Tag - Wildlife

Visiting Alaska’s Denali National Park

Denali Nat park, cr-toursaver.com

Denali Nat park, credit-toursaver.com

by  Venice Kichura,

Highlights of a Mount McKinley Visit

When you visit Alaska’s Denali National Park be sure bring your binoculars. You’re sure to find natural wildlife and will want a close-up view from your tour bus.
No visit to Alaska is complete without touring Denali National Park, home to Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America. Here visitors can observe wild animals, such as bears, caribous, wolves, sheep and moose, in their natural habitat while safely riding a tour bus. The six million acres making up the park (about six hours north of Anchorage and two hours south of Fairbanks) comprise an area larger than the state of New Hampshire.

History of Denali

Denali’s history began thousands of years ago, but it was only a hundred years ago that humans began enjoying this natural wildlife refuge. In 1906 Yale graduate easterner, Charles Sheldon, went to hunt Dall sheep for his trophy collection, as well as obtain museum specimens. Bonding with the park, Sheldon returned the following year, along with packer, Harry Karstens, doing further research.

The highest mountain in North American, Denali (formerly Mount. McKinley) stands at 20,320 feet (in the center of Denali National Park) and spans more than 600 miles of the Alaskan range. Although it’s not advisable to climb Denali, some brave souls still attempt it, with a less than a 50% success rate.

Bus Tours

Although you can tour by car on your own, it’s advisable to take advantage of the different bus tours. Depending on how long you want to stay in the park, tours vary in length, some up to nine hours. Also, you’re limited if you decide to go on your own, as you can only drive the first 14 miles of the 90-miles offered from a bus tour.

Denali’s Wildlife

One of the highlights of visiting Denali is spotting wildlife. You never know when bears, moose, caribou or other park animals will appear. Because most of the wildlife is seen in the distance, be sure to bring your binoculars for a close-up view. What appears as tiny white pebbles to the naked eye could be a clan of dall sheep. Some of the wildlife visible in the spring, summer, and winter include…

  • Bears — Tourists are warned there’s always the possibility of a encountering a bear. However, by taking precautions you can reduce your odds of meeting one. If you stay in groups of five or more (such as a Denali tour), the bears will, most likely, stay away. Make plenty of noise. When you let the bears know you’re coming, they’ll scat (unless they smell food.) Most importantly, never bring food with you and be sure to clean up any garbage, as this is a calling card for bears.
  • Caribou – Caribou travel in groups and it’s quite common to see a pack of twenty or more grazing together.
  • Dall sheep – Sheep also travel as a pack. They can be found resting on the ridges, while chances they’re usually hiding from predators on the high rocks and crags.
  • Moose – Although moose aren’t as terrifying as bears, don’t get too close to a mother moose because she can be overprotective of her babies.

Vegetation at Denali

Denali has a short growing season of no more than 100 days, with acidic soils.

  • The taiga – It’s here in the northern forest, known as the taiga, where plants, fungi, and animals are linked ecologically.
  • The tundra – Denali’s tundra is treeless, displaying rainbow of colors and textures.

Finally, be warned it’s difficult to get a clear view of Mount McKinley because clouds usually hide the summit most of the year. If you get frustrated, realize your odds are only one out of three you’ll be able to see the top.

Get To Know Borneo’s Indigenous Population

borneo, Credit- minnpost.com

borneo, Credit- minnpost.com

Exploring Malaysia’s Tribal Traditions In Sarawak’s Cultural Village

Sarawak’s Cultural village provides an excellent opportunity to learn a little about Borneo’s rich cultural diversity and many tribal traditions.Many guides describe the Cultural Village as ‘a living museum,’ a term which can seem slightly misleading at first. There are no permanent inhabitants of the village; instead, tribes-people are paid to greet guests and demonstrate cultural dances and skills in the excellent recreations of their traditional houses, purpose-built on site.

At 60 Ringgit per adult for entry, it is not one of the cheapest attractions on offer in and around Kuching; in fact, it is probably one of the most expensive. However, as it is situated several miles out of town, a shuttle bus can easily be arranged to transport tourists to and from Kuching, for a minimal extra cost. It is also the site of Sarawak’s famous annual Rainforest Music festival.

Sarawak Has a Diverse Population

Sarawak’s population is perhaps one of the most eclectic and diverse of all the Malaysian states. It may come as a surprise to learn that ethnic Malays are not the majority in this state, with the Iban making up almost one third of the state’s population and the Chinese making up another third. Other tribal or ethnic groups represented at the Cultural Village are the Bidayuh people, the nomadic Penan tribe, Orang Ulu, (or river-dwellers,) and the Melanau people, who traditionally live in ‘tall’ houses built several meters off the ground. In total, there are seven different houses to visit, all of which can be read about and recorded in the ‘passport’ supplied on entry.

An Iban Longhouse

While in Malaysian Borneo or Brunei, it is very easy to arrange a trip to see a ‘real’ longhouse, one that is actually a home for several families. However, the cultural village models allow visitors to see what a longhouse might have looked like before the advent of electricity and other modern luxuries, as well as the chance to see traditional crafts such as cooking and weaving on display. There are plenty of photo opportunities and the tribal hosts are very obliging when it comes to answering questions and explaining their customs. There are also some ‘genuine’ shrunken human heads on display inside the longhouse, not for the faint hearted!

Blowpipes, Sword-making and Cultural Dances

Many traditional crafts and practices are also on display in the Cultural Village, some of which can even be tried out by tourists as they walk around. A sword-making area is on display next to the Orang Ulu longhouse, and a Sago processing hut can be viewed behind the Melanau Tall House. Visitors to the Penan temporary shelter, (temporary due to the nomadic nature of the Penan people,) can even try their hand at using a blowpipe, traditionally used to hunt animals. An excellent way to finish the day is by visiting one of twice daily performances situated in the on-site theatre, all included in the ticket price. Some elements of this are a little on the touristy side, but on the whole, the show is great family entertainment, made even more interesting by the anecdotal explanations behind each dance noted in the village ‘passport.’

Spotting Proboscis Monkeys In Borneo

Proboscis Monkeys, cr-adventures.com.sg

Proboscis Monkeys, cr-adventures.com.sg

Macaques, Monitor Lizards And More in The Brunei Rainforest

Spot some of this threatened species and other wildlife unique to the island of Borneo in the quiet sultanate of Brunei. Proboscis monkeys are rarely described as beautiful. Their prominent, pendulous noses distinguish them from other types of monkeys, and they are often overlooked by visitors to Borneo in favour of their more famous and more attractive relations, the orang-utan.

In fact, the country and city where there is the most chance of spotting these distinctive creatures, Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei, is also often overlooked by tourists, as most visitors to Borneo hurry eastwards towards the Malaysian state of Sabah, in search of more well-known animal inhabitants of Borneo, Pygmy Elephants and Orang-utans.

Brunei – Home Of The Proboscis Monkey.

This slightly unusual looking primate is endemic to the banks of the Brunei River that snakes lazily through Brunei’s capital city, and is one of Borneo’s many wildlife treats that should not be overlooked. It is not widely known that Brunei has the world’s largest population of Proboscis monkeys and an easy and cheap way to spot these delightful creatures is by taking an early evening boat ride down the Brunei River.

Brunei is a tiny country, so it does not take more than a couple of days to check out the sights that Bandar Seri Begawan has to offer. In the centre of town, book one of the local boatmen to take the trip downriver, as this will be much cheaper than trying to organize a similar trip through a tourist agency. It is easy and quick to organize, and the trip should not come to much more than 10 Brunei dollars per person, (around 7 or 8 USD.)

Kampong Ayer – Brunei’s Water Village

Boats will usually set off from the centre of town, opposite Yayasan Shopping Centre and close to the impressive Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque that dominates Bandar Seri Begawan’s tiny city centre. The trip always includes a brief tour around Kampong Ayer, Brunei’s famous water village, and can sometimes include a look inside one of the village’s typical houses as well, upon request.

The water village itself is a maze of wooden boards and seemingly ramshackle houses, a surprising number of which boast satellite dishes attached to the outside and other evidence of all the mod-cons not usually associated with a water village. The village also has all their own amenities such as several schools, a fire station – manned of course by boats, a police station and restaurants.

Wildlife Spotting On The Brunei River

After the tour around the water village, the boat will head south in the direction of the Malaysian border, past the Sultan’s place and into the thick mangrove tree-lined river that a large number of Proboscis monkeys call their home.

The boat drivers are well trained to spot any animal movement in the trees or pick out even the smallest glimpse of scales resting on the river banks – crocodiles, monitor lizards and snakes can all be spotted easily along the river as well. The engine goes quiet, and the boat driver guides the boat silently into a nook hidden between the mangrove trees until some tell-tale rustling leaves give away a hiding place.

Although animal sighting cannot be guaranteed on most wildlife spotting tours, it is extremely likely that proboscis and macaque monkeys will be spotted along the river banks, and more often than not, a large monitor lizard will be pointed out perched ominously over the roof of the boat on a low hanging branch.

An easy and affordable way to spot some of Borneo’s wildlife away from the large tourist crowds.

Spotting Irrawaddy Dolphins In Northern Cambodia


mekong river  dolphins

Wildlife Spotting on the Mekong River

The Mekong river town of Kratie’s claim to fame is that it is one of the prime locations for spotting the elusive Irrawaddy dolphins in their natural habitat. Most visitors come to Kratie with this in mind, or simply use it as a convenient, and much needed, respite on the way to Laos after six to eight hours bumping along the ramshackle roads of Cambodia’s Northern provinces. Whatever the motive, it is certainly worth spending a morning cruising the Mekong in Kratie and trying to spot these peaceful creatures as they go along their journey.

Kratie on the Mekong River

Kratie itself was a bit of a surprise; the town was not geared up for tourists at all. After the energy, noise, and pace of Phnom Penn that morning, it was a very strange feeling when the bus rolled to a stop in the late afternoon sun and there was not the instant clamour of indecipherable voices all vying for attention. The lack of attention was actually quite pleasant.

The other surprise was when it started raining less than thirty seconds after getting off the bus and there were not a single tuk tuk driver in sight offering any shelter. Not even one appeared. As it turns out, there are only three tuk tuks in Kratie, one of which was handily present the next day to go to the launch point for dolphin spotting.

Bright and early the next morning, our driver appeared, proudly relating the fact that he had only had his tuk tuk for two weeks. It felt a little bit like being a minor celebrity as the tuk tuk rattled through the tiny towns and local residents came out of their houses to cheer their, ‘local boy made good,’ on his way. Fifteen minutes out of town, the tuk tuk came to a stop at a makeshift hut perched on the riverbank, and our party motored off up river in search of Flipper.

Wildlife Spotting, The Environmentally Friendly Way

After about forty minutes, the boat cruised gently to a halt, turned the engine off, and came to rest. It was reassuring to see that, even in it’s rather under developed role as a tourist town, the World Wildlife Fund has issued strict guidelines in conjunction with local police that included restrictions on the proximity that the boats were allowed to get to the dolphins seasonal habitat.

There were also fixed entrance fees to regulate the fledgling industry and deter locals from all trying to get a piece of the action. The boat rocked gently in the early morning heat as the driver patiently tried to spot a break in the water for his party.

The Elusive Irrawaddy Dolphin

It wasn’t a long wait. The faint, gentle sound of something breaking the water about twenty meters in front of our boat disturbed the peaceful atmosphere, as a nose and puff of air broke the surface and disappeared from view, almost as quickly as it had appeared. No sooner had this first sighting returned beneath the water, a second nose appeared less than fifteen metres to our right. After about forty minutes of watching the water break and catching intermittent glimpses of noses and tails, the surface of the water eventually became smooth again, with only the occasional ripple still to be seen, and the number of boats began to increase. The driver started the engine and made its leisurely way back to the river bank and town, a rare treat to have been invited into the home of these sedate creatures for a short time and spend a peaceful morning on this gentle section of the mighty Mekong.

How to Survive a Night in the Malaysian Jungle

“Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh-my!”

Malaysian jungle

Malaysian jungle

 The famous quote from The Wizard of Oz isn’t as far-fetched as you may think. In fact, the Malaysian jungle is a host to some of the Earth’s most feared species. With Malayan tigers, black leopards, and an array of snakes, an evening in Taman Negara National Park is not to be undertaken without caution.

As you enter one of the world’s oldest and best preserved tropical rainforests by motorized banana boat, a daunting abyss of flora and fauna awaits. Many travelers descend upon the six-hour trail that winds through the jungle’s most favored sites, including the longest suspended canopy walk on earth. For those unnerved by lurking dangers, the real adventure begins after dark.

If you’re considering spending a night in the jungle, there are a few things you should know.

The first question to address: where will I sleep? Located on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, Taman Negara is a protected National Park. Because of this, travelers are required to register with park rangers upon arrival. During registration, you can sign up for a bed in one of the jungle’s six hides. A hide is a fancy term for a jungle hut. These wooden huts are built above natural salt-licks, where animals journey to feast at night. The hide’s most essential feature is an open panoramic window with a bench below it, providing a wide view of the feeding ground. The huts sit on stilt-like planks of wood, to help avoid any unfortunate encounters with one of the jungle’s hungry cats.

Don’t get excited at the thought of having an inviting bed to sleep in. By bed, the park rangers are referring to a 5×3 foot space on the hard wooden floor. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ll find yourself in a hide with wooden bunks. Be sure to bring your own sleeping bag or blanket, as nothing is provided.

As far as powder rooms go, look forward to the old “dig and crouch” method, and be sure not to hold it in for very long unless you’re there to mingle with the wildlife. Some luxury hides may boast an ancient, often clogged, and always rusting toilet, so it can be safer to just step into the wild.

Now that you know what you’re in for – if you’re still willing to spend a night in the jungle – the journey to your hide begins.

Be sure to procure a map or a clear description of the route from the rangers. Based on your chosen hide and availability, the average hike to your new jungle dwelling can take anywhere from three to eight hours. Remember, you’re leaving the beaten path and advancing to the heart of the jungle.

The hike is a feat of its own. Taman Negara is anything but flat, and most travelers will find themselves climbing steep mountains one moment, then descending long stretches of slick, marshy earth the next.

Fact: you will get dirty.

The jungle contains so many micro-climates that it’s often hard to properly prepare. Wear clothing that you won’t be upset to part with upon your return to the real world. Light layers are beneficial. You’ll tiptoe across thin logs sprawled across rocky creeks, trapeze over mud-clogged swamps, and skid down sunburnt inclines.

As you make your way to the hide you will witness some of the world’s oldest and grandest foliage and you’ll bump into Malaysia’s many species of monkeys. Another much smaller creature you’ll encounter is less favored and often forgotten: the leech. Unlike the monkeys you’ll spot high in the trees, leeches are not afraid of you, and will be happy to shake hands with your big toe. In fact, they’ll be happy to greet each of your toes, plus your ankles, and sometimes even your lower calves. Wear protective footwear and check your shoes at each water break, because these little suckers (literally) will wriggle their way right through your sneakers.

After emerging through the bush and spotting the hide, a sigh of relief washes over – you’ve made it. Propane burners and cookers are banned in the National Park, so ready made food is a must. Unfortunately the height of the hide doesn’t protect you from all creatures in the Malaysian jungle, as many are great climbers. The last thing you want are strong-jawed fury friends snooping around your hide after dozing off, so wrap your remains and store far from your sleeping area.

As the sun sets, the noise of the living, breathing jungle is unnerving, as you wait for the creatures of the night to slowly emerge. When the sun disappears, your flashlight becomes your new best friend. Get well acquainted, because you’ll be cuddling with it later. From your perch in the hide, you’ll scan the trees and the ground below, and as luck may have it, you’ll spot an animal. Deer, slow lorries, and leopard cats are commonly spotted in Taman Negara, as well as a few slithering pythons. If you’re lucky (or unlucky?) you may even spot a tiger or a jaguar. If you can stay awake, spying can continue well into the morning hours. Often, sleep overcomes you.

Lying on your stretch of hardwood, the heat of the jungle on your face and the alarming sounds of the wild creeping in, you’ll wish you were able to close that panoramic window you once enjoyed. You’ll convince yourself that the scratching sounds on the side and floor of your hide are real. And is there really something crawling over your legs? You’ll turn on your torch just to check, and you’ll see that they are real, and there is something moving near your foot. With rats doing acrobatics along the windowsill, and giant spiders making nests in the corner near your face, reality sets in.

And then it happens. Your flashlight dies.

As the scratching continues, you wish you never turned it on in the first place, and pray that a tiger doesn’t jump through the window. With your imagination racing and your now fully covered body sweating and convulsing in your sleeping bag, the hours tick by. Finally, at the first sign of sunlight, after about 45 minutes of sleep and a full bladder, you’re ready to start the trek back to civilization.

Through the swamp, up the mountains, over the creeks, down the dusty slides, with leeches in tow. As you fearfully glance over your shoulder for signs of last night’s wildlife, the magic path comes into view. Your exit to the other – safer – side of the river. You’ve done it. You’ve really done it! Give yourself a pat on the back; you’ve just survived a night in the Malaysian jungle.

So, the question is – do you dare?