Friday, June 4, 2010

Journal Notes from Dina Bredahl

When we were in Kota Kinabalu we not only met with John Payne but also with Mr. Nabuo Nakanishi of BCT, Borneo Conservation Trust of Japan. He shared with us their goals to raise funds to purchase key areas of land. These key areas will be important corridors for orangutans, elephants and other animals to travel between isolated fragments of forest along the river.

We flew to Sandakan and were met at the airport by Mincho, who would be our guide for the next five days in Sukau. Sukau is a village of 1,200 people, 150 families, along the Kinabatangan River. He is an honorary wildlife warden and works for both Hutan, an orangutan conservation organization, and Red Ape Encounters, an eco-tourism company in Sukau.

Our first destination between Sandakan and Sukau was Sepilok, the oldest orangutan rehabilitation centre in the world. We attended a scheduled feeding and were surprised at the number of people that were there…hundreds of people were crowded onto observation decks. Some were international visitors but many were Malaysian. It was so good to see that some Malaysian people are interested in orangutans. Three young orangutans came out of the forest to a feeding platform where they took food and milk from the staff. After a few minutes the three orangutans shimmied away on cables, back into the forest.

Macaques waited until the staff were gone then swarmed on to the platform to finish off the fruit. Here is a picture of long-tailed macaque we saw:

Next we drove to Gomantong Cave. After applying lots of mosquito repellent, we walked for a while on wooden boardwalks through a rare primary growth forest. We were warned, prior to entering the cave, that there would be bats, guano, cockroaches and swiftlets everywhere. Swiftlets are small insect-eating birds that are important to the economy of this region. The indigenous people have been harvesting the nests of several swiftlet species for generations. The nests are a delicacy in China and are served as bird’s nest soup. The bamboo ladders and methods of collecting the nests are incredible feats of engineering, reaching the tops of caves that are up to 90 feet in height. The mountain of guano in the middle of the cave was unbelievable, and the boardwalk was slippery with guano. The nests are so valuable that people live in the dark caves 24/7 in order to guard them.

After the cave, as we were walking back through the forest, we had the unexpected surprise…we saw three wild orangutans!!! Two of them seemed to be traveling together, and adult female and her subadult daughter. Since it is one of the only primary growth forests left in Malaysia the trees were quite tall. It was interesting to see the orangutans disappear and reappear over and over again as they moved through the forest. Another rarity in Malaysia is dipterocarp trees, which are only found in primary growth forests. We were lucky enough to see a strong wind come up and blow numerous dipterocarp seeds out of the massive tree. They spun slowly to the ground, dispersing in different directions, it was amazing! The seeds are similar in size and shape to a badminton birdie.

Next we drove to our home stay in Sukau. We stayed for five days with an amazing family; Harizah and Samsudin are the mother and father of six children ranging in age from about 8 months to 18 years.

Harizah cooked so many delicious local dishes for us, such as giant prawns, fried whole fishes, Sabah vegetables, stewed jackfruit, curried chicken, lots of rice. Noodles, eggs and fried bananas are a traditional breakfast in Sabah. It was crazy to sit on their porch in the morning and see a rare Mueller’s gibbon or maroon leaf monkey swing by on the electric lines!!

We hope to send more updates later about the several river boat tours we have done and the amazing animals we have seen so far!

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