Hanging out with the proboscis monkeys of Borneo

The proboscis monkey has a big nose, an even bigger belly and a huge survival problem. James Fair travels to the world’s third largest island to find out whether primates could help to conserve its precious forests.

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Proboscis monkey of Borneo article spread

Pygmy elephant

  • ID: An Asian elephant, but smaller, with relatively larger ears, a longer tail and straighter tusks. Once believed to be descended from a domesticated herd, DNA analysis has found that it is genetically distinct and probably a separate subspecies.
  • Where: These elephants are believed to only inhabit the forests of Sabah, though they may also move into East Kalimantan, Indonesia.
  • Status: Population estimated at between 1,000 and 1,500.

 

 ESSENTIAL TRAVEL INFORMATION 

Getting there

  • My trip was organised by World Primate Safaris, which also organises tours to see mountain and lowland gorillas in Africa and lemurs in Madagascar. 

  • Other tour operators offer trips to see orangutans and other wildlife in Borneo.

  • My return flight from Heathrow to Sandakan in Sabah, via Singapore, was with Malaysian Airways.This journey emitted a gargantuan 8,800kg of carbon dioxide, more than eight times the annual emissions of the average Indian. It therefore cost a mammoth €177 to offset with atmosfair

 Conservation

  • WWF is active in Sabah, and partly due to its efforts, in 2005 the state government gazetted the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary – 26,000 hectares of riverine forest and floodplain.

  • Sadly, being a fertile area, this is also an ideal location for palm oil plantations. You can find more information here.

 When to go 

  • While there is no specific tourist season, the main rainy period lasts from November to January and is best avoided.

 What to take

  • I made sure I had these things wherever I went: a water bottle (it’s hot and you get thirsty quickly), a sunhat and suncream and a dry bag for all my camera gear in case of a sudden downpour.

  • If you plan on taking photographs of primates, you will need at least a 300mm lens and a tripod. You will also need to shoot on a high ISO rating because of the low light levels.

  • If you’re bothered by tiny wildlife that bites, take plenty of insect repellent.

Further reading

  • I enjoyed A Naturalist in Borneo by Robert W C Shelford, a book published posthumously at the beginning of the 20th century (Oxford University Press, ISBN 0195826345). Expensive to buy out in Borneo, it’s available on Amazon for as little as £10. Wild Borneo by Nick Garbutt and Cede Prudente (New Holland, ISBN 1845373782, £29.99) is also an interesting read.

 

Meet our travel editor James and the rest of the team here.  

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