Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sarawak - Bako & Gunung Gading

Went to Sarawak with LK and SY last week, and here are some of the interesting stuff we saw at Bako National Park and Gunung Gading National Park :)

Gazetted as a protected area in 1957, Bako is Sarawak's oldest national park and the second oldest in Malaysia. The park has 25 distinct types of vegetation from seven eco-systems - beach vegetation, cliff vegetation, heath forest, mangrove forest, mixed dipterocarp forest, grassland and peat swamp forest.

There are lots of dramatic cliffs at the coast of Bako. The boat man told us this cliff resembles a cow's head. I guess it really takes quite a bit of imagination to see the resemblances. haha :P

Near the cliff was a long stretch of sandy beach, but unfortunately, tide wasn't super low and we didn't really see much intertidal life except a few crabs, hermit crabs and snails.

The mangroves there was simply beautiful though. We could see the clear zonations between the various species. Further out to the sea was a forest of perepat trees (Sonneratia alba) you can see above. And nearer to the coast were the api api and bakau trees. We spotted many interesting animals here.

There were lots of electric blue fiddler crabs (Uca sp.) during low tide. I have never seen this species in Singapore before! Male fiddler crabs have an enlarged pincer, and this pincer is very important to them. In the wild, it's all about survival and pass down genes. The big pincers will help the male fiddler crabs to attract females and fend off competing males, thus enable it to pass down its genes.

But why are female fiddler crabs attracted to the big pincer? This big pincer doesn't help the males to find food, since they are not predators but feed on detritus. In fact, being big and heavy, the pincer could slow down the males and get it into trouble escaping from predators.

Like the peacock's tail, guppy's tail fin, and frigate bird's gula pouch, these are examples of the Handicap Principle. These resource taxing "handicaps" will show the females that the males have the resources to survive despite the problems they may get from the handicaps. It's like guys having big houses and cars, suggesting that he's rich and resourceful enough to support these wasteful investments. But in the wild animals' world, the competition is even more intense, since it's all about passing down their genes.

The crab-eating Macaque (Macaca fascicularis) really live to its name at the mangroves, when we encounter a whole troupe foraging for food. Also called the long-tailed macaque, this monkey can also be found in Singapore. The ones in Sarawak are just as bold as the ones we have. In the resort area, they went around snatching food from tourists and even tried to enter the chalets.

The most amazing thing we saw at the Bako resort must be the proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus), which got its common name from its big nose. This monkey also has a large belly because of its diet. Its digestive system has several compartments, with bacteria that digest the fibrous leaves or neutralise any toxins.

This monkey is also known as the Monyet Belanda or Orang Belanda, which means Dutch monkey or Dutchman in Malay, as the natives noticed that the Dutch colonisers often also had big bellies and noses.

We also spotted a few common flamebacks (Dinopium javanense) on the mangrove trees. This woodpecker can be also found in Singapore. It has a long sticky tongue which it uses to pick up insects on tree trunks, even those hiding in tree bark crevices.

We also saw the velvet-fronted nuthatch (Sitta frontalis). Nuthatches are able to climb down trees, unlike most other birds like woodpeckers which can only go upwards. They feed on insects and spiders.

There were lots of land hermit crabs (Coenobita violascens). This species can also be found in Singapore, though so far I've only seen the two other species, C. cavipes and C. rugosus. While observing the hermit crabs, we witness a rather comical behaviour - a smaller hermit crab approach a bigger one, and apparently the latter didn't like the former's company, and "kicked" it away with its pincers! The smaller hermit crab ended up rolling away for about 30cm before it stopped.

Apart from the mangroves, the resort itself harboured several surprises.

Apart from the proboscis monkeys and long-tailed macaques which sometimes visit the resort, there are also several bearded pigs (Sus barbatus) digging around, probably searching for worms or roots underground that they feed on. These pigs are also known to follow monkeys around to eat the fruits dropped by the former.

We also saw a really stunning green crested lizard (Bronchocela cristatella). Back in Singapore, its range is in the decline, probably due to competition from the introduced changeable lizard.

During the night walk, we also saw a pair of glossy swiftlet (Collocalia esculenta) hanging off the rock wall.

We went for a hike on one of the hiking trails on our second day at Bako. The above is a heath forest, characterised by acidic, sandy soils that are extremely nutrient-poor.

One of the interesting plants we saw include this ant plant, which has tuber-like lower stem forming chambers inside, attracting ants to colonise the structure.

We also saw several pretty epiphytic orchids.

There are quite a few wild tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia) along the trail too.

At some of the wetter parts of the trail, we spotted lots of one of the common carnivorous plants in Bako - the Borean sundew (Drosera spathulata). This plant lures, captures, and digests insects with their leaves, which are covered with a sticky fluid.

Several species of pitcher plants (Nepenthes spp.) can be found along the trail as well.

We soon reached the pit swamp area, which has lots of little streams and lots of pools of waters.

And we saw several damselflies there.

Here's another one which I also don't know the species.

In the pool, we even found a wild soft-shell turtle! It was quite huge. at least 50cm long.

There are also rare plants like the shuttlecock palm (Johannesteijsmannia altifrons).

On our way back to Kuching at the jetty, we saw these two tree-climbing crabs (Episesarma sp.) fighting. Thought they look really cute, holding each other's claws :P

After Bako, our next destination was Gunung Gading National Park, which was gazetted as a national park in 1983. The park has several rugged mountain peaks and harbours numerous rare plants including the world's largest single flower, the Rafflesia.

Unfortunately when we were there, the Rafflesia was not blooming yet, but we managed to find a bud. The species they have in Sarawak is Rafflesia tuan-mudae. This Rafflesia is a parasite of a woody climber from the Tetrastigma genus. It takes about 9 months for the flower to bloom from a bud.

Fortunately, however, we managed to see a blooming Amorphophallus (Amorphophallus sp.), which has a huge unbranched inflorescence.

These are the fruits.

And this is how the Titan arum plant itself looks like.

In one of the shelters in the park, we saw a spider web with lots of little spiders! Gave me the creeps, but it's certainly still a really amazing sight!

We stayed a few more days in Kuching, and had our fill of kolo mee, wild ferns and other yummy stuff. Certainly a great trip, even though I didn't really get to explore much intertidal areas due to the tide!


Kevin Zelnio said...

wow! What an adventure! Thanks for sharing.

Ron Yeo said...

Thanks for visiting my blog, Kevin! :)

Anonymous said...

Hi TideChaser, Nice pic..I borrow some of them just to share with my students and let them appreciate our nature heritage of heath forests.I hope you dont mindI put your URL on their notes. Thanks a lot.

Ron Yeo said...

No problem. Glad to know that my blog entry is of use to you :)

Anonymous said...


Ron Yeo said...

Don't mention it. Kindly do the necessary credits, please :)