31 May, Malaysia – ‘All Over The Place – Asia’
Until this filming trip I’d never heard of Proboscis monkeys. They’re the biggest monkeys in the world and can only be found here on the island of Borneo. Best of all for our purposes they look absolutely ridiculous, with over sized noses that flap about, big swollen bellies and log thin gangly limbs. To be honest, they look a bit like Ben and me. They’re an endangered species, and word had got to us before we left the hotel today that none had been sighted in the national park yesterday, so we knew not to take anything for granted today.
We had an interesting drive in the bus through jungly farmland and past the odd impressive tree covered mountain pushing up into the clouds. Once we reached the river it was clear this was going to be a very special day. A rudimentary portocabin type hut sat on the edge of a rickety jetty overlooking the village of ramshackle bungalows opposite, with various locals and the odd tourist waiting for speed boat rides to who knows where. We boarded our two small boats and chugged off out to sea picking up a bit of filming along the way (Ben and I were completely over dressed in full on jungle exploring gear). Once we were nearing the sea the habitations dropped away and I began to realise we were heading out into proper wilderness and jungle. We shot along the coast and then pulled into a cove where a small visitors centre with sleeping quarters has been built. This is one of the few places in the national park where tourists can stay and try to spot the local wildlife, and our guide (a bloke called Sally) was soon leading us into the jungle on a raised boardwalk that had seen slightly better days.
Proboscis monkeys are most likely to be spotted between 7 and 9am, and it was already nearing 10am by the time we set out, so I was really crossing my fingers that we hadn’t come all this way for nothing. Sally seemed worried and led us off the boardwalk into the forest, and I followed his lead nervously checking the towering trees and scrub as we edged along in virtual silence, trying not to scare off any of our big nosed prey.
When we reached a coastline thick with mangrove trees Sally waved excitedly at us and there they were – a couple of Proboscis monkeys in the distance sitting amongst the thickly wooded mountainside with their backs to us. It was a good start, and as time went by they took it in turns to jump from tree to tree and edge their way up the slope, their spots filled by other monkeys taking their place. Our cameraman G patiently grabbed shots as we all whispered excited and probably unnecessary instructions to him as to where they all were, and we got a reasonable amount of shots considering how dense the foliage was and that wildlife TV shows normally have weeks to grab this sort of stuff. We had a couple of hours.
Hilariously, once we got back to base there was a male Proboscis monkey sitting in a tree bold as brass right outside the cafeteria, which provided an ironic end to our item (there were a couple of bearded pigs snuffling around as well. They look like the cartoons of wild boar in Asterix comics). The tide was quite far out by now, so we had to board our boats home by wading out from the beach holding our shoes and socks. It’s usually at these moments when you finally get a chance to look around you and think “I’m very lucky to see this. I must come back some time and experience it properly.” Don’t know when I ever will.