Tag Archives: Borneo

Proboscis monkey

The Proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus) got its name because…. well it’s obvious really. They are large monkeys, and the males in particular have impressively prominent noses. They are colloquially referred to as ‘Monyet Belanda‘ (Dutch monkeys) as there is a widespread belief that all caucasians have long pointy noses…

They are endemic to the island of Borneo, and classified by the IUCN as ‘Endangered’ – largely due to habitat loss, but also sadly some hunting occurs. We were fortunate to encounter them in a number of locations across the island, including one colony that lives right on the edge of Balikpapan city.

Proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus) at Bako National Park

We met the big male in this photo on 12 April 2015, while we were walking in Bako National Park, close to Kuching (capital of the Malaysian state of Sarawak).

I love his facial expression. It looks to me as though he is experiencing a moment of religious awe, watching as a deity (or maybe a spaceship?) descends through the forest canopy.
Another recent print, now framed and hanging on the wall at home. #Indonesiaku Print #3

Fruits of Kalimantan

Just some of the special fruits of Kalimantan – three types of durian, mangosteen, rambutan, chempedak, langsat, and a rare variety of mango. Some of these are rarely seen outside the island of Borneo.

All are delicious, and grow at the Kebun Raya Balikpapan.

Durio dulcis
Lahung, durian hutan
Forest durian

Durio zibethinus

Durio kutajensis
Lae, Durian hutan
Forest durian

Artocarpus integer

Lansium parasiticum

Nephelium lappaceum

Mangifera torquenda
Asam putaran

Garcinia mangostana

Ready to eat….


Dipterocarpus is a large genus of tall trees (around 70 species) found across South-East Asia. Locally, they are commonly referred to as ‘Keruing’.

Dipterocarpus confertus

These are big trees, growing to 40 or 50 metres at their full height, and they form a big part of the upper canopy of the forests here, or stick out above the other canopy trees as ‘emergents’. Interestingly, the seeds will only germinate in shade, and for the first several years the young trees don’t tolerate direct sunlight.

Dipterocarpus tempehes

They thrive on the lowland, yellow leached clay soils that are common across much of Borneo. So much so that in fact that the lowland tropical forest is often just called ‘Dipterocarpus forest’, due to the predominance of ‘Keruing’ trees. However they always form part of a mixed forest, with other tall trees (meranti, pulai, ulin, bangris etc) also abundant, and which compete for sunlight in the upper canopy.

Dipterocarpus cornutus

They flower here in October, the mature trees producing masses of large, attractive pink-and white blooms.

Flowers of Dipterocarpus confertus

The scientific (Latin) name ‘Dipterocarpus’ means ‘two-winged fruit’. The fruits develop during the early part of the wet season (November – December), with the seeds falling in January. Their ‘wings’ are 20cm or more long, and when the seeds fall from the tree, they can spiral down, helicopter-style, and may be carried by the wind to some distance from the parent tree.

Seeds of Dipterocarpus confertus

They are valuable hardwood timber trees, and the even-grained, somewhat resinous timber has many uses, although it is susceptible to termites. Resin from the live trees was and sometimes still is collected by local people to use for water-proofing and as a source of light.

Dipterocarpus confertus seeds, almost ready to drop

Due to massive loss of habitat (logging, conversion of forest for plantations of oil palms or other timber trees etc), most if not all of the Dipterocarpus species are now classed by the IUCN as being ‘Critically endangered).

Flowers of Dipterocarpus tempehes

At the Kebun Raya Balikpapan we have 58 trees from three species in the ‘official’ collection (D. confertus, D. cornutus, and D. tempehes), though three other species (D. elongatus, D. oblongifolius and D. retusus) have also been collected.

Flowers and leaf of Dipterocarpus confertus

Kupu-kupu (Butterflies)

The island of Borneo is deservedly famous for its butterflies (kupu-kupu in Bahasa Indonesia). There are masses of them, at least 939 species recorded in the Malaysian part of Borneo alone. And on top of that there are thousands of varieties of moths. The butterflies come in a huge range of colours, patterns, sizes and shapes, and many are stunningly beautiful.

We see a lot of butterflies, but haven’t yet managed to photograph many of them. They can show up and disappear quickly, usually when I don’t have a camera at hand, and they stubbornly refuse to stand still while I photograph them. Here are some that were kind enough to pose for me. About half of them were photographed ‘in the wild’, and the others were found in the wonderful ‘Butterfly Room’ at Singapore Airport (Terminal 3)


Great Mormon (Papilio memnon agenor). Tangkiling, Central Kalimantan

The Great Mormon (no I don’t know how it got that name…) is a large and very elegant butterfly, and it is actually fairly common. This butterfly (or one of its 13 subspecies) can be found from northeast India across to China and Japan, and down as far as Australia. Lucky for us, they are attracted to many domesticated plants, and are often found around home gardens.

We have seen them regularly, and I have even managed to photograph them in three locations in both Central and West Kalimantan. This one above was in one of the herb and flower gardens at work, and kept coming back to feast on the nectar of the flowers.

Lime butterfly (Papilio demoleus). Tangkiling, Central Kalimantan

Lime butterfly (Papilio demoleus). Tangkiling, Central Kalimantan

This butterfly is not only attracted to flowers of the lime plant, but to all kinds of citrus. Like the Mormon, they are members of the ‘swallowtail’ family, are quite common and are often found in and around home gardens.

It might sound like an oxymoron, but this is an aggressive butterfly. It is highly adaptable, fast breeding, and has now spread to almost all parts of the world – including Borneo, where it was not originally found. In many locations, particularly places with citrus plantations, it is regarded as a pest. It’s also fast flying and restless, so it can be hard to capture in a photo before it flies off.

Malay Yeoman (Cirrochroa emalea emalea)

Malay Yeoman (Cirrochroa emalea emalea). Tumbang Manggu, Central Kalimantan

The Malay Yeoman is often found around the edges of forest areas, as was this one above, which we saw in a protected patch of forest amongst logging concessions in the upper Katingan river.

Blue Jay (Graphium evemon eventus), Common Bluebottle (Graphium sarpedon), Five-bar Swordtail (Graphium antiphates)

Blue Jay (Graphium evemon eventus), Common Bluebottle (Graphium sarpedon), Five-bar Swordtail (Graphium antiphates)

Emerging from the bush onto a dirt road after a hike in jungly forest near Tumbang Manggu, we came upon a mass of butterflies in a genteel frenzy, swarming onto the sandy road surface. This beautiful delicate scene is apparently an instance of ‘mud-puddling’, a common behaviour of insects whereby they extract salts and other nutrients from wet soil, dung, decaying fruit, carrion – even the blood, sweat, and tears of animals. We were told that the butterflies above are attracted to urine. It rather took the shine off the pretty scene, and made me uncomfortable about lying on my stomach to take the photo!

According to the Butterfly Circle website, the Common Bluebottle (the blurry blue-green butterfly in the photo above) can often be found feeding on “roadside seepages or urine-tainted sand”. The site goes on to say that it “is frequently found in the company of the Blue Jay and the Five Bar Swordtail”. We can confirm that, as those are the three varieties of butterfly in the photo!

Blue Jay (Graphium evemon eventus)

Blue Jay (Graphium evemon eventus). Tumbang Manggu, Central Kalimantan

Some more Blue Jay butterflies (not to be confused with the bird – or the baseball team – of the same name) feasting on the urine-soaked sand. Yuck. Like many butterflies, they have quite different patterns and colours on the tops and undersides of their wings.

Karen and a Malayan Crow (Euploea camaralzeman scudderi)

Karen with a Malayan Crow (Euploea camaralzeman scudderi). Loksado, South Kalimantan

This butterfly kept landing on us. We’ve been told that they do that because they like the saltiness of perspiration, but we reckon it was just being friendly.

The species is called a ‘crow’ because of its dark colour, but that’s where the resemblance ends. In the caterpillar stage, they feed on milkweed plants, and so the adult butterfly is poisonous, and is avoided by predators. Some other unrelated species, which are not poisonous, have evolved to resemble the ‘Crow’ so as to get the same protection from predators.

Another Great Mormon (Papilio memnon agenor). Tangkiling, Central Kalimantan

Another Great Mormon (Papilio memnon agenor). Tangkiling, Central Kalimantan

I like the symmetry of this photo. This butterfly is a male; the female is quite different, not blue-black like the male but a sort of sepia brown colour, and is much less common.

Common Cruiser (male) (Vindula erota), Singapore

Common Cruiser (male) (Vindula erota), Singapore

Frequently seen, although anything but ‘common’ in appearance, this cruiser is so named because of its regal flight pattern, cruising around the forest like it owns it. It is found from India right across Southeast Asia.

Common Cruiser (female) (Vindula erota), Singapore

Common Cruiser (female) (Vindula erota), Singapore

The female Cruiser is bigger, with an overall greenish-grey hue, and a big white stripe. As well as being sexually dimorphic, the Cruiser also has very different forms depending on whether it’s wet or dry season. So there are four quite distinct adult forms.

Tree Nymph butterfly (Idea leuconoe). Singapore

Tree Nymph (Idea leuconoe). Singapore

The Tree Nymph (also known as the ‘Paper Kite) is found across much of Southeast Asia, though in Indonesia only in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Like the Malayan Crow, it eats milkweed in the caterpillar stage, so it is unpalatable for birds and other predators. With those big wings, it is able to fly by gliding as much as by flapping, and it sometimes looks like it’s floating. It’s very pretty…

Great Eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina).

Great Eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina). Singapore

The Great Eggfly (where do they get these names?) is found fairly commonly from Madagascar right through to New Zealand (where they call it the ‘Blue Moon Butterfly’). The female looks quite different, mostly brown and without the distinctive spots of the male.

Malay Lacewing (Cethosia hypsea hypsea). Singapore

Malay Lacewing (Cethosia hypsea hypsea). Singapore

This beautiful butterfly with lovely scalloped patterns along the outside of the wings is another poisonous one (not that I could imagine wanting to eat one). It’s a forest dweller.

Common Mormon butterfly (Papillo polities romulus). Singapore

Common Mormon (Papillo polities romulus). Singapore

I don’t understand why this butterfly came to be known as the ‘Common’ Mormon. It really deserves a name more in keeping with its beautiful and elegant form. ‘Exquisite Mormon’, perhaps?

Not yet identified (Kupukupu tyrannosaurus); Kelabit Highlands, Sarawak

Not yet identified (Kupu-kupu jokarus tyrannosaurus?); Kelabit Highlands, Sarawak

We saw this gorgeous butterfly in the forest of the Kelabit Highlands, in Sarawak close to the Indonesian border.

So far I haven’t been able to find it listed in any of the butterfly catalogues, and we’ve settled on the improbable conclusion that it’s never been seen by humans before. That would give us ‘naming rights’, so we’d like to call it Kupu-kupu jokarus tyrannosaurus. (But perhaps I should first have another look through the catalogues).

And below are a couple of others that I haven’t been able to identify (yet). Suggestions, anyone?



Bako National Park

Let’s jump back a few weeks, and over to the northwest corner of Borneo. Out of Indonesia and into Sarawak, which (along with the neighbouring state of Sabah) forms ‘East Malaysia’. And there in Sarawak we find the Bako National Park.

At just over 20 sq km, Bako is one of Malaysia’s smallest. It’s also one of the most accessible, being only an hour by bus and boat from Kuching, the biggest city in Sarawak.


In spite of its small size and accessibility, Bako incorporates a wide range of eco-systems, and it is one of the best places in Borneo to see some wildlife.

Bako_NP_20150411_267The landscape types range from peat swamp forest in the low areas through to dry sandy scrub country up in the high plateau at the centre of the park. This latter landscape is known as kerangas, which means something like: “heathy land that is too poor to grow rice on”. If you squint your eyes a bit, a lot of it looks like the Australian bush.


But our favourite parts were the wet jungly bits in the swamps and the lower hillsides, which are so full of life.




The park is pretty well set up for the visitor who wants to explore a little. There’s accommodation in a number of lodge style buildings, and a dining hall that offers a surprisingly good buffet. Then there is a network of paths giving access to most areas of the park. The paths are generally well maintained, signposted, with wooden walkways where the ground is boggy or the landscape sensitive. There are several loop tracks that can be followed so that you don’t have to retrace your steps.


The Proboscis monkeys are listed as endangered, but we have now encountered them in four different locations around the island. In Bako the resident band seem to be fairly accustomed to human company, and so they are less shy about being photographed. However the one above seemed embarrassed about letting us see his big nose.


As the saying goes: “It never rains but it pours”. I got too close to the one above. I was stalking him underneath the tree that he was sitting in, when I noticed a sudden shower of liquid onto me from the leaves and branches above. Yes, he was urinating, and I’m pretty sure that it was deliberate, just his way of saying: “that’s close enough”. It happened to me again the next evening…


They are immensely entertaining to watch, and are more expressive, and seem more human, than many humans. I think the one in the photo above may have been experiencing some kind of religious ecstasy.


Proboscis monkeys aren’t the only primates in the park. The Silver Leaf Langur has a luxuriant black coat with silver streaks, and fine-boned delicate features. They are shy.


The macaques are not shy. In fact they are so not-shy that there are warning signs about keeping your door closed so they won’t come in and make off with your valuables. They are only after food of course, but they can be very cheeky-naughty as they pursue it.


Wild pigs (babi hutan) are common in the forests throughout Borneo. The Dayak people particularly like to eat babi, and in many villages Dayak men spend much of their time hunting, with traps, rifles, dogs, bush knives and even spears. There are a few varieties, with the bearded pig being perhaps the most interesting, largest – and possibly the ‘cutest’.

Being a predominantly Muslim country it’s uncommon to find any restaurant that serves pork. There are however some restaurants which specialise in pork (and/or dog) meat. These are identified by a sign out front saying “BB” (which is code for ‘babi’).


The bearded pigs at Bako wander freely around the visitor centre and adjacent beach, unperturbed by any people they encounter. No hunting is allowed in the park! They are strong enough to tear open coconuts, and it’s entertaining to watch them kick them around like footballs as they break them open. Less entertaining is their other great love – garbage bins – which they like to tip over so they can snuffle through the contents.


These tough little crabs are in training for an arm wrestling competition.


Asian Glossy Starlings – noisy, and very common from India through to the Philippines.


We went out walking one night for a couple of hours with the park rangers to see the nocturnal wildlife, which was a real highlight, especially for the variety of bizarre insects we met along the way. Every ten metres or so there was some new weird creature to see. From flying lemurs to sleeping proboscis monkeys, from cave-nesting swiftlets to mouse-deer, the rangers were remarkably good at pointing out things we would have otherwise missed. (So good in fact that we started to wonder whether some of the static creatures were actually plastic props that they’d put there earlier!)

When he pulled in his legs, this stick insect (above) bore a remarkable resemblance to… a stick.


I forget the name of this one. He (or she?) was about 20cm long, and looked fearsome and truly alien.



Lots of spiders, in all sizes and colours. This water spider wasn’t colourful, but he was quite beautiful, particularly the way he kept his (her?) legs at exactly 45 degrees apart.


This little lizard is about 30cm long, and is nicely camouflaged