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

In Search of the Perfect Proboscis Monkey Photo

By Wayne Tarman

Proboscis Monkey
©Adventure Images Sdn. Bhd.
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.

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:
Proboscis Monkey
©Adventure Images Sdn. Bhd.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. A head for heights. Proboscis monkeys have a tendency to sit in the tallest tree in the jungle, out of reach of my telephoto.

  4. 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 closer.

  5. 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 embarrassing.

  6. 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.
    Proboscis Monkey
    © Wayne Tarman

  7. 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 so close".

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. My ability. In my more introspective moments, I have to ask myself whether I am really cut out to be a wildlife photographer.
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