…Welcome to our third blog on Sabah, focused on our three days and two nights on the Kinabatangan River, one of Malaysia greatest wild-life areas. This time we bought an inclusive package, including accommodation, meals and our activities which included river cruises for wildlife spotting, jungle walks and a three hour trek in the jungle. We made our own arrangements for the fifty mile trip from Sandakan and once again were unhappy with the mile after mile of cultivated palm trees for palm oil production. When we eventually got to the Kinabatangan River, we were greeted with magnificent trees towering into the sky and dense foliage at lower levels too. In order to reach our lodge we need to call up a boat to cross the river and we were advised that it had many crocodiles.
Here is a quick recap of some of the wildlife that we saw:
- Proboscis monkeys
- Long-tailed monkeys
- Monitor lizards
- Hornbills of different variety, egrets and many varieties of bird, including birds of prey
- Wild boar
We did not see any of the famous Bornean pigmy elephants, just signs of their droppings from a month earlier (we pick this thread up again later).
The best time for seeing wildlife on the Kinabatangan River is early in the morning and early evening, just before the sun goes down.
Our first river cruise started at 4 pm. There were about ten of us in a long-boat with a guide and boatman, we traveled along the river and to our amazement we quickly saw orangutans in their natural habitat; we then saw proboscis monkeys and their amazingly, strange long noses – these unusual primates, we are told, are only to be found in Borneo and there seemed to be lots of them. We also saw a host of other types of monkeys including , the long – tailed variety. At 8.30 pm, we did our first night walk in the jungle. We were armed with wellies and were expecting it to be very wet, however what we hadn’t realized was that the wet was thick, heavy mud and once your wellie sticks in it your foot comes out and that ends up in the mud also; well, it was lots of fun!
We had another river trip the following day at 6 am and, this time, we saw so many wonderful birds and listened to their dawn chorus, along with the insects; the sounds of the early morning jungle are beautiful. We were lucky enough to see once again, lots of monkeys and wild bearded boar on the river bank.
Later in the morning, after breakfast, we had our three-hour jungle trek. Here we saw snakes, monitor- lizards that were very large, monkeys, of course, and a whole host of insects that are alien to us, including stick insects that look like the twigs of trees. This trek was really tough, as it had rained in the night and the mud was thicker, heavier and deeper and three hours of that was very tough going. Marilyn spent quite a lot of her time being pulled out of the mud by a lovely young man from Sweden, who probably thought that she reminded him of his mum; Alf came out in sympathy and started falling about too! We were lucky not to have had any leaches after our blood; others were not so lucky that morning – maybe the leeches prefer young blood? Eventually, we reached our destination, a lovely lake in the jungle, just an amazing sight. The return was not quite as bad, as we were met by a boat on the river, after a hike of about one hour. We arrived back at the lodge, covered in mud and pleasantly exhausted! The option for the rest of the afternoon was to go kayaking and we thought that sleeping was a better idea and to our amazement nobody went kayaking and everyone had a cat-nap! At 4 pm we went on our evening river cruise and saw the monkeys, but this time we saw crocodiles, birds singing their evening song and insects screaming at us. Later that evening there was another night walk, in the mud and along with others we took a rain check! The following morning we went on another river cruise at 6 am and heard the beautiful dawn chorus once again and followed the early sunlight across the river in the jungle of Borneo, an amazing experience that will not be forgotten.
As we enjoyed the wildlife on the Kinabatangan River, we had no idea of two major news stories about Sabah, making World news.
The first story was the armed conflict with a radical group of Filipino rebels. The whole of Eastern Sabah, including Sandakan and the Kinabatangan River has now been declared an emergency zone by the state government and the UK Foreign Office is now strongly encouraging UK nationals to avoid the area.
Returning to our visit to Kinabatangan River, when we probed our guide about the current location of the elephants, following the sighting of the month-old droppings, we now believe that he knew about the slaughter and was trying to deflect our attention. Wildlife tourism in Malaysia is all about managing the tourists’ expectations because there are fewer and fewer animals on the back of the reducing rain-forest.
Here is our personal view on the death of the fourteen rare elephants. It is believed that local farmers were disgruntled by elephants damaging their crops. The pygmy elephants are only available in Borneo with an estimated population of 1,500 across Borneo. According to the media, the Sabah Government are taking the matter very seriously and promising to prosecute those responsible. Until the armed Filipino rebels arrived, Sabah was planning to grow tourism on the back of its wildlife and beautiful beaches. Unfortunately, Sabah, in an effort to accelerate growth out of poverty has given over vast areas to cultivation of palm trees and production of palm oil. The deforestation caused by the palm oil industry has destroyed the eco-system on which the flora and fauna survive. For us, there is far too much marketing hype about Sabah’s wildlife. The eco-tourist who has seen wildlife in Africa will probably be seriously disappointed in Sabah.
Malaysia has a very important national election due in April 2013, and we worry whether people are just planning to vote for their own narrow interests, or will they also press politicians for the protection of the rain-forest, the wildlife and the eco-system?