Travel Features > National Park & The Great Outdoors > Bako National Park
The Mangroves of Bako
Stuart Green Describes the Mangroves of Bako and What Wildlife
Can Expect to See in and Around the Mangrove Forest At Telok Assam
Bako National Park (and indeed the estuary on the way to the park)
have a generous blessing of mangroves. These areas are just some
of the 173,000 or so hectares of mangroves that remain in Sarawak.
Sarawak's mangroves cover about 1.4% of Sarawak's total land area
and form a sizable share of the estimated 650,000 hectares of
mangroves remaining in the whole of Malaysia.
Thick mangrove forest at Telok Delima
©1998 Wayne Tarman
Bako's mangroves are mainly found at Telok Assam and adjacent
Telok Delima, at Telok Sibur and Telok Lakei. There are two dominant
types of mangrove tree in Bako, the Avicennia sp. and Sonneratia
sp. The Sonneratia sp. is a pioneer species and is most common
in newly formed, sandy mud flats along the sheltered shores of
Bako. They are found in all of the mangrove areas and are very
dense in some places. The trees are rather more fragile looking
than the other mangroves and have small, light green leaves. You
may notice teeth marks on many of the leaves and various broken
branches of the Sonneratia at Telok Assam, a clear indication
these mangroves are favourite food of the monkeys in the park.
The monkeys prefer to eat the young and more succulent leaves
of the mangroves which also tend to have less of the natural toxins
that mangroves produce to stop other animals eating them.
The Avicennia sp. is the second most common species in the park
and prefers the more sandy areas. Avicennia sp. are again spread
widely throughout the park, but rather more thinly than the Sonneratia
sp. The Avicennia sp. can be identified by their large heart shaped
leaves which are a rich deep green colour. Both these mangrove
types are declared as completely protected species throughout
Sarawak and no cutting/harvesting is allowed without a license.
Another species of mangrove found in the park is Rhizophora sp.
which can easily be identified by the crazy array of aerial roots
descending from the tree into the substrate. This species is quite
isolated and found in small patches across the park. It is often
found near river channels and prefers mud that is rich in clay.
Rhizophora are easily recoqnised by their
©1998 Wayne Tarman
The last species which could be defined as mangrove is in fact
a palm, the Nipah Palm or Nipa fruticans sp. It is usually lumped
together with the mangroves due to its similar habitat. They grow
thick stems which lead into a large palm leaf and their preferred
habitat is on river banks and estuaries. Nipa palms can be used
commercially, although nowadays increased wealth in Sarawak has
reduced the number of people who still use nipah for traditional
products. In contrast nipah palms remain an important resource
for many communities in the Philippines where they supply a variety
of products such as roofing materials, home made wines, sugar
The Mangrove Wanderers of Bako
There are very few animals that are capable of living in the mangroves
all of the time. When the tide is in everyone seems to hide or
go to other areas, the fiddler crabs close up their holes and
the mudskippers skip away. However when the tide is out all manner
of species come out to see what the tide has brought. This is
a good time for visitors to view the mangroves. There are a lot
of large animals that wander in and out of the mangroves during
the day and some interesting small creatures such as crabs and
mudskippers that can be seen on the mud floor.
Next time you go to Bako don't forget to have a peek and perhaps
even a little stroll around the mangroves to view these strange
trees stuck in the no-man's-land where the sea meets the land.
Join in as one of the many migrant species travelling through
this little corridor of life. Not forgetting the old age adage,
'take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints' and most
importantly, 'kill nothing but time''. Bako is without a doubt
a great place to kill time.
The most convenient place to view the mangroves at Bako is at
Telok Assam where a plankwalk snakes its way around the mangrove
forest. A number of shelters are dotted around the plankwalk and
provide excellent places to watch the comings and goings in and
around the mangroves. Listed below are some of the types of wildlife
that are frequently spotted at the Telok Assam mangroves.
The shelters at Telok Assam are excellent places to view the mangroves
and Bako's wildlife.
©1998 Wayne Tarman
Proboscis monkeys, you have to be there early or late and when the tide is out
to see them. Their arrival is preceded by a large crash of trees
as they descend from the adjacent forest, but once in the mangroves
they seem to become invisible and exceedingly quiet. They often
disappear at the first sight of human presence or if they hear
loud voices so you have to keep as quiet as possible whilst waiting
in the shelter for their arrival.
Silver-Leaf Monkeys, in groups, just sitting on the bottom branches of the mangroves
munching on a meal of leaves.
Long-Tailed or Crab-Eating Macaque Monkeys, searching around for crabs and other mud dwelling species.
Otters, Oriental Small-Clawed Otters and the Hairy Nosed Otters are
found at Bako. You may spot them early in the morning or late
in the afternoon scampering across the mangroves searching for
crabs, frogs and snails. They are sometimes found in small groups
of 5 or 6 individuals and are a treat to watch as they play in
and out of the water.
Monitor Lizards, stealthily wandering about looking for a prize fish to be served
raw for lunch or dinner.
Birdlife, over 150 species of birds have been recorded at Bako. A multitude
of seashore birds, with feathers and beaks bearing a extensive
array of colours, can be seen picking away at the mud/sand or
resting on a branch. Watch out for flashes of blue as kingfishers
dart in and out of the mangroves. If you are lucky you may spot
the Stork-Billed Kingfisher, the largest kingfisher found in Borneo.
Caterpillars spinning the day away and spiders with their intricately designed webs, waiting for those unaware
Bats, at night, elegantly doing flying acrobatics around the branches
and trunks of the trees.
Fiddler Crabs, these are small crabs which live in the mangroves with the males
having a large brightly coloured claw on one side. The claw is
a very macho piece of evolution. They are designed for two things
only; firstly to beat up other males who dare to intrude in their
'patch' of mud, and secondly it acts as a female aphrodisiac,
the bigger the claw, the more chance a male has of having a little
roll in the mud with a female fiddler crab.
Mud skippers, all over the place hopping about near the tide line. The mudskipper
is a amphibian which enables it to take advantage of food on land
and in the sea, as well as withstanding life when the tide is
both in and out. Note their large eyes which enable them to see
both on land and whilst swimming. Some particularly large specimens
can occasionally be seen near the boat docking area and spend,
it seems, most of their time beadily watching the visitors arriving
and departing it seems.
Bees, wasps, flies and oh yes, hundreds of mosquitoes buzzing about, though with all the action going on around you
never seem to notice or really care.