Hidden gems of Sarawak: Maludam National Park a treasure trove of rare flora and fauna

Maludam National Park is home to one of the rarest primates in the world - the red banded langur. Photo courtesy of Sarawak Forestry Corporation.

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By Nancy Nais

MALUDAM, Oct 14: Need a short getaway from the bustling city to a tranquil location filled with the sounds of birds and perhaps getting lucky and spotting the world’s most beautiful red banded langur?

If you are willing to try your luck, then pack your bags and head to Maludam National Park in Betong division.


Home to one of the rarest primates in the world, the park is the habitat of the red banded langur, which is endemic only to Borneo and rated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Who knows, you may also spot one of only about five viable populations of proboscis monkeys as well.

A proboscis monkey in Maludam National Park.

Maludam National Park is the largest single patch of peat swamp forest in Sarawak, covering a total 53,568 hectares.

It is probably the least known in Sarawak as compared to the other national parks, perhaps due to the fact that it is located entirely on a low-lying, flat peat swamp forest.

However, unlike the other national parks in the state, this place is extraordinarily unique because it is home to the only known population of the red banded langur, estimated at less than 400, based on a survey done in 2006.

There is also a significant population of silvered langur and long tailed macaque in this park.

Although the diversity of other mammals is low, there are numerous birds in the park, including black, oriental pied and rhinocerous hornbills, blue-eared and stork-billed kingfishers, green imperial pigeon, slender-billed crow, greater racket-tailed drongo and occasionally the rare storm stork.

The mission begins

DayakDaily was recently given the opportunity to visit the park and go on a boat tour cruise which encircled the peat swamp forest with three Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) wildlife officers Mislan Samilan, Syed Muhd Khairul Wan Omar and Afif Ikhwan Bustaipo.

Maludam National Park rangers (from left) Afif Ikhwan Bustaipo, Mislan Samilan and Syed Muhd Khairul Wan Omar.

We began our ‘search mission’ where Mislan and Afif picked me up from Maludam Hotel located in the quaint small Maludam bazaar.

After a short three minute drive, we reached an Iban village with two longhouses — Rh Titi and Rh Tuntun — where Afif parked his vehicle at the side of the jetty. From here, we had to take a compulsory boat ride to reach the park office.

The starting point involves taking a boat from the village jetty for anyone who wishes to visit Maludam National Park.

The five minute boat ride gave me the chance to admire the tranquility of the protected peat swamp area and imagine the excitement of spotting a red banded langur as Mislan explained the behavior of the beautiful primate.

Sensing my joy while at the same time not wanting me to feel disappointed, Mislan forewarned that this striking orange furred and blue faced monkey is under threat, so sightings are by no means guaranteed.

I swallowed my excitement and gave him a grin while flashing a thumbs-up.

On arrival at the park jetty, Syed greeted me with a wide smile while he prepared an extra life jacket, paddlers, parang and water bottles, as well as other items needed for the four of us to enter further into the peat swamp.

As we cruised upstream, at many points, we came across huge, overgrown, sharp wild pandan leaves and tree branches right across the narrow river, which Afif diligently cleared away.

Maludam National Park ranger Afif Ikhwan Bustaipo chopping tree branches blocking the narrow river.

My advice here is to use a large hat and long sleeved shirt to avoid your face and arms being cut by these thorny plants.

About 10 minutes into the boat ride, Afif suddenly pointed up and almost immediately, we caught sight of a huge proboscis monkey staring down at us.

For a few seconds, it sat on the branch looking at us while I was fumbling for my camera in order to capture a video and by the time I was ready, it had disappeared deeper into the foliage.

Apparently there are a lot more of the large-nosed primates, as Mislan said the proboscis monkeys often visited them near the park office in a huge group, swinging from tree to tree or just simply sitting and and gazing at them from the safety of the treetops, so it is probably the most exciting place to watch these unique animals.

It wasn’t long before we reached the first rest hut named ‘Langur 1’ with benches where visitors can sit and watch birds fly by. We saw quite a few species of birds but no more monkeys.

At that point, I suddenly thought of kayaking where we could stealthily paddle up to the unwary proboscis who would be feasting on the fruits of the mangrove trees on the edge of the river or even set up camp for a night in the hut.

The rest hut ‘Langur 1’ where visitors can rest and watch the wildlife at Maludam National Park.

Sensing my adventurous mind, all three hosts said they wouldn’t be able to accommodate my wishes, as the swamps in Maludam National Park is also well known for its population of crocodiles, which was why warning signboards were placed in several locations around the park, including the jetty.

Although we did not spot any reptilians, the image of one lurking somewhere below the dark waters quickly made me change my mind.

At the end of the tour, I unfortunately came back empty-handed, with no red banded langurs spotted.

So do not come to Maludam just for the elusive monkey, or else you might find yourself leaving disappointed. Visit it for the park’s flora and fauna; the culture of its traditional villages, open air cafes and local food outlets.

Although Maludam National Park is not a place for either hiking or waterfall hunting, it is surely a serene and calming plce to relax the mind and soul.

Mislan also described Maludam National Park as a treasure trove of valuable natural resources that should be preserved for future generations.

The writer taking a boat ride in Maludam National Park, the largest single patch of peat swamp forest in Sarawak.

“Visitors can see for themselves the abundance of nature’s beauty, flora and fauna that are rarely found in other areas.

“The park itself can be beneficial to locals, especially to help boost and increase the community’s income through tourism activities such as tourist boat operators, homestays and small traders promoting local community products,” he said.

 

Getting to Maludam National Park

Maludam is a small coastal village about 170km away from Kuching city.

The park was gazetted on May 31, 2000 and it is located between Sri Aman and Betong divisions.

An aerial view of Maludam National Park office and its surrounding peat swamp forest. Photo courtesy of Sarawak Forestry Corporation.

To get there from Kuching, visitors can drive through Samarahan before crossing the 774m long Batang Samarahan bridge to Asajaya, Sadong Jaya and Sebuyau, followed by a ferry ride to cross the mighty Batang Lupar river before reaching Kampung Maludam.

However, the whole journey may take slightly longer depending on the number of vehicles waiting to cross Batang Lupar river as the queue to enter the ferry may take up to 45 minutes or more.

As this is also the longest ferry route in Sarawak, once inside, the ride may take about 30 minutes so you might as well enjoy the beautiful scenery as the ferry takes you across.

On another note, overnight visitors can stay at Maludam Hotel as Maludam National Park does not have visitor accommodations.

Meanwhile, local entrepreneur Kiing Sie Kai who kindly took the DayakDaily D’Drift team around Maludam village is hopeful that one day, the state government or SFC will consider developing Maludam National Park and its surrounding places of interest.

At the moment, visitors who happen to be in the area and want to visit the park will have to rent a boat from local villagers just to source for information.

“There is no road access to the national park so visitors have to pay quite a hefty fee of about RM200 per boat. Then you may have visitors who only wish to walk around the park building area to see flora and fauna, but there are no wooden walkways for them to do so.

“We need to have an information centre in Maludam bazaar as well. The Tourism Ministry and Sarawak Tourism Board can help with placing the latest brochures so we can inform visitors better about the attractions in the area.

“There are many other things to see and do in Maludam. In fact, we used to have quite a few homestays around here, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many have closed down,” Kiing said.

Now that there is a new hotel and several food outlets, he hope the authorities will do something to encourage more visitors to see the many rare sights that Maludam has to offer. — DayakDaily

The writer poses for a photo with SFC wildlife officer Mislan Samilan at Maludam National Park