Although peat swamps are riot the most biologically diverse environments, Tanjunq Puting has a relatively high level of biodiversity reflecting its size, the variety of its habitats and the high Iced of protection it has received during the last 70 years or so.
There are more than 600 types of tree and 200 varieties of orchid. The birdlife is also impressive, with almost 250 species, five of which are endemic to Borneo (found nowhere else) and several others, such as the highly endangered Storm’s stork (Ciconia stormi), which are of conservation importance. There are more than 28 species of large mammal, including nine species of primate (monkeys and apes).
Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)
It is estimated that Tanjung Puting contains more than 4,000 wild orangutans. As uric of the largest remaining populations, iris regarded is critical for the conservation of the species.
However, the orangutans seen most commonly by visitors are the wild-born, excaptives that were rehabilitated and released into the park between 1971 and 1994. Although all have adapted to life in the wild, many of them and their offspring still choose to attend daily feedings. These provide a great opportunity to observe orangutans’ behaviour. Arguably, Tanjung Puting is the best place to see orangutans both wild and ex-captive.
Gibbons (Hylobates agiIis)
Heard more often than seen, gibbons (the lesser apes) are found only in Asia. The species found in Tanjung Puting is the agile gibbon. Its beautiful, haunting song can he heard most mornings at around dawn. The two sexes are similar in size and colour, each weighing approximately six kilograms. Gibbons spend almost all of their lives in the tree tops, eating a variety of fruits, flowers and leaves. They are extremely well adapted to this lifestyle and are amazingly acrobatic, moving rapidly yet gracefully through the trees with a hand-overhand action called brachiating.
Gibbons are strictly territorial and will fight to defend their area. They are monogamous, pairing for life, and live in small family groups. A pair has a new offspring every two to three years, and a typical family group may comprise three or four individuals. All will play some part in singing the dawn chorus.
Proboscis monkeys (Nasalis larvatus)
These monkeys are instantly recognisable by their pot bellies and funny noses, features which earned them the rather unforate nickname “Dutchmen” Proboscis are primarily leaf eaters, and it is this diet that gives rise to their large bellies: leaves are hard to digest, so proboscis have evolved a two-chambered stomach one of which is full of bacteria that helps to ferment and break down cellulose.
Only the males have the extraordinary long, bulbous nose, and they are larger than females, weighing 16-22 kilograms. Females have smaller pointed noses and weigh up to 11 kilograms. Infants are born with blue faces.
Proboscis monkeys live in large groups with one dominant male, although younger males occasionally form smaller “bachelor bands”. They sleep along the edges of rivers, where they can be seen from a boat, and move inland to feed When moving, they will follow the lead of the dominant male and often make spectacular leaps from tree to tree. They can also swim.
Proboscis monkeys are endemic to Borneo but are threatened by habitat loss. Consequently, the large population in Tanjung Puting is one of the most important in the world. Because they do not survive for long in captivity, they are rarely seen in zoos.
Long-tailed (or crab-eating) macaque (Macaca fasicularis)
Long-tailed macaques are highly adaptable. They are omnivorous, extremely hardy and will live in almost any habitat, from coastal forests and mangroves to primary rainforest. They will raid crops and can become pests. As a result of this adaptability, the species is not endangered, despite persecution from humans.
Long-tailed macaques can be dangerous, so never look a macaque in the eye or show your teeth. These signs will be taken as a threat and are likely to provoke an aggressive response.
Long-tailed macaques aggression and reactions to perceived threats are the natural result of their social structure, which is hierarchical and underpinned by dominance and submission. They live in groups which contain both males and females with a dominant male and a female-centred hierarchy.
The status of subordinates, both male and female, is dependent upon their mothers’ position, although males will always dominate females. Males emigrate from group to group, whereas females normally remain in the group into which they are born; in this way they continue the maternal lineages that form the group’s basic social structure.
Female long-tailed macaques reach maturity between the ages of two and a half and four years. They have a single baby every year after a six month pregnancy The infant is born with entirely black hair and will nurse for 12 months.
Unfortunately, the long-tailed macaque, along with the rhesus macaque, is the primate which is most commonly used in biomedical experiments, and Indonesia has exported thousands of these monkeys to foreign laboratories.
Rodents (Order Rodentia)
Worldwide, rodents are the most diverse order of mammals. In Tanjung Puting squirrels, mice, rats and porcupines are all fairly abundant, but only squirrels are commonly seen.
The tiny plain pigmy squirrel (Exilisciurus exilis) is just ten centimetres long and is a rather drab, grey colour. Endemic to Borneo, it eats insects and, possibly, bark, mosses and lichens.
At the other extreme is Prevost’s squirrel (Callosciurus prevostii) which can grow to more than 50 centimetres long from nose to tail and has impressive black, red and white markings.
The plantain squirrel (Callosciurus notatus), the most commonly seen squirrel in Tanjung Puting, is around 40 centimetres long and has grey-brown fur on its back with a distinctive stripe on its side.
Bornean bearded pig (Sus barbatus)
A large, solid wild boar that inhabits much of Borneo, the Bornean bearded pig is frequently encountered by visitors to Tanjung Puting. As well as living off seeds, roots and herbs, it eats fallen fruit, and is often seen foraging below orangutan feeding platforms. Patches of disturbed ground are often an indication that pigs have been rooting.
The Bornean bearded pig can weigh up to 80 kilograms and is a favourite food of the Dayaks. who still hunt them outside the park using dogs, blow pipes and spears.
Other even-toed animals/hoof stock (Order Artiodactyla)
The lesser mouse deer (Tragulus javanicus) is a tiny dainty creature, that stands barely 20 centimetres high and weighs less than two kilograms. It is usually solitary and very shy, which is not surprising as it is probably preyed upon by nearly every predator in the park. Although it has no horns, it has small tusks protruding from its upper jaw. The true deer (Cervidae) has antlers.
The Bornean yellow muntjac. or barking deer (Muntiacus atherodes), is similar to the muntjac deer that has established itself in southern England, having escaped from a private park more than 100 years ago. These deer have a surprisingly loud bark, a sound that startles many visitors. The sambar deer (Cervus unicolor. known locally as rusa) is active mainly at night. Its tendency to raid crops means that it can become a pest to local farmers.
Another hoofed mammal, the banteng (Bos javanicus), is presumed by conservationists to be extinct in Tanjung Puting. a victim of over-hunting.
Monitor lizard (or water monitor, Varanus salvator)
A close relation of the Komodo dragon, the world’s largest lizard, the monitor is a stout creature, brightly coloured when young, but turning a drab,. mottled colour when older. Monitors are active mainly during the day, mostly foraging near water. They are carnivorous, but could never be described as fussy eaters, taking anything from small mammals to insects, birds’ eggs and carrion. They are frequently seen swimming across rivers.
There are two species of crocodile found in Tanjung Puting. The saltwater, or estuarine crocodile (Crocodyius porosus), is the world’s largest. Its range extends from northern Australia to mainland Asia, India and into the Pacific. It is aggressive and extremely dangerous. There is nothing an adult saltwater crocodile will not consider prey. Its presence in the park’s rivers makes swimming inadvisable.
Of rather more scientific interest is the lesser known Malaysian false gharial (Tomistoma schlegelii). This crocodile is instantly recognisable by its slender snout – an adaptation for catching fish, its main prey. Larger Tomistoma can reach lengths of more than five metres and will take swimming monkeys. However, individuals of that size are rarely seen.
Globally the false gharial is considered critically endangered. It has fallen victim to habitat disturbance and indiscriminate hunting, even though its hide does not make good leather. Because numbers are declining in other areas, the population in Tanjung Puting is important to the survival of the species.
Kingfishers (Family Alcedlnidae)
These striking birds are all brightly coloured. The species seen most frequently in the park is the stork-billed kingfisher (Pelargopsis capensis), which is distinguished by its heavy red bill.
The blue-eared (Alcedo meninting), ruddy (Halcyon coromanda), and collared (Todirhamphus sanctus) kingfishers are also found in Tanjung Puting. The last. which is sometimes referred to as the white-collared kingfisher, is a resident of coastal forests. Despite their name, kingfishers are as likely to eat small reptiles as they are fish.
Hornbills (Family Bucerotidae)
Hornbills are some of the park’s most distinctive inhabitants. They are large birds, distinguished by their casque (the protrusion above its bill that gives the bird its name) as well as their flat flying posture, audible wing beats and harsh song. No hornbill has a pleasant song and most make a raucous honking or cackling sound.
Hornbills feed on fruit and insects and have interesting nesting behaviour: a male will block a female into a hole in a tree, leaving only a small aperture through which she can receive food, which the male dutifully brings.
The most commonly seen species is the oriental pied hornbill (Anrhracoceros albirostris), which may be seen in pairs or small flocks. Lucky visitors may also spot the Asian black (A. malayanus) or the beautiful rhinoceros hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros). The latter’s size and red-orange bill and casque make it a particularly impressive bird.
Dayaks traditionally consider hornbills to be messengers that bring omens from the gods. They imitate the birds in dances and used the casque as a decoration or ornament.