07.05.2011 - 11.05.2011 32 °C
The main reason that we wanted to come to Borneo was for the wildlife and our first outing was to see the orangutans at the famous Sepilok rehabilitation centre near Sandakan. This is the centre that features on the TV show Orangutan Diaries and it is a rehabilitation centre for orphaned, injured and rescued orangutans. This area of Borneo is one of the only places in the world where these great apes can be found in the wild. They are highly endangered, because of many reasons caused by humans, so the centre saves and eventually releases the majority back into the wild. Since the animals are being nurtured back into the wild the centre does not allow the public anywhere except a viewing platform to watch them feed, to try to keep contact between them and humans at a minimum. Many people expect to see the babies in nappies being carried around as you see in the program but it really isn't like this and you are not even guaranteed to see any come in from the wild to feed at the platforms.
We decided to go there by ourselves instead of as part of a tour so we could stay for the full day and go to both the morning and afternoon feedings. The centre still place food on these platforms for the rehabilitated orangutans who are living farther and farther into the rain-forest, the furthest being one kilometer from the centre, to encourage them to move further out and eventually becoming dependent on their own in the wild. The platform closest is the only viewing platform for the public. We only saw four orangutans in the morning and were a bit disappointed as one of the big males had appeared the previous few days but did not turn up for us. We didn`t get much luck in the afternoon as again four turned up but one mother had a tiny baby with her so that was good to see.
However, we were extremely lucky at lunchtime after all the crowds left as we had a great encounter with a very tame ape. There only appeared to be the two of us and some employees of the there after the tours left. One adolescent orangutan came right down to the information centre and just posed for our photos. He didn`t seem phased at all by us so we even got some photos standing beside him. We didn`t want to touch him in case we scared him or even passed over an illness to him, but he seemed just as interested as us and even reached out to hold Del`s arm when he was getting his photo taken close to him. It was brilliant to get this close and get some good photos as we did not expect to get anywhere near any orangutans.
Our next trip from Sandakan was out to Turtle island, which is about one hour from the mainland by speedboat. We booked on a morning boat so we could spend the afternoon on the beach before staying the night there and hopefully witnessing a turtle coming in to nest. As soon as we arrived we could see the turtle tracks up the sand to their nests and also big monitor lizards roaming around the beach looking for eggs. The tracks were huge so we were looking forward to seeing some big turtles that night. The island itself is one of three islands that make up the Turtle Island National Park. It is a beautiful wee island with a nice sandy beach the full perimeter. The conservation project has been set up here to provide the green and hawksbill turtles a safe environment to come ashore to lay their eggs and to protect these until the hatchlings can be released into the sea.
Out of the whole group on the island, around 20-25 tourists, there happened to be six Scots and one Northern Irish girl, three of whom lived in Glasgow. We all spent the afternoon sunbathing, snorkeling and swimming. The snorkeling wasn`t as good as in Oz as it was restricted to certain areas and most of the coral was dead. However we did see loads of fish, some we had not seen before, and we got a glimpse of a reef shark. We spent a couple of hours out in the water until Linda got stung three times by a jellyfish across her wrist, stomach and ankle. We had a look to see what type had stung her but could not see anything. Linda had a bit of a panic as the lifeguard mentioned that they occasionally get the lethal box jellyfish there, but thankfully it wasn`t one of these. We were quite far out but we made it in to shore to put vinegar, not urine, on the stings which looked like big red burn marks. Linda was really sore but after a few hours they gradually disappeared leaving no marks.
That night we got to witness the conservation project in action as we watched a huge green turtle lay her eggs. Apparently they go into a trance-like state when laying so they don`t seem to be aware of us all watching. The rangers measured her shell (1.06m x 0.86m!) before removing her eggs from the nest behind her. She is unaware that these are taken as she still tries to bury them under a pile of sand. The eggs are then taken to a safe hatching area with no predators where they are buried as if in a nest. Males hatch if the eggs are four degrees cooler than the other eggs so half of the nests are in the shade and half in the sun to keep the male to female ratio similar. Following learning about this, it was time to release a batch of hatchlings into the sea. The turtles were absolutely tiny and were great to watch flapping their way down the sand into the sea. Unfortunately only around three percent of these will survive but the number of hatchlings is much higher now due to this project. The night we stayed had 46 turtles nesting and 3571 eggs laid on this island along.
Our last trip from Sandakan was to go to see the biggest nose in Borneo, the proboscis monkeys. These are only found in Borneo and are very special looking monkeys because of the males massive nose. These are also endangered and the sanctuary was set up to protect their habitat which was constantly under threat, similar to the orangutan situation. We turned up for the morning feeding session where we saw loads of these monkeys, plus the impressive hornbill birds, a tree snake and some other grey monkeys. The proboscis monkeys were split into two groups, the dominant male with his many wives and kids and then a group of all the other males. They were pretty entertaining as they ate, fought and played in the trees, bushes and long grass.
In the afternoon we went to another feeding platform, where there were only four of us plus a couple of guides / rangers. This time the rangers fed the monkeys on the main walkways instead of on separate feeding platforms. They let us sit in with the monkeys feeding and even took photos of us with them. It was great fun and we also got right up close to the dominant male as he was taking food out of our hands. You can see from some photos how close they came and how funny looking they are. It was a great day out and a perfect end to our Borneo trip.