Tabin: Elephants Galore!

Trip Start Dec 29, 2012
Trip End Aug 15, 2013

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Flag of Malaysia  , Sabah,
Saturday, April 20, 2013

On the drive into the nature preserve, there were palm plantations everywhere.  I had a hard time believing we were ever going to end up in a wild space.  We saw workers knocking down the palm fruits which was very interesting.  They use a long pole and poke it off.  I think it would take a lot of strength seeing how long the pole is!

The road up to the park boundary has palm planted on one side and the wild preserve on the other.  We found throughout our few days here that this makes for great wildlife sightings as many of the animals and birds come to the plantations to eat and then they return to the forest.  By law the plantation owners are not able to harm any of the animals that come onto their property.  Seems like a good set up, but I wonder about the diet of the animals and if palm is good nutrition for them?

We had a wonderful lunch as soon as we arrived at the lodge and our guide, Esrail took us on a short jungle walk in the afternoon.  We saw many trees, lianas (vines) and insects along with a flying lizard.  It felt great to be in a rainforest again! 

After a short siesta we hopped into the back of a pick up truck with benches for a dusk and evening ride.  The first thing we saw on the road was a spitting viper.   Esrail had great stories about these.  They are quite poisonous and once a palm worker found one curled up at the top of the tree.  He used his pole to slice it in half and then continued to work at the fruit.  It finally fell, with half of the snake!  Unfortunately it was the half with the head with the mouth still wide open.  It landed on the worker's neck and he and the snake died together.  I was quite glad to be in the back of the truck viewing the snake from afar!  It was about a metre and a half long.

We continued on our drive and saw elephants!  Lots and lots of Borneo Pygmy Elephants feeding on the side of the road.  Esrail was surprised as they often don't travel this close to the lodge until July.  We watched them for quite a while.  There were many calves with their mothers and a few young bulls.  Listening to them rustle the foliage and make growling noises as they communicated was really amazing!  Every once in a while the matriarch would give a trumpet or two.  Eventually they moved onto the road and up aways before disappearing again.  We thought that would be the end of the sighting, but we traveled up the road and saw them again!  This time in a large field where we could watch them uninhibited by bushes and trees.  We watched them get closer and closer to us as they began to understand that we weren't a threat.   The sun went down as we watched and then we drove back in the dark looking for nocturnal creatures.  We saw a few different flying foxes and sleeping hornbills.

Following a great dinner (the lodges here have amazing food - a mixture of Malay and Thai - mostly fish with rice and great flavours!) we went straight to sleep.  A strange noise kept waking us up though.  A scratching sound right under our elevated hut.  Much too large sounding to be a rat or mouse, we found out the next night that it was probably a civet (a mid-size cat looking creature).  We saw three civets during our night walk on our second evening.

In the morning after breakfast we headed out for a four kilometre hike through the forest to a mud volcano.   Along the way we spotted a few birds and insects, and a sun bear footprint, but for the most part the forest was quiet.  At one point we stopped and Esrail made an offering in a spot that has a horrific story.  A year and a half ago there was a tourist killed by an elephant.  They had come across an elephant in the trees and she proceeded to take a picture of it but her flash was on.  It happened to be a bull and it charged her and caught her through the middle with it's tusk.  It carried her off into the forest and she was never found. The guide was devastated and quit soon after.  (writer's note:  Jim has just read this and informed me that they did indeed find her body in the forest and there was surprisingly little blood because the tusk was so sharp it went cleanly through the body)

After the story, I kept a keen look out for elephants on the path!  I could tell that Esrail was too. Fortunately, all we saw were their tracks.  Some old and filled with water.  The trail continued to get muddier and muddier on our way to the volcano.  The mud volcano is a vent that erupts in mud instead of lava and the mammals from the area frequent there to roll in and eat the mineral rich mud. 

Driving back to the lodge we passed the breeding centre for the Borneo Sumatran Rhinoceros of which there are only an estimated 40 left.  There are some scientists and volunteers that run a program which has four rhinos in enclosures and they have been attempting to breed them and then re-release them into the wild in order to save them from extinction.  However, one of the females is too old and is actually blind, so they haven't been able to release her. Visitors to the centre aren't allowed, but it was great to hear that people are trying to do something to prevent the termination of such a large and beautiful animal.

After lunch we were treated to a mud volcano face mask and herbal footsoak with plants from the rainforest.  All four of us indulged!   Later we hiked a short ways to a waterfall for a swim.  This is where I experienced my first tiger leech - it must have already been on my boot, because as soon as I got into the water I felt it on my ankle!   The boys had their first leeches earlier in the day (Aiden had one lesion on his thigh that sucked on him 'til it dropped off.  The anticoagulant that the leeches use works well because it freely dripped blood for a long time before stopping!) Jim was to get his leech at the next lodge and it crawled all the way up to his back!

On our second night walk we found lots of frogs, a beautiful kingfisher, fruit bats flying with figs in their mouths, three civets and a few spiders and such. We didn't hear much that night from the civet under our hut.  I banged on the floor quite aggressively the first few times I heard it scratching.

In the early morning we were driven back into Lahad Datu to meet with our next driver for the Borneo Rainforest Lodge in Danum Valley.  We saw Macaque monkeys - long tailed and pig-tailed, bearded pigs, and Grey Leaf monkeys in Tabin too!

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Kelly on

Love the elephants and the mud spa looks so relaxing. Miss the boys blog updates. Hope they get a chance to add a few more soon.

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