Monday, 19 October 2015

Day 364: That's no mouse, dear

In the morning we went out looking for some ingredients for lunch, but although we looked in several minimarts, the only tuna we could find came with 'mayonnaise', so tuna mayonnaise it was. We had some breakfast at Mama Chop (where they were watching the same war movie as yesterday) and then looked around for a way to get across the river and to the national park (as an aside, 'taman negara' means 'national park' in Malaysian, so Taman Negara National Park is National Park National Park). We quickly spotted one of the ferry guys and climbed aboard for the journey, which took about a minute and cost only one ringgit each – the equivalent of US$0.25. After disembarking, we climbed the steep stairs up the bank and then walked over to the national park office, where we paid the very reasonable entry fee (including a special payment to cover the use of my camera) and got a map. We then oriented ourselves and head off towards the canopy walkway along a rather fancy boardwalk. 

We saw our first wildlife soon after setting out – one of the ubiquitous squirrels. Not long after, we heard a noise in the trees and stopped to investigate and saw... another squirrel. But then Zoe pointed further up the way and said, 'Mouse deer!' And sure enough, not far from the boardwalk were three tiny little deer that were apparently relatively unconcerned about us, so we got to stand and watch them for some time. 

Continuing on, we came to a large hide overlooking an open, grassy area. It was occupied by a lone young English girl, with whom we chatted for a while. As we talked, Zoe spotted a medium-sized monitor making its way through the undergrowth and I saw, yes, a couple of squirrels. Back on the boardwalk, things took an upward turn and we sweated our way up a fairly substantial hillside before arriving at the canopy walkway, where we shelled out another fee and then waited in line to climb the stairs up to a series of suspension bridges strung between tall trees. Access was very strictly controlled to ensure that no more than ten people were on the bridge at a time, but some of those taking to the trees were of a nervous disposition, so even when we got onto the walkway, progress was slow. 

Unfortunately, the walkway exit was at the bottom of the hill we had just climbed and the trail we wanted to take next was at the top of the hill, so we had to ascend all over again. Our destination was the top of one of the larger hills in the park and many, many, many stairs and a litre or more of sweat later, we finally made it to the summit. When we got to the lookout on the far side, we stopped for a not very nice lunch (suffice to say none of us fans of tinned 'tuna mayonnaise), but didn't spend very long looking at the view, as the haze from the Indonesian forest fires was cloaking the whole area rather obscuring things. A large group of young local guys had arrived at the much the same time as us and they told us that the walk down the other side was closed, which was a shame as we had been planning to do a loop, but instead had to retrace our steps. Soon enough, however, we were back at the national park office, where we bought a bit more water at the minimart and then headed down another trail – this time to a swimming area on a tributary of the river that runs by the park entrance. While that main river is murky with sediment, this one was clear but stained dark brown with dissolved tannin. We had a nice swim and then the girls chased fish around in the shallows for a while. 

Back at the park office, we bumped into the birder from the Midlands and he told us about the tame tapir that apparently comes in to the resort that's attached the national park office. So, after dinner at one of the floating restaurants back on the other side of the river, we crossed back over and started looking around for a large two-tone prehensile-nosed mammal... without success. As the tapir seemed to be a no-show, Sarah and I went out along the boardwalk to do some spotlighting. We heard what sounded like a large frog calling from some distance away, but when I had a bit of a go at locating it, my torch beam quite quickly fell on what was indeed a large frog, but calling from what turned out to be not very far away at all. 

When we got back to the others, we decided first off to go back out again as a group, but then Zoe suddenly decided that she didn't want to participate and drifted off back to the resort. As we debated what to do next, she suddenly reappeared, breathless with excitement to tell us that the tapir had appeared. The backstory here, as near as we could determine, was that a pair of young tapirs had been caught as babies and reared around the resort. The female had recently died, but the male still came in pretty regularly to be fed. A crowd of people had formed around it and a staff member made his way through the throng and led the big mammal to a patch of grass, where he upended a bucket full of fruit. The tapir quickly got stuck in and as he ate, his unfeasibly large penis, which almost reached the ground, kept twitching dramatically, eliciting fits of giggles from the girls. With the three of them engrossed by the large mammal in their midst, I had no takers when I suggested another spotlighting foray, so I headed out alone. 

As I set off, I saw another light approaching and soon met with a young, tall Germanic guy. I asked him if he had seen anything and he described a strange small mammal he hadn't been able to identify and showed me some pictures on his camera of a neat gecko he had also spotted. I bid him farewell and headed out along the boardwalk. Before long I saw some movement ahead that resolved into a small, lightly coloured mammal. It saw me and freaked out, running away and under the boardwalk. I managed to keep pace with it but had trouble discerning what it actually was. Finally, however, I managed to get close enough for a good look and saw spines among its fur. I tried to take a photo but the camera's auto-focus stymied my efforts, focusing on some plants in front of the animal, but even with the blurring, it was clear that the animal was a type of porcupine – later ID-ed as an Asiatic brush-tailed porcupine. I continued on, all the way to our swimming spot from earlier in the day but didn't see anything. We had been warned that the final boat back across the river left at 10pm and as it was now well past 9pm I turned around and headed back. On the way, I came across a large, slender snake beside the boardwalk (a type of cat-eyed snake), but struggled, juggling the torch and camera and conscious of the ticking clock, to get a decent photo of it. I made it back in plenty of time, however, and we all jumped aboard the boat for the short ride back. 

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