First Time Seeing Proboscis Monkeys – Labuk Bay – Borneo
After seeing so many orangutans the previous day, I was half expecting to have had my fill of apes. But unfatigued by a day spent with one of our closest ancestors, the following day held something quite exciting for me – a trip to see the Proboscis Monkeys of Labuk Bay.
Seeing a Proboscis Monkey has been a goal of mine for some time. Named for their comically large noses, they were an animal that stuck out when reading about animals of Borneo as a child, for me even more so than the Orangutan. And whilst the Orangutan is the poster child of efforts to preserve the Bornean environment, the proboscis monkey is no less affected by the relentless push to produce palm oil and other cash crops in Borneo’s delicate and unique ecosystem.
We organised the trip to Labuk Bay through our hostel at Panganakan Dii, and were soon off on the trip, driven by a private car who would wait for us at the reserve. The cost was 60MYR (about £10) each, plus the extra cost of admission and a camera fee, which came to about 30MYR (about £5) per person. After a 40 minute drive through the predominantly palmy countryside, we arrived at the sanctuary in Labuk Bay. We hopped off from the car park straight onto a boardwalk, which was elevated above the saturated, marshy ground that the mangroves (and the proboscis monkeys) prefer.
Walking along we kept our eyes peeled, and saw a small group of dark grey macaques, but were soon distracted when we saw the telltale browns of our intended quarry. The macaques and the proboscis monkeys were fairly close to each other, and clearly there was some acrimony between the two groups, as the smaller macaques were chased off by the larger and more numerous proboscis monkeys.
We came upon the first viewing and feeding platform, and watched a number of the monkeys lazily eating the food that had been left out, along with drinking water from the pool that had been set up. They seemed fairly docile, until food was placed on the second platform. At this point, one of the large males – complete with bulbous namesake – threw himself onto the viewing platform with an almighty slam followed by various squeaks, shouts and other admissions of surprise from the people on the viewing, the powerful male bounded his way over to the feeding area.
As the calm resumed we watched and photographed for some time as the family unit – a single dominant male with multiple females and juveniles ate. Soon enough they moved on, and so did we – spotting a mudskipper on the way back.
We then drove around to the second viewing area. There was a bit of a delay before the feeding, so we used this opportunity to take some respite from the heat, drinking a cold can of Pepsi and sitting in an air conditioned room whilst watching a British-produced video about the monkeys. The video detailed how the proboscis monkey has been gradually driven from its home into a narrow strip sitting between the sea and the relentless expansion of the palm oil industry. The Labuk Bay reserve is an area where they are able to reside, and for the time being, it has been ringfenced to prevent any further destruction. After we’d watched this, we headed down to the platform, and were treated to a sight that was quite shocking.
One of the monkeys, sat close of the platform was missing a large part of the right side of his face – including his whole right cheek. We asked what had happened and it turned out that the monkey had challenged for the control of a group of females and had lost. The monkey – understandably downtrodden looking – made no effort to move when the park attendant sprayed him with iodine.
This was another reminder of the fact that these were wild animals – in the torso region, the proboscis monkey is as large as a man, and if brought to bear, their arms are more powerful. This is before you mention their teeth – huge canines that were clearly capable of cleaving cheek from face if necessary.
A group of Italian people took selfies with one of the beefy males before a family stepped in, as the mother encouraged her kids to get into a picture with the same large male. The mother herself then stood to pose with the monkey for a photo, this happened to coincide with the food being laid out on the feeding platform and the male launched itself over her head, prompting a scream and a reactive laugh from all in attendance.
We walked to the platform to get a good view of the second part of the feeding, and were joyed to see a single brave macaque sitting up on the platform along with a larger group of proboscis monkeys. Despite the fact that the bachelor group of proboscis monkeys could have easily torn him limb from limb, he was still quite territorial over his particular scraps of food. We watched in some awe as this diminutive monkey held his own against his larger, and thankfully more relaxed, cousins.
The journey back to our hostel was made all the more pertinent by the new knowledge that the palms we were passing whilst still in the reserve were actually an indication of why the reserve itself was so necessary.