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18

TRAVEL

PORSCHIST

EXPLORING THE KINABATANGAN RIVER

To the east of Sabah lies a huge river delta. The Kinabatangan

River is 560 kilometres long and meanders through the jungle

before flowing into the Sabah Sea. Using the river, we can go

deep into the wilderness. We leave the civilised world behind

us and soon the sounds of the jungle completely enclose us.

It is as hot as always. Moist, sticky and sweaty, the jungle

climate throws an oppressive blanket over us. The smell of the

moist earth hangs between the lower layers of the exuberant

vegetation. Under the canopies of the many tall trees grows

a jumble of palms, lianas, ferns, rattan and bamboo. In this

special ecosystem, the diversity of fauna and flora is endless.

We have a fantastic guide: Eric. How he does it we don’t know,

but he sees everything and points the animals out to us with a

laser pointer: a sturdy python that has entwined itself around a

branch, a tarsier that raises its mischievous head from behind a

tree trunk, an osprey standing high in a tree top letting its gaze

wander across the river ... 'Do not put your hand in the water',

he warns us. 'The water is cloudy, and you can’t see them, but

there are masses of crocodiles.'

NOSES, NOSES

At nightfall, countless proboscis monkeys prepare for the night.

Whole families climb up in the trees and install themselves in

the tree tops. They hang on the branches in formation. At the

top is the pater familias, the guardian of the extensive offspring.

He turns his back to the river, because possibly danger comes

from the jungle, not from the water. The rest of the clan is nes-

tled under him according to age and importance. The little ones

cling firmly to their mothers. It is a bizarre and playful sight: a

tangle of long legs, light orange coats and grey tails. We cannot

call the proboscis monkeys beautiful. Cute though, with their

beige faces, round bellies and exceptionally large olfactory

organs. Thanks to these external characteristics, the animal

was given the name 'orang belanda' in Malay which means

'Dutchman'. The local population saw similarities between the

animal and the first Dutchmen who showed up on the island in

the course of the 17th century. The big nose that hangs down

like a flat pickle is only found in males. It serves to impress

rivals and of course the females. The females themselves have

a blunt nose and the young animals have a snub nose. The pro-

boscis monkey is only found on Borneo. The animal is legally

protected. It is the umpteenth endangered species. The island

only has about 4,000 proboscis monkeys left.