I’m sorry I’m a bit (understatement) behind on my blog posts. Sometimes it’s hard finding the time to sit down and write, especially when there is so much to see and do. But here I go on the (delayed) Borneo jungle adventure…
Our journey into the jungle didn’t exactly start off on the right foot. An already long seven hour journey from Camp Tinangol was transformed into 12 hours following a breakdown on route. With spirits not as cheery as usual, we finally arrived at our new home for the next week – Camp Batu Puteh in Sungai Kinabatangan. Here we would be working with a local charity called Kopel.
As I mentioned in a previous post, over the years Borneo has experienced immense deforestation. This is not only due to logging, but because of the rise in palm oil farming, which has stripped away a lot of the land. Naively I thought the problem was the chopping down of the palm trees, I wasn’t aware in fact the planting was the main issue.
Kopel’s goal is to tackle this deforestation by protecting the forest, wildlife and biodiversity along the Kinabatangan river. The role of the charity is to not only be active and vigilant within the forest, but also to educate (and work) with the local people.
Whilst in Sungai Kinabatangan, we were tasked with helping to restore the jungle’s declining tree population. Our volunteering saw us help in three different stages of the tree planting lifecycle.
At first we headed into the jungle to pick sprouting trees (after a little exploration of the forest). Our goal was to collect 200 mini trees for replanting at a deforest area. With 40% sadly not surviving planting, we had to be picky, making sure the trees were healthy and straight (so that they would grow upwards towards the light). The next step was to place the trees into small pots at the local nursery, so they could grow a little stronger and stand a bit taller, before being replanted.
Our final stage was to plant the trees in special areas dotted around the selected land. This involved digging up the soil, placing in the tree (making sure alignment was straight) and then covering back up. Voila!
As part of our jungle experience, we also were taken on boat rides along the river to see various wildlife. My personal favourite experience was seeing around 80 Pygmy elephants crossing the Kinabatangan river. Watching the elephants (and their babies) slide down and back up the bank was mesmerising, with a few even getting stuck and kicking up a fuss. We were very lucky to see such a rare moment. In addition to the boat rides, we were given the opportunity to sleep in the jungle. After torrential rain, from previous rainy jungle experiences, I wasn’t overly convinced (or happy) about staying in the jungle. But after a vote, we headed into the forest for the night. We were in fact very lucky during our stay with only light rain and although at the time I wasn’t happy, I’m glad we went.
The ‘jungle experience’ involved setting up our hammocks between perfectly distanced and sturdy trees. I picked a spot near the river, which I later regretted after reading up on crocodiles late a night (what a fool). Watching the sunset…Going on a night walk through the jungle, where we saw birds (such as a Kingfisher below) and bugs. I also had an incident when I went to the toilet at night, hearing rustling trees and grunting noises. Aware in these situations the worse thing you can do is run, I walked swiftly back to camp where our guide Jeff checked the area. Supposedly if anything, it was a cute little Sunbear 🙈.
Orangutan rehabilitation centre
On one of our R&R days we excitingly visited Sepilok, an orangutan rehabilitation centre.
The reserve covers 43 sq km of protected forest land, where the orangutans can freely and safely live. The centre also saves young orphaned orangutans, who have lost their mothers due to logging, or who have been illegally caught and kept as pets. The centre not only cares for the young orangutans, but also teaches them the important skills needed to survive when they are released back into the wild.
Orangutan translated from Malay means Man of the Forest and honestly I could see how they got this name. Interestingly sharing 97% of the same DNA with humans, they also appear to mirror similar personality traits. Because of this I could have sat and watched them for hours, especially in the rain, where some were happy to roam around, while others not so much. It was however shocking to learn that they are now critically endangered, which means they could soon face extinction in the wild. Watching these special animals, I really hope it doesn’t come to this.
Near the reserve was also a Sun Bear Conservation Centre, which rescues and rehabilitates bears who are victim to deforestation, illegal hunting and poaching for the pet trade. Being the smallest bears in the world and only found in Southeast Asia, the sanctuary is another important place to protect these cute animals. Overall the whole jungle experience was very special to me, especially as I was lucky enough to see so many incredible animals. However this is only one side of Camp Batu Puteh. In my next post I will be talking about our involvement in the local community.
Jessica Storm ✌️