Friday, May 7, 2010

Danum Valley, Sabah

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If you've travelled to Sabah before and visited the typical itinerary of Mt Kinabalu, Poring Hot Spring, Sabah Marine Parks, Monsopiad Cultural Village and Pulau Sipadan, this time you may want to return back to the Land Below The Wind to explore the unique and premier wildlife centre of Sabah - Danum Valley.

Danum Valley is located in a vast lowland forest with over 400 square foot km of untouched natural rainforest. To get there, the nearest airport would be in the town of Lahad Datu(Mas Wings). One could also fly to Tawau and take a 2 hour drive from there.

To gain access to the Danum Valley Field Centre (DVFC), you must first register with the Yayasan Sabah Foundation office in Lahad Datu. The Yayasan Sabah Foundation manages the conservation and environmental segment of Danum Valley. From there, you can either choose to use the organization's van transport (RM30 each way and availableonly on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday) or self drive to Danum Valley in which I chose the latter. A 4 Wheel Drive (4WD) vehicle is recommended as 90% of the journey is via 2 hour bumpy gravel road.

Once you've entered the junction road into Danum Valley, you begin to realize that you've driven yourself deeper and deeper into the wilderness. Electrical poles, zinc roof houses, organized farming and any signs of civilization made way for colossal trees, thick foliage, wild raging rivers and the vocal displays of the gibbons kilometre by kilometre. The entire drive inwards looked as though I crossed into a Jurassic period and time stood still without a single soul in sight. However, adequate signboards are positioned to guide you to your destination.
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It was already twilight when I arrived at DVFC. The lone receptionist was waiting for me and after a brief information on the rooms, guides and restaurant, I finally checked into a suprisingly clean male dormitory. Dinner will be prepared at the restaurant which was located 15 minutes away from the dormitory. I have been driving for the past 4 hours and decided to walk. It is advisable to bring a powerful torchlight to Danum Valley because you may spot wild animals along the way. The Danum Valley forest are known to give refuge to some of the richest concentrations of animals in Borneo.

After 5 minutes of walking, I heard what sounded like the breathing of a living being nearby. With a rush of adrenalin through my body, I shone my torchlight at the direction and lo and behold, a herd of sambar deers were foraging for food. Like the idiom "A deer caught in the headlights", the herd just stared at the light and did not move a muscle. Only after I attempted to get near, did the herd walk away and back into the forest. With that first encounter with a wild animal, I couldn't wait until the next morning.
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After breakfast, I opted for a 2 hour hike to the Tembeling Waterfall with hopes of another wild encounter like the previous night. In Danum Valley, it is compulsory to hire a guide (Rm20 an hour) when going on jungle hikes because many visitors have gotten lost despite the clear and wide trails. As an experienced outdoors person, I opted not use a guide and relied on a GPS. For the inexperienced, it is highly recommended to hire a guide because again, you're in Danum Valley and not Bukit Tabur, Selangor.

Along the trail, there is a tree top platform which measures about 30 metres in height with ladders firmly attached to enable visitors to reach the canopy. It takes about a good 5 minutes to climb yourself way to the top and that effort will be greatly rewarded by a 360 degree view of the surrounding pristine canopy top.
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I stood there in awe of nature and a sense of appreciation that our country, Malaysia have such abundance in natural beauty. So, throw the London bound ticket away and embark on more local trips. I was absorbing the entire scenery when suddenly I heard the ruffles of leaves on a nearby tree. I peered closely for about 15 seconds and [sharp intake of breath], I hit the motherload of Sabah wildlife. Two wild orang utans were perched on a nearby tree , snapping of branches full of leaves to begin their nest building activity. Apparently, orang utans sleep on tree tops and only spend 5% of their time on the forest floor.


I stood there with my eyes fixated on the wild duo. The sun shone bright above revealing the distinctive reddish brown shaggy hair covering their entire body. I must say that watching a wild animal in their natural habitat at close range is invigorating. I spent the next 3 hours watching the duo construct their sleeping nest moving from branch to branch in a slow but agile manner. It was indeed a wonderful feeling that I decided to forgo my waterfall
excursion.
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Later that night, I went on a night drive cruise with my rented vehicle. Visitors can organize a night drive with the guides for RM120. The night drive is an anticipated activity for most visitors who come to Danum Valley because this is the time when all nocturnal creatures come out to hunt.
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Endangered animals like the clouded leopard (extremely rare), leopard cat, civet cats, owls, sun bears, Borneon pygmy elephants, Borneon Yellow barking deers, porcupine and more would hopefully be crisscrossing the 10km road leading to the entrance of DVFC.
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I set the car headlights to beam mode and slowly started the drive with 3 other excited foreigners I made friends with. In within 15 minutes, a yellow barking deer burst through the bushes a few metres away from the car, ran across the road and dissapeared to the other side. The sight of our first nocturnal wildlife kept everybody in an excited and energized mood. Then out of the corner, someone spotted a pair of eyes shining by the road. I shone my
torchlight towards the pair of eyes and with the light, we were able to see the black spotted markings of a leopard cat. This nocturnal creature stood still for a good 10 seconds and cooly walked back into the jungle. That 10 second glimpse of a wild leopard cat got all of us into a heightened frenzied rush. On that 2hour night drive, we saw another leopard cat, a marbled cat, a porcupine, a flying lemur(cogulo) and a borneon ground cuckoo.
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The next morning, I drove out by myself to the observatory tower located 7km from DVFC to catch the sunrise. It was dawn and together with the whopping piercing calls of the gibbons, it was truly a sight to behold as I set my eyes on a neatly arranged spread of mist forming evenly in the valley ahead. Only the tallest trees stand proud above the white thick fog. As soon as the first ray of light breaks through the clouds, the entire valley was doused with orange lighted sunbeams. Add to that magnificent visual wonder was a pair of hornbills flying above it. To be honest, at that moment, I was feeling very emotional because this could probably be the most beautiful view I've ever seen in my life.
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