Monkey Shines: Labuk Bay Sanctuary, Borneo

Lately, the term “travel bubble” has popped up in the Australian press. It refers to the policy that may soon allow citizens of Australia and New Zealand to travel freely between the two countries in the midst of the global Covid-19 crisis.

I’ve always thought of a “travel bubble” as the attitude displayed by those who think they’re safe from all harm because they’re “on holiday”. Because of this, they engage in much riskier behaviour and activities than they ever would at home.

“It’s okay. I’m on holiday!” (pic: sergio souza @ unsplash)

I am not one of those people.

This is how I roll.
(Pic by Ahsanization@ unsplash)

My biggest preoccupation while travelling (apart from looking ridiculously hot at all times) is keeping myself safe and well. So, I make sure I do whatever I can to avoid getting, sick, hurt or seriously injured. This often involves saying no to certain experiences, being careful about what I eat or drink and giving wild animals a wide, respectful berth.

“I’ll kill you and everyone you care about.”
Photo by Man Dy on

At Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary that’s a bit of a challenge.

Proboscis monkeys are tree dwelling primates named for the strange, bulbous noses found on the males. According to National Geographic, these comically oversized facial features act as an “echo chamber” that allow them to produce some pretty loud noises to impress females and drive away rival males.

(pic: charge the globe @ unsplash)

The females also have unusual noses but theirs are smaller and more beak-like. In profile, they look a bit like someone got bored halfway through designing them and just stuck a wad of play-doh above their mouths.

“I’ll sort it out later”: God.
(pic: Joshua Stitt @ unsplash)

Proboscis Monkeys are endemic to Borneo and are currently endangered. Their natural habitat is rapidly declining thanks to logging, pollution and palm oil production. They’re also hunted and their body parts used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Because of course they are.

Established in the mid 1990s, Labuk Bay Sanctuary is 400 acres of protected mangrove rainforest where the Proboscis monkeys can roam unthreatened. Like Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, Labuk Bay supplements the primates diets by providing food and water on feeding platforms twice a day. Visitors can then watch the animals eat, socialise, groom their offspring and fight from only a few metres away.

Being a sanctuary there are no fences, which means other animals can also come and go as they please.

And they do.

Opportunistic silvery lutung, or silvered leaf monkeys, are everywhere.

On the day I visited, they chose to hide from the blazing midday sun in the shaded visitors’ centre. They were sitting on handrails, lounging on the floor and perched in the rafters.

Even though they were smaller than the Proboscis monkeys, being that close to them made me incredibly nervous. I walked around slowly. Carefully. Not wanting to startle them or accidentally tread on one of their long, rope-like tails.

I kept my head down. Afraid to look them in the eye. Wondering what I would do if one jumped on me and tried to rip my face off (‘drop and roll’ was one option).

Meanwhile, the other visitors didn’t seem bothered at all. Protected by their travel bubbles they got nice and close to the wild animals. One young mother even plonked her toddler next to a mama monkey and her babies so she could get some pics.

The child, who couldn’t have been more than two, did what any two year old would do: he tried to touch the animals. To her credit, his mother rushed in, but only to reposition the boy before backing away so she could take more photos.

As I watched in rapt fascination, I thought about all the fantastic photos my stupid
self-preservation instinct was preventing me from getting. So far, I’d taken a couple from a respectable distance using the zoom focus on my phone, but they weren’t great.

Maybe I could get a little closer? Maybe I could try out the limits of my own travel bubble?

I was about to get a little closer to the animals when a large, male silvery lutung charged through the visitors centre and screeched at the female and her babies, scaring the bejeezus out of them, the boy, his mother, me and all the other tourists in the vicinity.

It was then I realized…nah, I’m good.

Safety first.


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