Other than the orangutans of Borneo, another species of monkey is of particular interest to me, the Proboscis Monkey that is also endemic to the island of Borneo. Proboscis monkeys live high up in the trees close to rivers and mangroves. Surprisingly they are excellent swimmers with webbed hands and feet and can out-swim crocodiles. What makes them interesting is the males’ large dangly noses which can be 10 cm in length hanging over their mouths. Their large noses can reverberate and hence increase the volume of their calls making them more attractive to females. The females don’t have these dangly noses but still have up-turned noses making them resemble some kind of forest elves. Both male and female proboscis monkeys have bulging stomachs that look like pot bellies. Native Malays used to call these monkeys Monyet Belanda or Dutch Monkeys because of how they resemble the colonial Dutch men’s large noses and pot bellies. These monkeys usually live in groups with a dominant male and half a dozen females and their offspring. Baby Proboscis monkeys are born with a blue face that darkens to grey before becoming cream colored like the adults by 8-9 months of age.
A great place to see them near Sandakan is at the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary about an hour or so away. About 300 wild proboscis monkey live in this 6 km² reserve. This sanctuary was built and owned ironically by the palm oil plantation that destroyed the habitat and now surrounds it. There is a daily screening of a short film made to show how the owners, a pair of brothers, noticed the proboscis monkey coming to the workers’ huts on the plantation in search of food because of habitat loss and decided to build this sanctuary for them. Some criticize that the story is pure propaganda and not guilty conscience but regardless at least a little something was done to help with their survival.
Here at Labuk Bay there are two platforms built in the middle of the mangrove forest with twice daily feedings at each platform guaranteeing sightings of these wild monkeys. Platform A feeding times are at 9:30am and 2:30pm, while Platform B feeding times are at 11:30am and 4:30pm. It is not an authentic wildlife viewing experience but at least you are guaranteed a sighting of these wild monkeys. The two platforms are about 1 km apart and my taxi drove me between the platforms. All taxis have a fixed rate of MYR80 per way from Sandakan and for a total of MYR200 the taxi will do the roundtrip transfer, take you between the platforms for both viewings, and wait while you do so. Alternatively, Labuk Bay Sanctuary also has its own shuttle buses that will pick you up from Sandakan with a stop at Sepilok before arriving here in time for the 11:30am feeding at Platform B. Platform B is also where silvery lutung or silver leaf monkeys often visit. These monkeys have greyish silvery hair with dark colored skin and a crest of fur that runs along the top of their heads with longer hair on their faces. Their babies have golden orange hair and pale skin and are very cute. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any babies this time. Platform A is larger and provides a better viewing experience. When I was there a group of bachelor proboscis monkeys came for the feeding and they hung around for quite some time after. Platform B has less space for us visitors but it seems that several families with their babies will regularly come for the feedings. But they pretty much leave right after the feeding. The viewing room for the short film is located here at Platform B. Do try to come for the 9:30am feeding at Platform A because there were only altogether a dozen or so visitors when I came. It is much more crowded at the 11:30am feeding at Platform B. I thoroughly enjoyed watching these very human-like proboscis monkeys arriving with their babies in tow. They have such expressive faces and I feel that they are not monkeys but dwarfish-elfish creatures belonging in fantasies like Lord of the Rings.
To see orangutans and proboscis monkeys in the wild, it is said that Kinabatangan River offers some of the best chances of sightings in Malaysian Borneo. I will spend the next several days at the Sukau Rainforest Lodge after 2.5 hours from Sandakan by speedboat. Stay tuned!
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