Kinabatangan River

The second longest river in Malaysia, the Kinabatangan River is a great place to see monkeys in the wild.

Bilit Adventure Lodge is one of half dozen along the river, with elevated walkways connecting the accommodation to the eating area and river. They offer early morning and late afternoon river cruises, and morning and evening jungle walks, providing plenty of wildlife spotting opportunities.

These started with an afternoon river cruise in which we saw dozens of distinctive proboscis monkeys, very unusual looking animals, particularly the males with their large noses and stomachs.

The most common monkeys though were the long tailed macaque. We saw a group of them swimming across the river, with the young clinging to their mothers backs.

There was some bird life, colourful yellow beaked oriental pied hornbills, a rarely seen red beaked rhinoceros hornbill, a few egrets, and a white belly fish eagle.

Arriving back at the lodge there was a rather large water monitor lizard near the river bank.

The next morning we took a walk through the jungle, coming across a few things of interest including this furry caterpillar, a few birds, and a sizeable centipede.

On the cruise that afternoon we were lucky to see one of the 700 orangutan in the reserve.

There were plenty more proboscis monkeys around. They form two types of groups, bachelor groups of just males, and harems with one male and up to ten females. Those with the longest noses are the most attractive…

Over the river a number of rope bridges have been installed to allow easier crossings for monkeys. We saw a pig tail macaque taking advantage of one, though it seemed pretty unsteady walking along it, nearly falling off a couple of times…

The sunset was brief but rather lovely.

Compared to my experience staying in the Peruvian Amazon there were far more monkeys but far fewer birds. Made it easier to sleep as there wasn’t deafening birdsong at dawn but was a different atmosphere. The lodge was only five minutes down the river from road access, compared with a couple of hours in the Amazon.

To provide some sad context. Although a 26,000 hectare reserve along the river has been protected since 2006, palm oil plantations are allowed in unprotected areas within 50m of the river banks. From the lodge it was 26km inland to the nearest plantation but beyond this there has been vast deforestation with native rainforest replaced by monoculture palm oil tree plantations. On the four hour drive from Ranau there were almost continuously palm oil trees for as far as could be seen. Palm oil itself is great, but the deforestation caused to clear land for it is quite horrific and tragic to see on such a scale.

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