Searching for elephants, Sunday 26th June 2011

We are now motoring away from what could have been the experience of a lifetime. Yesterday my family and I had the chance to see the native Pygmy elephants of the Kinabatangan river in the wild. When in Sandakan, we heard about the incredible wildlife up the Kinabatangan river we wanted to investigate and look up on this specific subject. Many book stores later my mum discovered the Sabah colour guide for the Kinabatangan river by Wendy Hutton. After reading a few pages we got reeled in like a fish on a line and a few hours later it was decided we were going up the 560km long Kinabatangan river.

We arrived at the river entrance at 11:00am and then did another 30 mile up to a straight piece of the river and decided to anchor for the night. In the evening we went over to Unicorn and enjoyed a large meal made by Dion’s Thai wife Yui. The meal went past 8:00 and well into the night and by the time we got home it was already 10:30 well past Finn’s bedtime. In the morning we were woken up by the noises of passing fishing boats.

When we had finished breakfast we pulled up the anchor and went another 5 mile to a small village called Sukau. We then decided to have a look in the village, we went in the dinghy and tied it on to a wharf which seriously needed maintenance. We then went to look in the village and soon spotted a school and a shut down information centre. When we walked a bit further on we spotted a lady that sold prawns or also known as udang gala so we bought a kilo of prawns which mum and dad ate for lunch.

After lunch we went up the river to see if there was a restaurant for dinner or if there was a tour to see the elephants. After that plan failing and the guides wanted 60 RM per person including for children. So we just putted home. On the way we spotted Dion talking to a man about the elephants and about a night tour. The man said that if we wanted to see the elephants he said not to worry about a guide and to just go to the mud bank 300 metres up the river. So we arranged with him to do a night tour at 8:00pm and we then went home to get ready.

We then got a call from a guide that we were talking to earlier saying that the elephants were swimming in a creek heading away from the river so we dumped what we were doing and zoomed up the creek in the dinghy. Unfortunately we did not spot any elephants there and everyone started to get miserable but when we emerged from the creek into the main river we saw heaps of tour boats zooming up to the exact mud bank that we were looking at earlier. We planed and got there before most of the tour boats. When we looked in the grass we saw about 40 big wrinkly rocks. Elephants.

We were all completely mortified but my mum was most. She was so excited that she looked like Finn after drinking a bottle of Sprite. We went closer and closer to them and started to see the details as well as hear their magnificent trumpeting sound which echoed through the forest. We slowly made our way up to the bank and watched as the elephants ate the thin crumbly bamboo shoots and bamboo leaves. It was amazing how much the elephants ate and they never stopped. The one funny thing that happened was that when the adult elephants flapped their ears to keep away the flies, the babies copied them but they did not know when to stop, so while the adults were lazily waving them the babies were frantically flapping them so it looked like they were copying the elephant off the Disney film Dumbo.

We watched them for hours and then finally decided that it was time to go home and get ready for the night tour. So after another whizz down the river bank we went back home and had a quick dinner of pasta packet and then put together all of the necessary things we need for the tour. At 8:00 he arrived at our boat and we all clambered in to the boat. As soon as we left the light of the boat the guide Ahmad switched on the spotlight and then about 30 seconds later we pulled in to the bank and there sitting in the tree was a bright blue and orange kingfisher. We got some photos and then we moved on. Then about another minute later we went back in and there was a large yellow eyed owl. So the night continued much like that with crocodile babies and more and more owls and kingfishers. So that was the trip and I hope that you enjoy reading this as much as I did seeing it.



  1. Wow...amazing photos of the Elephants, such a great write up too, love the ear flapping story...good luck on your fantastic voyage. Evan

  2. That sounds so exciting, Seth. We do envy you. You write brilliantly - keep it up!
    (PS. What DOES Finn look like after drinking a bottle of Sprite?!)

  3. Hey Seth,
    Great blog post. You have inspired us to go in search of the elephants!
    Happy sailing,
    Simon & Amanda (SV Thyme)

  4. Well done Seth. Your story gave us a great picture of the elephants in the wild!

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