Proboscis monkey, Bako National Park, Sarawak
WHATâ€™S covered with golden brown hair, climbs trees and has a long snout for a nose? The Proboscis monkey of course.
During a four-day stay recently in Bako National Park, 37km from Kuching, Sarawak, my friends and I were totally fascinated by repeated sightings of this odd-looking animal.
Touted as the main attraction of the national park (which, by the way, is the oldest, most popular and well run park in Sarawak), the extraordinary Proboscis monkey cannot be found in the wild anywhere else in the world except on the island of Borneo.
Contrary to what we had been told, it was not difficult to catch a glimpse of these shy primates. In fact we had ample opportunities to observe and photograph them at close range, especially in the morning hours.
The long boardwalks to the left of the park headquarters lead to the favourite feeding grounds of the Proboscis monkey, variously called Monyet Orang Belanda, the Dutchman (perhaps because of its resemblance to the early colonial masters of Borneo?) or Pinocchio of the Forest. Indeed the beauty of these ugly creatures can evoke a whole range of various reactions from visitors, from fascination and admiration to astonishment and awe.
The Proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus) has luxuriant brownish red fur with a paler collar, greyish white limbs and a long tail. It appears to be wearing a white nappy too and has a big pot-belly, a ruddy face and a pendulous nose, rendering it an almost human appearance.
It sits upright on branches of trees and spends long hours plucking and eating young shoots and leaves of mangrove trees â€“ a daily ritual that gives visitors a better chance to see these beautiful animals up close.
A male monkey may have a harem of up to 10 females, so a whole family or colony of five or six animals is quite a frequent sight. Being completely herbivorous, the Probosis monkey requires a large amount of leaves and fruit to maintain its average 20kg male and 12kg female body bulk, hence the long feeding hours.
The Bako Headquarters in Teluk Assam comprises the administrative and information complexes, canteen and sundry shop, accommodation, staff quarters and boathouse. Boardwalks are constructed to link all these buildings which are otherwise separated by mangrove swamps and peat forests.
Visitors are therefore, almost guaranteed an unforgettable encounter with the Probosis monkey by just walking along the boardwalks.
Another species encountered here is the mischievous long-tailed macaques. They can be found everywhere in the park and we were soon to be acquainted with their infamous reputation. One evening, a friend, C.T. Tan, occupying the room next to ours, came hurrying over as we were walking near the beach.
â€œMy room has been broken into… monkeys!â€ he wailed. To our barrage of questions of â€œWhat happened? How come?â€ came his irate recounting of the unhappy event.
Apparently, the monkeys â€“ most probably macaques â€“ had forcibly pushed in the mosquito screen of one open window, got into his room and ransacked the whole place.
They got away with biscuits, bananas, a pack of vitamin pills, 3-in-1 beverage packets and generally created a great big mess.
The next day, they struck again when Tan absent-mindedly left some biscuits on the balcony table to rush into his room to get his camera to photograph a bird. Down came a monkey and it took off with the whole packet of biscuits!
â€œI went in for only 30 seconds! This is too much!â€ said Tan. The opportunist monkeys must have been watching him all the time he was enjoying his biscuits in the open and obviously learned that this place has plenty of food to offer.
When the park customer service assistant, Lihos Ligo, was informed about the theft and asked why he did not put up signs to warn visitors about these cheeky monkeys, he replied tongue-in-cheek: â€œOh, we did, you know. But the monkeys, after reading the warning signs, tore them all down!â€
Australian visitor Jan Oâ€™Sullivan who visited Bako NP a few years ago, had some lasting memories of it, the monkeys being at the top of the list.
â€œIt was fabulous. I saw heaps of things there, even a large colony of Proboscis monkeys. One of the local monkeys came at me to try and grab our lunch. It scared the devil out of me. I hit him with my bird field guide (book), otherwise I think I might have been bitten.â€
Besides using a book as a weapon, a catapult would be quite handy too. But be reminded that all animals in national parks are protected and you may be fined RM30,000 for killing one of them! It is best to adopt a live-and-let-live attitude and keep all windows closed and food locked up. Learn a lesson from how all the dustbins and trashcans in the park are monkey-proofed!
The other species of monkeys are the Silvered Leaf Monkey or Silvered Langur and two types of Gibbons (Black-handed and White-handed).
Bako NP is a good place for the sighting and study of large and small animals and insects. If you are lucky (or unlucky), you will be able to see snakes (green whip snake, black and yellow mangrove snake, the poisonous mangrove viper), as well as flying lizards, rare insects (orchid mantis, leaf grasshopper, stick insect, rhinoceros beetle), fiddler and ball crabs, sand lobsters, civet cats, slow loris and some 150 species of birds.
When we were there, we were rewarded with good sightings of about 40 species, the rarer ones being the Buff-necked Woodpecker, Yellow-rumped Flower pecker, Large Hawk-cuckoo and the White-breasted Wood-swallow.
One animal youâ€™d be sure to meet is the Bearded Pig that has a distinguished face with bristles and trumpet-like snout. There were three of these very large rare pigs walking around the Park Canteen and chalets every day we were there! They were oblivious of the visitors trying to take snapshots of them, constantly swishing their tails (the pigs, I mean) and nonchalantly ambling along in search of food. But if you squat or bend down to get a picture, they may lunge at you as a warning not to get too close!
Bako National Park is the oldest (gazetted in 1957), and one of the smallest parks in Sarawak. In 2004 alone, Bako NP drew in a record of 23,936 visitors (7,077 locals, 16,859 foreigners). The overwhelming number of foreign visitors may be due to Bakoâ€™s accessibility, reasonably priced food and accommodation, excellent information and educational facilities, comparatively easy to spot wildlife and the 17 challenging trekking trails.
The trails, of various degrees of difficulties, appeal to the young and adventurous. Be warned that some of the trails may take more than seven hours to complete and are only suitable for the very fit and healthy. A park guest-book entry sums it up well. â€œWonderful park! Three days trekking. Very challenging! But I love it!â€ wrote Bodson Thierry from Belgium, on January 10, 2005.
For those who enjoy trekking, the trails beckon. But it is the wildlife thatâ€™s fascinating and with seven ecosystems within such a small park, what more can a visitor, especially a nature lover, ask for?
MAS, SIA, AirAsia and Brunei Airlines make daily flights to Kuching. Report to and pay for Bako accommodation at the Visitorsâ€™ Information Centre on Jalan Masjid in Kuching (30mins from the airport), take a taxi or bus to Kampung Bako (45mins from Kuching) and then take a 30-minute boat ride (RM40 a boat for five) to the national park. The entry fee is RM10 with 50 per cent discount for senior citizens, disabled, students and groups.
Things to do
Wildlife observation and study, mountain trekking with 17 trails to choose from, ranging in difficulty from Tanjung Sapi (0.5km in approx. 30mins one way) to Teluk Limau (5.75km in more than 7 hours), camping, beach strolls and swimming, photography, bird watching.