Even in the best of suburbs nosy neighbors can be a pain. However for the residents of Labuk Bay in the northern Borneo state of Sabah living with nosy neighbors in the form of Proboscis Monkeys is normal. In fact almost all the neighbors are just as nosy!
Proboscis monkeys, endemic to Borneo are endangered, but in Labuk they are thriving in a sanctuary set up and run by a local plantation company; a rare example of corporate social responsibility within an industry that destroys more than it preserves.
All monkeys are interesting to watch and photograph but Proboscis monkeys have to be one of the more interesting that we have ever seen. Their most striking feature is their elongated noses, a feature most prominent in dominant males. The noses of females and younger males are smaller and almost human-like. Monkeys in general tend to remind us of ourselves, but the extended noses, reddish brown hair and extended bellies of Proboscis somehow makes them even more human looking than others.
Being employed by a Dutch Multinational I don’t want to offend anyone, but I have to say I had to smile when checking Wikipedia I found out that the local colloquial name for Proboscis is “Orang Belanda”, meaning “Dutch People”, a description dating back to the time when the Dutch were the colonial masters in the region.
As with all monkey groups there is one dominant male in a proboscis troop. The balance of a troop is made up of females and youngsters. They range over a territory that overlaps that of other groups, often leading to members joining and leaving groups at random perpetuating a wide gene pool.
Apart from the dominant males which are big, I would describe Proboscis as small primates almost similar in size to African Vervet Monkeys. Like Vervets, they are extremely agile and move quickly and easily through the lowland coastal forests and mangroves which is their primary habitat, but always remaining close to available water. It was interesting to learn that Proboscis are the most aquatic of all the monkey species and it seems they are completely comfortable in water and wet environments. Like Vervets their antics are really funny to watch as they lounge or loll around at rest on branches and stumps.
For anyone wanting to watch and photograph these monkeys one of the best places to see them close up is at Labuk Bay, a forty minutes drive out of Sandakan along the main road to Kota Kinabalu and not far from the world renowned Rainforest Discovery Center at Sepilok (another must-see, must visit attraction for photographers and naturists) in Sabah. Not only are the monkeys at Labuk easy to photograph, their antics are sure to put a smile on your face.
Are they worth a trip to the north of Borneo. Certainly, especially when its so easy to combine a visit to the Rainforest Discovery Center and Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center which is only a short drive away.