Critters with Opposable Thumbs: Malaysia’s Monkeys & Orangutans

Everyone loves a fun, furry, swinging-from-the-tree kind of critter. Malaysia is chock full of them, and tourists flock to find them.

Borneo is a special place, home to the word’s oldest rainforest, plus winding rivers and mangroves. These areas, along with the mighty Kinabatangan River, host a delightful array of animals, sadly, many of them on the verge of endangerment or extinction.  While I did not spy any Sumatran Rhinos, Pygmy Elephants or Sun Bears, I did mange to visit the probocis monkeys at Labuk Bay, outside of Sandakan. These monkeys are known for their pendulous noses.

So what about my nose?

Wild probocis monkeys are found only in Borneo. Because much of their mangrove environment is being destroyed for development, mostly for palm oil plantations, more sanctuaries are being built to help save the monkeys. The probocis monkeys are wild and free to live as they like, yet are lured into the sanctuaries for twice daily feedings of pancakes and fruit. Great for us tourists, as these creatures normally stay far away in the tops of the trees. So we got to see quite a show of proboscis monkey social behavior. (If you can find a documentary about these guys, I highly suggest you watch it.)

Patiently waiting for pancakes

Feeding platform

The females and young monkeys bond, whiles the males form their own clans. All are ruled over by the very large- in all aspects- alpha male. His sole job is to procreate, and he is ready at a moment’s notice. Cross these bad boys and you could be hurting.

Watching out

The sanctuary is also home to the much more docile silver leaf monkey.

Silver Leaf Monkey

Posing for the tourists

Most people come to Borneo to see the “man of the forest” or the orangutans. We caught up with them…. well only one…. at Semenngoh Forest Reserve outside of Kuching. At this location, you are supposed to see orangutans who have been rehabilitated from an injury or disease and are preparing to return to the wild. However, December is fruit season for the trees and the orangutans are not always attracted by the free meal offered to them. So we had to be happy enjoying this one young female.

Hello!

Orangutans are only found on Borneo and Sumatra and are near extinction. Learn more, go on a tour, make a donation.

Just hangin'

Easier to find, both in peninsular Malaysia and Borneo, are the macaques. These monkeys are not on the verge of extinction, as they have become quite accustomed to humans and city dwellings and have no trouble finding a bite to eat. Quite persistent and sometimes vicious, it’s best to enjoy them from a distance and not feed them. They are crawling around the touristy Batu Caves,  a Hindu shrine outside of Kuala Lumpur. We watched one drink from a straw, another attack a banana-wielding tourist and a third eating what we could only guess was a tube of caulk. Oh dear.

Scavenger monkeys

Personally, I enjoyed the probocis monkeys the most. Probably because I was able to get close to and really spend some time watching them. It also was incredible to think I was seeing them on the only island where they exist in the wild. I truly hope Borneo and the people of Malaysia do their best to make sure these critters have a home for centuries to come.

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