I was joined on April 23 by my friend Amy, three wonderful and crazy women from Baltimore, and our tour organizer Jodi (from Jodi's Jungle Jaunts). We took a short flight across Borneo to Sandakan and began a wildlife adventure that has seemed charmed in so many ways.
Our first visit was to Seligan Turtle Island, a sanctuary for sea turtles. We watched large Green Sea Turtles (their shells more than a yard long!) actually struggle ashore that night and we watched two of them lay eggs that looked a lot like ping-pong balls. The eggs are gathered up by the rangers and taken to the hatchery to protect them from predators (the mothers leave them alone anyway). Then after that, we got to take 50 or more of that day's hatchlings (about as big as an "OK" sign with your finger and thumb) and release them on the beach and watch as they scrambled and fought their way ten yards to the sea. Magical!
The next day we went back to the mainland and visited the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. We went to a feeding platform where orangutans can come if they want food (but most eat in the forest once they're rehabilitated, but they always know the food is there if they need it). There is no guarantee of seeing any of our "red-headed cousins"--as the guidebook calls them--but we were lucky.
Some juveniles showed up as well as a mother and a clinging baby, swinging themselves arm over arm along ropes leading to the platform, often hanging by three limbs and gazing at us as curiously as we were looking at them. Here's a video:
We left afterward on a boat heading up the Kanabatangan River and spent our night at the Abai Jungle Lodge and the next two nights at the Kanabatangan River Lodge. Rustic with no a/c but right in the heart of river country. At night it cooled off and we had ceiling fans.
Each day we'd take boat rides up and down the river and on smaller tributaries. We saw so many animals--troops of monkeys (especially the rare and endangered proboscus monkey (the ones with the big noses), a wild orangutan, two crocodiles, a python, colorful and exotic birds. We reveled in the variety of animals we saw along the river.
But then the big moment came:
We came around a bend in the river and saw 6 juvenile and 1 adult female pygmy elephants (about 2/3 the size of other Asian elephants, but pretty darn big) swimming in the river, wrestling with each other and rolling around in the water to get muddy and cool. We stopped the boat and floated nearby, just observing and taking pictures--feeling so lucky to see seven of these hard to find creatures.
Trumpeting came from the forest and a herd of elephants began to appear from out of the trees: 5 . . . 10 . . . 20. . . .30. . . 60 appeared and lined the banks! We oohed and ahhed. Our guide said he'd never seen a bigger herd in Borneo.
And then they moved toward the river. One by one they ambled down the muddy bank and into the river, swimming in front of us all the way across to the opposite bank--about 40 yards or so.
We were awestruck. Even our native guide admitted he had only seen an elephant herd cross a river twice in his life.
Mothers, their babies, big males, elephants of all size. After an hour they were still coming, it was getting dark, and we had to leave before the crossing finished. We motored back to the lodge, giddy with the experience.
And this is only the beginning of our week. I'll write more tomorrow.