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January 26, 2011

Murder by Ape

Tom McLaughlin

Kampung Santubong and Matang Wildlife Center – “Daddy, you tried to kill us” was the refrain from the cell phone as I checked on her and her boyfriend at the hotel. Located at the base of Mount Santubong, they had just finished their six-hour trek up and down the 800- meter hill to some, a mountain to others.


Mary and her boyfriend came for a short 10-day visit and I wanted to pack as much activities into their schedule as I could. I had heard that people who climbed Mount Santubong found it a challenge, but I knew my athletic daughter and boyfriend Cody could handle it.


My wife Suriani, month-old son Dzul and I traveled to the posh Dami Beach Hotel before they arrived to schedule a guide for the climb. One never, ever goes into the forest around here without an experienced guide. After arranging for a knowledgeable person, I paid for a one night stay at the plush beach front establishment for the two lovers.


The day before, we had visited the Matang Wildlife Center where jungle critters are rehabilitated and reintroduced into the wild. I wanted to make sure they walked the easy bromeliad trail where they could observe the pitcher plants and to study the wetland rainforest.


“The trail is closed?” I asked incredulously. Apparently, a just released orangutan was wandering around close by and was not at all happy with her human saviors. She had been sedated with a dart gun for veterinary purposes and the shooter was imprinted on her mind where she would seek her revenge.


The orangutan veterinarian was a very slim Chinese lady with the same build as my daughter. We were told that if we encountered the ape she would attack her. I knew this was very unlikely. Orangutans nest in the afternoon at the same time we would be walking the trail.


I told the group we were going anyway. They only had a few days left, the monsoon was upon us and I really wanted my biologist daughter to see this part of the rainforest. I told the group of three males to surround my daughter facing outward in the remote possibility the ape showed up.


I really enjoyed my teacher role, explaining the trees and wetlands of this magnificent part of the park. I did walk a bit cautiously near the trees where we were told the ape could be hiding but I was thoroughly engrossed in our walk.


We stopped occasionally for a leech check, and my daughter seemed to attract the most blood suckers. At one time her white trekking shoes must have had 20 to 30. Being experienced with leeches I just picked them off my legs, but the others were a bit more sensitive to the idea.


Of course no ape attacked; but one thing I didn’t realize was how petrified my daughter was, and each stop I made signaled to her that the ape might be near while I was just explaining the flora and fauna.


Back to the mountain climbing, I really didn’t know about the eight of so 10-meter swinging rope ladders that they would have to climb to reach the summit. Honestly I didn’t. When I did ask them if it was worth the climb, they both agreed it was a fantastic adventure.


Now, we both chuckle on how I tried to murder my daughter: First by ape, then by falling off a mountain.


Life is good…


For other articles on Borneo see Tom’s blog at he welcomes everyone to join him on Face Book at Borneo Tom


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