The Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary is a must-see in Sabah because the proboscis monkey is the only primate unseen in other parts of the world except Borneo. And they are becoming endangered – similar to the orang utan – due to deforestation which is threatening their existence in the wild. These primates have to sometimes travel long distance in search of food in the wild.
It all started 10 years ago, a tycoon businessman from Kuala Lumpur bought 400 acres of mangrove forest and initially developed it into an oil palm plantation. But he had a change of heart when he saw proboscis monkeys scavenging for food in his estate. He learnt how unique these monkeys were and stopped his plantation altogether. It’s very rare to hear land developers prioritising conservation over commercial gain but this businessman did just that. Over the years, he focused his efforts in ensuring the proboscis monkeys do not lose their natural habitat.
OK, so how do proboscis monkeys look like? The proboscis monkey has a large nose and a pot belly 🙂 The male proboscis has a much larger nose compared to the female proboscis, and the juvenile proboscis has a cute small upturned nose. And did you know that some males have to push their large noses away in order to put food in their mouths?!
They have a unique digestive system too – their stomachs are divided into compartments filled with cellulose digesting bacteria which digest the leaves that the proboscis monkeys eat from the forest. Their stomach contents make up one quarter of their body weight (!), hence the large pot belly.
When we saw them up close at the sanctuary – they moved around but never aggressive towards human visitors – in fact, they looked rather docile to me. At certain angles, they had a forlorn look on their faces which made me go “aaawwww!”
While we were so fascinated with the proboscis monkeys, the locals at the sanctuary mentioned that the grey langur monkeys (or sometimes called silver leaf monkeys) are waiting to make an appearance. These smaller monkeys typically come to the sanctuary around the same time when the proboscis monkeys are being fed, and they are fed with green beans. The moment the local woman appeared with the beans, the grey langurs went crazy! They jumped and snatched the beans. And they don’t just jump up to grab the beans, but they leap bungee-crazy from the higher level of the platform to the stairs or from the stairs to the roof! That made me very nervous because I get really uncomfortable seeing a group of monkeys jumping at me for food and they can get snarky. It happened before on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia – Cherating Beach – I was walking back to my hotel room with a tube of Pringles and out of nowhere, a snarky-looking monkey jumped at me to grab the Pringles and it scared the living daylights out of me! Needless to say, I screamed at the top of my lungs and the monkey, in turn was stunned by my scream, till it dropped the Pringles and ran away. Ok, so I digress but true story 🙂 Since then small, jumpy monkeys make me very nervous!
But the interesting thing I learnt about the grey langurs is that their young have bright orange fur instead of grey. Apparently when they are born, the fur is orange but starts to change colour to grey when they turn 3 months old!
After a while, situation settled down and then I realized that the attention was no longer on the proboscis monkeys. As I turned away from the grey langurs, I saw 3 proboscis monkeys on the looking bored at us – they must be thinking, “the grey langurs, sigh, getting all excited about the beans, sigh, this is boring!”
There are 4 feeding times at the Labuk Bay Sanctuary and we were there at the last session – 4.30pm – no tourists at all except my friend and I, and a couple from the UK. The only thing which I’m not exactly sure if this is right – the proboscis monkeys were fed with pancakes. I don’t know what kind of pancakes or what were the pancakes made of but our guide, Hadi, and the locals who worked at the sanctuary were confident that the pancakes were the right food to feed the proboscis. I understand that the proboscis come to the sanctuary for their “diet supplement of fruits and water” and the mangrove forest is just behind the sanctuary, I certainly hope that the “pancakes” are stuffed with the right fruits for the proboscis.
2014 is Visit Malaysia Year and our official mascot is the proboscis monkey. Some say it’s an ugly-looking animal with that huge nose but I personally think it’s such an adorable and unique species. If you prefer to see the proboscis monkeys in the wild, do go on the Kinabatangan River Cruise or go on a 2D/1N stay in the jungle to experience and see the wildlife of Sabah in their natural habitat. I would strongly urge all to visit Sabah and support efforts to stop further deforestation and development, and most importantly, to save our wildlife…for our future on this planet.
Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary
– Hours/Feeding Times: Platform A 9.30am & 2.30pm Daily; Platform B 11.30am & 4.30pm Daily
– Entrance Fees: MYR15 for Malaysians, MYR60 for Foreigners, MYR10 for Camera Fee.