A Day Trip To Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, Borneo
It’s quite possible that you’ve never heard of the proboscis monkey by name. However, you may have seen a photo or video of this unique orange monkey without being consciously aware of what they are called. The proboscis is quite a famous animal in the monkey world due to a couple of – ahem – prominent features.
No visit to the Sabah region of Borneo would be complete without seeing as much of the native wildlife as you can. From orangutan and the sun bear to the pygmy elephant there are many endemic species in Borneo that make it a nature lover’s dream destination.
Before visiting Borneo I didn’t know a thing about the proboscis monkey. I was staying in Sandakan and learned about a local sanctuary where these endangered primates were being rehabilitated after their habitat was largely destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations.
The day trip turned out to be one of my most enjoyable experiences in Borneo, plus the photos that I got are simply too good not to share!
Proboscis Monkey Facts
“The proboscis monkey or long-nosed monkey, known as the bekantan in Indonesia, is a reddish-brown arboreal Old World monkey with an unusually large nose. It is endemic to the southeast Asian island of Borneo.” (Source).
They live in harem groups with one dominant male and roughly six or seven females. Scientists believe that this big nose monkey uses its nose to attract a mate. The male’s pendulous nose amplifies their call, warning off rivals and attracting females. The harems can merge to form a larger band and they can co-exist in relative harmony. Once male proboscis monkeys reach adulthood they leave the harem and form a bachelor squad with other males.
They are one of the largest of Asia’s monkeys and an adult male can weigh up to 50lbs / 23kg.
They are arboreal, which means they spend most of their time in the trees and only rarely spend time on land when searching for food. The proboscis monkey habitat is the coastal mangroves, forests and swamps of Borneo. (Source).
Why Is The Proboscis Monkey Endangered?
Sadly, deforestation of their habitat to make way for palm oil plantations, timber and settlements has seen the proboscis monkey population decline rapidly and they are now an endangered species. They were also hunted for food and for traditional Chinese medicine. The population has decreased by roughly 50% over the last 40 years until the proboscis monkey was put on protected lists in every state of Borneo by the Malaysian Government in 2008.
Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary
Labuk Bay in Sabah is one of the best places to see wild proboscis monkeys in Borneo.
The 400 acre area was earmarked for a palm oil plantation and deforestation began in the early 1990s to destroy the mangrove swamp and forest to make way for palm oil tree planting.
The resident proboscis monkey population found their habitat being reduced and their food source of fruit and leaves disappearing from around them. Starving and desperate, they began foraging for food around the logger’s settlement and some of the men working on the logging shot and killed several monkeys to discourage them.
The landowner did not realise that there were proboscis monkeys living here. When he learned that his employees where shooting them and their actions were reducing the monkey’s habitat and forcing them into extinction he halted progress on the plantation and turned his land into a sanctuary for the proboscis monkey.
Because their food source had been greatly diminished, the sanctuary supplements the monkey’s diet with additional fruit and leaves to help with their re-population.
Seeing Wild Proboscis Monkey
I’m a huge animal lover and I couldn’t spend time in Borneo without coming to see these incredible and unique primates. I knew I was going to enjoy the monkey sanctuary and it didn’t disappoint.
The employees at the sanctuary carried out armfuls of fruit for the proboscis monkey and set this onto feeding platforms at a distance from the viewing area where I stood. It was a waiting game to see whether any monkeys would turn up as there is no guarantee they will show because they are wild creatures and not caged or trained in anyway.
It was a very similar experience to when I visited the Sepilok Oranguatan Sanctuary in Borneo and witnessed feeding of the orangutans. A hushed silence hung over the crowd of people as they waited to see whether we would be blessed by monkey sightings. This soon turns to a tremor of excitement as soon as the first ones are spotted.
I was blessed that day as I reckon there must have been at least 40 proboscis monkeys in the area. They leaped and swooped from branch to branch, chattering and filling the air with vibrant colours and commotion.
Silver Leaf Monkey
In addition to the proboscis monkeys, several incredible silver leaf monkeys also turned to snag a few long green beans from the sanctuary employees. In a way, these silver haired monkeys – that the locals nickname ‘Beckham’ after David Beckham’s Mohican haircut from years ago – stole the show. They were so bold and totally unfazed by the people with cameras standing with their mouths open.
Remarkably, these dark grey monkeys give birth to bright orange babies! I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw these tiny, neon creatures snuggled into their mother’s chests.
I was also treated to a giant Oriental Pie Hornbill that decided to swoop down and check out the action. Again, this is not scripted and the bird can choose to show up. The size of this bird up close was incredible and his colours were so striking in the bright sunshine.
Feeding Times at Labuk Bay
There are two platforms in the sanctuary and they have different feeding times. You can choose to visit both or just one of them if you are short on time.
- Platform A: 09.30 and 14.30 daily
- Platform B: 11.30 and 16.30 daily
I went to the feeding at Platform B in the morning after catching the shuttle bus from Sandakan. I then lingered at Platform B watching a really informative movie about the sanctuary’s history and eating lunch in the cafe. I then went to see the feeding at Platform A at 14.30.
Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary Entrance Fee
The entrance fee to the sanctuary is 57 MYR / $18AU / £10. This price includes two feeding times, so it’s worth going to both if you have the time to spend a few hours there enjoying the monkeys and the forest.
Where Is Labuk Bay?
Labuk Bay is near the village settlement of Samawang Village in Sabah. From Sandakan airport it is 38km. Part of the trip is along gravel plantation roads. To get there, travel along Jalan Labuk and turn off to SPS 3 at the junction between KM 31 & KM 32 (apposite to the Consolidated Farm (Sabah) Sdn. Bhd.) The Sanctuary is located 15km along gravel road from here.
How To Get To Labuk Bay From Sandakan
The journey from Sandakan to Labuk Bay takes over an hour by car. Fortunately, it’s incredibly straightforward to get to the proboscis monkey sanctuary from Sandakan by a shared mini bus service.
Head to the Hotel Sandakan for 09.30 in the morning and wait outside for the mini bus to arrive. Double check with the driver that he is going to where you want him to, of course, but other than that it is very easy!
I was dropped off at the sanctuary – in the middle of the jungle – just in time for the first feeding. My driver, Hadi then came back a little later on in the day to pick me up to drive to the next boardwalk area for the afternoon feeding. You cannot walk between the two areas as the temperatures are too high and there are many wild animals, such as pigs and macaque monkeys roaming freely that might make your walk difficult. After the second feeding, Hadi was waiting to take you back to Sandakan.
My driver, Hadi, was a locally employed freelance driver who takes on jobs such as this shuttle service and also private day tours for international tourists. On the way to the sanctuary there was another couple on board. On the way back to Sandakan Hadi was my private driver, so I asked him whether we could call in to the Australian War Memorial.
The shuttle bus service to Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary from Sandakan and back cost me 38 MYR / $12AU / £7.
For Further Borneo Inspiration
Check out my full guide on planning your visit to Borneo for more ideas of what to do in Borneo. If you’re an animal lover like me, you’ll probably want to take a look at my trip to the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary and wildlife cruise along the Kinabatangan River where I spotted pygmy elephants.
Over to you!
What’s been your favourite animal encounter whilst travelling? Where should I go next to see some beautiful creatures in their natural habitats? Have you ever visited the Labuk Bay Sanctuary – share your experience with me.
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