Borneo, Danum Valley Field Center

The Field Center is basically a research facility that provides accomodation, permanent research plots, well-equipped labs,  and necessary equipment and staff for international and Malay scientists. It also accept visitors – although a little grudgingly. For example – for some unfathomable reason – they impose a two-week limit on tourist visits.  (What are they afraid of, what would happen to a tourist after two weeks there? Fall irrevocably in love with the forest?) Although, I have to admit, most of the visitors stay only for 2 or 3 nights – which is definiately not enough time to explore the area.

Visitors can choose from a few different types of accomodation – the guest house provides a comfortable room with two beds, overhead fans and shower. There is electricity running for most of the day, and the walkway to the dining area is covered with a roof so you don’t have to get soaking wet if dinnertime coincides with a heavy rainstorm. (Those staying in the hostel are a little bit less fortunate – they have almost a ten-minute walk to cover each time they are hungry.)

The dining area provides one of the biggest attraction – you have the chance to chat with the scientists who do research here and get an insight into their work. (Seems like an awfully lot of investigation is going on concerning dung-beetles). It is the best place to have serious discussions about serious subjects: – Should environmental protection be based on the intrinsic value of nature or on the “economic services” it provides? Can we – should we – put a price tag on nature? Can we – as individuals or let’s say consumers – have any influence on major political decisions that have serious environmental consequences? etc. Or to be entertained with some horror stories that sound like urban legends – like the scientist who carelessly wiped his forehead and managed to get a tiger leech on his eyeball. (on his EYEBALL!! ahhh!)

Mealtimes also provide a nice opportunity to strike up a conversation with other guests. The visitors fall into some quite distinct categories: first, there are the “bird people”, crazy fanatics, who can come back from a long hike all disappointed (even after they run into a rare rhino), just because they did not see the blue marbled chested trumpleteers (the name is used fictitiously, any resemblance to actual birdnames is coincidental) which was the last one on their list. Yes, they arrive with a list, and they methodically work they way down this list and they seem to be blind to any other animals that do not have a beak, two wings and feathers.

Then there are those tourists who only come for a night or two to get a fleeting impression of the forest and a glimps of the orangutans. They usually disappear early in the morning on one of the trails (after the first hike they usually visit the little store in the reception building to purchase a leech-sock) and finish the day with a night-ride, just to cram as many animals as they can into a 2-day visit.

And of course there are some people who’d rather be on the beach. They might have been dragged into the forest by their enthusiastic spouse or parent.  It is quite easy to recognize them, since they do not even leave the dining area. They settle down in one of the comfortable armchairs with a Kindle or iPod or any other electronic devices, and only look up to check if the dinner is already on the table or not.

The area around the Field Center is quite easy to discover on your own and can provide some amazing discoveries.

The self-guided Nature Trailtakes you around the secondary forest. We lucked out and on our very first walk we met an orangutan mom with her baby who were crossing the trail just in front of us. Then, a few days later we were able to follow them for three hours as they munched on different types of leaves at a leisurely pace  showing no signs of fear whatsoever.

Mother and baby orangutan on Nature Trail

mother and baby orangutan feeding on a tree on Nature Trail

The suspension bridge that crosses the Segama River is one of the best places to hang out.  Each part of the day provides a different spectacle. Early morning, as the fog slowly lifts, you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a group of macaques as they swim across the river.

macaques swimming across the Segama River

Later, you might cross the bridge just to bump into one of the young orangutans feeding on a tree.

A young orangutan feeding on a tree next to the bridge

Looking down you might be able to spot a monitor lizard in the water as it is skillfully maneuvers around the rocks.

monitor lizard swimming in the Segama River

In the afternoon you can get up close and personal to a whiskered treeswift sitting on the bridge.

And of course, as the cicadas launch into their evening concerto, you can witness a giant squirrel as it climbs up to the very top of the tallest tree on the right side of the river (where the buildings are) then glides over the river to the other side. Of course, as the news spread among the visitors (Flight schedule: Take-off at 6.45 p.m) the sign on the bridge (max. 8 people) got largely ignored, as at least a dozen of us gathered together with cameras at the ready, eyes fixed on the tall tree. (Sorry, no good pictures to show for all this effort. But to see a squirrel flying more than 50 meters across the river – priceless.)

There are two observation platforms around the camp, although the one close to West trail looks a little bit frail. But both worth the climb – at 40 meter high you have a totally different view of the forest.

view from the platform

Spotting an orangutan on a branch that is lower than you, or watching the red leaf monkeys at eye-level gives you a whole new perspective of the forest and its inhabitants.

Red leaf monkeys seen from the observation tower after the rain

Red leaf monkeys on the treetop after the rain


2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    exoticpetshq said,


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