January 21, 2011
A fun day trip while in Sandakan is a visit to the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary. The proboscis monkey is an unusual (but adorable) looking monkey indigenous to the rainforests of Borneo. It is known for the large protuberant nose and potbelly the male monkeys have. The females have small upturned little noses that reminded me of Cindy Lou Who from Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The monkeys also go by the malay name Orang Belanda meaning Dutchman (orang means man) because many of the Malaysian people thought the Dutch colonizers with their big noses and potbellies looked very similar to the monkeys. The proboscis monkey is, like the orangutan, highly endangered due to habitat loss. The monkeys live in the lowland mangrove forests and swamps, many of which have been cleared to make room for palm oil plantations. It is estimated that less than 1,000 of these monkeys remain on the island.
In 1994 a palm oil plantation owner began work on a new plantation and discovered a group of proboscis monkeys living in the area. The monkeys are social beings and live in family groups with one dominant male and many females and sometimes the younger males will live in bachelor packs together before they form their own family group. The plantation owner witnessed a few of these groups in the area and decided to leave the 400 acres of mangrove forest he had originally bought to cut down into a sanctuary, the only reserve in the world for proboscis monkeys. The monkeys are fed on two different platforms twice a day and tourists can come watch the feedings and the interactions of these quirky monkeys.
While at Labuk Bay you can also watch other local wildlife like the silver leaf monkey, mudskippers, many birds including hornbills and king fishers and some snakes and insects. The workers at the sanctuary got in the habit of feeding the silver leaf monkeys long green beans, and now the monkeys expect it and will come right up to you and you can feed them the beans by hand.
The proboscis monkeys can be seen on other parts of the island like along the Kinabatangan. But for a guaranteed sighting this is the best place to go and may soon be the only place in the world left to see the monkeys due to deforestation along the Kinabatangan River. To learn more about the monkeys and what we can do to help (and even adopt one) please visit the WWF.