other. I am not afraid of snakes, so it didn’t bother me as much as everyone else in the restaurant when this cute non-venomous snake proceeded to slither up to my plate and just hang out for a while.

At afternoon tea a few hours later, I was taking a picture of a macaque monkey that was hanging out near the restaurant when all of a sudden, he leapt down and grabbed a banana fritter – creating another commotion in said restaurant. In addition to the wildlife within the lodge, we were also treated to sightings of many animals during our river outings. Besides the proboscis monkeys, macaques and orangutans, we saw a huge hornet’s nest and were told that stings from only 7 of these hornets would kill a buffalo. We viewed it from a distance.

From Sakau, we drove four hours deep into the jungle, finally arriving at Danum Valley Field Centre – one of the leading research field centers in SE Asia. This, our home for the next three days, had no hot water and limited hours of electricity. In spite of these challenges, I found this to be the most delightful of our stays. Living with and being able to converse with researchers, students and National Geographic photographers enhanced our learning experience tremendously. Each day we made several treks into the rainforest, beginning at 6:00 am and ending well after dark. Red leaf monkeys, gibbons, hornbills, flying squirrels, frog-mouth owls and a couple of orangutans delighted our days and nights as did swims in the river (no crocodiles here). Leeches in the jungle were prolific, though my full body mosquito suit and leech socks kept them away from me. I can’t say the same for Ron, who commissioned one of the researchers to help him remove the two leeches he brought home.

Our last four days were spent at Bunga Raya Resort on Gaya Island, off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, Borneo. Since we were still in the jungle, we were still surrounded by wildlife: monitor lizards, hornbills and chameleons in addition to dozens of varieties of hibiscus. It was less than an hour boat ride to visit The Marine Ecological Research Center – a wonderful resource for learning more about the challenges facing ocean life. We spent hours daily snorkeling to see some of the 7 giant clam species that can be found here.

Borneo is shared by three countries: Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia. Our entire adventure took place in the Malaysian portion of the island. Though I understand that we did choose the best places to see wildlife, we are now curious to see the other parts of Borneo Island as well. More adventures to come…

Talk to one of our specialists for further details on travelling to Borneo.

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