To be honest, there is no way that you can avoid leeches crawling on you when you’re trekking in the Borneo rainforest.
But you can minimize the bite or get rid of it before it starts sucking your blood.
Here’s how to avoid leeches in lakes and in the rainforest
1. Get a pair of leech socks
Leech socks are worn like regular socks, though you’ll need to tie it just below your knee. This will prevent the leech from getting into the space between your toes and feet. Remember, leeches likes warm and wet places!
2. Get a small bag of raw tobacco leaves which you can get from the market
Soak your tobacco inside some water, then transfer it into a small bottle to carry around and spray on your clothes and pants. You can also soak your leech socks into your tobacco water the night before your trip. According to my personal experience, it doesn’t stop the leech from crawling on the leech socks. The smell of the tobacco is able to slow down the leech and ultimately intoxicate it. But this step will take time and there’s no immediate effect.
3. Apply salt onto your hands or any exposed area
If you see leeches crawling or sucking your blood already, you’ll either wait for it to get full and drop off by itself or immediately apply salt onto the leech and it will drop off instantly. Remember not to pull the leech if it is already sucking your blood – this will make you bleed even more and it is hard to stop the bleeding.
4. Tuck your shirt into your pants
This will prevent the leech from crawling to your belly, armpits and any warm part of your body. Cover yourself well so that it doesn’t give the blood-sucking creature any opening to creep into your body. Long sleeves are not necessary.
5. Keep walking and do not lean on anything in the rainforest
If you need to stop and take a rest, find a spot with direct sunlight. This is because leeches do not exist in dry and hot places. Typically, you’ll find brown leeches on the ground and tiger leeches on the tree leaves. A tiger leech bite is more painful than that of a brown leech, and the bite marks can be permanent too.
Some people apply insecticides (specifically, a brand called Bygone) to their clothes, pants, leech socks and shoes. This will completely deter leeches from crawling on you because they’ll die immediately when they come near it.
This may sound like the ultimate solution, but remember that each organism has a role to play in the food chain. There are certain birds that prey on leeches.
If you take the leech population out of the rainforest, that means you’re wiping out the birds from their habitat, too. Furthermore, insecticides are poisonous to humankind, and having close contact with these chemicals is bad for your health! Most parks have already banned insecticides for their destructive nature and you may not be allowed to bring insecticide to the forest.
Besides being a parasite, the leech has its own medicinal use as well. Some people use it to remove poisons from the human body and it is also used to restore blood circulation.
In short: While our tips are helpful in describing how to avoid leeches, trekking in the Borneo rainforest is not complete without at least one bite from the blood sucking creature