Another day up before the sun and we sleepily gulp down our cups of tea as we wait for our boats. Our guides from Red Ape Encounters greet us once again, and we push off shore and down the windy, lush tributaries of the Kinabatangan River. I can’t believe we get to do this again! Everywhere, we hear animals – and we decide to just sit a moment and look up at the trees and listen. Someone notices a snake coiled up on a branch directly above us; a gorgeous reticulated python, just minding his own business. As we snap photos and contemplate his age, the snake suddenly springs uncoiled into the river, missing our boat by inches. We are awake now!
Ken and our other guides steer our boat through a beautiful stretch of river and to a place where most tourists cannot tread, into the HUTAN-KOCP orang-utan study site. The HUTAN – KOCP’s (Kinabatangan Orang-utan Conservation Project) work in Sabah began in 1998 with the first ever study of wild populations of orang-utans living in previously logged forest (secondary forest). Our boat drifts slowly under a few very creatively designed rope bridges, made to connect fragmented corridors for orangutans. Orangutans do not swim, nor leap – and the lack of a large tree canopy makes it impossible for them to cross over the river. The bridges are the solution – and it is a thrill to look up at them and imagine the red apes walking over them, gaining access to the food, shelter and other orangutans on the other side.
We pull up to the shore and in small groups, we climb out and into the jungle. Armed with Mosie Guard (bug spray) and leech socks, we are hoping that leeches are not part of the wildlife that we view today. We climb up a steep hill to a hidden cave where birds nest soup has been harvested from swiftlets and marvel at the richness of the forest. After a strenuous hike, we emerge out of the forest to find coffee and snacks laid out for us by the river. Life is good.
Seeing animals is a thrill, but meeting people who are heroes for animals is just as exciting and inspiring. It is wonderful to watch our group engage with these fellow-humans. Some of our group is now up in a tree-hide, talking with orangutan researchers as they stay out of the rain and safe from meandering pygmy elephants. Some of our group is out with reforestation workers who are planting trees all over the Kinabatangan River. How great to meet the people who are part of the on-the-ground solutions. What a morning! As we finally jump back in our boats, we notice that behind much of the beautiful foliage, we can see rows of the palm kernel tree where there was once a diverse forest. There is a lot to learn about conservation challenges in Borneo…..