Monday, 28 April 2014

Homestay Experience

For five days we stayed with a family in their wooden stilted house under a bridge in a village called Batu Putih next to the Kinabatangan River. The village was close to the Kinabatangan Wildlife Reserve, formed in 1997, which is a mixture of lowland dipterocarp rain forest and limestone vegetation. Spending time with this friendly host family we experienced Malay lifestyle in a rustic traditional village. We had organised a range of conservation, wildlife and cultural exchange activities to undertake each day. The place was very hot and humid. It felt like walking through wet concrete. At night we had a brief respite when it was only 33C in our room.

The family we stayed with was extensive. It consisted of about 12 adults and 20 children. There were four generations under the one roof. What a very busy house!

The front room was multi-purpose, being a playroom, dining room, TV lounge and bedroom. We were privileged to have our own bedrooms with beds, whilst everyone else, including great-grandma slept on a roll out mat wherever there was space and it was quietest.

We ate with family members sitting on the floor and using only our right hand. Breakfast was at eight, lunch at twelve, and dinner about 7.30pm. The food was delicious, steamed rice was obligatory, apart from at breakfast were we received noodles or tapioca (a root vegetable which was grated to make cakes which were fried or steamed in bananas leaf parcels). Chris particularly enjoyed a mackerel like fish which he munched down whole, bones and all. Charly favoured the chicken in a sweet tomato sauce and the curried boiled eggs. We all relished trying the local vegetables such as banana palm hearts and ferns gathered from the forest.

Our activities included:

Dawn and Dusk Safaris
We went looking for wildlife either on foot through the Reserve or down the Kinabatangan River. The most successful means was by river, as we were able to see high up into the canopy where the animals were searching for fruit and fresh leaves. We spotted Long Tail Macaques, Silver Leaf Monkey and the endangered Proboscis Monkey. When walking through the woodland at dawn it was very noticeable how quickly the temperature increased once the sun had risen.

 Early morning flight of the Proboscis Monkey

 A Stork Billed Kingfisher looking for his breakfast

Proboscis Monkeys are one of the most endangered monkeys in the world, however on the Kinabatangan River they are a common sight

Silver leaf monkeys look like little wizards close up, with pointy hats and beards

Black Hornbill

Dusk on the river is very peaceful

Oriental Pied Hornbill

Long Tailed Macaques come down to the waters edge every evening in large groups to soak up the last of the sun's rays

Estuarine Crocodiles are a rare sight and generally stay hidden when the river is high, they can grow over to 6 metres long - this one is a tiddler by comparison at only 3 metres!

Sarah finding the distinctive claw marks of a sun bear 

A Mound Centipede hiding from the world

This beautiful lake sits around 100 yards from the river and is connected to it underground as its height mirrors the height of the river, currently half of it is covered in succulent-like weeds

Conservation support

Collecting seeds on a walk around the reserve with a very knowledgeable chap called Taing was good fun. We also planted out seedlings in areas of the reserve which had been completely decimated by Chinese logging companies in the 50/60's.

Night treks
Creeping round a pitch-black wood in the late evening with our guide was exciting. Every crunch underfoot was amplified as we tiptoed slowly along nature trails looking for nocturnal animals such as Slow Loris, Western Tarsier and Civet Cats.

Blue Eared Kingfisher sleeps in the forest

Fruit Bats visit the banana flower and sip its nectar

Cultural pastimes
We gained an insight into traditional lifestyles by going on a trip to collect ferns, which we had for dinner. We also tried our hand at bamboo rod fishing, which in the chocolate Kinabatangan with bits of fruit as bait was not worth it! Always with an eye out for the large Estuarine Crocodiles!

We watched a show of traditional dances and an excellent Indonesian martial arts dance, accompanied by music. The instruments were large gongs, drums and a xylophone-like piece that set a melodious rhythm for the dancers.

We were sad to leave our new family who had shown us so much, however we were looking forward to a quieter few nights rest!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014


Our second trip with Charly was to the Rainforest Discovery Center near Sepilok, again using the local party-music bus. The RDC is a popular destination for twitchers who stand posed on the canopy walkway with ├╝ber long lenses waiting to snap a flitting bird. We captured a few colourful specimens on camera and then set off on a stroll to find a giant tree. The Dipterocarp (species Shorea faguetiana) stands at 87.5m and is the second tallest tropical tree in the world. We spotted a Buff-Rumped Woodpecker rapping at a dead strangler fig, which had been chopped off near the base by the park rangers before it took too strong a hold on the arboreal giant.

Up high in the canopy 27 metres up

The canopy allows you to see straight into the tree tops through the deep foliage

Not just birds hide up in the tree tops

Green Iora searching for insects

Green crested lizard 

 Can you see him?


Second tallest tropical tree in the world

Buff-Rumped Woodpecker looking for a meal

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Orang-utan Tastic

We landed at Sandakan and met the humidity and heat of Borneo. We were thrilled that Charly had come out from England to join us exploring the Sabah region for a couple of weeks. After an afternoon relaxing, for our first jaunt we hopped on a local bus that constantly played very loud dance and rock music. It was adorned with heavy metal posters, including one of a teenage Slash. The conductor, driver and their entourage (who I guess were there just for the ride) were all dressed like 70's Afro-American Rockers crossed with the YMCA boys.

We timed our visit to Sepilok just right, as soon as we entered the rehabilitation centre forest walk a large orang-utan swung above our heads and down to the feeding platform. A few were already gathered to munch the provided bananas. Their mannerisms were very familiar, which is not surprising as they share 96% of our DNA. When a shaft of intense sunlight caught their body they were a deep orange auburn, whereas in the shade of dense foliage they blended in seamlessly. The very young apes we saw later (as there was two feedings per day) behaved like children you see everywhere, one minute timid, thoughtful and then bounding with inquisitiveness and energy.  

We were informed that these were the orang-utans that were living semi-wild, having been rescued, given medical treatment and rehabilitated. So the fewer orang-utans that came to be fed the better, as this meant they were independently sourcing their own food. Most of the apes which came to the centre were rescued at a young age having been stolen from their mothers (which involved killing the mother) for the illegal pet trade, orphaned due to deforestation or destined for kitchens and Chinese medicine shops in China.

We withered to the Sun Bear Centre next-door. I remember us watching a television programme about rescuing sun bears in India from a life of torture, dancing for people’s entertainment. It was amazing to actually see these bears in the flesh, one of the eight species of bear in the world. To me with their short black fur they looked like Paddington Bear, albeit a naked one without marmalade sandwiches (although they do eat honey). They frolicked and rolled about in their large enclosures, happy to be in their natural habitat. The bears, which are fully protected as an endangered species, have been rescued from the illegal pet trade or as a commodity for Chinese medicine. Each bear has a sun shaped halo on its breast, apparently each pattern is unique.

The ultimate aim of both programmes is to return the animals to the Tabin wildlife reserve in Sabah, where, hopefully, they will be given some protection from poachers and be inclined to breed.

On board the party bus with Guns 'n Roses for company

Within minutes of walking into the Sepilok Orang-utan Reserve we were in luck

We were amazed by the dexterity and confidence of the Orangs, up can be down it doesn't matter!

This little fella raced in for his bananas

Staff were very proud of this young mother who had been one of the orang-utans rescued early on in the programme. Seeing her now with a young infant of her own showed what progress has been made

Even the pig-tailed macaques get stuck in to the free food!

It was all too much for some spectators, including this Giant Malaysian Squirrel

Nothing fusses a Sun Bear, afternoon is the perfect time for a siesta

Although some would much rather play ("...if I could just get the lid off this marmalade jar...")

This Rat Snake couldn't find anything to eat but did stay around for the orang show

And this Crested Serpent Eagle kept looking for the Rat Snake, but we didn't say a word!

                                          So human-like, Chris looks like this first thing!



Louis (king of the swingers). His ID number is tattooed clearly on the inside of this thigh

Puzzling about the meaning of life…..and all that!

Just hangin' (easy when your arms are nearly twice the length of your legs)!