Proboscis Lodge boat safari and wildlife viewing

Our boatman, a local tribesman employed at the Proboscis Lodge for his water and nature skills, is a skilled boatman and during our safari turns the motor off, or uses the quiet electric outboard motor, when we stop to watch wildlife.

Wildlife watching us watching them!
Wildlife (pig-tailed macaques) watching us watching them!


‘Look before you leap’ does not seem to be a saying that proboscis monkeys observe. They’re a noisy troop communicating with honks and groans and crash through the foliage, leaping from tree to tree and landing almost as a belly flop. A threatened species, they are a columbine monkey, which means they have enlarged, multi-chambered stomachs that has a bacteria which aids digestion, particularly of the hard-to-digest leaves they eat, and making them the only ruminant primate.

The clumsy and delightful Proboscis monkey (often called the Dutch Monkey because of the big nose and tummy!)
The clumsy and delightful Proboscis monkey (often called the Dutch Monkey because of the big nose and tummy!)

I’m told the babies have blue faces; all have webbed feet and can swim well; they only live about 13 years and need to range widely to find sufficient nourishment I love these comically long-nosed proboscis monkeys more than the world-renown man-of-the-forest the orang-utan and loved that we could sit in the boat and watch them living in the wild.

Twice I saw wild orang-utan in this area: I also saw people in a small electric boat. (They’re either NGOs or a University research team) Seems they often record all they see here, monitoring the animals – especially I think, as some Sepilok orang-utan have been released in the area.

use IMG_7804

My journal is full of sightings; palm squirrels, long-tailed and pig-tailed macaques, and langur. A Storm’s stork, Serpent eagle, and Brahminy kite to name just a few birds. Up a side river, the Menanggol, an estuarine crocodiles, on the bank and in the water, eyes on us: these huge creatures, up to 8 metres in length, once prized for their hides, are now extremely rare. An optional extra, my night boat safari adds two civet cats and a couple of Buffy fish owls and the beautiful stork-billed kingfisher, the largest of kingfishers; this whole area, like Bako, is just another place on my revisit bucket list along with the caves here and in Sarawak.

use IMG_8447

Borneo is young geologically and was once the huge land of Sundaland, a bio-geographical region of Southeast Asia, the part of the Asian continental shelf that was exposed during the last ice age. It included the Malay Peninsula on the Asian mainland, as well as the large islands of Borneo, Java, and Sumatra and their surrounding islands and when the ice-age finished, the sea rose and Borneo became isolated, the large island it is today.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Travel the snake-like Kinabatangan River to the Proboscis Lodge

Snake-like, the Kinabatangan is a 560 kilometre river and after a road trip from Sandakan I’m picked up by boat to travel on it to the Proboscis Lodge where I’m staying 3 days and 2 nights.   Sabah’s longest river, this area of it is the 26,000 hectare Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, home to all 8 species of hornbill, as well as orang-utan, proboscis monkey, crocodiles,  pygmy elephant and many colourful tropical birds and many other species of Malaysian Borneo’s remarkable wildlife.

my transport arrives
my transport arrives

I love it when I learn something new and I join other guests on a boat to go to an oxbow lake. I thought it was a funny name for a lake, and it’s not until the next day, browsing in the Lodges library, that I realise exactly what it is we saw. They’re a unique feature of this unusual area, an area that’s influenced by tides as well as the flooding from heavy rains, and there are about 20 ‘oxbow lakes’ in the Lower Kinabatangan.  I learn they’re formed by large meandering bends in the river’s course that eventually get cut off from the main river by erosion on the bends; flooding then changes the river’s direction as the gush of water rushes directly towards the sea.  This eventually leaves a lake behind, cut off from the main river flow and the ‘oxbow’ refers to the shape of the wooden harnesses on oxen – and the only oxbow I’d ever heard of until now.


An invasive aquatic weed blocks one end of the ox-bow lake
An invasive aquatic weed blocks one end of the ox-bow lake

These occasional massive floods slowly change the river, and the lakes too are eventually claimed by vegetation: this process is speeding up by the invasive water hyacinth which has been in the area for about 100 years. Listed as one of the most productive plants on earth – it can double in size in 12 days and is considered the world’s worst aquatic plant. It forms dense mats that competitively exclude native submersed and floating-leaved plants and low oxygen conditions develop beneath them. Recent studies have shown it to be very useful in absorbing heavy metals from polluted water and here in Malaysia, this plant has also been used to feed ducks and pigs.

Travelling up the narrow stream that joins the lake to the river suddenly it opens out to a huge expansive lake: fascinating and peaceful. It’s a great spot for birders and fishers who mainly use nets for their fishing.

fellow-travellers enjoy a fish spa in the lake
fellow-travellers enjoy a fish foot spa in the lake … the fish nibble at the dead skin

I take four boat trips while at Proboscis Lodge and each one provides a different aspect to this scientifically, and historically, important region and I see one of the four tallest trees in the world, the Mengaris. Locals believe these trees, in which bees often form hives, have spirits living in them and that ill fortune will come to those who cut them.  Driving around, areas that have been cleared for oil plantations often have these tall trees reaching skyward, more I suspect for practical reasons than because of myths,  I’m told the tree has silica which soon blunts saws!



It’s in this region, in the ‘land of Hornbills’ that I’m finally seeing many hornbills although the Malaysia Nature Society says there are less around.  Like New Zealand’s native Kereru, the world’s largest wood pigeon with its distinctive swishing sound, I hear the hornbills in flight before I see them as they fly into a roosting tree at the lodge.  It’s for sights, and sounds, like these that I love to travel, and for my concern for habitat both here and in my country (NZ).

I could have, I wish I had, stayed twice as long in this magical place, and more blogs will follow!


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Never smile at a crocodile: photo of the day

Never smile at a crocodile‘ the old song went.  This is estuarine crocodile certainly has a wide-mouthed smile!

Photo taken when I was on a river safari as part of my stay at the fabulous Proboscis Lodge on the Kinabatangan River – Sabah’s biggest river.

They’re easy to spot at night as their eyes shine red in the torchlight. We saw many of these reptiles sunning themselves on the riverbanks. I have blogs about this fabulous area scheduled for 1st and 8th April