Floating down Borneo’s Kinabatangan River.
It’s a scorching day in the Sukau region of Sabah, East Malaysia. No later than 10 am, my husband and I are cruising along Malaysia’s longest river, the Kinabatangan, with a group of eager wildlife seekers and our local guide, Jamil. Away from any other motorboats, it seems that we are all alone to witness and stand in awe of this rich pocket of wildlife.
We watch, we wait and even before we spot a single animal, we breathe in the tranquil and unpretentious beauty that is Borneo. We float through oxbow lakes, glide silently beside mangrove swamps and riverine forest.
The rainforest is never silent. Birds call to each other, millions of insects buzz in unison and monkeys swing and fly between trees. The life of this forest is endangered and in constant battle with palm oil farmers fighting to use this land for more lucrative outcomes. While preservation is in place, ensuring that land only 100m from the river is preserved, is not nearly enough.
As we float beside these dwindling creatures endemic to Borneo and gaze at one other, I wonder if us humans ever gave a thought to where the animals will go when there is no rainforest left at all.
A few minutes after entering the Kinabatangan we spot Pygmy Elephants. Much smaller than African and Asian elephants, these big-eyed ‘Gajah'( Malay name) have been forced to feed in tiny pockets of existing forest and face inbreeding.
Dubbed’Orang Belanda’ ( Dutchman) or ‘Monyet Belanda’ (Dutch monkey) by Indonesians who remarked that Dutch Colonisers had similar large bellies and noses. They are unmistakable in their orange coats, grey trousers and white tails.
The Orang Utan( Man of the forest) are the most difficult to spot as they face constant danger from farmers, humans illegally capturing them as pets and deforestation. This dark jungle person moves lightly across a branch to reach his next destination.
All images by Vaughan and Lauren McShane.
For more information on staying along the Kinabatagan at Sukau Eco Lodge and joining river cruises, contact Borneo Eco Tours.