Wildlife photography adventure in Malaysian Borneo - by Dr Damien Esquerre
Borneo, is along with places like Madagascar, the Amazon, and the Serengeti, a life-time dream destination for all nature lovers who grew up reading wildlife books and watching David Attenborough.
The chance to co-lead a group of enthusiastic nature photographers with NatureArt Lab to this biodiversity jewel of Southeast Asia was a dream come true. I recently read Alfred Russell Wallace’s (the co-discoverer of evolution by natural selection alongside Charles Darwin) “The Malay Archipelago”, where the Victorian naturalist spends a good part of his book describing his adventures on this island, which was an almost untouched ocean of lush rainforest during the time he explored it in the mid-19th century.During our visit to Borneo, we spent our time in the most well-preserved parts of the islands, where the biodiversity is to my eyes only matched with the Amazon’s. For the first time in my life I observed more mammal species than reptile species (mammal diversity is often hard to observe), and encountered life-changing experiences like a clouded leopard feeding on a palm civet up on a tree, which I got to capture with my lens after waiting for almost two hours. We crossed paths with a female wild orang-utang and her baby (among several other wild orang-utans), a tarsier curiously observing our group, giant flying squirrels playfully displaying an air-show for us at sunset, and just too many other mind-blowing wildlife encounters to list at this time. Insect diversity in both highland rainforests of Mount Kinabalu and lowland rainforests of Sepilok, Kinabatangan and Tabin was so tremendous and eccentric that even for someone familiar with all major insect groups, it was hard to place some of these strange creatures into a group. “Is this a stick-insect or an assassin bug?”
On the other hand, one encounters the rapid rate at which the planets’ lungs are being ripped apart. Pristine rainforest exists as small treasured pockets scattered among an ocean of oil palm plantations. At the rate of human population growth, soon not much will remain. Getting to witness the nature arks left at this time is a privilege future generations will likely not have. Some animals we got to photograph might only exist in pictures in the near future. This reinforces the mission of the naturalist and nature photographer to document and record the ephemeral beauty millions of years of evolution have produced. Alfred R. Wallace would not have imagined that in less than two centuries we would have almost wiped out the untamed wilderness he explored.
One thing is certain though. Borneo and its nature stay with you. The images of dozens of little colored birds in the slopes of Kinabalu, flying lizards gliding over our heads, pig-tailed macaques playing in the trees as if we were not there, a katydid larger than my head crawling on the floor, and the sight of mouse deer disappearing in the jungle; are some of the hundreds of experiences that will always loop in my imagination.