Proboscis Monkeys at Labuk Bay!
Jim and I love to do anything related to wildlife. This was true before we lived in Alaska, but after eight years of living with some big and dangerous animals in our backyard, we seek out animal encounters or safaris wherever we. So when we went to Australia, Africa, and most recently Southeast Asia, we got out where we’d see animals, especially primates…like those adorable orangutans!
In this case, we decided to pay to go to a proboscis monkey sanctuary called Labuk Bay. As many privately owned animal sanctuaries are, it was a little pricier for a day pass than just down the road at the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. We waffled, but the draw of wild animals convinced us to splurge. We had already been lucky enough to see them when driving through the palm plantations that take over the entire northeastern part of the island of Borneo, but proboscis monkeys are shy animals and stayed too far away for us to get any photos or see them very well.
At Labuk Bay, there are four feedings per day at two different viewing areas. We like to go as early as possible, so we planned on attending the first and second feedings and then deciding whether or not we wanted to do more.
The first feeding, at platform A, was at 9:30. We arrived a few minutes early, and there was only one other vehicle in the parking area, which looked like it belonged to the sanctuary. We were hoping that we would remain the only visitors, but of course we weren’t. However, there were only about ten people that morning, so there was plenty of room.
The first troop of monkeys was already there when we arrived. It was a bachelor group of about 25 or so. They regarded us warily, and one even snarled at my camera, but overall they were just waiting for the fruits to be delivered to the feed platform.
The two workers promptly emptied their basket of bananas and bread right on time and the bachelor group swung in and feasted, but not for too long. About 9:45, we noticed a new troop making their way to the platform. This was a harem group with one huge dominant male to lead them. They seemed to have established a set path, and every one of them took it. We watched while they deftly jumped from tree to tree and finally down on the platform. I’m not sure how the bachelors knew they were coming, but they did not want to be in the way.
The first group decided to move out of the way, grabbed some food to go and crossed the walkway to hang out in some trees to the rear of us. They occasionally hooted or grunted or howled, and a few of them would come closer to taunt the other male and then retreat.
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Now, we’ve had some very interesting close calls with nature, and they are always a little unnerving to say the least. I like to call them “National Geographic” moments, and we were just about to experience another one.
Jim, Devon, and I were sitting on the bench facing the feeding platform mainly so I could prop up my camera and mega-lens. Now there are monkeys all around us, even a few traversing our platform. One of the bachelors must have gotten too close, and the dominant male from the other group let out a loud, booming, nasally howl, came bounding toward us, right towards us, so fast that there was no way for us to react. It took him only seconds to cross the 25 feet or so. He wasn’t after us, but the three of us were directly between him and his tormentor. He brushed us with his hand as he passed by. He practically landed on my lap. He chased the bachelor, pounding on the wooden boards with all four of his hands and feet. He slapped and grunted making a huge show out of being boss. It sure did get my heart pumping, let me tell you! (Jim did get a video of another time he did this. It’s certainly not great quality, but gives you an idea on how disconcerting the noise and show can be…especially when you are clearly in the path!)
Proboscis Monkeys and Their Golden Babies
After our viewing at Platform A where our heart was about jumping out of our chests from the excitement, we were pretty sure that there was no way the second viewing could be as rewarding, but Borneo has definitely lived up to its wonderful wildlife reputation! We were even more sure of it once we arrived and saw that Platform B was much more than a feeding platform, but an entire building where people lived, and there were a lot of other offerings such as a store to buy souvenirs and snacks and a theater to watch the movie. When the first busload of tourists piled onto the platform we were up to about 50 people. This was definitely not going to be the same intimate setting.
As we were waiting, we decided to watch the movie which was all about proboscis monkeys and very interesting. It not only gave us all the scientific facts, but followed the lives of a harem group and a bachelor trying to start his own family. It was pretty good, and I recommend that anyone that visits Labuk Bay should take the time to include it in their day.
Afterwards, we wandered through the crowds of people, watching the resident silver leaf monkeys. These cute little gray, tufted monkeys lounged all over the building and were quite at home. They played, ran, ate, and did just about everything right there while we were waiting for the proboscis feeding to commence.
We were surprised to learn and see for ourselves that the very young silver leaf monkeys are a golden color. This doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me as far as “survival of the fittest” theories are concerned, but maybe it is so they can locate them easier. I found the mother-baby-extended family relationships fascinating. One monkey would be holding a baby, all snuggled up, and then another adult would come up and take the baby and snuggle it for a while. They were definitely all caring for the infants together.
I’m not a fan of huge tourist buses of people being in the same place I am, but I was appalled at one of the tour leaders. She obviously had Labuk Bay as a regular tour, because she knew the silver leaf monkeys, and even tried to take a baby from one of them to hold it. She wasn’t successful, but not from lack of trying. Thankfully, none of the tourists followed suite.
Then a huge male proboscis monkey showed up and sat on the railing within a few feet of the nearest person. She walked right up to him, called her tour participants and had about three or four of them all stand right next to him to get their picture taken. He put up with them and didn’t do anything, but again I felt it was bad training. Yes, the monkey might have felt comfortable with her there, but just like the dog next door who is friendly when his family is home might bite you if you try to pet him while they are gone, a wild animal could do much more damage! I thought it was completely irresponsible as many of the tourists were feeling very comfortable walking by him, poking a camera in his face.
The feeding came and went. Yes, there were plenty more proboscis monkeys that were fun to watch. The young ones played; the old ones ate and took care of the young. We saw one baby completely fall off the platform and it was interesting to see how all the females rushed to it to make sure it was fine. Just like any toddler, he was shaken up but within minutes was tumbling and running and up to all his antics.
Honestly, at the second feeding I was much more enthralled with the silver leaf monkeys. They were so calm and understanding. One little guy crawled up on the railing beside Devon and me and reached out to hold our finger. He just sat there holding it….so cute!
About a kilometer and a half from Platform B there is the Labuk Bay Resort. We didn’t stay there, but we did go for lunch. The lunch was much more expensive than you would pay in Sandakan, but we really enjoyed sitting on the wooden veranda with the fans blowing and just relaxing.
As an overall experience, I highly recommend going to Labuk BayProboscis Monkey Sanctuary. We completely enjoyed our day and as with Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, each viewing was completely different. I think it is always best to go as early as possible. Our Platform A experience was amazing!
What do you think about animal sanctuaries? Have you been to Sabah? We’d love to hear your thoughts!
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