Bako National Park, Sarawak, East Malaysia (Borneo)
January 25 and February 1, 2017
Selangor Lowlands More Selangor Lowlands Pahang Highlands, etc. Bukit Fraser Kubah Santubong Bako

Bako National Park occupies the northern part of a peninsula on the outskirts of Kuching, just a little east of the Santubong Peninsula. When I first arrived at Kuching, I had an unscheduled day before I was to head to Kubah, so I arranged a day trip out to Bako. Also, on my last day at Santubong, I arranged a second such day trip. By that time I thought I had seen everything I was going to see by day at Santubong, so it seemed worthwhile to try the different habitats of Bako again, before returning to Santubong for one final round of night herping.

Bako is on a roadless portion of its peninsula, so all access is by boat. The tides control when and where you can access or leave the park. For both of my visits, I got a ride to the Bako Jetty, then waited for the tides to rise and a boat to be available. The first time I waited an hour. The second time it was only about 30 minutes. The wait is a little unsettling because they are vague about how long it might take, and then there's some jockeying to get on one of the first available boats. But it wasn't too bad.

The view while waiting for the tide to rise

When I eventually got my ride up the river, the tide had risen enough to allow boats to get near Bako, but not enough to allow them to reach the dock. So we took off our shoes and socks, rolled up our pant legs, and walked through the last 50 yards or so of shallow water and mud flats to arrive on the beach.

Almost there!

Colorful crabs and nearly terrestrial fish skittered and hopped all over the mud flats.

Calling Fiddler Crabs (Uca vocans)

Silverlined Mudskipper (Periophthalmus argentilineatus)

As I approached the headquarters from the beach, helpful signs began to appear.

Perhaps these were the aforementioned wild animals to worry about? In any case, these pigs were plentiful and unafraid of tourists.

Bornean Bearded Pig (Sus barbatus barbatus)

More helpful signage. So many dangers!

On my first visit, a shallow stream near the headquarters was a cacophony of calling and splashing and breeding frogs. None of the other visitors or guides or park staff paid the slightest attention to them, even when crossing the stream on the boardwalk. I figured the frogs must be there all the time for the guides to not even bother pointing them out to their guests. But when I returned a few days later, they had all disappeared.

Lesser Swamp Frog (Limnonectes paramacrodon), I think?

I only saw one other frog at Bako, which was resting in a calm shallow stream much deeper into the forest. I think it's a different species, but I have a hard time identifying these Limnonectes frogs.

Rough-backed River Frog (Limnonectes ibanorum), I think?

On my first visit, I was all excited to spot a smallish gecko in the shadows, clinging to the bottom of a huge boulder. I recognized it as a Cnemaspis, a genus I had not previously encountered at that time. However, as you know if you've read my accounts of Kubah and Santubong, I was later to discover that these are very common in the general Kuching area at night, making this one less interesting in hindsight.

Kendall's Rock Gecko (Cnemaspis kendallii)

Both days that I visited turned out to be overcast and drippy, which no doubt suppressed the daytime lizard activity. For example, I was hoping to see some flying lizards in the trees of the open areas, but no lizards flew or even thought about flying in my presence. On a couple of Bako's beaches, however, I did find another lizard with an interesting lifestyle. At low tide Mangrove Skinks venture into the intertidal zone, and sometimes even into tide pools, to eat insects and crustaceans. I ran across several of them, but most of them I noticed only as they dashed off into vegetation. This individual held its pose on a wet slab of beach rock as I snuck closer and closer.

Mangrove Skink (Emoia atrocostata atrocostata)

Water Monitors are plentiful throughout much of southeast Asia, but I had managed to avoid seeing any in Peninsular Malaysia. I was happy to find a few at Bako. This mid-sized monitor lounged picturesquely on a downed log near the headquarter buildings.

Common Water Monitor (Varanus salvator)

Monkeys are the main attraction at Bako. Three types of monkeys occur there, all of which are generally easy to observe. The widespread and widely disliked Long-tailed Macaques meander the grounds, looking for trouble. Cute little Silvered Langurs aka Silver Leaf Monkeys frolic elegantly high in the trees. Last but most, everyone's favorite giant-schnozzed primates, the Proboscis Monkeys, draw crowds of visitors wherever they stop to chow down on leaves, seeds, and unripe fruit.

You can't say they didn't warn you

Long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis)

Silvered Langurs (Trachypithecus cristatus)

Proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus)

On my second visit to Bako, I decided to hike the Lintang trail, which "passes through nearly all of the vegetation types found at Bako". Many visitors to Bako hike in small guided groups, but I figured I was more likely to find herps on my own, and that way I could control my own pace also. I didn't need any steenkin' guide. What could go wrong?

I saw many pitcher plants on the Lintang trail and each one made me dutifully think of Hans. (But did I stop and take their pictures? Nah. I was still driven by the futile thought of finding some herps.) Nothing much was going on in the way of animal activity. Maybe a bird or two flew by. I took a photo of a millipede. That was about it.

Much of the middle third of this trail is across bare sandstone. With the recent rains, much of this sandstone was at least somewhat wet, and in some areas the trail itself was basically a shallow stream. And man, was it slippery! I was hiking slowly and carefully, and still nearly slipped three or four times. Each time I thought "I must hike even more slowly and carefully". Probably in the middle of thinking this thought for the fourth or fifth time, as I was nearing the end of this plateau section of the trail, my foot slipped out from under me and I instinctively stretched my arms down to brace my fall. My right hand was holding a (collapsed) tripod, which took the impact on that side. My left hand was unencumbered, and so most of my weight landed on my left wrist. My wrist did not handle the impact nearly as well as my tripod did. The tripod is fine.

My now dislocated and fractured wrist didn't hurt much as long as I held my arm up against my body perfectly still. So that's good. Unfortunately, I still had to hike another mile or so back to headquarters, on the still-wet and still-slippery trail. The last part of the trail also descends through the forest quite steeply in spots. So it was not actually possible to hold my arm up against my body perfectly still for much of the remaining hike. And those non-perfectly-still parts did hurt, much.

When I reached the headquarters, the friendly park staff quickly constructed a makeshift splint and sling for me. Then I got to wait around for a couple of hours until the tides rose enough that a boat could actually leave. As we headed upriver back to the Bako Jetty, the captain pointed out a young crocodile on the bank. Hey, that's a species I hadn't seen on this trip! There is no way that I could even attempt to take my DSLR out of my camera bag, much less use it, but I did with considerable difficulty manage to fish my iPhone out of my pocket and take what turned out to be my final herp photo of my trip.

Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)

So instead of visiting Gunung Mulu and the Danum Valley, as had been the plan, the remainder of my Malaysia trip consisted of a night at a Kuching hospital having pins inserted into my wrist and a cast applied, and a day at a Kuching hotel waiting around for my quickly-rearranged return flight to California. (For a short while I was contemplating the possibility of finishing my trip with my left arm in a cast, until the surgeon told me that the most important thing for me to do was to keep the cast clean and dry. Not exactly compatible with rainforest herping.)

Other than the ending, this trip was everything I had hoped it would be. I will probably be going back next year. Next time I hope there will be more flying lizards and cobras, and fewer trip-truncating injuries.

John Sullivan
May 2017