Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

Leaves of the Borneo Giant Upright Elephant Ears plant

The island of Borneo, located just south of the tip of mainland Malaysia, is a natural wonderland. Most visitors come to dive or see the island’s unique wildlife, but the flora has a lot to offer too. During my stay at Sepiilok Nature Resort in the Malaysian State of Sabah, I spent one afternoon exploring the boardwalks that border the lake and marshes around the resort. One of my finds were enormous leaves of this Borneo Giant Elephant Ear that stood taller than me. They rippled in the sunlight like waves on a green ocean. I was mesmerized. Read More

“Take you to see proboscis monkey?” suggested the taxi drivers lined up at the entrance to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Frankly, I had no idea what they were talking about. My visit to the Malaysian State of Sabah on the island of Borneo had two goals: see the endangered orangutans and sun bears. I’d never heard of proboscis monkeys, so later that afternoon I turned to Father Google. The moment I saw a photo of these strange primates, I knew I had to see them in the wild.

A trio of proboscis monkeys, lazing in the high treetops of the Malaysian State of Sabah on the island of Borneo

A trio of proboscis monkeys, lazing in the high treetops of the Malaysian State of Sabah on the island of Borneo

Found only on the island of Borneo, the proboscis monkey is among the largest species of primate and, like the orangutan and sun bear, it’s an endangered species. Males measure up to 30 inches in height and weigh up to 66 pounds, while females are slightly smaller. Their most startling features, however, are their huge noses and pot bellies. Females have perky, upturned noses, but the males have giant bulbous noses that measure up to four inches long. Intrigued, I signed up for a day trip to the Kinabatangan River and crossed my fingers for a successful sighting. Read More

Found only on the island of Borneo, the proboscis monkey is best known for the bulbous nose and pot belly sported by the males of the species.

Bornean Thick-Billed Spiderhunter bird at Sepilok Nature Resort

I traveled to the Malaysian State of Sabah on the island of Borneo mainly to see orangutans in the wild and to learn about the endangered Sun Bears. An unexpected bonus was the astonishing birdlife. I spotted Rhinoceros hornbills, with their weird red and gold banana-shaped headdresses, as well as black and white Oriental Pied Hornbills. Unfortunately, my telephoto lens was not good enough to capture decent photos of either species, as they were sitting in high treetops, surrounded by dense foliage. However my luck took a turn for the better one day while Read More

At high noon, I stood on the viewing platform at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center in Sabah, Borneo. In the intense humidity, rivers of sweat streamed down my face and neck. Within minutes, my T-shirt was soaking wet. I peered down into the enclosures below expecting these smallest of all the bear species to be sleeping or at best lethargic, but to my surprise they were active. Borneo is in the tropics, where it is always steamy. These bears are not bothered by the heat and humidity. I envied them.

Sun Bears use their long claws to tear apart logs, looking for a meal of termites, ants, grubs, and a multitude of other creepy crawlies

Sun Bears use their long claws to tear apart logs, looking for a meal of termites, ants, grubs, and a multitude of other creepy crawlies

Behind me, a man I assumed to be a tour guide was providing information about the Sun Bears. He looked strangely familiar. Suddenly, I realized his photo was splashed across a sign at the entrance to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center. He was the Honorable Dr. Wong Siew Te, CEO and Founder of the facility. I waited until the crowd had dispersed to wrangle him for an interview. The more we talked, the more I had a sense of having spoken to him previously. “I think I saw a documentary about your work,” I said. He smiled. “I was chosen as a CNN Hero in 2017,” he replied, “so maybe that’s how you know me.” Read More

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center provides a safe and secure home for the endangered Sun Bears of Borneo, the smallest bear in the world.

Orangutans at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre exhibit best buddy behavior

Humans have long been fascinated by all members of the ape family. Orangutans, second largest of the apes after gorillas, rank extremely high on our fascination meter. There’s no mystery about this. We look at orangutans and see ourselves. I felt the same way when I visited the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and watched the human like behavior of orangutans. This pair may have been mother and child, but to me their behavior screamed “best buddies.” Having successfully fended off the macaque monkeys on feeding platform, they turned their attention to Read More

“Say hello to the orange ones,” my friend said when he dropped me at the airport. He was referring to orangutans, known for their distinctive orange color and endangered status. For years I had dreamed of seeing them in their natural habitat and now, with a little luck, my dream would finally come true. I boarded the plane to Sabah, a Malaysian State on the island of Borneo, arguably the best place in the world to see orangutans in the wild.

A juvenile orangutan in the nursery at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

A juvenile orangutan in the nursery at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

People have been fascinated for centuries by orangutans because of their humanistic traits. They are the second largest ape, after gorillas. Close cousins to Homo sapiens, they share 96.4% of their DNA with humans. Even their name speaks to our closeness; the word orangutan translates to “man of the forest.” Yet this fascination has not assured their continued existence. According to “The Last Stand of the Orangutan, State of Emergency: Illegal Logging,  Fire and Palm Oil in Indonesia’s National Parks,” a report published in 2007 by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), palm oil plantations are currently the leading cause of rain forest destruction in Malaysia and Indonesia. The report estimates that 98% of the rain forest may be destroyed by 2022, with lowland forest succumbing much sooner. Read More

The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, in the town of Sandakan in Malaysian Borneo, is one of the best places to see orangutans in the wild.