All posts tagged: Sabah

Orangutan Pongo pymaeus Forest Reserve Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Orangutan – back to the wild

Wow, it really has been a fair while since my last update on the Easter trip to Borneo. A lot has happened in the meantime: I followed the footsteps of my wife and have started running the Perth Hills trails rather seriously, making me stronger, faster and lighter every day. Winter is the best time of the year to pick up outdoor activities as this – mild temperatures and refreshing rains make those lengthy runs bearable while the transformation of nature into one big flowering mass provides a real feast for the eyes. I promise to post some truly spectacular wildflowers photos on iAMsafari very soon as they are not to be missed. Another project that has kept us busy is the purchasing and gearing up of our own Toyota Landcruiser – an investment in hardware indispensable for the discovery of the Australian outback, just tested around the wilderness of Gnaraloo where we have been swimming with Loggerhead turtles in Ningaloo Reef  – so stay tuned for more indeed! Although I really would like to …

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…

Praying Mantis Mantidae Kinabatangang Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Life in the Understory # 3 – Praying Mantis

The Kinabatangang Nature Lodge is a place of great adventure. Their slogan ‘it’s a jungle out there!’ not only refers to the forest surrounding the lodge, but also to a world where it’s ‘eat and be eaten’. This certainly holds true for the many insects inhabiting this environment and its therefore not surprising that mimicry is one of the many mechanisms deployed, either defensive or aggressive. The wings from this mantis (Mantidae) offered almost perfect concealment with the colour, shape and texture resembling the leaf it was hiding under – waiting for the next victim to pass.

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.

Pill millipede Glomeridae Danum Valley Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Life on the Forest Floor # 3 – Recyclers

The enormous amount of plant and animal material on the forest floor is decomposed by fungi and bacteria in what is called saprotrophic nutrition – a process in which decaying matter is absorbed and metabolised on a molecular scale. The bigger bits are left for other recyclers such as worms, flies and millepedes, a group of animals often referred to as detritivores. Especially the millepedes are fascinating, roaming through the delicious rotting matter in search for food. Heavily armoured with dorsal plates, equipped with chemical-secreting glands and able to curl themselves into a tight pinball-like ball, these millepedes are able to bulldoze along relatively undisturbed. We thought that the orange-coloured giant Pill Millepede (Glomeridae) and the Tractor Millepede (Polydesmidae) we encountered in Danum Valley were particularly impressive!

Yellow Fungi Kinabatangang Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Life on the Forest Floor # 2 – Fungi

Fallen leaves, fruits, branches and trees play a crucial role in the ecosystem of the tropical rainforest – they provide the essential nutrients for the typically poor soil and therefore enable new plant growth. Fungi and bacteria act as decomposers of the litter, breaking up the material into smaller pieces for detritivores such as worms, mites and millipedes. The shapes and colours of the fungi are truly amazing: some look like mushrooms while others resemble corals, tongues or sponges, and with their sometimes bright colours they add a certain magic to this already wonderful world.

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 …

Proboscis Monkey Kinabatangan Sabah Borneo Malaysia

Proboscis Monkey

“Sometimes a man may be as ugly as a monkey, and a monkey may have something very human about it; indeed, it is quite customary to call monkeys humanity’s caricatures. Of none this can be said with such truth as of the Borneo proboscis-monkey” – Eric Mjöberg, Forest Life and Adventures in the Malay Archipelago The proboscis or long-nosed monkey (Nasalis lavartus) is endemic to the jungles of Borneo, living close to rivers, tidal swamps and mangroves. It never ventures too far away from water and is rarely seen far inland – it might therefore not come as a surprise that they are proficient swimmers with evolved webbed feet and hands in order to outpace saltwater crocodiles. However, the species is highly arboreal and instead of swimming most prefer to cross water by impressive leaps – often followed by rather comical flat landings on their distinctive pot-belly. Proboscis monkeys are sexually dimorphic with males that have giant noses dwarfing those of the females and often hanging lower than their mouth. This fleshy appendage doesn’t give the proboscis …

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 …

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 …

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 …