The curious keepers of Fraser’s Hill

As I approached Fraser’s Hill, a former hill station in the Malaysian Highlands, I was greeted by a sign which read: ‘Welcome to Little England’. Indeed it looked a lot like England: the fog was thick with visibility about 20 metres and the rain lashing down. The wind blew all night and I arose the following morning to more of the same. But on the hotel lawn were three wild boar: you certainly don’t find that in England.

Fraser’s Hill is a small settlement about 100km north of, and 1500m higher than, Kuala Lumpur where the former British colonial masters would seek refuge from the lowland heat. There are a few hotels and restaurants, gardens and an attractive golf course.

The surrounds are thick jungle. When the sun shines – which is most of the time – Fraser’s Hill is beautiful. And if you’re keen on wildlife it’s exciting. There’s a variety of squirrels, plenty of brightly coloured butterflies and scores of bird species, like the multi-coloured firetufted barbet, which was feeding on the bird table.

But it was the different members of the monkey family which fascinated me. On one walk I realised that someone or something was watching me from the bush. There, framed by leaves and branches was a friendly, almost human face: a siamang, or large gibbon.

White-thighed leaf monkeys were common. I watched about a dozen crossing the road. In spite of the non-existent traffic they preferred the high level route: the overhead electricity wires which sagged alarmingly while the supporting poles swayed drunkenly. Some of the monkeys crossed while balancing on the wire; others chose to swing below and cross hand over hand. Each had its own method.

One evening in the hotel there was a blackout and it occurred to me that the monkeys’ actions might have been responsible. The following day I came across the creatures again. Maybe I’m mistaken – but did they have a guilty look about them?

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