The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Sandakan is ‘Sepilok’, or ‘orangutan’. Let’s face it; the city is teeming with life, especially where flora and fauna are concerned. Considered one of the best spots for wildlife viewing, the city presents so many opportunities to catch glimpses of Bornean animals in their natural habitat and element.
Best of all, they’re undisturbed and you will get to see them interact with their kin, and this somehow will amplify your appreciation for nature and the wonders of life itself.
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Granted, our time was short, and we only managed to capture photos of eight different sights, but we’re absolutely confident that if you were to stay for a longer time and explore what Sandakan has to offer, you’ll be able to get more out of it.
Trust us, go on a trip to Sandakan with your camera, book yourself a tour around the jungle or forest reserves, or even take a boat around the rivers and you will find spectacular sights such as the:
1. Pig-Tailed Macaque
The southern pig-tail macaque was, until recently, considered a subspecies of the northern pig-tail macaque, but is now listed as its own species. True to the name, both monkeys have tails that stick up in the air and are the same size and shape as that of pigs.
2. Silverleaf Monkey
The silvery lutung, also known as the Silverleaf monkey or the silvery langur, is an Old World monkey (ones with narrow noses with a thin septum and downward-facing nostrils). They have grey-tipped, dark brown or black fur, giving the animals a uniform silvery appearance. Locals have given this species a funny nickname – David Beckham – because the footballer sported a similar spiky hair do not too long ago.
Although orangutans have been dubbed our ‘cousins’, as they are believed to have shared a common ancestor with us about 12 to15 million years ago, the strength of the orangutan is actually seven times that of a normal human being! The largest living arboreal animal also prefers a solitary life possibly due to their voracious appetites that it makes it impossible for them to share with groups.
4. Bornean Sun Bear
One of the smallest bear species is the Bornean sun bear, which has short, sleek black fur with an orange-yellow horseshoe shape on its chest. In some folktales, it is said that this shape represents the rising sun. They have a very long tongue at between 20 and 25 centimetres. This helps them extract honey from bee hives, earning them the alternative name ‘honey bear’ or beruang madu in Malay and Indonesian.
These bears are considered to be very important to the health of the forest as they help disperse seeds and keep the termite population low, helping tropical tree species. They dig for invertebrates in the soil, which enhances the forest’s nutrient cycle through the mixing of rich and poor soil.The bears also help create nesting sites for animals such as hornbills and flying squirrels, by tearing open tree trunks to reach the honey inside.
5. Proboscis Monkey
Proboscis monkeys are most noticeable due to the males’ large noses which can exceed 10.2 centimetres in length, and hang lower than their mouths, earning them the nickname ‘Mr Long Nose’. Proboscis monkeys are perhaps the most aquatic of the primates, as they have webbed toes, an adaptation that enables them to swim long distances.
These monkeys are also folivores and frugivores; they prefer fruits, seeds, young leaves and shoots of mangrove. They may also eat some invertebrates such as caterpillars and larvae.
6. Rhinoceros Hornbill
As one of the largest hornbills in the world, the rhinoceros hornbill also has one of the largest and most impressive casques, a feature they share with hadrosaurids from more than 60 million years ago. They are also known to be the only bird species to have eyelashes, be friends with monkeys, stick with their families and offer food as an engagement gift to their mated pair.
Locally, the Dayak tribe considers the hornbill as the spirit of God, and having one fly over a household is a sign of imminent good fortune. That’s why you’d notice that hornbills are incorporated into aspects of their culture, like their art, ceremonial dresses and dances.
If you’re lucky enough to see a kingfisher on its perch, watch it closely. It starts to bob its head up and down to gauge the position of its prey, before diving into the water with its wings open (its eyes are protected by transparent eyelids). Upon catching the fish, the kingfisher stuns its prey before swallowing it headfirst.
8. Oriental-Pied Hornbill
Considered one of the smallest and most common of the Asian hornbills (although not common for city-dwelling slickers like us), it is also one of the most adaptable ones when it comes to landscape modification. These hornbills eat mainly fruits, but they also take insects and small animals such as reptiles, birds and mammals.
When they do call, it is harsh and penetrating and has been described as a loud, staccato cackling; or a yak-yak-yak; and even as the cackling of a witch on a broomstick! By the way, if you notice, they fly rather awkwardly!
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