The atmosphere from day one at the airport was one of much anticipation, with students enthralled from listening to lecturers’ stories of grand adventures from our previous trip.
On arrival in Sepilok, we had a preview of things to come with our first sightings of everyone’s favourite Bornean mammal – the orangutan, plus an amazing appearance of the secretive but majestic sun bear. The rainforest canopy walk gave a great birds-eye, tree-top view over the forests we would later explore.
Stopping off to explore Gomantong Caves, before we had even entered the giant limestone caverns, we had a breathtakingly close encounter with a number of wild orangutans - a mother and baby swinging in the trees above our heads and a couple wandering around beside our boardwalk. Two even came out of hiding carrying jackfruit and sat and ate their picnic directly in front of us. It was hard to draw ourselves away to explore the birds’ nest caves!
Once inside the caves, and with our eyes adjusted to the light, we shone our head torches around, lighting up the sea of cockroaches, glistening like gems across the walls. We learnt all about the swifts that lived there and the problem of the harvesting of their nests for expensive Chinese delicacies, and also also observed the thousands of bats alongside the other mini beasties living in the cave.
Kinabatangan River was as exciting as ever: early morning boat rides watching the mist rise off the water, huge crocodiles cruising the banks and brightly coloured kingfishers perched waiting for passing fish. Afternoon trips yielded numerous species of hornbill and eagles soaring overhead, proboscis monkeys, red leaf monkeys and macaques all going about their monkey business in the trees, while cat snakes and huge monitors basked in the afternoon sun.
Project work in Kinabatangan saw the group working hard, getting hot, sweaty and extremely muddy clearing the invasive water lily from sections of the river. Students from our flotilla of boats dragged huge swathes of lilies from their beds and up onto the banks to rot, not only helping free the river of the pest, but creating valuable compost for the rest of the forest. We also had the privilege of helping sustain sections of the forest by identifying areas with thin tree cover and then planting a number of saplings which, after an interesting naming ceremony for each, will hopefully grow and help sustain all of the amazing wildlife we were lucky to see. Treks, night hikes, batik workshops, cooking classes and wildlife spotting, as it sneaked around our lodge, filled the rest of our days. There was never a dull moment on the river.
The students’ enthusiasm and energy was put to good use once again when we reached our new destination of the Danum Valley. This huge natural playground was perfect for such a wildlife passionate group. We trekked muddy forest paths in the footsteps of pygmy elephants, explored ancient coffin burial sites and took night walks to spot the innumerable tiny jungle dwellers, including insufferably cute tarsiers and the not so popular giant spiders!
I'm sure there is a lot I have missed but I'm also sure the students will all agree that it was truly the trip of a lifetime: great scenery, amazing friends and a lot of laughs along the way.
Lynsey led a group of college students on our Borneo Biology Fieldtrek