Saturday, 18 April 2015

From the Kinabatangan

17th April

We travelled this afternoon up the Kinabatangan river to Sukau Rainforest Lodge, stopping on our way to watch families of proboscis monkeys and long-tailed macaques and a small group of silvered langurs. I am not a fan of macaques. Ever since I was first attacked by a rhesus at the Taj Mahal on my very first trip to India, and emphatically since in Corbett National Park the same species broke into my room, devoured my toothpaste and defecated on my pillow, I have loathed macaques. The long-tailed, or crab-eating, however, is a thoroughly tasteful macaque: it is gracile and slender and its sinuous tail flows behind it in the manner of a vervet's. It is a fine macaque to see.

As for the proboscis, it is the most misrepresented monkey in the world. Photographs in books and magazines are generally close-ups of male's faces, their strange, pendulous noses filling the frame. In real life they are exquisite and agile animals, coloured an intense tan which fades from their crowns to their backs, with a soft grey covering their slender limbs. They slip easily through mangrove and riverine forest, dropping daredevilly through the trees when they wish to descend. A tree full of proboscis is a tree full of activity, of play, of colour and of motion. It is a joy to watch.

In the afternoon, more joy. Joy as we watched a herd of Bornean pygmy elephants grazing on the riverbank, tugging great clumps of tall grasses to eat and to lay across their domed heads like untidy topees. Some bathed, turning black in the milk-tea water of the river and sliding through the clayey mud as they emerged. WWF estimates only 1,500 of these wonderful animals inhabit the forests of Borneo, concentrated in the northeast, and locals here tell us that 300 live along the Kinabatangan,

In the night we went to the river again, The beam of our local guide Hazwan fell on a reticulated python, at five to six metres the largest individual he has ever seen. A recent slough of its skin had left the python glistening a nacreous blue in our light as it moved with surprising speed through the muddy roots of a tributary's bank. Quite as impressive, though less well seen, were saltwater crocodiles whose eyes burned at us from across the water and who sank into the murk at our approach.

There were several buffy fish owls and numerous black-crowed night-herons. Most tantalising of all there was a partial view between trees of the rear end of a small, square, neat-footed, grey sided carnivore. I have no doubt that had we seen it better we would have seen it was a flat-headed cat.

How flat its head was I did not see. I saw only its rear.

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