Tag Archives: Proboscis Monkey

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

Danau Sembuluh

We first heard about Danau (Lake) Sembuluh and the village of Bangkal while reading the journals of the Norwegian explorer, ethnographer and naturalist Carl Lumholtz (“Through Central Borneo; an Account of Two Years’ Travel in the Land of Head-Hunters Between the Years 1913 and 1917.”). He travelled to Sembuluh almost precisely one hundred years before us. He wrote about the “attractive” lake, and wrote a little about the Dayak Tamuan people from Bangkal village.


Actually Lumholtz never quite made it up as far as Bangkal, because the water level was too low for the Dutch steamer that he was travelling in to negotiate the lake. We thought that, travelling by road, we might complete the journey for him.

We travelled in company with our dear friend Gaye and our friend and guide Berdodi Martin Samuel (a.k.a. ‘Dodi’ or ‘Bucu’). Our main reason for the six-day trip was to attend a Tiwah ceremony (Dayak Kaharingan religion funeral), which I have written about previously  (I’ve also written about some of the wonderful sapundu (funerary poles) of Bangkal village.) The Tiwah ceremonies beside Lake Sembuluh were beautiful, strange and fascinating.

But Lake Sembuluh itself, and the journey to get there, is worth a few words and pictures.

Peta Sembuluh

The Dayak village of Bangkal sits by the shore of Lake Sembuluh, the largest lake in Central Kalimantan. It’s about 300 km to the southwest of Rungan Sari in Sei Gohong village – which was our home at the time of our journey (back in mid-March).  We’d been keen to visit the area since we first came to Kalimantan, and finally got the opportunity when we heard about the upcoming Tiwah.

Above is the GPS record of our road trip.


The five-hour drive to Bangkal stretched out somewhat with several unplanned stops along the way. Here we paused at a roadside collection of Dayak sapundu (funerary poles) and sandung (mausoleums). Karen is always keen to document such fine examples of the ‘material culture’ of the Dayak Kaharingan religion.


A little further down the road we came across a rotan (rattan) processing plant. The rotan is traditionally harvested from the forests, but with the forests rapidly disappearing, it is now more likely to be produced through small-scale plantation farming. The spiny outer layer of the rotan (which is actually a variety of palm, though it resembles a vine) is stripped off at the plantation, and then the bundles are then transported here for processing. Another outer layer is removed, and the canes are treated (twice) with sulphur, which bleaches out any colour. In this photo above the sulphur is being washed off prior to drying. It smelt like brimstone.

We were assured that the shirtless boy in the photo above had already put in a full day at school before starting work in the sulphur tank…


All the rotan from this plant is sent away for making cane furniture. Most of it goes to Java, but bundles of the best quality canes (such as those above) are exported to China.


Just a few kilometres to the southwest of the main road near Kasongan is an extensive area (maybe 50 sq km?) that has been thoroughly worked over by small-scale gold miners. You can see the result on Google Earth – it’s the big white area in the satellite image. I don’t know if any remediation was attempted afterwards, but it is now a wasteland of gravelly white sand – pits and mounds –  and highly toxic (mercury-contaminated) ponds. Karen and our guide Berdodi decided against fishing or swimming there.


We stopped for a very nice lunch at Sampit – the biggest town along the road – and later walked around the newly beautified port precinct. Sampit is apparently the busiest timber port in Indonesia, and it’s also a major centre for processing of kelapa sawit (oil palm) fruit to produce Crude Palm Oil (CPO). Large numbers of yellow trucks can be seen heading to Sampit, loaded up high with the harvested oil palm fruit. We had hoped to visit one of the factories, but were unable to obtain permission (it’s difficult for foreigners…) prior to our arrival.

Outside of Kalimantan, Sampit is however best known for the kerusuhan Sampit (the ‘Sampit disturbances) of February 2001. Around 500 transmigrants from the island of Madura (and 13 Dayaks) were killed during several weeks of brutal violence, and tens of thousands of Madurese had to be evacuated from Kalimantan by Indonesian armed forces to prevent further massacres. The violence spread to other villages and cities, including Pangkalan Bun, Palangka Raya and Kuala Kapuas. It was a truly ugly episode, and one which is still fresh in the minds of the community here, since everyone over the age of 20 has memories of that time…


But fifteen years later, our biggest problem in the ‘ethnically cleansed’ town of Sampit was deciding which pineapples to buy.


We arrived in Bangkal a little before the sun set across the lake.


At the entrance to the village is a bilingual gate which spells out the values that the village aspires to – or perhaps it is a character test for visitors?


The children seemed quite pleased to meet us.


At the lakefront, a long jetty has been constructed for fishing, docking canoes, and recreational activity. We were there at the height of the wet season, and so the floor of the jetty was a little submerged.


Inundation of the jetty didn’t stop it being used. The children above are hauling a large fish trap out of the lake, from which they removed a number of (very small) fish.


Bangkal is one of the friendliest villages we have been to, and the kids – as always – were more than willing to pose for photos.


We had to wait a few days, until the Tiwah ceremonies were completed, to go out on the lake. A large number of behavioural and dietary prohibitions are enforced during the main days of the Tiwah. One of these – significant in a fishing village like Bangkal – is that you may not travel by boat.

When we did get out onto the water, we toured the northern part of the lake in a the usual klotok (canoe/longboat), with five of us sitting in a line. I got to sit up front.


A century ago, Carl Lumholtz remarked that the lake “looks attractive, though at first the forests surrounding the ladangs of the Malays are partly defaced by dead trees, purposely killed by fire in order to gain more fields.” The use of fire to clear land continues today, only on a far greater scale as the forests of Kalimantan are progressively converted to oil palm plantations.

Along most of the eastern edge of the lake, there is a thin strip of secondary forest, with the beginning of the oil palm plantations just behind. The sandy soil of the western side of the lake is not suited for cultivation of kelapa sawit, but instead is pockmarked and scarred from past gold mining, and burning to ‘clean’ the land.


So we were therefore (pleasantly) surprised to find that a moderate population of animals and birds still survive in this compromised landscape – including some large Proboscis Monkeys (Nasalis larvatus) like this one above.


At another part of the lake we were entertained by a pair of fighting (or courting?) Greater Coucal (Centropus sinensis bubutus). These impressive large (48cm) cuckoos are found across Asia from Pakistan to southern China. In Kalimantan, they are regarded by some as a pest because they like to eat the fleshy parts of ripe oil palm fruit. I would have thought that there are more than enough oil palms to share some fruit with these beautiful birds.

They are known to the Dayak people as burring bubut (because their call sounds a bit like: “but.. but… but…”), and an oil which is extracted from the wing-bones of these birds is used as a treatment for broken bones – along with massage. This treatment was even recommended to me after my motorbike accident – but I opted for surgery.


Parts of the lake were quite beautiful, even these burnt pandanus had a starkly elegant beauty when reflected in a still patch of water.


Most houses in the district are firmly constructed on dry land, but some fishermen’s homes are built on floating platforms so they can move to different parts of the lake as conditions change between wet and dry seasons.


And then we were back to the jetty at Bangkal village, leaving the tranquillity of Danau Sembuluh for the challenges of the ‘Trans-Kalimantan Highway’ and the long journey back home.

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


Danau Sentarum National Park


Danau (Lake) Sentarum drains into the Kapuas River, not far to the southwest of the Betung-Kerihun National Park. In the dry season there’s just a network of snaky rivers there, but now (at the end of the wet season) there’s a huge and complex system of lakes, rivers and peat swamp wetlands across the 132,000 hectares of the national park.

Despite being beautiful, with rampant biodiversity and some fascinating and friendly villages, it doesn’t get a lot of visitors. In fact we didn’t meet another tourist or see another ‘westerner’ in the more than two weeks we were in West Kalimantan.


Transport around the park, including to the several villages located within the park, is by boat – wooden barges for freight, klotok canoes with or without outboard motors for local transport and fishing, plus a few small speedboats. No cars, trucks or motorbikes. Everything happens on the water – even the cattle are kept on floating platforms in bamboo stalls, where they are hand-fed. It makes for a slow and seemingly relaxed pace of life.


A woman brings firewood to her home in the Melayu village of Semangit. We passed by very slowly, so that our wake wouldn’t swamp her canoe. But she still seemed concerned about the possibility.


The ominous-looking sky above was pictured during an abortive fishing trip, about 30 seconds before a torrential downpour arrived. We seem to have developed a talent for producing major electrical storm events when we are travelling in uncovered canoes – that’s three times so far. Within a minute it was dark and pelting down, with a weird swarm of excited little bats swooping about our heads. While our crew of three started bailing out the boat, we huddled with our cameras under our brollies, and the fishing was postponed.


There are about seven varieties of hornbill in Borneo. Big unlikely birds with enormous beak adornments (which we now know are called ‘casques’). The Rhinoceros Hornbill  is aptly named, and is particularly spectacular. (Hornbill dinner party trivia: they are the only species of birds in which the top two vertebrae are fused together, so their necks can better support their big beaks.)

Hornbills are really important in traditional Dayak culture and religion, and their appearance is often seen as an omen for good or evil – depending on whether they cross your path from the left or the right side (but I can’t remember which side is the auspicious one!) We hear them frequently in the forest, but sightings are less common, and they are usually flying past at speed. So (like many birds), they are buggers to photograph.


Trees are generally more compliant. There are some large areas of mostly primary forest around the park, on islands and peninsulas. The soils are poor, but that doesn’t seem to prevent large trees, ferns, vines and fungi from growing.


675 plant species have been found so far, again including a number of unique plants. There are a number of ‘carnivorous’ pitcher plants, many of which are large and lovely and elegant. Their main prey are ants. One local delicacy is to cook and serve rice inside a large ‘pitcher’ (after removing any partially digested ants).


There’s a largish population of orang-utans in the park. In some places, such as in the forest above, you can see their nests high in just about every second tree. They make a fairly rough sleeping platform during the day out of branches and leaves. We were told that they only use each nest once, building a new one each day. Why is that? They’re not saying.


In spite of their number in the park, the wild orang-utans are very wary of humans (who can blame them?) and are notoriously difficult to observe. We spoke to one park ranger who had been working there for four years without a sighting, and to a local (middle-aged) village guy who had only come across them four times in his life.

We are frequently reminded of just how lucky we are, and so we were blessed with a sighting of a mother and baby in the forest as we were returning by canoe from an outing. Our two crew were so excited that they almost dragged us out of the boat into the swamp beside the river. A hundred metres of clambering and splashing through very difficult terrain (calf-deep mud, waist-deep pools of black water, rotting fallen logs, spiky rattan vines etc) was rewarded with a few minutes of wondrous sighting.


The mother was very protective of her baby, and soon ushered it away and started hooting and yelling at us to try and scare us off. At the time, I was more concerned about the log that had just fallen onto my head and knocked me over, and about how I was going to find my thong that had come adrift in the thick mud at the bottom of the pool I was standing in. But she certainly was a formidable sight up there!


Elsewhere in the park we encountered the large (and also endangered) Proboscis monkey. The name comes from the protuberant noses (you probably guessed) that are sported by the adult males, and which the females apparently find irresistible. And who can blame them? In Indonesia they are known as Orang belanda (“Dutch man”) which we think is rather unkind.


Almost 300 species of freshwater fish have been found in the lakes, including a couple of dozen found nowhere else (for comparison, the rivers and lakes of Europe have less than 200 fish species).


There are a number of villages either in or bordering on the park. Some are Melayu, and others (like this one above) are home to Dayak Iban people, most of whom still choose to live in longhouses. We stayed in a couple of these (such as the Meliau longhouse pictured above), and were made very welcome.


Longhouse design varies a bit between Dayak communiities, but they always have one long enclosed living room/hall/verandah/corridor running the full length, and this is where everyone gets together to meet, work, play and (sometimes) eat. Here’s Karen at Baligundi longhouse.


The man above, in the Pelaik longhouse, is repairing his fishing net. Nets and line fishing are the fish-catching methods preferred by the Iban. The Melayu people have set up hundreds (maybe thousands) of fish traps around the waterways. Between them, the poor fish don’t stand a chance.


This old tattooed lady (above left), the mother of the current headman in the village of Pelaik, showed us some of the textiles that she had woven over the years. Not for sale, she was just happy to show them to us. Meanwhile the young and un-tattooed lady (above right) was in her element, asking all about weaving techniques, dye materials and the meaning of the various motifs.


In another longhouse (Baligundi), another lady was making mats from reeds, while children played around her. Karen was encouraged to have a go at the mat-weaving, after which she reported that: “it’s not as easy as it looks”.
And that probably holds true for the rest of their lives, too…