I like monkeys. But for some strange reason they don’t like me.
Maybe they pick me as an easy target. Maybe they can sense that they are smarter than me. Maybe we are too alike. Nevertheless, they amaze me with their human-like mannerisms. But it seems whenever a monkey is close by, the joke is always on me.
For example, while trekking in Uganda a mountain gorilla peed on me, in Bali a “crazed” monkey attacked me when I refused to give it my can of Coke, in South Africa a baboon attempted to car jack my vehicle when it refused to move from the bonnet.
On a Thai beach a well-trained macaque clung to me like a leech until I bought an ice-cream from its scheming owner. While visiting a temple in Nepal a cheeky monkey simply gave the “bird” as I walked by – a place of worship of all places! And a howler monkey in the Amazon kept me awake all night with its hideous screams.
What is with these animals? They all give me hell. It drives me bananas!
Undeterred by these monkey tactics I was determined to encounter one of the more intelligent primates while visiting Sabah. Maybe, the Bornean orangutan would understand me?
At the rehabilitation centre I learnt many useful (and not so useful) facts about the orangutang: It shares 97 per cent DNA with humans and it is 10 times stronger than one man. Determined to see one in the wild, we made our way to the Kinabatangan River for a three-day adventure.
The reserve is home to more monkeys and primates than you can poke a stick at: orangutans, proboscis and all types of macaques. However, my excitement quickly subsided when I read about the dwindling numbers of orangutangs due to palm oil plantations. Over the past few years the population within the reserve has decreased by 300.
Nevertheless, I decided to ask anyone I met about my chances: the bus driver, the tour guide, other travellers and even the lodge cook.
The response was similar, “Sometimes you may see them”, “If you are lucky”, “Not very often”, “Maybe, Maybe not” – it was not encouraging.
The nature lodge operates early morning and afternoon wildlife spotting boat trips along the river. An orangutan had not been seen for over a week so I was not getting too wound up. However, I got quite a shock when we rounded the first bend and the guide started shouting and pointed towards a large blob in a tree. The blob was dead still and looked like a beach ball stuck in the tree. But as we approached the shore, a long arm extended from the blob and reached out to an overhanging branch. Its legs then dangled below and suddenly the blob had transformed into an ape-like figure. It swung majestically from branch to branch and hung still for a moment. It then climbed down the trunk and disappeared amongst the foliage. The sighting was brief but nonetheless remarkable.
I was excited and somewhat relieved. I was expecting some dung to be hurled towards me or to be whacked on the head with a branch. Or for the beast to come charging out of the jungle and rip my arms off. But nothing happened. Maybe I had regained my monkey mojo? Maybe we could be friends again?
We roamed the river spotting all kinds of wildlife including some long tail macaques scrounging the forest floor for food. I finally felt at peace with my monkey friends.
Later that night at dinner I dropped a chicken leg onto the floor. Instinctively, I began scrounging around and quickly jammed the food into my mouth (much to the horror of other diners). You know what they say: “Monkey see, monkey do!”
January 30th, 2012