I’ve always seen myself as an urban creature; like the town mouse I prefer a life of feasting and uncertainty to dull simplicity. Whilst a brisk walk in the countryside is lovely on a sunny day, I’ve never been one for nature-spotting – I’m quite happy to leave that to twitchers, whale watchers and David Attenborough. So I was quite surprised by my enthusiasm for going orang utan spotting in Sarawak this week. It was explained to us that we might not see any, as this is the ‘timber fruit season’, whatever that means, so they don’t usually come out of the jungle and down to the feeding station. But even so, I was determined to go.
Tramping doggedly through the jungle, there was so much high-pitched chirruping, whistling and ringing that I thought I’d developed tinnitus –
I asked what it was, and it’s a cicada – but so much louder than the European ones. How can something as small as a cicada make so much noise? I suppose if I’d watched a few more nature documentaries I’d know the answer to that.
But it was worth all the tramping and ear-ringing – we saw two orang utans, a mother and a baby, and I wished I had a camera with a decent zoom instead of just my phone –
-as the baby twirled balletically on the rope while its mother scoffed bananas
and smashed coconuts against a tree.
Give that baby a spangly leotard and it would go down a storm at the circus.
Encouraged by my success, I signed up for a full day of animal spotting in the Bako national park.
We saw – in fact almost brushed against – a pit viper –
– the second most deadly snake in Borneo. Luckily our guide was a bit more in tune with his surroudings than the rest of us, and dragged a woman away from the tree just as she was about to rest her arm on it. He then gave us a useful tip on how to tell if a snake is venomous – look at its eyes. If the eyes are slits, it’s venomous, and if they’re rounded, it’s not. Personally, I wasn’t convinced by this; if you’re close enough to a snake to see that its eyes are not reassuringly rounded, then what do you do? I prefer my friend Gordon’s advice – if you see a snake, scream and run away, and then pay some fearless locals to go and retrieve your abandoned bicycle.
The bearded wild pig was bizarre –
– the beard looks as though it’s made of shredded wheat, and it snuffled and rooted next to the path and took no notice of us at all.
The park is famous for monkeys – especially the proboscis monkey, which is apparently only found in Borneo. We saw one swinging through the trees and heard a lot of others, but they’re very shy, so I couldn’t take a picture.
This is what they look like – apparently the females find the big nose alluring.
They live in harems or bachelor groups – no bachelorette groups for the emancipated females … nature is very backward when it comes to gender equality.
The silverleaf monkeys are very shy too, and were high up in the trees, so I had to resort to the internet again to find a decent photo –
They’re known locally as the David Beckham monkey, due to their upwardly swept hairstyle. The babies are bright orange so that they can be easily seen and snatched away from danger by their parents. What a great idea – it made me wish my babies had been turquoise or emerald, instead of boring old flesh-coloured.
We saw lots of long-tailed macaques – known as the mafia – and learnt some useful tips for dealing with them, as they can be a menace, both here and in KL.
Rule number one: don’t make eye contact, or he’ll think you’re challenging him. So we carefully averted our eyes as if we were in the presence of some demanding A-lister.
Rule number two: don’t let them see your teeth, or they’ll see that you don’t have sharp teeth and come over and bite you.
Rule number three: never eat anything in their presence, or they’ll come over and snatch it … and bite you too, just for the hell of it.
Rule number four: if you obey all these rules and they come for you anyway, defend yourself by lunging fearlessly at them with a water bottle.
So – after an exhausting day of animal spotting, I spent the evening seeking out a few more –
This is nature at its best –
– hot, fresh and utterly delicious.