I’m so glad that we didn’t rush to get to Labuk Bay yesterday and try to cram the proboscis monkeys in on top of the orang utans and the Rainforest Discovery Center. We could never have done them justice.
Proboscis monkeys are an endangered species
- They live only on the island of Borneo
- They are the third larges monkey in Asia
- They are named for the enlarged noses that the males grow
- They are also excellent swimmers (other monkeys don’t swim) and many have webbing between their toes
- They cannot digest ripe fruit and they eat mostly leaves, nuts and seeds
- All that cellulose gives them lots of gas, hence the round tummies (or so we read!)
- They make funny noises, they have a special honk for their infants… kind of like OUR family noise!
This sanctuary for the endangered proboscis monkeys is located in a palm oil plantation about an hour outside of Sandakan, in Sabah, Malaysia, at the extreme east end of the island of Borneo.
I thought it was a bit odd that a palm oil plantation (big business in Malaysia and not known for their environmental considerations, generally) would be home to one of the primary conservation efforts for these primates. But then, we met a lovely German fellow who has been coming here for 17 years. He used to be a rubber buyer for the cable insulation industry. He fell in love with Borneo wild lands and creatures years ago and has been back every year since.
He told me a “secret funny story” about Labuk Bay:
Evidently, the two brothers who own the oil plantation petitioned the government to be allowed to expand it by 500 hectares. They were granted permission for the 500, so they expanded it by 1500 hectares. This move seriously encroached on the already narrow strip of land left between the plantation and the river, which was home to 350 or so proboscis monkeys.
Naturally, the monkeys reacted to this reduction of territory by dying off, en masse, until there were only 50 individuals left.
The company was sued. A judgement of guilt was rendered and a fine of 350,000 USD (the equivalent) levied. Of course, in Malaysia, a judgement of this magnitude isn’t rendered without also adding a few lashes with a cane, so 60 lashes to the owner were also prescribed.
At this point our German friend giggled, he was clearly enjoying this part of the story.
Apparently, there is a loop hole in Malaysian law that says that anyone over 50 cannot be caned. One brother was under 50, and he was the one responsible for the crime, but he laid it on his older brother and the court bought it, meaning the fine held, but the lashes were removed from the judgement.
About this time the very hungry monkeys started stealing bread and lunch items from the plantation workers, and an idea occurred to the owners: Perhaps if we feed the monkeys and grow the population back up, the government will like us better!
And so, the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary was born. And, it worked! We saw well over a hundred individuals today and they all looked healthy and happy. They are being protected, studied and enjoyed by hundreds of visitors a year and are now ambassadors for their species, worldwide.
Or so the story was told to us!
We took lots of pictures, here are just a few. If you’re interested in seeing them ALL, you can check out the rest on Tony’s flickr feed.