In the Kinabatangang Nature Lodge every new day is welcomed with the sound of a fast-beaten gong, a wake-up call that is followed with a 6am river cruise to meet the local wildlife. The inhabitants of the river and surrounding rainforest have their own rhythms with certain animals showing themselves at different times of the day. At dawn most primates are just waking up from their sleep – high in the treetops where they are safe from predators. Soon they will disappear deep into the shady jungle only to go to the riverbanks again late in the afternoon.
Morning is also the time when birds start calling, and hornbills, eagles and egrets begin to hunt their favourite food. The first rays of light start to warm all boat passengers now, waking up everyone for real in this peaceful and serene setting.
However, the tranquility is deceptive as we are not the only ones waking up and getting active: Borneo’s Kinabatangang is one of the most crocodile infested places we’ve ever seen with the fearsome and deadly Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylis porosus) lurking on virtually every bank of this murky river.
The future of this apex predator looked very grim only a few decades ago – the saltwater crocodile has the most commercially valuable hide of all crocodile species and has been hunted to near extinction until it got officially protected in Sabah in 1982. The decline of the timber industry, stabilisation of palm oil plantations and regrowth of secondary forests have provided a proper habitat for this species to recover. The major threat for a full comeback however is the conflict between the people that live and work along the river and the increasing crocodile population – on average crocodiles attack 3 people per year, a major concern for both authorities and communities involved.
From the (relative) safety of our boat we were able to observe those fascinating creatures from close proximity. A full-grown adult male the size of a family car was the absolute highlight – although we all were relieved to leave the scene as this croc was so big I only managed to take some shots of its skin and tail!