Leech socks and the Lipad mud volcano

With leech socks, and provided gumboots by the Tabin Wildlife Resort, Sabah,  I visit the amazing Lipad mud volcanoes which are changing constantly with their burping and bubbling. Yet again on this trip to Malaysian Borneo I go out of my comfort zone and climb the Wildlife Department’s observation tower which is about 20 metres high. I would have loved to have spent more time up there, but another small group of came and were not respectful about keeping quiet – of course no animals or birds will visit with them in the area so we, my guide and I, don’t stay as long as we had expected.

a pygmy elephant has been along the track before us
a pygmy elephant has been along the track before us

It seems the local wildlife love the minerals they get in this mud volcano: it’s a 3 to 12 metre mound of mud and clay that has been forced up through other sediments. I’m told the mud is formed when volcanic gasses dissolve in the hot ground water and interact with the igneous rocks a few metres below the surface. A reminder that Borneo is on the edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire I suspect.

This sticky mixture dries to a solid, crumbly, mud while a more liquidly-mobile mud of the highly saline mud slowly oozes up; it acts as a mineral salt-lick for many animals, including birds – the only creatures to visit while we were there. My guide also shows me different footprints in the mud, mainly mouse deer, pigs and some elephant prints which are easy to spot.

Evidently the pH level here is quite alkaline (averaging 8.0) which means few plants grow in the immediate area. I rub some onto my face: ‘No, no.’ says Palin, ‘just use the very fresh new mud. There might be urine in that older area.’ Oh well.use IMG_8702

Walking back along the muddy 6 or 7 hundred metre Mud Volcano Trail we see more pygmy elephant footprints and manure but they’re not fresh. We also hear a frog, a male Bornean tree-hole frog that exploits the acoustic properties of cavities in tree trunks or vines. The tiny creature uses the partially water-filled holes to increase its voice and chance of finding a mate. He then uses the watery hole as a safe egg hatchery.

As dusk falls we walk back towards the resort; a good time hear the evening bird song, and I also ask about a funny noise I hear in my chalet-type unit. ‘It sounds like a puppy learning to bark’ I say, ‘it’s not like other geckos I’ve heard but suspect it is one.’ My assumptions are correct – it is the ‘barking gecko’. I’m also sure it’s one of the many creatures carved on the beautiful totem-like poles around the dining room and reception.

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The two nights and three days go way too fast at the Tabin Wildlife Resort and I’m out on day and night safaris on open trucks as well as walking ones with my guide, Palin, who tells me he was named by a British friend of his family.

Arriving back in time for dinner it’s then onto the first of my two night trips. Driving down the road that separates the palm oil plantations and the native bush we see, or rather our eagle-eyed guides see things for us. With one on the back of the vehicle and other in the cab with the driver, they point out many owls, the Palm Civets, and the Leopard Cat – all obviously finding plenty to eat. So much for oil plantations being sterile.

A huge group of about 80 piglets run down the road in front of us briefly before running back into the forest: it seems they often form these herds which are called a ‘sounder’ of pigs – a term given to a group of wild pigs.

Not happy with my photos from the first night safari I leave my camera behind on the second day: breaking the number one rule for all photographers to always keep your camera close – more will be revealed in next week’s post!

 

PS: I never even saw a leech in my eight-weeks in Malaysian Borneo! 🙂

Tabin Wildlife Resort ticks all the boxes for me

Proboscis Lodge's manager kindly drops me off.
Proboscis Lodge’s manager kindly drops me off.

I’m dropped off (Thanks Proboscis Lodge) at the Tabin Wildlife Resort office beside the Lahad Datu Airport and head for what is considered Sabah’s ‘greatest wildlife sanctuary’  and which is amazingly twice the size of Singapore. The resort is the only accommodation in the area – I will stay for 2 nights and three days.

It’s on the Dent Peninsula, jutting into the Sulawesi Sea, and is an hour’s journey from here: once we get to the entrance it’s still another 10 km on an unsealed, lumpy road.  We’re travelling on roads with oil plantations on either side of the road and my heart sinks.  I don’t think there will  be much wildlife in this environment. How wrong I was!

I’m the only person being picked up at this time so can sit in the front for good views during the journey, including seeing a magnificent Mengaris tree. I later realise this must be the most photographed and tallest rainforest tree in the area.

Monitor lizards are sunning themselves on the road, and a raptor flies overhead: both animals are scavengers so I realise there is food around for them – confirming that some of my pre-Borneo perceptions about some oil plantations are obviously wrong.

If  I freeze they won't see me
If I freeze they won’t see me

The Tabin Wildlife Resort brochure says is ‘Borneo’s Birding & Wildlife Paradise’, and to reinforce the claim, all visitors are given a ‘pocket checklist’ for recording the creatures we see. It starts with the 260 species of birds recorded here. I ticked off about 25 despite not a being a ‘birder’ in the usual sense of the word – and saw more than I ticked!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guests are assigned a guide when they arrive – I’ve just driven in, haven’t been given one or been shown my room when I’m told, ‘quick, come with me, gibbons just past your room.’ OMG.  My first sighting of something I’ve never seen before and it’s only a 2 min walk from the dining room, 20 seconds past my accommodation. I’m in love already.

Gibbons, it seems are silent except for an hour or two on awakening, and these are silent as they swing circus-like from branch to branch, just as you imagine all monkeys do (but don’t).  They’re hard to photograph because of their speed,  and their  hook-shaped hands and comically extra-long arms and long legs make them really agile and I ‘ooh and aah’ with pleasure as I watch them in  the tree canopy where they spend most of their time.  Lunch can wait.

Mum and baby gibbon
Mum and baby gibbon

Like tightrope walkers they use outstretched arms to help keep their balance and I’m amazed at how they leap across large gaps, from branch to branch and it’s not until they move on into the deeper forest that I go and check out my lovely unit that overlooks a small river – an ideal spot to relax to the soothing sound of water and watch many birds, butterflies and the mischievous macaque when they travel through the resort. Just sitting there makes me realise why Tabin is considered a bird-watchers paradise.

The next morning about the time I wake up, the same family (mum, dad, and 3 youngsters) announce their presence with territorial hooting calls, warning other gibbons to stay out of their ‘hood. This noisy display takes 1/2 hour or more every morning and is started by the adult female – it is also she who decides when to move on too I’m told by Palin my ‘Tabin Native Guide’.

Their haunting calls can often be heard for long distances and consists of a duet between the mated pair with the young ones sometimes joining in. Monogamous, and endemic to these dense forests, they are tailless with  coats that range from brown to nearly black, and with white markings on their faces and hands. Among the most threatened primates with their habitat disappearing at a rapid rate, they’re often captured and sold as pets or killed for use in traditional medicines. All but one species of gibbon are listed as endangered or critically endangered. This one, the Müller’s Bornean Gibbon (Gray) is endemic to the island of Borneo.

Seeing them so unexpectedly was just the first of many highlights in this small river valley and resort, in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve which is twice the size of Singapore.  The reserve is managed by Sabah Wildlife Department who, with the Sabahmas Plantation, also have a project in the area to encourage the Sumatran rhinos to breed: there are only 30 to 50 in the world.

Dominated by secondary growth, with patches of virgin forest, this area is largely surrounded by oil plantations which I now find makes it easy to see many creatures as they move between the plantations and forest for food – or even wander down the road. I believe the reserve and plantation share a 9 km boundary which means resort, the department, and the oil plantations have shared responsibilities for the flora and fauna of the area – an alliance that seems to be working for them all, and the animals.

 

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