Saturday, 2 May 2015

Colugo and more

At Sukau Rainforest Lodge the rooms are named for prominent Sabah naturalists and conservationists. Mine this time honours Dr John Payne, first author of A Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo. On arriving yesterday I took this as a good omen for our mammal-watching here.

I was right it would seem as, just as I was grabbing my backpack for yesterday afternoon's river cruise, one of my clients knocked frantically at my door: she and her husband had found a colugo along the boardwalk right behind the lodge.

In a strange world, colugos stand out for their strangeness. There are two species, one in the Philippines and the other fairly widespread across Southeast Asia, including Borneo. They have no close relatives but have affinities with treeshrews and primates. Often referred to as flying lemurs, they are not lemurs and they can't fly. They can glide though, on unique skin-flaps which stretch from their spidery hands to their feet and enclose their stumpy tails. Their eyes are huge, for a life lived by night; and by day they cling to the trunks of trees, their mottled pelage blending with the lichenous bark. This was how our colugo was found yesterday. And again today, in much denser cover (a truly remarkable spot by another of my clients), as we wandered the boardwalk after our early morning cruise. A colugo a day in May so far.

To reach Sukau we had crossed the bay from sweaty, fishy Sandakan, where fruit shines on market stalls, sandals are sold for speed and there are flavours of tea to every taste,

We travelled from here up the Kinabatangan, scanning stands of elephant grass on the banks for their namesake, but we saw no elephants. Instead, here and on our afternoon cruise from the lodge, we saw hornbills - pied, rhinoceros, bushy-crested and wrinkled - monkeys - proboscis, long-tailed macaque, silvered langur - swifts, swallows, kingfishers, kites, eagles and darters.

Pirate Hazwan heading to Sukau

At the lodge, among many local curios, is the threatening two-foot skull of a massive saltwater crocodile. We saw smaller relatives yesterday, glowing eyes in the night and one by day, cresting darkly from the water beneath a family of proboscis, hoping one would slip while reaching for a tender bud. A proboscis is a fine meal and a crocodile is good at waiting. Crocs have waited for two-hundred million years or more and, where humans let them, they do so still. Most well.

This afternoon and tonight we cruise the river again. More pythons perhaps, more roosting blue-eared and stork-billed kingfishers, more long-tailed macaques huddled in the least accessible places.

Least accessible to the clouded leopard; whose absence fills this forest and my mind. Harimau dahan, where are you?

They must have known Naturetrek was coming

This morning my clients goaded me into taking a
little egret selfie (nothing to do with me)

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