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Fauna of Tanjung Tuan

by Mr.Toh Hon Leong / November 14, 2020

The Sanctuary in Eternity

Fortunately, Tanjung Tuan has been gazetted as a forest reserve since 1921, and as a wildlife sanctuary since 1971. A small part of the forest has already been degazetted for other uses in 1969. We certainly hope this natural beauty would remain as a reserve and sanctuary in eternity for the public as well as for the flora and fauna. During most weekends and public holidays, this small sanctuary is swarmed with hundreds of hikers, a testimony of its attractions.

The breath-taking beauty of the forest, boulders, beaches, cliffs and sea, proves irresistible to most of us. Hikers mainly hike for exercise, but it's normal for us to take photos of strange trees, fungi, unique rock formation, our poses in selected locations, rockpools and whirlpools, while hiking.

Rugged Beauty

There are some animals in the forest reserve, but it's really hard to snap a photo of them, except for the monkeys. These creatures do not scamper away, unlike the other more timid and shy fauna of the forest. There is a small population of monkeys in Tanjung Tuan.

It's very often that monkeys will be waiting to greet you when you arrive at the main entrance of Tanjung Tuan. Most of the time, they will ignore you, just like you couldn't be bother with them. Very often, they would be sitting high up on the branches or walking on the insulated electric cables. it looks like an innocent situation but looks can be deceiving.

Monkeys in Tanjung Tuan

I have personally witnessed a lone monkey quietly coming down a tree, and suddenly, like a lightning bolt, snatched a bunch of bananas from the basket of a motor bike, while the owner was busy taking. The next thing you see would be a cheeky creature grinning and showing its teeth from the tree, with your bunch of bananas.

Such a scene is common all over the world. Monkeys have adapted to the depleting food and depleting forest. They find it much easier to "steal" from humans. Some friends have told me of monkeys stealing food from their houses as well. In many areas, monkeys just wait near the roadside for drivers to discard whatever is edible from their car. They realize many Asians have bad manners and habits. it's considered "good" from their point of view.

As we watch the antics of the monkeys, we couldn't help but think that Charles Darwin was right. We really evolve from monkeys. Monkeys look after their young just like humans. In Tanjung Tuan, we have often seen baby monkeys clinging onto the abdomen of their mother and being carried with tender loving care from tree to tree. In fact, mother monkeys even breast-feed their babies, just like humans.

Mother monkey carrying its baby

Monkeys also has built-in understanding of fairness. In an experiment, some monkeys were conditioned to receive a slice of cucumber, in exchange for a small stone, given by the monkey. One monkey was subsequently rewarded with a grape, instead of a cucumber slice. The rest of the monkeys saw this as being unfair and threw a fit in protest.

Like humans, monkeys could recognize other monkey in their group, and could recognize their own reflection in the water. Monkeys also use their hands to gesture and even laugh when tickled, just like us. Guess we should not offend a monkey, for they could recognize us and maybe take revenge, just like some humans would.

However, monkeys see nothing wrong in stealing. Humans not only steal but corruption and kleptocracy are becoming increasingly prevalent. Climate change, pollution and nuclear bombs, created by humans, are threatening to annihilate us. Have we ready move higher up in the evolutionary ladder?

There are squirrels in Tanjung Tuan but are far less noticeable than the monkeys. The huge trees and shrubs present an ideal hiding place for the rodents. Squirrels seem more abundant near my house. The reason is clear. There are more fruit trees around my neighbourhood than in Tanjung Tuan. Fulfilling the physiological need for food is the most basic instinct in Maslow hierarchy of needs.

Whereas monkeys have learnt to associate human with food, squirrels have not. The squirrels found in our gardens are in truth associating the fruit trees with food. They have no idea the fruit trees belong to us. We tend to think of squirrels as pests and herbivores, but they are actually omnivores. Although their diet consist of mainly fruits, nuts, fungi and vegetables, they also eat insects, caterpillars and bird eggs.

When we first started hiking in Tanjung Tuan, we encountered wild fowls frequently. These days, we hardly come across the ancestors of our chickens. Hopefully, the wild fowls are hiding from the increasing numbers of hikers. However, we suspect these fine birds have been trapped and stewed. It would not be surprising, because many cultures believe that a herbal stew of the wild fowl is a kind of aphrodisiac. I have seen nets set up to trap the wild fowls. It was foul play.

Wild cockerel

Maybe the wild cockerels are trapped for cockfighting. Cockfighting still occurs in villages. We don't really know. In the bird kingdom, it's the cockerels which are very colourful. It seems hens tend to choose a cockerel with brighter colours, greater body symmetry and younger in age for mating. The hens, just like our women folks, are just as fussy in choosing a good male for better offspring. It's a built-in natural instinct implanted in their genes.

Cock fighting

It was a total surprise and exceptional day, when we saw sea otters at one end of Monkey Bay in Tanjung Tuan about two months ago. The tide was really high at about seven in the morning, and we guessed the otters lost track of time, while busy foraging for food. We caught the otters by surprise, and we were surprised too, for it was totally unexpected. We managed to snap a photo from afar, and then they were gone.

Unexpected encounter with some sea otters

We have heard of freshwater otters stealing fishes from fishponds, but sea otters are something unheard off. According to Google, there are sea otters in South East Asia, although rare. It seems the creature has been hunted to near extinction for its lovely fur. Greed seems to be in abundance in humans.

The otter is a mammal and has to hold its breath to dive into the sea, while foraging for food. Food consists of sea urchins, crabs, mussels, clams and other shell fishes. Surprisingly, an otter knows how to use a rock to break the hard shells of clams and shell fishes. This smart animal knows how to use a tool to assist in its tasks.

Friends have been telling me of turtle sightings in the sea off the lighthouse. I have not seen them personally. It's not often we hike that way, as accessibility depends on the tide. However, I have seen a huge dead turtle on the shore of Monkey Bay. It was a pity it died.

Dead turtle at Monkey Bay

I speculate it died ingesting plastic sheets, mistaking it for a jelly fish. The tons of plastic in the sea are killing thousands of sea creatures. Maybe, the turtle drowned, while being caught in a net. Turtles are reptiles and breathe from lungs, similar to ours. However, they can hold their breath underwater up to a maximum of 45 minutes. Still, they need to surface to breathe, unlike fishes.

One day, we came across the nest of stingless bees, which are also known as meliponines. The nest of the stingless bees we saw was probably inside the hollow of the dead tree trunk. What we saw was just the entrance, made of bee wax. There were just a few bees hovering outside the entrance. We expect thousands inside the tree trunk.

Entrance to nest of stingless bees

Some of my friends are rearing stingless bees for honey. They said they bought the nests from contractors, who probably cut the hollow trunk containing the bee nest, precisely similar to the one we saw. Beekeepers normally use a syringe to suck out the honey from the combs. The honey is slightly sourer compared to the honey we purchase in supermarkets, but we know for sure, it's pure. No sugar is added. My friends grew lots of Honolulu creepers and other flowering plants, as the presence of flowers is likely to persuade the bees to stay. Creating a win-win scenario is a must in all endeavours.

We sincerely hope hikers will be more sensitive to the beauty and environment of Tanjung Tuan. Throwing plastic containers and other rubbish indiscreetly certainly doesn't improve the environment. Carrying back our own little litter certainly goes a long way to help in reducing pollution in this great tropical paradise. We ought to satisfy ourselves that we are indeed one step higher up the evolution ladder, compared to the monkeys. Please keep Tanjung Tuan clean.