Tropical jungle and raging rivers, endangered orangutans playing in the jungle and Irrawaddy dolphins splashing in the water; Borneo is a land of immense beauty home to an incredible diversity of species. Thousands of mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects live here but if you don’t take time to pause and take in your surroundings, you might miss them. Read on for a look at some of Zegrahm Naturalist Rich Pagen’s favorite moments from a trip through this magical land.
Borneo is home to eight species of hornbills, including the magnificent rhinoceros hornbill pictured here. Most hornbill species have the unique nesting practice where the female seals herself safely inside the nest cavity with a combination of mud and excrement. She keeps open only a narrow hole, through which the male can pass in food to her and (eventually) the newly-hatched chicks.
A hungry gecko, stalking insect prey at night, is trying to decide if this cicada is too big to tackle. Ultimately the decision was a resounding YES.
Phasmids (also known as stick insects) get their name from the Greek, phasma, meaning phantom or apparition. This has to do with their remarkable ability to camouflage in vegetation, sometimes even rocking back and forth to resemble a stick swaying in the breeze.
Saltwater crocodiles formerly ranged continuously from Australia to India, though due to human encroachment and hunting, have been extirpated from some areas. The milky brown coastal rivers of Borneo are excellent habitats for these top predators, often only their eyes up peering above the water.
Young proboscis monkeys are very trusting of their mothers, as seen in this photo. These acrobatic monkeys are quite comfortable crossing substantial gaps in the forest canopy by leaping.
Dragonflies are magnificent predators, both as adults, as well as in their aquatic larval stage at which time they are referred to as nymphs. We humans, however, are most familiar with watching the adults hunt, using their acute vision and highly maneuverable flight to capture insects on the wing.
Asian water monitor lizards can grow to lengths in excess of 5 feet in length, and weigh more than 40 pounds! These smaller cousins of Komodo dragons are often observed "tasting the air" with their tongues, as they move through the forest.
The ever-photogenic Pig-tailed macaques are a joy to watch, as they take over a fruiting tree as a group, feasting and playing at the same time. As you can see in this photo, trees that depend on mammals (rather than birds) to eat their fruit (and hence disperse their seeds), often grow their fruit directly on the trunk to better support the weight of mammalian frugivores.
Sunset over the Kinabatangan River in the north of Borneo, as we make our way back to the lodge after a wildlife-watching boat trip.
Night walks in the rainforest of Borneo never cease to amaze, and are one of my favorite outings. The flooded coastal forest along the Kinabatangan River comes alive with a whole array of nocturnal creatures, including this eel, with its eyes oddly far forward on its head.
Standing still for a few minutes scanning the vegetation with a flashlight almost always reveals movement. In this case, an arboreal snake searches for prey without the need for vision, relying completely on what's called the Jacobson's organ, located on the roof of its mouth. By flicking its tongue, it collects particles from the air, and essentially uses this organ to convert tastes to smells to boost its awareness of its surroundings.
The milky Kinabatangan River and surrounding lowland rainforest as seen from our boat. This intact ecosystem is home to orangutans as well as Bornean pygmy elephants.
Elephants as seen from our boat along the river. These individuals were feeding on aquatic vegetation right along the river's edge; but once they take even a few steps back into the thicket of vegetation, they disappear immediately and completely from sight.