Nature News July/August 1992
by Chua Ee Kiam
The trip began with 21 of us having to carry all our luggage across the Causeway as the bus we chartered never came. It was a prelude to a sense of adventure!
After some negotiation for transport, we finally kicked off after a 3 hour delay. Unfortunately, the bus driver and his 2 co-drivers had never been to Sungei Tembeling and each had his own opinion of getting there. Even Patrick’s map was considered inaccurate. Nevertheless, we arrived in the morning to be greeted by Southern-pied Hornbills, Parakeets and a Coppersmith Barbet. We then began our 3 hour boat ride to Kuala Tahan.
The 60km ferry ride into Taman Negara National Park revealed one of the oldest rainforests in the world. Up the river, we came across lavender flowers of the Bungur trees, the red river figs and many orange flowers of the forest trees. At the river bank perched Black-capped and Stork-billed Kingfishers. Three Small-clawed Otters with muscular tails were frolicking in the waters as the Bee-eaters soared and glided. The place was swamped with Magpie Robins and Striped-throated Bulbuls but the Hornbill sightings were less probably due to the construction of more chalets in the area.
Our first stop was at Lubok Simpon, a small stream to dip in and a place to savor the cool clean air. A black Drongo and White-rumped Sharma appeared at close range. I suspected that they must have been nesting nearby. Night was spent on insect photography covering the flatworms, moths, stick insects and many others. Unexpectedly, Jason spotted a cicada emerging from the dorsal slit of its pupa. Watching the changing hues and the unfolding and lengthening of the gossamer wings in less than 30 minutes was sheer delight. I must have fired away half a roll of film. We even sighted a tame Sambar Deer grazing on the fringe of the forest. Thanks to Eddie and Diana and help from a Bird Guide, we were able to identify some of the many birds we spotted – Black and Red Broadbill, Gold-whiskered Barbet, Buff-rumped Woodpecker and Blue-throated Flycatcher.
Bukit Teresek ia a low hill (300m) in the reserve. Many of the forest trees were labeled, for example the Sengkuang, Mengkundor, Meranti and Telinga Gajah. We came across a variety of mushrooms, wild ginger, flowers, a Black Scorpion amd many unfamiliar plants. Dr Wu spotted a pair of Argus Pheasants while Ai Kwee received a fright when a Civet Cat ran past her.
Gua Telinga (translated :Ear Cave) is a limestone cave which is literally full of shit. Attired in our worst gear and gloves, we managed to crawl and negotiate the many slippery sinuous guano littered cave floors. The cave is home to the Roundleaf and dusky Fruit Bat, Giant Toad and Black–Striped Frog. We were fortunate enough to observe a Cave Racer coiling around a bat. One thing for sure, one needs to be slim to weave through the crevices!
The waterfall at Latah Berkoh was a 45 minute boat ride away. The cool, gushing waters massaged and rejuvenated our weary muscles. Raja claimed that a lady once lost her bikini in the torrent and so forewarned everyone to hang on to their garments. A swarm of butterflies converged onto Eddie’s shoes as he dried them in the sun; it probably smelt of last night’s guano. The boatmen pointed out to us a pair of Greater Coucals and some wild ducks.
We “shot” the rapids on the way to Trenggan but it was an anti-climax as the water level was low due to the lack of rain. According to the care-takers, tigers have been sighted during the durian season. A Long-billed Spiderhunter was observed feeding among the light orange flowers. We also saw one of the largest squirrels – the Prevost’s Squirrel which was magnificently coloured with a chestnut-red belly, black top and separated by a streak of white.
One group went to Blau Hide ( a raised hut equipped with bunker beds) and the next to Yong hide. Initially, the hide felt like a sauna but it became comfortably cooler at night. We did not see much except for some deers and Black-thighed Falconets at the salt lick.
On the return journey, we visited the Orang Asli settlement with a population of 35. The menfolk were out hunting and the women were with their usual chores. Four teenage girls were dancing to the beat of a Hokkien song on a tape recorder and they were able to mime the words! Many of them recognized Raja and hence we did not have to pay “photographic tax” as demanded by the elder.
The train journey to Singapore was not the most comfortable but thanks to Raja, everyone had their share of adventure. I think everyone, especially the five children on the trip, can pride themselves in having ventured into one of the richest wildlife habitats in the world. Perhaps Gunong Tahan now awaits to be scaled. We will come again to be enveloped in the tranquility of the canopy of the forest reserve and be overwhelmed by its diversity of wildlife.