Pygmies of Darkest Borneo


Readers may have been wondering where the intrepid squirrel had disappeared to that he wasn’t even participating actively in the “Dead or Alive” debate of the previous post.  Of course, readers may not even have noticed my absence but I try not to think about that.

Well, this brave explorer and tenacious reporter risked his furry neck by venturing into the dark heart of Borneo ……….. the mysterious land of head-hunters (the vicious head cutting type and not the corporate recruiter offering you a better job type) and pygmies.  Yes, there are pygmies in this magical land and from my forward exploration base ( also known as the remarkable Borneo Rainforest Lodge) in the Danum Valley Conservation Area, I got to see three different pygmies.

This little Pygmy played the trumpet…..

We went out on a jeep in the middle of the night along a jungle track.  If you looked straight up, you could see  the stars shining brightly in the cloudless sky but when you looked around, the rainforest pressing in on us was all darkness.  We had a spotter sitting on the roof of the jeep and his job was to shine a very bright spotlight into the inky blackness in the hopes of spotting an animal or catching its eye-shine (light reflected back by the tapetum lucidum, a layer located behind the retina and which is particularly bright fin the case of nocturnal animals).  And so, as we bumped along the track, we saw in turn, a couple of Sambar Deer, a distant slow loris, a sleeping bird, an agamid lizard, a bearded pig and an owl.  Then, as we nearly reached the furthest point of our night expedition, we turned round the corner and right in front of us was a herd of about 8 pygmy elephants grazing on the roadside vegetation. (These elephants are the smallest of all Asian elephants).  For one frozen moment, the elephants looked at our dropped jaws with their wide startled eyes and then with a grunt, they stormed away to a safe distance.  From there they eyed us suspiciously while we enjoyed observing them for the next 15 minutes with only the sound of their feeding and an occasional deep growl.  What a successful night excursion!

The Elusive Pygmy Elephant- all that is seen is usually just a heap of steaming dung

This little Pygmy had some lunch…….

The next morning, I left the camp really early with some bird-watchers.  Early means 5.30 am.  The forest was alive with the sound of birds chirping and the whooping of gibbons.  Then came the unmistakable whoosh whoosh whoosh sound of the beating wings of hornbills.  I followed the large birds and found them roosting in one of the tallest trees.  We saw rhinoceros, helmeted, wreathed, pied and black hornbills.  Then suddenly, a noise in a nearer tree got our attention and there hanging some 30 feet off the ground was the smelly pygmy …..el Pongo pygmaeus; otherwise known as the Orangutan, a name that means “Jungle Man”.  I took this picture by placing my camera at the end of a telescope.  I am quite pleased with the result.

Smile you red-haired beauty (photo by LGS)

And this little Pygmy went “¡Ándale! ¡Ándale!” all the way home.

On my last day, we were again walking about in the forest when a companion drew my attention to  tiny dark silhouette clinging to a thin climber vine.  Before I could say “squirrel” it zipped up the vine and out of sight like a runaway wind-up toy.  The 10 cm long creature is as energetic and fast as the famous Speedy Gonzales.   I was pleased to see my distant cousin as he zipped by.  Wish he could have stayed to chat for awhile but perhaps next time.

All three pygmies of Borneo were a real treat to see.

Tiny, Speedy, Pygmy

The last photo was from Dig Deep.

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24 thoughts on “Pygmies of Darkest Borneo”

  1. Wow … what a great trip and descriptive story … I felt as if I was there, but after a reality check realized I wasn’t so now I feel a little envious … 🙂 … I sure would like to meet Pongo pygmaeus …

    … glad you didn’t encounter any dangerous species and were able to keep your head …

  2. What a trip! Great things and dangerous things do come in small packages. Animals in their habitat make for memories that last. Glad you got the chance to go. :o)

  3. You have the greatest pictures~ yes I have been following right along with your every post but shamefacedly not taking the time to leave a proper comment. I loved your wedding pictures a few times past (with cameo of LGS :)) . Great little squirrel piccie at the end. As I am writing this, I can count 5 squirrels in my yard stuffing their faces with peanuts.

  4. I like your jungle excursion. It’s fascinating that creatures considered so exotic here are almost in your backyard.

    It’s the wrong time of year here, but I know of a wolf sanctuary and a white water rafting trip out in B.C. I’d like to visit/do sometime.

    What I am curious about is why the orangutan is a pygmy? Are there Greater Orangutans? Kong-sized orangutans? Moby Orangutans? Or maybe Mountain Orangutans, known in other parts of the world as Yeti or (as in my backyard, as it were) Sasquatch?

  5. You were very lucky with the orangutan. They are very shy and keep to themselves. They are such loners, they don’t even hang out with each other. Great pic of the guy (or gal)!

  6. OneStonedCrow,
    We did have a few hostile encounters. A friend got stung by a nocturnal wasp and a few of us sport the painful bites of fire ants. But it was worth it.

    Kathryn,
    Thanks. Makes me want to get a bigger and better camera.

  7. Joyce,
    I am fortunate for the chance to go. It was work related so the costs were covered. Otherwise, it would have been a bit outside my budget reach.

    Terry,
    Thanks but would love it if you left comments more often. I enjoy it when you show me the wonders of Iceland on your blog.

  8. Hi Crag,
    I am guessing but sometime back in the 19th Century, locals refer to the animal as Orangutan or the “jungle man”. And although it is a big animal, if it stands on the ground, it appears short. So perhaps it was considered a short jungle man and the word pygmy was used in its scientific name.

    But another interesting point is that in Sabah, it is called “Mawas” instead of Orangutan. However, in Peninsula Malaysia, “Mawas” is the name given to a legendary bigfoot type creature.

  9. Mago,
    Thanks. I was quite thrilled that it came out as nice as it did. Also glad it did not throw anything at me.

    Laura,
    Thanks and congrats on your nomination for Super-Blog, defender of justice and the Environment!

  10. geewits,
    Indeed, I was fortunate. I had no expectation of seeing the orangutan on this trip as sightings are rare. There is an orangutan rehabilitation centre somewhere else where you are surrounded by them but it doesn’t feel like it is a natural surrounding.

    Mark,
    That’s the wonder of Borneo! If you think you are too tall to visit the land of the pygmies, don’t forget we can arrange for you to be shorter ….after a visit to the headhunter tribes.

  11. Hearts,
    Glad you liked it. Look out for the next post. I have a treat for you.

    Jo,
    I remember that you like elephants. You would love these ones especially cause even the adults look cute and Dumbo-like.

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