Close encounters with nature at Bako National Park
By Danielle Sendou Ringgit
I think the last time I visited Bako National Park was probably nine years ago for a class field trip and the most vivid memory I had of it was the sight of a large group of bearded pigs casually strolling around the park headquarters scavenging for food without a care in the world.
However on March 4th, I relived my university heydays again during a media day out to Bako National Park with the Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) after a long period of confinement due to continuous rainpour these past few months.
According to Sarawak Forestry Corporation website, Bako National Park was established in 1957, is the oldest national park in Sarawak and is well protected, thus explaining why the bearded pigs seemed to be less wary of the presence of humans.
“You cannot harm or kill anything you see at the national park, even if it is a mosquito. This is the rule and regulation,”said tour guide Lenjoe Nigo or also known as Joe.
With an experience of for more than 20 years in the tourism industry and a tour guide in Sarawak for 10 years, Joe knows Bako National Park like the back of his hand, having brought tourists to Bako countless times.
The many creatures at Bako
Known for its diverse ecosystem and wildlife, Bako is famous for the proboscis monkey. When we arrived at the national park, however, much to our excitement we were greeted by the sight of a macaque casually hanging on the rail of a bridge.
However, we were warned by Joe that these furry creature can be quite devious as they are known to snatch your belonging or food unexpectedly. This was later confirmed when we saw them snatching food and eating utensils from the cafeteria, leaving the tourists looking amused at their wily act.
As we got off our boat, we saw more macaques lazily lounging around looking unimpressed upon our arrival.
Another famous furry character that can always be seen roaming around the area is the silver lutung, also known as the silvered leaf monkey.
As the name suggests, this type of monkey is quite distinguishable by its silvery fur.
And while we did not come across it that day, Joe said an infant silver lutung has orange fur and pale skin, which will change to a much darker shade in about three months after birth.
Aside from the macaque and silver lutung, we also saw other animals as well, but had yet to come across any proboscis monkey. I have yet to give up on my quest to find one.
The many trails of Bako
While it may be one of the smallest national park in Sarawak, covering an area of 27.27 square kilometres at the tip of Muara Tebas peninsula at the mouth of Bako and Kuching River, it is the best place see all sorts of wildlife and experience nature.
“If you noticed, Bako has no soil but only sand and sediments, requiring millions of years just to form what you see today. So, if you burn the place, it will need another millions of years to to get back to what it is today,” said Joe.
As one of the most visited national parks in Sarawak, Bako is one of the best place to go hiking as it has more than a dozen different trails around the area.
With 16 of us in the touring group, most agreed to take the Telok Paku trail which is about 0.8 km.
After 10 minutes of walking, I started to feel the humidity of the place (or as Joe liked to call it, our natural sauna). I was already sweating profusely, my T shirt soaking wet from my sweat.
Along the trail, we come across interesting things such as honey resin from a tree bark.
According to Joe, in the olden days, the native people would pound the resin into powder and later fill a bamboo with it before lighting it up as a light source in the dark.
(After maybe about two hours hiking, there was still no sight of a a proboscis monkey.)
After lunch at the cafeteria, it was almost time for us to leave Bako and I had given up on the prospect of coming across a proboscis monkey.
Then suddenly, a loud bang was heard from the roof of one of the hostels on our way back from the cafeteria to the porting area.
Right in front of us, a large figure swooped across the roof, giving us just enough time to see a blur of orange brownish fur.
Joe quietly went back to one of the hostel to inspect for a few minutes, only to emerged back and to gesture us to quietly follow him.
Easily identified by its large nose, we finally got to see a view of a proboscis monkey resting on top of a tree behind the hostel.
Now that it had decided to appear at the very last minute, I had fulfilled my wish to see the large-nosed mammal, finally leaving the national park content and satisfied.
As one of the smallest national parks in Sarawak, Bako is abundant with various wildlife and houses seven complete ecosystems which are beach vegetation, cliff vegetation, heath forest, mangrove forest, mixed dipterocarp forest, grassland vegetation and peat swamp forest.
However, it is a bit sad to see that some of the infrastructure and facilities look a bit neglected and worn down.
As one of the most visited national park in Sarawak, more efforts and emphasis should be put into repairing the signages, hostels and trails as it can be dangerous or inconvenient for visitors, which is why repair and upgrading is necessary.
In December 2015, it was reported in The Borneo Post that the Tourism Ministry would upgrade and improve facilities of the national parks as a strategy to attract more tourist into Sarawak in 2016.
As I considered it one of the most treasured place on earth, hopefully the plan to upgrade and improve all the national parks will happen so that more can appreciate the beauty Sarawak’s nature has to offer.