It’s 4:00 in the morning and the rain is pounding. This is not California rain. This is rainforest rain –the sky has unleashed water and just when you thought it could not rain harder, it does. My alarm goes off and Lovesong, my co-leader and I arise. Amazingly, as the sun comes up, the downpour subsides, and yellow rays come through our bungalow window at the Proboscis Lodge on the Kinabatangan River in Sabah, Borneo. It is an honor to be leading an Oakland Zoo Conservation Expedition to this fascinating part of the planet.
Lovesong, our 13 expedition participants and I have a quick tea and step carefully into the boats awaiting us. We are spending the day with Red Ape Encounters, and are armed with bird books, mammal guides, cameras and binoculars. Our lead guide Ken greets us with a big smile.
First, we listen. The sound of the rainforest in the morning is incredible: such a variety of calls echo across the river. One of our guides can identify the bird species by sound and delights our bird-loving crew. Looking around, we see tall and lacy fig trees, lush vines dripping down 90 feet and light purple flowers blooming high on treetops. There are so many shades of green.
There, high up in a tree, we spot three white-crowned hornbills. These birds are huge and beautiful, and resemble rock stars with their fancy white feathers poofing from their heads. Two sit on a branch and one swings merrily from a vine, seemingly for the sheer fun of it.
A large group of Proboscis Monkeys has alighted on a few trees right in front of us and we sit for at least an hour and watch them. Only found in Borneo, these primates are quite unique with their protruding noses, pot bellies and comical sounds. They leap about, always respecting the obviously dominant male.
As the morning heats up, we see silver languar (silver leaf) monkeys, long-tail macaques, a variety of hornbills, and a bird called a jerdon’s baza with a whole rat in his talons.
Our guides steer us to our ultimate hope: an orangutan. In a fig tree, casually snacking we see a mother and her baby, and a fully flanged (with cheek pads) male. We learn that Orang means “man” and Hutan means “forest” in Malay, and we can see why they are named as such. We are now living the dream, and watching these magnificent apes, their red hair lit by the equatorial sun, just being animals in the habitat they were born in. What an amazing day. And it is only 9:00 am.