Encounters with wildlife

The family had some interesting encounters with Borneo wildlife. On one occasion Catriona, riding on her horse with the groom Tahir in attendance, came across an angry hamadryad which reared up almost as high as the pony’s face. Tahir was able to control the terrified pony and fortunately the snake did not attack.

The wildlife encountered was not all bad of course. There was a large squirrel which I used to see almost every day in Ibrahim’s gurah tree, between the house and the office. It was black with an orange belly. Urut Turut had called it a Sampuan Merah.

One evening as I was returning home, I noticed it behaving in a peculiar fashion. It ran down a branch which trailed in the water. Reaching the river it seemed to dip its paws in, as if it was testing the temperature, and then climb back up the tree. It did the same thing two or three times.

I stopped and watched carefully from a distance of only a few yards. Eventually the squirrel sprang into the river and began to swim, heading for the far bank. I had never seen a squirrel swimming.

Our canoe was tied up at the jetty, and Catriona was playing nearby. I called her and we paddled out swiftly into the river after the squirrel. It swam slower and slower. Halfway across it stopped swimming and we caught up with it. I picked it up. It was stone dead. I suppose it had drowned.

When I examined it, I found that its paws were covered with a nasty fungus which must have been causing it pain. Catriona was in tears. We wondered if the squirrel had committed suicide because it could no longer climb properly, or if it went into the water instinctively, to cool its paws.

Some of our jungle neighbours used to drop in (literally) from time to time. One evening a beautiful flying squirrel glided in from a nearby tree and landed with a plop on our camphor-wood floor. On another occasion a tiny tree-shrew turned up. It decided to stay and to share our house with us. It became completely tame and it used to curl up on Olive’s lap as she sat reading on the veranda. It would jump on to her hand and eat grapes. (see photo).

Some time later, another orphan was brought to Olive to bring up. This was a baby bear. The children named it Belinda. Olive reared it very successfully on the bottle. It was a marvellous pet until it grew rather large and was successfully returned to the jungle.

A less welcome visitor to our compound, which we saw very rarely but noticed frequently by its smell, was the moon rat – a large white rodent which deposited an odour like a skunk, when it was disturbed.


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