Malaysian Borneo: Wildlife Destinations
Wildlife Highlights of Malaysian Borneo
1. Just 40 km from Kuching, Bako National Park provides an excellent introduction to Borneo’s wildlife. Boardwalks through mangrove forest provide a good vantage from which to spot proboscis monkeys, while night walks in the rainforest might reveal mouse deer or slow loris.
2. Reached by a boardwalk weaving through dense rainforest (keep an eye out for hornbills, bird-wing butterflies and flying lizards), the limestone caves of Niah National Park are home to countless swiftlets and bats.
3. Gunung Mulu National Park protects one of the world’s largest cave systems – the setting for a spectacular nightly exodus of some three million bats.
4. A short boat ride from Kota Kinabalu, the five reef-fringed islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman Park are popular with snorkellers and divers. Whales sharks are sometimes seen between November and February.
5. Mt Kinabalu is a botanist’s mecca. As well as insectivorous pitcher plants, there are 1,200 varieties of orchids thriving in the mountain’s cool, moist climate.
6. Green and hawksbill turtles come ashore year round to nest in Turtle Islands Park, but the best time to visit is between July and October. Pulau Selingan has a turtle hatchery where it’s possible to join rangers in their efforts to safeguard the vulnerable clutches from predators.
7. Named after the rivers that flow into mangrove-fringed Sandakan Bay, Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve is best known for its orang-utan rehabilitation centre.
8. Gomantong Caves are famous for their colonies of swiftlets, whose nests are sustainably harvested for use in Chinese soup between February and April by locals using a gravity-defying system of rattan ladders, ropes and poles.
9. The Kinabatangan river flows through one of Southeast Asia’s richest rainforests. Boat trips allow close views of primates, particularly the proboscis monkey.
10. Danum Valley is home to such rarities as the Sumatran rhinoceros, orang-utan and clouded leopard.
11. Sipadan Island is one of the world’s premier dive spots.
Gunung Mulu National Park
Mulu's star species: Wrinkle-lipped bat • Cave swiftlet • Malayan sun bear • Rhinoceros hornbill • Butterflies
It is only when you stand at the gaping maw of Deer Cave and try to envisage five St Paul’s Cathedrals snug inside that the true enormity of Mulu’s subterranean wonders strikes you. Deer Cave is the world’s largest cave passage – over 4km long and up to 169m high and 148m wide – a fitting backdrop for the nightly exodus of over three million wrinkle-lipped bats.
To reach the cave entrance, trails and boardwalks thread through peat swamp and mixed dipterocarp rainforest where you can spot some of Mulu’s 262 species of birds (including all eight of Sarawak’s hornbills), 74 types of frog, 281 different butterflies and 458 kinds of ant.
After cowering beneath the pressing tangle of the jungle, walking into Deer Cave is like bing swept into outer space; from oppressive humidity to cool vacuum, from impenetrable plantlife to oblivious darkness. Deep in the damp recesses of the cave, where no daylight can penetrate, you hear the ratchet-clicks and whirrs of echo-locating cave swiftlets and bats. Your eyes well from the sting of ammonia as you walk past huge domes of bat guano seething with scavenging hordes of earwigs, cave crickets, spiders, scorpions and centipedes. A fine rain of beetle wings, moth bits and other undigested insect remains settles on your head and arms – a gruesome black pepper of bat dung.
By late afternoon, the bats begin to gather in a vast, swirling vortex at the cave entrance. At regular intervals, large swarms detach themselves from the main group and stream away across the forest canopy in long, dark ribbons, their frenzied wingbeats sounding like distant surf.
Getting there Directions Fly to Mulu from Miri or take a boat from Kuala Baram.
Getting around Walking and boat travel only. Activities must be arranged through the park headquarters. Guides are mandatory.
When to go Park open year round; November to June is best. Aim to be at the viewing area in front of Deer Cave by 17:00 to witness the bat exodus.
Visitor centres Park headquarters has an discovery centre, canteen, gift shops and various accommodation options.
Things to do Rainforest and cave walks, canopy skywalk, boat trips, adventure caving, treks to the Pinnacles (limestone spikes piercing the rainforest) and to the summit of Gunung Mulu (2,377m).
Places to stay Royal Mulu Resort.
Further information mulupark.com
Danum Valley Conservation Area
Danum's star species: Orang-utan • Sumatran rhinoceros • Clouded leopard • Malayan sun bear
One of Borneo’s top wildlife locations, Danum Valley covers 438 sq km of pristine dipterocarp rainforest – home to Sabah’s 10 species of primate, including orang-utan. The orange-haired ‘man of the forest’ often makes an appearance when the durian trees are in fruit. Explore forest trails and stake out the canopy walkway during the early morning and you may also glimpse (or, more likely, see signs of) other rarities like Asian elephant, clouded leopard, flat-headed cat, Sumatran rhino and sun bear. Bearded pig, mouse deer and Bornean red muntjac are more easily spotted, and there are always plenty of hornbills, barbets, broadbills and other birds about. Night walks, meanwhile, shine a light on the secretive nocturnal world of the giant flying squirrel and slow loris.
Getting there Fly or travel overland to Lahad Datu, 100km from Danum.
Getting around Most visitors book packages including activities.
When to go Year round. March to October is best.
Things to do Forest trails, canopy walkway, night drives, tubing.
Places to stay Borneo Rainforest Lodge.
Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve
Sepilok's star species: Bornean orang-utan • Pig-tailed macaque
Although wild orang-utans are sometimes seen in Danum Valley and along the Kinabatangan River, the best place to see them up-close is this 5,666ha sanctuary near Sandakan. Sepilok is renowned for its rehabilitation centre – a kind of hospital and training camp for orang-utans that have been orphaned by hunting or deforestation. Once nursed to health, young orphans have to be taught all the skills essential to life in the jungle – everything from swinging to eating. A tedious diet of milk and fruit encourages them to forage in the wild and gradually gain independence. Around 80 are now roaming wild in the reserve. Amble slowly along the reserve’s boardwalks and trails and you may also see pig-tailed macaques, a variety of birds and abundant insect life.
Getting there Buses and taxis run from Sandakan to the reserve.
Getting around A network of trails lead from the visitor centre.
When to go Year round. The apes emerge for free meals around 10:00 or 15:00 at feeding platforms in the forest.
Things to do Orang-utan viewing, boardwalk trails.
Places to stay Sepilok Nature Resort.
Further information orangutan-appeal.org.uk
Kinabalu National Park
Kinabalu's star species: Rhododendrons • Pitcher plants • Orchids • Rafflesia • Butterflies
At 4,101m, Mt Kinabalu is the tallest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea. Mist-wrapped and shaggy with moss and lichen, its forests seem otherworldly. This is a place where worms grow to the length of your leg, frogs are as tiny as your fingernail and carnivorous pitcher plants feast on insects. The mountain’s slopes run riot with 1,200 different orchids, numerous indigenous rhododendrons and the rare, but unforgettable, rafflesia – a parasite devoid of leaf, stem or root that produces a single, whiffy bloom measuring nearly a metre across.
Nature trails probe the forests on Kinabalu’s lower slopes, but it’s a knee-jarring two-day slog to the summit and back. Allow at least five hours after setting out from the national park headquarters to reach Laban Rata, a hut at 3,272m where trekkers spend the night before tackling the summit. Well before dawn the following morning, you steal outside and grope your way upwards by torchlight. The forest soon succumbs to the altitude as you scramble across bare slopes of granite using fixed ropes and ladders to scale the steepest sections. The effort is more than worthwhile, however, when you reach the summit in time to witness the remarkable spectacle of Sabah spread beneath you – from the smooth sweep of the South China Sea to the crumpled mantel of the Crocker Range.
Getting there Directions 92km east of Kota Kinabalu, easily reached by bus.
Getting around Porters and guides can be booked at park HQ.
When to go Year round. If you are planning on climbing Mt Kinabalu, pack good walking boots, waterproof jacket and warm clothing.
Things to do Nature trails, trekking, gallery, mountain garden, nearby Poring Hot Springs and canopy walkway.
Places to stay Accommodation ranges from basic hotels to luxurious chalets. Nepenthes Villas are close to the park headquarters and restaurant.
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wildlife travel essentials: Malaysian Borneo
Malaysia Airlines has connecting flights from Kuala Lumpur to various cities in Sabah and Sarawak – particularly cost effective with a Discover Malaysia Pass. Other carriers serving the region include Royal Brunei Airlines and Singapore Airlines. Air-conditioned buses connect major towns and cities in Malaysian Borneo, although you may need to fly or use river boats to reach remote areas.
WHEN TO GO
Dry season is May to October, wet season November to April. Average daily temperatures range from 21-28C year round.
WHERE TO STAY
Accommodation ranges from jungle lodges to mountain huts. Spending a night at a longhouse is the best way to learn about the customs of the Iban – Sarawak’s largest indigenous group.