Vertebrate fauna of SE Asia


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Text and photos by Nick Baker, unless otherwise credited.
Copyright ゥ Ecology Asia 2021



> Brunei Bay < back
  Brunei Bay  
    ... home of the monkey with the long nose  

The Water Village in the heart of
Bandar Seri Begawan.


Many visitors to the Bruneian capital of Bandar Seri Begawan will hire a speedboat from the waterfront to take a closer look at the Kampung Ayer or Water Village which has existed on the Sungei Brunei (Brunei River) for centuries. However, just 5 minutes downriver are mangroves which have existed for millions of years. These mangroves extend to the mouth of the Brunei River 10 km downstream, where they merge with the extensive mudflats and mangroves of the Limbang River which drains from the heart of Sarawak. This is the favoured home of Borneo's famous Proboscis Monkey.

Mudflats and Mangroves


Rhizophora sp. are the dominant mangroves of Brunei Bay. 


The term "mangroves" is used to embrace various tree species which have become adapted to life in a marine or brackish environment - they are able to withstand various degrees of immersion in saltwater which would normally kill other tree and plant species. They are generally associated with muddy river mouths where sediment deposition advances seaward; the pioneer mangrove species serve to stabilise the mudflats and prevent coastal erosion. The effects of varying water depth and tides creates a complex zonation where different parts of the mudflats are dominated by single species of mangrove.


A Giant Mudskipper clings to a mangrove root.


The mangroves of Brunei Bay are largely dominated by Rhizophora sp. - a tree species characterised by prop roots or stilt roots which provide a stable base in the soft mud. In many parts of Southeast Asia this species has been constantly harvested for its young trunks, which have the properties of strength and durability - the wood is known as Bakau and it has widespread uses. (During construction many tall buildings in places such as Singapore or Kuala Lumpur will have used Bakau as scaffolding). However, there appears to have been little harvesting of this mangrove species in Brunei Bay and the ecosystem appears to be largely intact.  

During low-tide, the Giant Mudskipper (Periophthalmodon schlosseri) emerges. Mudskippers represent an evolutionary missing-link; they are fish which spend at least half of their lives out of the water in the manner of amphibians. Their eyes are located on top of the head, allowing them to keep a close eye on their territory. Disputes and fights between rival mudskippers are a common occurrence !

On Pulau Selirong (Selirong Island), about 30 minutes boat ride from town, there is a 3 km boardwalk where visitors can view the mangrove ecosystem without getting wet feet or stuck in the mud.


The attractive fronds of Nipah dominate the quiet backwaters of the mangrove estuary.



In the calmer backwaters of Brunei Bay the margins of the mangrove forests are fringed with Nipah (Nypa fruticans), an attractive, widespread species with tall palm-like fronds and distinctive, bunched, nut-like fruits. Again, this species has many traditional uses - dried leaves are used for roofing material, and the seeds are edible, finding their way into a variety of Southeast Asian desserts. As with the mangroves, the Nipah of Sungei Brunei are in fine condition, with little evidence of harvesting. 


The Wild Dutchman of Borneo


Proboscis Monkey, immature


Coastal swamps and mangroves are the favoured haunt of the Proboscis or Long-nose Monkey (Nasalis larvatus), a species endemic to Borneo. In neighboring Kalimantan, the Indonesian administered part of Borneo, this monkey is amusingly called Orang Belanda, which translates as "Man from Holland" - on account of the male monkey's remarkably long nose and large belly. One wonders what the species was called before the arrival of the Dutch to the East Indies four hundred years ago !

Besides the distinctive nose of the male, the Proboscis Monkey is characterised by having a long pale coloured tail. The body fur is a light orange-brown and some males have a thick, lighter coloured fur around the collar. These monkeys rarely come down to the ground, preferring to spend their time high in the mangroves, however they are rather good swimmers which enables them to colonize new mangrove growth on seaward mudbanks. 

The best time to view the monkeys is either at sunrise, or at late afternoon when they become active. Listen out for the variety of loud calls and grunts of the male as it tries to persuade females to come and view its attractive nose. Troops of monkeys can be found fairly easily, especially at the mouth of Sungei Brunei and on Pulau Ranggu, accessible by boat from Bandar Seri Begawan.