Not-so tall tales from the jungle!

Kinabatangan Jungle Camp

It’s our third day in the Borneo rain forest. Two boat trips down the Kinabatangan River each day. It’s a rain forest, and it seems to have set out to prove it! We’d been on a short trek into the forest surrounding our camp earlier that day, and had squelched through the rich brown mud in our borrowed wellies, almost losing them sometimes to the sucking of the land. We had brushed aside mosquitoes, gazed in awe at the second smallest frog in the world, and laughed at the white fluff bugs as they jumped around (I still don’t know what they’re called!)

unidentified white “fluff bug”

And now we’re in the boat again. I’ve finished the hot cup of tea I brought with me, I’m huddled into my thin raincoat as the tropical rain pounds down upon us, again. I can hear our guide Azlan bailing out the boat behind me, and wonder how well the life jacket will work in this deep swirling maelstrom of a brown river. I’m on the point of suggesting we go back, we’re all soaked, the light is going, we’ve seen Long-tailed Macaques, and Proboscis Monkeys, grooming in groups, swinging through the trees, ignoring us.

Proboscis Monkey
Proboscis Monkey

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We’ve caught glimpses of the man of the forest – Orangutans. We’ve seen Rhinoceros Hornbills, and White-bellied Sea Eagles, it really is a rich jungle.

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second smallest frog in the world jumps onto Azlan’s head

We go round a bend in the river, and see a couple of other boats ahead of us, and Azlan calls to them. “Elephants, there are elephants!” And indeed there are! As we get closer, we realize there’s a large family group of maybe 20-30 Borneo pygmy elephants. A mix of males with tusks, females without tusks, and to our great delight, there are at least half a dozen young to very young calves. I spy one tiny calf tucked under its mother’s belly, head up and suckling, as mum munches on the long grass by the river’s edge. The babies huddle close to their mothers, apart from two slightly bigger ones, who go head to head, pushing and shoving, playing and testing each other.

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Our boat is about 15 feet from the river bank, and the elephants are right on the edge of the land, grabbing and pulling out great swathes of lush grass, filling their bellies. I worry that we might be disturbing them, with the sound of the boat engine, and our clicking and whirring cameras, but they really are very placid. There were just a couple of moments when perhaps we edged too close, and a large female sounded a loud trumpeting warning to back off! They are rightly very protective of their young. Two of our group have cameras with enormous lenses and I’m envious. My little Olympus Tough is a pretty good all round camera, most importantly for me, it’s waterproof, and comes with a scuba housing too. It’s very compact, and usually does a decent job, but just sometimes I yearn for a huge long lens!

It’s pretty much dark now as we leave the elephants and speed back to camp. We are soaked, and a bit chilled, but all grinning from ear to ear, we’ve seen the elusive Borneo Pygmy Elephants, and they are truly wonderful.

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Elephant size comparisons


Before going to the Kinabatangan Jungle Camp, we spent a few days at Sepilok Jungle Resort, and visited the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Here in a large jungle area of 43 sq km, orphaned orangutans and rescued pets are cared for, taught in the various staged nurseries how to be wild orangutans, how to build nests, and where to forage for food. After several years, the youngsters are free to roam about the forest. If they wish, they can return twice a day, where they’re fed a boring diet of only bananas, to encourage them to roam the jungle and seek more interesting fruits. The feeding times allow visitors to see them closer, and helps to build awareness of the loss of jungle habitat, plus it brings in much need resources to the Centre. Many of the rescued orphans have gone on to have babies and grandchildren of their own, so the Centre would seem to be having a good success rate. Indeed one day when we were there at feeding time, not one orangutan showed up, which to me was very heartening – it meant they were out in the jungle, roaming wild as they should.

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Sun Bears

We also enjoyed seeing the small Borneo Sun Bears in the conservation centre next door to the Orangutans.

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While we were there, we had another tropical downpour – apparently the Sun Bears get excited when it rains! Check out the video below for excited Sun Bears in a tall tree! (at the 3:28 mark).

The video is a compilation of footage from the Sepilok Orangutan Rehab Centre, (from the beginning) the next door Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre, at 3:28, and Proboscis Monkeys and Long-Tailed Macaques (at 6:50) and of course the Borneo Pygmy Elephants, (at 7:45) in the virgin jungle around Kinabatangan Jungle Camp.

You can donate to these worthy causes, by following these links: Orangutan Appeal.  Or donate to the Sun Bear Conservation Centre. You can also volunteer to work with the Sun Bears.

I’m trying to learn about ethically grown palm oil, and only use products from these sources, and indeed am trying to cut down as much as possible on my use of palm oil products. Here’s a list of Palm Oil Free and Sustainable Palm Oil Products in the UK. And here’s a scorecard of stores and manufacturers in the USA.

Read more about the problem with palm oil.

We only have one Borneo Rainforest, and as sentient beings, I believe we have the obligation and responsibility to try to balance the economic needs of people and political entities, with the need to maintain the only habitat that the endemic creatures here know.

We stayed at Kinabatangan Jungle Camp, and paid the full market price for our trip. The camp strikes a fair balance between comfort and camping. The cabin rooms are spacious, with wooden floors, generally with three beds, a ceiling fan (no a/c) and ensuite bathroom. There’s hot water between 6-10 pm. It would be nice to have more places to hang up our eternally damp clothing! Good, tasty food is served three times a day, and there is beer and wine available for purchase, but with early starts, we didn’t indulge! Staff are always laughing and friendly, and happy to bring us anything we need (plastic covered cushions for the boat rides are very welcome!) Our guide Azlan was very knowledgeable, always pointing out and naming birds that were no more than a blur to our eyes, and spotting the various monkeys in trees. He was as delighted as we were to see the elephants.

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2 thoughts on “Not-so tall tales from the jungle!”

  1. Wow, what an adventure you guys are having. And how fabulous that you got to see the elephants. It must have been thrilling. I’d love to go there. My dad was stationed in Borneo during the war.

    1. Hi Alison, it was exciting. We tried not to think about seeing them, as we know there are not that many, but we got lucky! Funny, Chris and were talking about how tough it must have been for the troops in Borneo during the war, I can hardly imagine the hardships they endured :/

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