All posts tagged: Asia

Water Monitor Varanus salvator Kinabatangan Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Water Monitor – Portrait of a Dragon

The Water Monitor (Varanus salvator) is the second-heaviest lizard in the world after the Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) – a fearsome looking animal with a muscular body, split tongue and sharp claws. Scanning their surroundings by walking upright, defending themselves with infection causing bites and feeding on carrion, birds, eggs and young crocodiles, this aquatic and arboreal carnivore is one of Borneo’s apex predators. Although the water monitor is a common inhabitant of the island’s riparian zones and rivers, we were fortunate to watch this dragon up-close on several occasions. Note the sheer size of the claws in the photograph below – and compare it to the innocent look of the juvenile above…

Borneo Bow-Fingered Gecko Cyrtodactylus malayanus Sepilok Borneo Malysia

Life in the Understory # 2 – Bow-Fingered Gecko

There are around 5,600 species of lizards living on our planet and around 1,500 are gecko’s (infraorder Gekkota). Scientists keep discovering new species that in one way or another have adapted to their unique habitat, however, despite all their differences gecko’s share some common traits as for example the regular shedding of skin, the voluntary dropping of their tails when attacked by a predator and large eyes, with vertically elliptical pupils that lack eyelids. Many gecko’s have clearly dilated digits with adhesive toe pads – enabling them to run up smooth and vertical surfaces – while others have slender toes as this Borneo Bow-Fingered Gecko (Cyrtodactylus malayanus) we spotted on a night walk in the Sepilok Forest Reserve.

Longhorn beetle Batocera rubus Sepilok Forest Reserve Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Life on the Forest Floor # 1- Wallace’s legacy

Although only covering around 2% of the Earth’s surface, tropical rainforests are home to more than half of all life forms on our planet. Its biodiversity is truly immense, but the answer on why so many different taxonomic groups have evolved in this biome is rather complex. When thinking about the biodiversity of the Bornean forests the name of Alfred Russel Wallace automatically comes into my mind. As collaborator of Charles Darwin and co-author of the famous 1858 paper On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection Wallace is one of the founding fathers of the evolution theory – but where Darwin’s fame got firmly cemented by his book On the Origin of Species, Wallace’s contribution to what is now known as ‘Darwinism’ became almost forgotten. However, with his skills as an animal collector, storyteller and founder of biogeography, Wallace has left behind his own legacy; especially his observation that the islands of the Malayan Archipelago represented a frontier between two faunal provinces (the Indo-Malayan to the west …

Slow Loris Danum Valley Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Slow Loris

Over the past couple of weeks we have showcased some remarkable animals on iAMsafari and today’s slow loris (Nycticebus menagensis) is definitely another one! With the Western Tarsier being the smallest primate of Borneo, the slow loris is second in line – with only 11 inches in length and a body weight of around 300 grams it’s certainly no giant. Apart from the fact these animals are small they live high in the forest’s canopy and are therefore very hard to spot – combined with extremely low population densities of around one individual per 12 km² one is actually very lucky to find one at all. The first slow loris we encountered near the Sepilok Rainforest Discovery Centre walked on a height of 25-30 metres, slowly but surely moving on a thick branch in search of insects, fruits and tree gum – a fair sighting at dusk from the centre’s canopy walk, and judging the enthusiasm of our guide we got the impression this had to be regarded as very special. But as on so …

Saltwater Crocodile Buaya Tembaga Kinabatangang Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Saltwater Crocodile – Buaya Tembaga

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 …

Long-tailed Macaque Kinabatangan Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Long-tailed Macaque

When cruising the Kinabatangan river in search of wildlife it’s impossible to miss the numerous long-tailed Macaques (Macaca fascicularis). Found in a wide range of habitats including forests, mangroves, plantations and villages it is beyond doubt Southeast Asia’s most successful primate. Despite the fact this rather common species competes with more iconic primates such as the Orang Utang or the Proboscis Monkey on most bucket lists, the cheeky social interaction and inquisitive nature of the long-tailed Macaques deliver entertaining wildlife-watching almost guaranteed. They therefore could easily be considered the most reliable jungle animals for the boatsmen who try to deliver the best possible sightings to visiting tourists day in, day out!

Musang Common Palm Civet Danum Valley Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Common Palm Civet – Musang Pandan

As opposed to peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra, Borneo is not inhabited by tigers – the title of biggest predator therefore automatically goes to the Sunda Clouded Leopard (Neofelis diardi). This beautifully marbled cat is one of the trophy mammals when trekking in the forests, however, they are so rare and elusive a sighting would be highly unlikely. Apart from other rare felines as for example the endemic Bay Cat (Pardofelis Badia) or the Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis borneoensis), civet cats are more numerous and therefore easier to find – especially the Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) can be seen more readily at night around the densely vegetated sides of gravel roads and forest paths. In this habitat the almost entirely frugivorous civet builds its day-bed and acts as a major seed-dispersal agent. On one of our night walks around the Danum Valley Field Centre we stumbled upon this individual sitting on a big vine right next to the trail. Instead of rushing off into the forest it seemed stunned by our presence (and torchlights) only …

Veiled Lady Phallus indusiatus fungus Danum Valley Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Veiled Lady – 6.6.6 Tessellation

Most colourful and amazing lifeforms in the wet tropics can be seen on the forest floor, however, they often go unnoticed. But if one keeps an eye open for the little things some truly spectacular gems can be found – and this goes for fungi in particular. They play a vital role for the life on our planet, especially in rainforest where their long thread-like hyphae invade and breakdown the tissues of dead wood and leaf litter, producing nutrients for other plants and animals. On a strenuous hike in the pristine Danum Valley we stumbled upon this beautiful Veiled Lady or Long Net Stinkhorn (Phallus indusiatus), a fungus that can be found in tropical regions around the world. Whenever it is ready to reproduce the fruiting body is grown in an effort to attract insects for the dispersion of the spores. The veiled lady is very short-lived, yet the specimen we found was still fresh regarding the slime covered cap and the undamaged hexagon-tessellated skirt – almost a perfect piece of modern architecture.

Jade Green Cicada Dundubia Vaginata Kinabatangang Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Jade Green Cicada

With the Pygmy Elephant and Western Tarsier we have highlighted two of Borneo’s iconic inhabitants. However, there are many more and this instalment is about one that might not always get the attention it deserves: the Cicada. Maybe they’re just not rare enough, and certainly not cuddly, but these noisy insects perform one of the most characteristic symphonies in the tropical forests around the globe when the daylight wanes. Where the massive Emperor or 6 o’clock Cicada (Pomponia merula) excels in the production of an electrical shaver-like sound, the Jade Green Cicada (Dundubia vaginata) is the most beautiful by far. Around 5.30 every afternoon a few males would start their concert by a rhythmical pulsation of their abdomens (called tymbalisation) to be followed by the ones in their direct vicinity until retirement for the night. Despite their noisy call cicadas are not easy to locate – their excellent vision warns them for possible threats and they stop calling, hide or simply fly away to another tree when disturbed. When spotlighting in search for some nocturnal action …

Western Tarsier Horsfield's Tarsier Kinabatangan Sabah Borneo Malayia Primate

Western Tarsier – Five in One

“Our Simpalili, better known to us as Lili the Simp, was the best endurance flagpole sitter in all of North Borneo. He was brought to us from the jungle clinging to a long stick, and his expression of strained affability, and his determination not to leave his stick, always reminded me of the expressions and actions of human contestants in American endurance contests” – Agnes Newton Keith, Land Below the Wind The variety of life in the Bornean rainforests is truly baffling. Especially the primates are well represented with for example the big-nosed Proboscis, the cheeky Macaque, agile Gibbon and the human-like Orang Utan, but although they are all fascinating in their own way, the Western Tarsier – the island’s smallest primate and mammal – was our favourite by far: just one look in its big eyes simply makes you want to cuddle this adorable prosimian. During the day Western Tarsiers (Cephalopachus bancanus borneanus) sleep on the vines and creepers of the dense forest undergrowth – at nighttime they become active to forage on insects and small vertebrates while …

Borneo Pygmy Elephant Kinabatangang Sabah Malaysia

Borneo Pygmy Elephant

We are back from Borneo. Two fantastic weeks in Sabah have given us one of our best wildlife experiences ever – and this is no exaggeration. Big swaths of land in the northeastern corner of the island are still covered in primary rainforests. Estimated to be over 130 millions old these are some of the oldest rainforests on our planet – no wonder we encountered such a rich and intriguing biodiversity under and above its almost impenetrable canopy. Spotting its diverse inhabitants was by no means easy. With only 2% of the sunlight reaching the forest floor most life seems to be concentrated amid the leafy tops of the tall Dipterocarps, beyond our sight and hearing, while the fact that many mammals are nocturnal is another obstacle for easy wildlife viewing. Add the leeches, stifling humidity and 5.30 wake-up calls (sci-fi ringtones) and you’ll have a rough sketch of the efforts we made to meet the animals – photography in those challenging circumstances is another chapter. But still, we got so much more than we bargained …