We saw plenty of fresh nests and evidence of orangutan-eaten fruits, but I left without seeing the world’s largest tree-dwelling primate.
But I did not give up hope!
I had a few more days left in Borneo before I went back to the US. Originally, I planned to go to Kota Kinabalu to snorkel and see Borneo’s amazing reefs, but deep down inside, I still really wanted to see an orangutan.
I switched up my plan and instead headed to Bilit village, a small town on the shore of the Kinabatangan River. Here, wildlife tourism operators offered river cruses to see Borneo’s endemic proboscis monkey. I definitely wanted to see this species too because the day I was supposed to take a river cruise on the Kinabatangan River near Deramakot, it stormed and our cruise was cancelled.
The Kinabatangan River is the second longest river in Malaysia and a great place to see wildlife. Because proboscis monkeys always live near water, you are guaranteed to see them (it’s extremely rare to guarantee the presence of wildlife).
But you can also see orangutans, elephants, beautiful birds, and other wildlife. Although I’ve seen wild African elephants many times (I studied forest elephants for my Ph.D.), I did not see Asian elephants in Dermakot (but we were so close; we found super fresh poop).
I therefore scoured the Kinabatangan River with my guide looking for Asian elephants and especially the Borenan organgutan. But did we find one?
In this post, I share with you all of the amazing mammals I saw along the Kinabatangan River. Scroll to the end to see if I did end up seeing my “most wanted” animals.
There are so many proboscis monkeys! OK, not really, they are an endangered species, but you see them so frequently and well on the river cruise that it seems like there are lots.
Because these monkeys are both endemic (only found in Borneo) and endangered, I didn’t not expect to see them so well. We were able to get incredibly close to them, even by boat. I suspect that they are so used to the tourist boats they are no longer disturbed.
Proboscis monkeys are famous for and named after their big noses. The largest males have the biggest noses. I saw them several times, but was only able to get this photo of the big male’s nose.
I was NOT expecting to see this mammal especially on a river cruise! Given that they arboreal, I just thought it would be extremely hard to see one from a boat. Luckily, one of our guides heard this colugo chirp and we were able to get excellent views.
Colugos are a very unusual animals. They are not flying squirrels, bats, or lemurs. They are in their own mammalian order.
Silvered langur monkey
This was the third time I saw silvered langur monkeys. I saw them previously in Deramakot and the Sungai Congkak Forest.
I think I was so focused on the proboscis monkeys, that unfortunately, I didn’t get a good photo of them. This one is from iNaturalist.
We saw the monkeys pretty frequently too, but I was obsessed with finding an orangutan that I didn’t capture any good photos of them. I took some video footage (below) and also added some iNaturalist photos so you can see what they look like up close.
It seems like pig-tailed macaques were everywhere on the Kinabatangan River cruise. Even overhead!
Pig-tailed macaques are named so for their pig-like tail. Can you see it in the photos?
What a gorgeous squirrel! If you haven’t seen the giant red flying squirrel I saw in Deramakot, check it out in my mammal list. Seriously, it is super cool!
Unfortunately, I didn’t see the multi-colored one above. I saw the solid black version when we left our boat to go on foot behind a resort to find an orangutan that escaped from us.
This squirrel is a little less glamorous, but still pretty in my opinion. I love the spectacled stripy patter of its tail. And I LOVE plantains. Yum!
Island palm civet
We saw this island palm civet on a night walk through a small forest near a resort. Even though palm civets are common throughout Southeast Asia, this was one of my favorite sightings. S/he let us watch us for a long time. It was is cool to see it up close.
Unfortunately, elephants were a no for me. We got word of a single male elephant along the bank in a specific stretch of the river, but when we got there, we did not see one.
That’s okay though, I have a feeling I will be back in Asia and will have more opportunities to see Asian elephants.
Did I see an orangutan? The species I wanted to see the most?
Kind of. Let me explain…
We scoured the edges of the Kinabatangan River morning and night to find an orangutan. One morning we got word of one that was right by a resort about 15 minutes before we were about to leave for our morning boat cruise.
We headed straight to the resort, but the orangutan was no longer there.
We disembarked from our boat and explored around the resort. We asked the staff if they knew about the orangutan. We knew it had to be close by because orangutans have a limited home range.
They did say it was in the area, but it moved more into the forest. We hiked beyond staff headquarters in areas guests aren’t normally allowed and looked and looked. That’s where I saw the Prevost’s squirrel.
We waited patiently and scoured the trees. Then we shaking in the trees.
So did I see one? In the next coming week, I’ll post a video revealing my orangutan story and you can decide for yourself.
Stephanie Manka, Ph.D. is a wildlife biologist with 20 years of experience in mammal ecology and conservation, education, and outreach. Read her story to find out how she went from the daughter of a jeweler to a Ph.D. in wildlife biology.