A mere 1 km from the city center of Tarakan in the province of North Kalimantan, and just along the highway out of the city is the Bekantan and Mangrove Conservation Park (Kawasan Konservasi Mangrove dan Bekantan – KKMB), which has as its chief inhabitants a large family of proboscis monkeys, called Bekantan.
These long nosed and large bellied monkeys are endemic to the island of Borneo, mostly found on the Indonesian side called Kalimantan. They are reddish brown and are often referred to as Arborial Old World monkeys. They usually live near water sources, and are good swimmers.
Since they are not aggressive, Bekantans are now on the IUCN Red List as Threatened Species. Their habitat in Kalimantan are, among others, at the Danau Sentarum National Park, Gunung Palung National Park, Tanjung Puting National Park and the Kutai National Park.
The dominant male of this band of monkeys here at Tarakan is called “John” who has a harem and extended family of 35 monkeys. Although the one-male Bekantan monkey usually heads a group of between 3 to 19 individuals only.
There is another male bekantan here called “Michael”, who seems to be inferior and afraid of John who sometimes “allows” him to stay among the family and take some of the bananas thrown to the group by the rangers.
The Conservation Park was started by the first mayor of Tarakan, Jusuf SK, who determined that the city needed to protect a 9 hectares mangrove forest. At first, there were only two proboscis monkeys living in this forest, but these soon multiplied to the present 35 comprising of adults, youngs and babies.
For this reason the Park had to be expanded to accommodate the increasing number of animals and now covers a total of 22 hectares, which is expected to have to be expanded again soon. This is because Bekantans are not agressive and are therefore, unable to fend for themselves. When their habitat is threatened they prefer to withdraw and become marginalized.
Since the animals in the Tarakan Conservation Park are used to humans, – despite the fact that bekantans are normally shy animals – these do not run away when they see visitors, so that it is quite easy to take pictures of them in action from a close distance of only 5 meters.
Although Bekantan eat bananas, but their staple diet are mangrove leaves and fruits. It is for this reason that it is difficult to keep them in zoos away from mangroves.
And so, besides creating an eco-friendly environment, the Park also serves as an ecotourism education center for children and adults alike.
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