Thanks to Facebook memories, I am reminded of how a year ago I was in the rainforest – the Maliau Basin: The Lost World of Sabah. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long already, and there isn’t a day go by that I don’t wish I was back there.
Backtrack three years, I was interviewing for a place in a bachelor of science majoring in animal welfare. When the person interviewing me mentioned a field trip that took place in Borneo for third year – I was sold.
There’s no denying I have a strong passion for animals and the environment. Everyday more and more of our natural world is destroyed for resources – parts of the world that we will never get back, and our children and grandchildren will only know of from our stories and photographs. There are animals that have walked their last on this earth – pushed to the brink by man, unable to come back as the efforts to save them were made to late. Although there are efforts in place to reserve what can be reserved, or repair the damage that has been created, there are few wild places untouched by man: few places you can see the world as it has fallen into place on it’s own, for thousands of years.
The Maliau basin is one of those almost untouched places. Known as “Sabah’s Lost World”, the Maliau basin is, literally, a basin of pristine forest – parts of it still unseen, and never permanently inhabited. As well as being home to a wide range of flora, the rainforest is home to amazing species such as the Bornean Pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis!) and the Clouded Leapoard (Neofelis diardi).
Boring facts aside (my inner nerd got a little carried away), the rainforest opened my eyes. I experienced a quieter world. A world without traffic, continuous noise and the rigorous routine of a busy city life.
Every evening from the research center decks, I watched Bearded pigs graze around the building and wallow in the gutters with their piglets. I tried to find frogs in the muddy puddles underneath it with my torchlight. A large, bearded male pig known as Rambo slept underneath our dorm. Every morning and evening we were greeted by a young long-tailed macaque, known to us as Peter Parker. Young and confident, he wasn’t afraid to walk through the kitchen to steal a piece of bread, or block our path on the way to the toilet with his teeth bared. We climbed over river rocks in the dark, finding everything from frogs, to giant spiders, to mangrove snacks, to water snakes and toads that smelt like garlic.
We looked for eyes with our headlamps at night in the trees from the back of our guides’ utes. We saw flying red squirrels, a slow loris, different types of civets, deer, scorpions, binturongs. We almost drove straight into a herd of elephants, more than once – first far from camp, but making their way towards. Although technically pygmy elephants, being far smaller than the African elephant and even smaller than an Asian elephant – they don’t feel small when they block the road in front of you and trumpet, flapping their ears. More than one night (or morning) we beat a hasty retreat as an angry mother decided she didn’t want us near her calf. Some nights they were right at our entrance to the camp, and we waited on the front deck waiting to see if they would come any closer. They didn’t, to the relief of the staff and guides who knew the damage they could cause. But, elephants right?!
There are so many more stories I could tell from the two weeks I was gone. The contrast to the current city girl life I was living was intense, even though I grew up a country girl. I went from refusing to use a toilet that consisted of a hole in the ground (usually with a lady sitting outside of it asking you to pay 20c before you had the privilege, surrounded by pits in the ground full of alligators, turtles and litters of puppies) to using the bidet to hose the creeping spider from underneath the toilet seat off, and peeing with geckos on the wall next to me, to brooming piles of dead moths out of the shower before I could comfortably use it (as comfortable as you can be when there was only cold water and it’s 11pm at night, and one must check ones armpits for stray leeches before sleeping – long story short, a leech tried to hitch a ride in my armpit one night and resulted in much screaming and stripping off in the dark during a night’s walk) to eating the odd moth that committed suicide in my dinner (and by odd, I mean there was swarms of them and they were difficult to keep picking out as they flew to their death. I mean protein, right?)
But what I want to get across is this. There are still wild places left. There are still places you can eat your breakfast next to a macaque if you’re brave enough, or come across wild elephants that would happily trample you. There are only going to be places like this around if we take care of them, and to take care of them, we need to love them. We need to see them and live in them, we need to take home the stories so that other people can live through them. As corny as it sounds, we need to love it enough to want to conserve it forever, even in the smallest way. To want to keep wild places around, places where Peter Parker’s and Rambo’s are welcome.
I don’t know what your idea of success and fulfillment in life is, but for me, if it means destroying the natural world and everything that lives in it for momentary gain and profit then I don’t consider myself a success.
Don’t let your 9-5 and your bank account sum mean more to you than wild places and the life that lives in them. Keep it clean, keep it wild, keep it free. Eat breakfast with a macaque one day and learn to value the things that matter.