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When the elephant charges, don't run straight.

Summer Vacation 2008 - Danum Valley Conservation Area Day 3

overcast 32 °C

It's always reassuring to be told what to do when an animal charges but the thought of actually having to do it is another thing. These words let to Court and I sharing an “What the..?” look as we were all standing silently in the rainforest as our guide was off smelling for elephant urine. Yes, that did happen. But let me tell you about the other stuff first.

Last night, the option was put to the other guy in our group; two short activities, the first one at 06:00, or one longer activity leaving after breakfast at 07:30. Court and I were both happy that he choose the latter option. We didn't want to get up for 06:00 again. We got the wake up call and made our way to breakfast. The other guy in our group was already there. He was actually warned last night that if he didn't eat breakfast he wasn't going to be allowed to go on the hike. He made sure he was there for breakfast.

We set off on another previously unexplored trail. Well, unexplored by us. About 30 minutes into the hike Court started to get worried about the other guy in our group, too. I think he wiped out on a trail at some point. The hike was good until we finished the first short trail and moved on to the next one.

As we started the next trail Leo, our guide, stopped suddenly. Almost as an afterthought, he said, “Oh, at our briefing last night, one of the guides said he saw a lone elephant out here.” We weren't sure what that meant until he continued and said, “lone elephants are more aggressive because they feel safer in a herd.” That made sense then. Then he told us the infamous words, “So, when the elephant charges, don't run straight. Run in zig zags.” Um, ok sure. At this point I remember the old joke. “I don't have to outrun the elephant. I just have to outrun everyone else.” But, instead of going with that, I told Leo we'd all follow him.

After the briefing we set out on the trail, with ears peeled for elephant trumpets or a rogue elephant stampeding throughout the forest. When all of a sudden Leo stopped because he could smell the elephant urine. This is where we shared the “What the..?" look. Or, more appropriately, “What are we going to do with the other guy in our group if this elephant does, in fact, charge us?” Leo didn't seem too worried, so we kept going. We successfully made it to the end of the trail without seeing or being charged by the elephant. However, because we were so focused on the elephant, we didn't see many other animals. It was a more tense and stressful walk than expected, but still excellent.

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After we finished that path, we stopped to rest and collect ourselves. Then, went on the canopy walk again. Court found some mystery bird in a tree. We could only see parts of it, a bit of the tail, the top of its head. It was kind of difficult to figure out what bird it was from the piecemeal description. But Leo, with some help of other guides, figured it out. She also spotted this bird on the walkway wire.

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After the canopy, it was back to the lodge. As we were traveling on the road back to the lodge, we saw some maroon langurs up above us. We had to traipse through the forest to get a good look at them. But, we found them.

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The other guy in our group was leaving soon after our return to the lodge, and he had to pack and do all that stuff. We rested in the restaurant and had a short little coffee/tea break. We were sitting at a table relaxing when we heard this loud, THUMP. We looked over on the floor and saw a gecko lying there kind of stunned. He had fallen from the ceiling, which would be a good 7m up. It eventually scuttled off after learning its lesson. We had learned a lesson as well: it was possible for geckos to fall into our plates while eating, as we had pondered in past trips.

After this rest we went back to our lodge and took another rest. It was turning out to be a tough day. Once we both woke up it was time for lunch. After lunch we took another rest. Wow, it was a really tough day. Then we met with Leo again for an afternoon hike.

We started out to do a couple of trails and end up at the canopy walkway again. This was turning out to be our favourite “trail”. Leo said it should take 1 to 1.5 hours to do the total hike. But it took us closer to 3 hours. We always find stuff to look at and he always finds random things for us to see.

On this hike we ran into some orangutan researchers who had spotted a male orangutan up in a tree. He was really difficult to see. All you could make out was his arm. He was sitting behind some ferns holding on to a branch above him.

We also saw this little insect. It's called a mobile fungus insect. The insect stays still long enough for fungus to grow on its back. This will hopefully protect it from birds and other predators.

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We finished the trail and ended up back at the canopy walkway. While we were taking a rest Court saw this butterfly on the ground. She crouched down next to it and started to take some pictures. Next thing she knew the butterfly flew up and landed on her knee. What a perfect spot to photograph a butterfly. It turns out that the butterfly was hurt. There was a small hole in one of its wings.

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We went back over the canopy walkway. This time we didn't see a whole lot of stuff, but we did enjoy the fantastic view.

These are some shots of and from the canopy walkway.

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We stopped at one tree to check out the termites again. Today they were under attack from some ants. The ants were trying to break through the line of soldier termites and take the food that the workers were carrying. The ants are bigger, faster, and stronger than the termites but the termites vastly outnumber the ants. An ant would run up and try to test the line and about 5 termites would charge and jab it, forcing it back. The ants continued to test the termites' defensive line for weaknesses. One time an ant did get through the line but it got swarmed by a whole lot of termites. It didn't stay in there very long. Court liked that on one part where the bark was raised out a bit, like a ridge, there were tonnes of termites waiting there. She kept calling it Vimy ridge and saying the ants will never take Vimy.

We got back to the main road and started our way back to the the lodge when we heard a crashing in the bushes to our left. It turns out there was a sambar deer there. We managed to be quiet enough not to scare it away.

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As we were watching the deer, we saw another group of people behind us looking at something. Leo started to gesture to the other guide to find out what they were looking at. Leo asked us if it was a red leaf monkey, if we wanted to go back. We said we were ok. But then Leo said it's a snake. We took off to make sure we saw it before it slithered away.

It was a Sumatran pit viper. Highly venomous. When we got to the snake Leo's first comment was that it was in the “ready to strike” position, and that we should stay far back. That was no problem for me. I didn't want to get bitten by it. While we were first watching it it opened its mouth to bare its fangs. That was enough of a warning for me.

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We watched the snake for quite a while then went back for dinner. Dinner was outstanding again. Court was happy the coconut pudding made a comeback.

After dinner, it was time for another a night drive. All the birders went in a different truck than us. We were in with a European couple and a British family. The British family was the one with “chatty Cathy” as Court described her. She was an 8 or 9 year old girl who just kept gabbing away at meals. She seemed nice enough, but she just kept on talking and talking and talking and talking. And, of course, she was on our truck. She managed to keep quiet for a little bit of the drive. But not much. Oh well. The sound of the truck would scare animals off quicker than her voice.

For the amount of animals that we saw, the night drive was successful. Right near the start of the drive a flying lemur “flew” directly overhead of us. It was so close, our driver was worried about it landing on us. We also saw some sleeping birds, sleeping maroon langurs, a common palm civet, a lesser mouse deer and a flying squirrel.

We got back to our lodge around 10 and we were out cold by about 10:15. We have one more day left in the Danum Valley Conservation Area.

Posted by agc_cwm 07:36 Archived in Malaysia

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