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Proboscis Monkeys
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Borneo, Indonesia

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Article and Photographs by Tim Laman



Borneo’s flamboyant primates are famous for having big noses. What you might not know about them is they’re graceful, they can swim, and they’re in trouble.



Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

The sinuous curves of Sarawak’s Salak River wind through coastal mangrove and swamp forests, prime proboscis monkey habitat. Nearby at Bako National Park, I sat in a blind and witnessed a rare sight: a proboscis monkey at eye level, crossing a patch of beach. Caught in mid-stride, this adult male displays the long-limbed grace of a primate well suited to life in the trees. The imposing tail is not used for gripping but may aid in balance as a monkey leaps aloft. Specialized plant-eaters, proboscis monkeys appear permanently potbellied because of their huge chambered stomachs, which contain a bacterial soup that helps them digest seeds, leaves, and green fruits. They avoid sweet fruits, which could cause deadly bloating from rapid fermentation.

Proboscis monkeys need large tracts of forest to sustain their dwindling populations on Borneo. Recently declared endangered, fewer than 8,000 monkeys may remain, though surveys have been limited. Imperiled by settlement, agriculture, swamp drainage, mining, hunting, shrimp farming, and fire, these monkeys face odds longer than their noses.

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Video

VIDEO Tim Laman takes to the river in search of Borneo’s proboscis monkeys in this video footage.  


More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?

The monkeys of the world are divided into two groups: the Old World monkeys of Africa and Asia and the New World monkeys of Central and South America. Geography isn’t their only difference however. Many Old World monkeys, like the proboscis, have long thick tails that help them balance while capering, crashing, and careening around the forest. In fact, the names of several monkeys in this family describe their distinctive appendages: stumptailed, pigtailed, and lion-tailed monkeys. In contrast, many New World monkeys, like the familiar spider monkey, have prehensile tails, used like hands and feet to help them grasp limbs, swing through the treetops, and even dangle upside down while eating.

Despite their differences, monkeys around the world have one thing in common: Their habitats are disappearing at an alarming rate. Conservation is key to saving these fascinating primates.

—Nancie Majkowski

Did You Know?

Related Links
Proboscis Monkey Biology
www.primate.wisc.edu/pin/factsheets/nasalis_larvatus.html
Read more about the life of this Borneo forest dweller.

Kinabatangan Rainforest Wetland
www.borneo-online.com.my/wwf/kinabatangan.htm
Learn about the efforts of Partners for Wetlands to preserve one of only two known places on Earth where ten primate species, including the proboscis monkey, can be found.

Borneo Peat Swamp Forests
www.nationalgeographic.com/wildworld/profiles/terrestrial/im/im0104.html
Explore this threatened ecoregion, home to many interesting animals.

Wildlife Conservation Society
www.wcs.org
Projects to preserve threatened species are funded by this U.S.-based organization.

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Bibliography
Bennett, Elizabeth L., and Francis Gombek. Proboscis Monkeys of Borneo. Natural History Publications and Koktas Sabah Berhad, 1993.

Buckley, Michael. “Last of the High-flyers,” BBC Wildlife (February 2002), 33-42.

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NGS Resources
Banks, Joan. The Nose-iest Monkey, National Geographic WORLD (July 1996), 7-9.

Eliot, John L. “Proboscis Monkeys Lose Ground to Loggers,” Earth Almanac, National Geographic (March 1994).

Eckstrom, Christine K. “Borneo: The Infinite Tapestry.” In Forgotten Edens: Exploring the World’s Wild Places. National Geographic Society, 1993.

What a Nose! National Geographic WORLD (January 1984), 24, 27.

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