Saturday, January 19, 2013

Welcome to the Jungle!

"...we've got fun and games. Welcome to the Jungle" 

Okay, so a little throw back to the late 80s with Guns-n-Roses' hit single. We wished we had download this song when we were cruising down the chocolate brown waters of Kinabatangan River, the mighty river which cuts through the 130 million  years old rainforest of Borneo, and home to the world’s largest wild Orangutan population. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited the ancient rainforest of Borneo during their Royal Jubilee Tour to Southeast Asia last September where they stayed in Danum Valley. The sad reality is that the pristine rainforest of Borneo is rapidly shrinking due to heavy logging and encroachment of miles and miles of neatly planted palm tree oil plantations that dot the landscape of Sabah Borneo from Ranau to Tawau, destroying Borneo's vast biodiversity of over 15,000 species of plants.

The drive along a two-lane highway from Sabah Tea Gardens to Sepilok was long and treacherous due to the heavy rain. We knew it was monsoon season but I have never seen such downpour in my life. Once in Sepilok, we stayed at  Paganakan Dii, a wonderful little eco-lodge with lovely views of the jungle, tranquil grounds equipped with hammocks and bed lounges, and simple but well-appointed rooms with an outdoor bathroom. As it is not walking distance to the Centre, Paganakan Dii offers a free shuttle to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Here at the Centre, orphaned baby orangutans are rescued and taught life skills such as climbing, hunting, and nest-building before being released into the jungle, although some stay under human care for the rest of their lives, whilst other survive in the wild just fine.

This famous ginger-haired resident of Borneo and Sumatra share 97 percent of their genetic make-up with humans. Whilst orangutans are one of most intelligent primates, they are also the most solitary of the great apes. As such, spotting wild orangutans are very rare. Luckily you can see young orangutans (meaning "person of the forest" in Malaysian Bahasa) at the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre during feeding times at 10am and 3pm. 

During the morning session, we saw three Orangutans and at least five during the afternoon feeding. We spent a good 60 minutes at Centre during each session, watching them swing from rope to rope, play with each others (and other species of monkeys), and do their personal business with no shame. It was all very cute of course. In between feedings, we visited to the nearby Rainforest Discovery Centre for a canopy walk and tour through the botanical garden. We even spotted several red-hair monkey which resembles an orangutan until you see their black faces and long tails. 

Our next stop was to Kinabatangan River for a river safari in search for tropical birds and endemic land mammals. For the next three days, we were on a schedule of a 6am river safari, followed by an afternoon jungle walk, early evening river tour, and a night walk. The river safari was surprisingly relaxing and our guide did a great job of spotting monkeys, long-tailed macaques, and a massive monitor (not to be confused with the Komodo Dragon, they live exclusively on the Indonesian island of Komodo). The jungle walks were not so relaxing: it was dense, muddy, hot and infested with leeches. Seriously, the jungle has all sorts of weird bugs and critters, but we survived thanks to copious amounts of mozzy spray, leech socks, and wellies.

We were lucky to spot four wild Orangutans, one lonesome male way out in the distance, a male and female together which is rare to see, and huge male with cheeks near the river. It was the best Christmas gift that Borneo could give us -- amazing! We didn't see any pygmy elephants though, but saw large groups of bachelor proboscis monkey, the bizarre looking monkey with a large bulb nose, and are endemic to Borneo.  We also spotted at least 8 pairs of rhinoceros hornbills flying gracefully through the sky. I've never been a big birdwatcher but the birds of Borneo are something else, beautiful creatures. Overall we enjoyed our time in the jungle although I am not sure if we'll be keen for another jungle adventure anytime soon... we'll see.

From Kinabatangan, it was time to move on  to our next stop: Mabul Island off the coast of Semporna for sun, beach, and underwater adventures. For now it's 'Goodbye to the Jungle!'

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