Nestled in its natural habitat of Borneo, the male proboscis monkey is the undoubted stud of the primate world. After using its huge nose to woo a female following, it then spends its days trying to keep them faithful
Photography and text by Todd Brown
They say it’s lonely at the top, but they forgot to add that it can be pretty stressful as well. That is, at the top of a riverine forest in Borneo, the native habitat of the proboscis monkey. One alpha male proboscis can have up to 15 female partners at a time in his hairy harem. Taking care of all those ladies is a real chore, especially when rival males are constantly attempting to catch their eyes.
The island of Borneo is divided between Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, with the monkeys typically hanging out high up in the trees close to coastal areas, over rivers and near mangrove swamps.
The proboscis monkey is easy to identify: they have huge noses and large potbellies. In fact, Malaysians used to call them “Dutchmen” because they resembled the Dutch colonisers, who they deemed to have similarly sizeable noses and stomachs. The belly is a by-product of having multi-chambered stomachs used to digest the leaves that are their primary source of nutrition. As for their noses, the larger the honker, the more female monkeys one can get. The size of their noses signifies the level of sexual maturity in males, and scientists believe they are used to create an echo chamber that amplifies the monkey’s call,
impressing females and intimidating rival males in one fell swoop.
The endangered proboscis, whose populations have plummeted over the last four decades, can be found in more than a dozen protected areas on Borneo. Bako National Park in the Malaysian state of Sarawak is close to transport hub Kuching and if headed to Sabah, the best places to spot the big-nosed beasts are on the Kinabatangan River or at the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary.
A Phnom Penh-based filmmaker and photographer, Todd Brown hails from Los Angeles, California. Todd is also the owner and operator of Asia Media Lab, a film production company that specialises in short documentary films.
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