Like much of the lower elevation land we have so far encountered on our journey thus far, the area surrounding Labuk Bay in Eastern Sabah is unremarkable in its geography, and in terms of its usage, is primarily dedicated to palm tree plantations.
The palm trees are harvested for their oil which is a popular ingredient in food processing and is often described under the – name of vegetable oil.
Palm oil is big business in Malaysia. So big to go as far as demanding some serious press coverage when Australia recently introduced regulations whereby the actual content of vegetable oils would have to be declared in greater detail.
The Malays saw this an attempt to squeeze their product out of the market, tantamount to a tariff in its effect. Uproar.
An acre of land dedicated to a palm plantation would supply enough room for several hundred trees, each of which upon reaching maturity will produce a number of oversized cone-like fruits at the top of the trunk where the palm branches out into it’s classical leaf. These fruits are harvested, from them is rendered palm oil.
Much of the forests of Borneo have already been destroyed by illegal logging and plantation farming and in the coastal areas the mangrove
swamps are being cleared to create further productive land.
Naturally, this has a devastating impact upon the ecology of the area and indeed puts many of the native species under threat of extinction.
It is the opportunity to see one of these threatened species that brings us to Labuk bay, an hour or so out of Sandakan and an area of protected
mangrove swamp that provides a refuge and natural habitat for the unusual looking proboscis monkey.
This breed of monkey is of particular interest to me because like my simian cousins of Labuk Bay, I too have a large nose.
It’s not Cyrano de Bergerac large, just a bit concord like, even so it cuts a noticeable enough profile for my good mate “Fat Alan” to habitually refer to me as “Big Nose”.
Just for the record, Fat Alan isnt actually named Alan and in fact was neither also fat, but of a rather athletic build when he first gained his moniker.
The nickname came as a consequence of a mishearing by his girlfriend at the time and his handle stuck amongst our close circle of friends.
Becoming both more widely used and appropriate over time, he added significant lardage upon what he latterly describes as his “big-boned” frame. Big-boned to the point that upon being introduced to “Fat Alan” these days, you really wouldn’t question for even a nanosecond why he was so named.
Anyway, back to monkeys.
The proboscis is a most unusual looking creature and a true quirk of evolution in that it’s elongated snout seems to serve no purpose
beyond proving that a male has reached sexual maturity and is sniffing around for a bit of the old “in-out, in-out” as a large nosed droog once worded it.
It adds no advantage in terms of sniffing out prey, it does not help dig for insects, and it is only speculated that it might assist cooling as per an elephants ears.
No, the proboscis monkey has a big hooter for the sole reason that the female of the species finds it a big turn on. He just sits there on a branch with an erect stick of red penis tempting the ladies to come forth and play.
And that, my friends, is where us humans have gone wrong.
You see, if I were a proboscis monkey, I’d be nailed on as an alpha male and my lineage would not consist of a single one year-old boy, but would probably be challenging Genghis Khan for his ranking as history’s #1 copulator and generator of offspring.
Admittedly, I’d have to work on the bright red penis bit, but it’s nothing a bit of clinique lipstick couldn’t sort out.
This was striking, but nowhere near as striking or emotional as the sight of a female monkey still tending to the corpse of her recently dead baby. I’d seen this behaviour in the documentaries, but never expected to witness it in real life.
On the way back from Labuk Bay both the 0.5 and I were more wired than usual to the feelings of “The Boy” who was showing signs of irritability. We decided between us a two-day adventure and dawn cruise to spot animals along the banks of the Sungai Kinabatangan river was probably not the best option for the next few days, being so far as it was from even simple medical assistance.
Outcome = Plans entirely re-evaluated.
It’s amazing what effect a dead baby monkey can have on their human cousins.