How tame are animals that are not afraid?

Grey leaf monkey checking out the pictures I took on its mates. I am the guy in the green shirt.
Grey leaf monkey checking out the pictures I took on its mates. I am the guy in the green shirt. Picture taken by Henrik Sjödin

During my recent trip to Asia, I visited a couple of places where animals never experience hunting. One of these was the Labuk Bay proboscis centre just outside Sandakan in Sabah, Borneo, created primarily for proboscis monkeys living in a remnant of forest surrounded by palm oil plantations. The proboscis monkeys are supplementary fed regularly at the centre, and at times even grey leaf monkeys visit the feeding areas. Some of the grey leaf monkeys accept vegetables, while other individuals seem to be less interested. However, all the grey leaf monkeys show very little fear of people, to the level where some of them interact freely with visitors. The young female in the picture above actually looked at the pictures I showed her on the screen of my camera. The proboscis monkeys also show an amazing lack of fear, with certain dominant males ignoring people irrespective of distance.

Proboscis monkey, allowing me to approach close enough to be able to take a wide-angle picture starting at its hand.
Proboscis monkey, allowing me to approach close enough to be able to take a wide-angle picture starting at its hand.

The second place I visited with no hunting or other persecution of animals was the Danum Valley field centre outside Lahad Datu, also in Sabah, Borneo. This research centre has been active for more than 25 years, with a total protection for all animals inside the protected area. Some animals live close to the field centre itself, and become incredibly accessible. One wild orangutan has totally lost her fear of people.

Fearless orangutan female
Fearless orangutan female

In Danum Valley, there is also a resident herd of Sambar deer. These deer are generally hunted outside protected areas, and are shy there. In the Danum area, all deer let visitors approach to around 15 metres, while some of the deer have become so tame, that they can be petted and hand fed.

Sambar deer
Sambar deer

Bearded pigs and other animals, such as longtailed macaques, some civets and tree shrews seem to very quickly loose their fear of man in protected areas.

Bearded pig

So, what is my point? Animals that are not shot at are less afraid! That is not a major revelation. But there is a consequence to the hunting and other activities that are not often discussed. As an avid animal watcher, I find most animals very hard to find, and even more so, really hard to actually follow and study. That is outside protected areas. Inside protected areas, many animals are very easily observed and do behave seemingly natural even in the presence of humans. On a scientific notion, such observations give a lot of information on the ecology of such animals. Furthermore, on a more societal notion, to many people including myself, it is a great experience seeing wild animals behave naturally in their environment. I wonder what a world without any hunting and other similar activities directed towards animals would be. It is easy to envision some kind of “Eden”like place where we could interact with animals in a much closer way than we do now. I would for one really like to try it.

Red leaf monkey, feeding next to my breakfast table
Red leaf monkey, feeding next to my breakfast table

All animals portrayed in this entry are wild, are not restricted in movements in any way and are free to leave and go wherever they will. None of them are captive bred, and none have ever been in captivity. All allowed me within 5 meters distance, and some obviously even closer without any sign of stress.


Sabah, Borneo

Sipadan and Mabul

Ghost pipefish


My first boxer crab

Boxer crab
Boxer crab on black sea cucumber, Bangka island, North Sulawesi

A couple of years ago I visited Bangka, a small island just outside the Lembeh strait on north Sulawesi for around a week. It was really low season at the time of my visit, and the resort had a mere four guests when I arrived. However, those guests were more or less leaving, and the owner with his family had some business to cater to outside of the island, so I ended up having my own dive resort including full staff for a number of days. After a couple of days, that became just a tiny bit to quiet for comfort, as I do not speak much Bahasa which was the going language in the resort. The great side of it was that I could by myself plan the dive spots every day without other people´s annoying wish for variation or beautiful coral sites! In other words, for several full days we could go all dirty and focus on cool macro subjects with no disturbing other goals.

One of my major wishes for this trip was to see a boxer crab. I had never seen one of those before, and really wanted to see one, and if possible get a shot of one. So, with a patience that defied belief, my poor dive guide (the patient one) and I (less patient, but I didn´t give up before he called it) ended each dive with around 20 to 30 minutes in the shallows looking for a boxer crab. And, as those of you that look for boxer crabs know, that is a lot of rocks to look under! We found loads of cool animals hiding, but to the increasing frustration of my dive guide and decreasing hope for me that we actually would find one, the days went. No boxer crab even the last day, even if we spent what I felt was hours on the last afternoon dive looking under rubble.

So, with all hopes on a boxer crab gone, we still had a night dive to do. The weather was not very good, windy and quite some surge going on, coldish even, and I almost canned the dive. But that has not happened yet in my dive career, and I quickly shaped up, turned on a stiff upper lip, got in the “a man´s got to do what a man´s got to do” mode and of we went. As the weather was pretty bad, we were dropped much to close to the coast in only around two meters of water. And, in a couple of seconds, the dive guides lamp went crazy,  blinding whatever nightlife was down there. We had been dropped right on top of a black sea cucumber with a feeding boxer crab on it. I am not really sure which one of us were the most happy, but the smile on the face of my quite young dive guide when we got out of the water indicated that he was at least very relieved to be able to finally deliver.

Scorpion- and stonefish

Stuff on echinoderms