Travel Features > National Park & The Great Outdoors > Bako National Park

The Mangroves of Bako

Stuart Green Describes the Mangroves of Bako and What Wildlife Visitors
Can Expect to See in and Around the Mangrove Forest At Telok Assam

Thick mangrove forest at Telok Delima
©1998 Wayne Tarman
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.

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.

Rhizophora are easily recoqnised by their
aerial roots.
©1998 Wayne Tarman
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.

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 and salt.

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 shelters at Telok Assam are excellent places to view the mangroves
and Bako's wildlife.
©1998 Wayne Tarman
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.

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 prey.

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.

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