Floating down Borneo’s Kinabatangan River.

Posted July 30, 2014 by Lauren Manuel in Blog

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.

Sungai Kinabatangan, Borneo
We set out with Borneo Eco Tours to our home along the river in Sukau.

Sungai Kinabatangan, Borneo
Our local guide, Jamil, from the nearby town of Sandakan.

Sungai Kinabatangan, Borneo
The Orang Sungai (River people) live beside the river in villages.

Sungai Kinabatangan, Borneo
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.

Sungai Kinabatangan, Borneo
Wading into the deep unknown of humid, green rainforest is a thrilling experience.

Sungai Kinabatangan, Borneo
We spot the Proboscis Monkeys travelling in bachelor groups in this case harems with one dominant male.

Sungai Kinabatangan, Borneo
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.

Sungai Kinabatangan, Borneo
Long-tailed Macaques can be found on the shores in abundance and feed on fruit, insects and crabs.

Sungai Kinabatangan, Borneo
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.

Sungai Kinabatangan, Borneo
We look to the tops of trees to spot Hornbills,

Sungai Kinabatangan, Borneo
and down on the river banks to see crocodiles. Jamil explains how following a few crocodile attacks villagers have been cautioned to stay out of the water when fishing.

Sungai Kinabatangan, Borneo
Tourists cruise the waters of the Kinabatangan,

Sungai Kinabatangan, Borneo
whilst creatures fly happily from tree to tree.

Sungai Kinabatangan, Borneo
As we bid farewell to this surreal part of the world, we hope there’s still rainforest left for our future grandchildren to see one day.

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.


About the Author

Lauren Manuel

Six continents later, Lauren still has itchy feet and wanderlust for adventure in all corners of the earth. Together with her husband, she is traveling the world pausing only to find work, take photos and write. She is currently mentoring English teachers in rural Malaysia and sharing everything about her expat life on WildJunket. Follow her wanderings on The Travel Manuel .

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