04.08.2008 - 08.08.2008 30 °C
Crossing the border from Tarakan in East Kilimantan, Indonesia to Tawau, Malaysia by speedboat only took a few hours, but the scenery on the road sides are dramatically different. Here in Sabah, palm oil plantations cover not just small hills but mountains stretched as far as the eye can see. I took another bus from Tawau to Lahad Datu, a town closest to a few wildlife reserves in this area.
Understandably, most tour packages in this region are not catered to single traveller that show up without reservation. After inquiring about some 2 day 1 night tour into these wildlife reserves and getting ridiculously expensive quotes from two different travel agencies, I decided to try my luck at a research office. To my surprise, I was allowed by a very nice manager at the local Department of Forestry to camp next the river at the Taliwas Conservation area which used to be logged 30 years ago, about 45 minute from Lahad Datu.
For the next two days, I trekked with a ranger in the secondary forest nearby and spotted a wild male orangutan making a nest high on the tree, bite by the fighty fire ants, saw the rare marble cat in our night safari drive and helped to plant trees. I've befriended the hospitable manager's family who invited me for dinners and played with his young son, Aedan.
From Lahad Datu, I took a bus that dropped me off at a junction and another shared taxi with a few plantation workers on a dusty roads to the village of Sukau, a beautiful village along Sungai Kinabatagan. Due to the abundance of palm oil plantation in this area, most wildlife nowadays are trapped in a very narrow stretch of secondary forest by this mighty river in East Sabah. In recent years, the acidic level of the river was risen dramatically by fertilizer from nearby mountains and mountains of plantation and the water level was risen by abandoned logs on the river bottom. Fortunately, local conservation teams and NGOs are working hard to save the last piece of land by replanting native trees and protecting the remaining wildlife population.
From the moment I watched the Borneo Elephant show on Animal Planet, I was determined to come to this part of the world to further understand this unique specie. I decided to try my luck, again, by talking to a local NGOs headed by a french couple doing research on orangutans and was introduced to a master student who is working on these elephants. For the couple days, a dedicated research student took me to track for her collared female, Belina, and her family in the forest. I exchanged my notes with her on animal behavior and had a wonderful time with her conservation team. Her valuable information allowed me to have a much deeper understanding on the conflict between human and elephants, for my own studies. My dream had come true.