Elephant in da house
Through the morning mist on the river, the boat coming from downstream made its approach. The two boatmans swiftly exchanged hand signals, then ours turned the long and narrow boat towards a tributary of Kinabatangan river. By now we knew that if a boatman is making the ‘cupped ears’, that ‘s a sign for encounter elephants.
And a short video from Sukau:
When we decided to have a short stay in Malaysian Borneo, I was looking forward for two things: rainforest and diving. Then mount Rinjani in Lombok erupted and kept us trapped in Bali for a bit longer. One of the two plans had to be skipped, then diving Sipadan was left for another time.
We headed for Sukau eventually, a village on the Kinabatangan river, famous for its rainforest and abundance of wildlife therefore increased chance of encountering elephants, orangutans, crocodiles and all sort of smaller wildlife. Frankly speaking the rainforest here is not a primary rainforest. Because of intensive logging in the past, done to clear the land for palm tree plantations, the rainforest left is now reduced to a stripe along the river with some proper canopy from place to place but mostly consisting in young trees an bushes along the river bank. And this is the catch with the ‘ wildlife abundance ‘ actually. While the wildlife is indeed present a lot along the lower Kinabatangan, this is rather because they’ve been caught in the narrow rainforest stripe left along the river. So to speak abundance is in fact a high density of wildlife due to diminished habitat and cut off migration paths. Great efforts are underway to resolve this, however great efforts are also made by others to plant more and more palm oil trees.
This google earth snapshot above is showing the jungle stripe along the river near Sukau, framed by plantations.
When our boat entered into the tributary, we knew that the elephants will be there. But nothing prepared us for getting right in the middle of such a large herd. The boat engine stopped and suddenly we were surrounded by about 70 elephants. Crossing the river, some of them enjoying the water some others surrounding the little ones to be protected from crocodiles. We were just some insignificant dumbfounded intruders, too small and weak to count as a danger. Surrounded by elephants all we had to do was to absorb the scene. Excitement and fear at the same time exuded from every pore. Having elephants bathing in the morning hours is a rare view. Often they do it when it is hot outside, so afternoon hours are more likely for such a scene. But our chance was to be there alone with them, in the perfect light of a beautiful morning. While the pack was crossing the stream, the lead elephant on the river bank started his trumpeting. It was a giant of what is, by book, called the pygmy elephant of Borneo. But don’t think it was a pygmy at all. A sense of danger was in the air, but right there the pack crossing the river at our boat tail was thinning and freed the way out. Our gateway boatman started the engine and, with evasive maneuvers, headed to the Kinabatangan main stream in our search for the elusive crocodile.