Wildlife spotting in Borneo
A great place to spot wildlife in Sabah is along the Kinabatangan river, the second longest river in Malaysia. Actually, the reason why there are so many animals, is a sad one: They have been pushed ever closer to the river by logging and clearing of forest for palm oil plantations. Most of the forest along the river is now protected (though still not all of it) but it’s all secondary jungle. For decades, the forest has been cut down by loggers looking mainly for hardwood. Rhinos, elephants, and hornbills have been hunted by poachers for their horn, ivory, and casques; items much sought after (and paid a high price for) in certain parts of the world.
River cruise on the Kinabatangan
Tours to (and on) the Kinabatangan can be arranged in Sandakan, Sepilok, Kota Kinabalu, or probably anywhere in Malaysian Borneo. It’s also possible to just show up at one of the lodges at the river but for that you’d need transport and a bit of luck in high season because the places do fill up. We booked our tour in KK with Maduru Express Travel (expert, honest, and super friendly staff). The reasonable price included accommodation, full board, pick up and drop off, and six river cruises or jungle treks.
We were picked up at the hotel in Sepilok and as soon as we arrived at Sukau Greenview Lodge on the banks of the mighty Kinabatangan and had put our luggage into our insect-infested room, the first river cruise was about to start. This first cruise was also the best of all day cruises. We saw wild orang-utans, proboscis monkeys (the ones with the huge funny nose but the slightly depressive look), long- and short-tail macaques, silver-leaf monkeys, several types of hornbills, egrets, kingfisher, and a sleeping snake.
The night cruises were a special and wonderful experience. You float on the river lit by an almost full moon and as soon as the driver stops and turns off the motor, it’s really quiet. We saw owls, crocodiles (mostly only crocodEYES, though), civet cats, snakes, frogs, and a sleeping kingfisher (someone always seems to be sleeping).
Although we just sat in the boat during the cruises (which last a minimum of two hours), we ended up exhausted all the same and slept wonderfully in our room even though we knew we were not alone in it – every time we moved a curtain or the bathroom door, some lizard or insect startled us. But never mind, they don’t bite.
A must-do in Sabah
Kinabatangan is definitely a must if you’re in Sabah, probably nowhere else it’s possible to see so many different animals in such a short time. The guides are amazing – they see everything, no matter how well hidden it is – and the lodge is a great place to meet people and share travel stories.