Travel Features > National Park & The Great Outdoors > Bako National Park
In Search of the Perfect Proboscis Monkey Photo
By Wayne Tarman
Photographing animals is not an easy task, and Proboscis monkeys
are no exception. Although it is possible to get some semi-decent
photos using a 300 mm lens you really need a 600mm lens to shoot
Proboscis monkeys at Bako National Park. Dennis Lau, Sarawak's
leading photo-journalist, has managed to get some good results
with a 300 mm lens and a 1.5 converter. Two of Dennis Lau's images
appear on this page. They were both taken from one of the wooden
shelters on the plankwalk at Telok Assam.
©Adventure Images Sdn. Bhd.
Over the last few years I have made numerous trips to Bako National
Park and had some great wildlife experiences watching groups of
proboscis monkeys, but I have yet to take one great photograph
of a proboscis monkey. My lack of success has a lot to do with
the fact that I am just a hobby photographer armed with a bog-standard
Canon EOS 500, a cheap 80-300 lens and zero knowledge of photography.
Nevertheless, I like to offer ten good reasons why it ain't easy
to get the perfect probo photo.
Ten Reasons why I have yet to take the Perfect Probo' Photo:
©Adventure Images Sdn. Bhd.
- That single leaf. These monkeys eat mangrove leaves as though
there is no tomorrow, shovelling leaves into their mouth at breakneck
speed. End Result - a photo of a proboscis monkey with a paw and
a huge green leaf covering most of its face. Close but no cigar.
- Too many leaves. Proboscis monkeys like to sit in trees with lots
of leaves. They rarely sit on a bald tree stump. A shame, that.
- A head for heights. Proboscis monkeys have a tendency to sit in
the tallest tree in the jungle, out of reach of my telephoto.
- Thoughtless saboteurs. Yep, idiots that shout at the tops of their
voices, charge down jungle trails, and bounce up and down on the
plankwalk over the mangroves without realising that I've been
sitting on my butt for 3 hours waiting for a shy monkey to get
- A macaque ambush. On one occasion I'd been waiting all day when
a solitary male proboscis started to make his way from the forest
to the mangroves. I was just lining up my lens when a troop of
40 Macaque monkeys surrounded me. I was no match for these hyenas
of the rainforest when they launched a daring 'smash and grab'
raid on my bag. As the male proboscis munched on leaves a mere
20 feet away, I was forced to retreat by a dominant male macaque
resembling a nighclub bouncer, and a few of his surly pals. Quite
- Poor light. Proboscis monkeys are most active early in the morning
and at dusk. Just the times when the light is poor. There is nothing
more annoying than getting up at 5.30 am, seeing a group of proboscis
monkeys at 6 am and developing the film 2 days later to find a
series of crappy dark images set against a dark green background.
© Wayne Tarman
- My belly. A packed lunch of dry biscuits, a bruised apple and
warm sandwich is never satisfactory. End Result - I sneak back
to the canteen for a quick bowl of noodles and return to see the
backsides of 5 probos scampering off into the forest and a comment
from Dennis Lau along the lines of "you missed them, they came
- My bladder. Sitting around all day with nothing else to do but
drink heaps of water is a good way to fill your bladder, fast.
A nice sedate pee and a stare at the rainforest canopy is not
going to disturb anyone or thing. But a series of noisy, rapid-burst,
open-the-floodgate pees (and sighs of relief) tends to wake the
whole forest and give away your location.
- My bank balance. For the price of a decent 600 or 1000 mm lens
I could probably fly business class to New York, take some good
photos at the Bronx Zoo's excellent Proboscis Monkey enclosure,
and then go for a pizza in Little Italy.
- My ability. In my more introspective moments, I have to ask myself
whether I am really cut out to be a wildlife photographer.