WILDLIFE IN SABAH
ONE OF THE RICHEST AND MOST DIVERSE COLLECTION OF ANIMAL LIFE on this planet lives in Sabah. Yet, because most of it dwells in the dense rainforest, it is difficult to see – unlike the great herds of the African savannah – wildlife viewing is considered more like a gift than a given for travellers entering the state’s wild places.
All of Borneo’s 222 mammals are originally forest dwellers, linked in a complex web of relationships to the plant-life of the forest, an indication of how important the rainforest is for their survival, guaranteeing not only their habitat but their livelihood. Over half of Sabah is forested, most of it as forest reserves with the remainder in parks and wildlife reserves and other protected areas, totaling 5,270 square kilometers. This park system, linked to a forward-thinking, eco-tourism policy, ensures that Sabah’s varied eco-systems and its wildlife can not only survive but can also be visited and appreciated with a minimum of disturbance.
Secretive, endangered animals like the Sumatran rhino are rarely sighted even by long-term researchers, and Asian elephants with their legendary hearing will seldom reveal themselves: even a spotting of their footprints or their dung is a thrilling sight. But not all of Sabah’s creatures are as difficult to hear or see. To maximise your chances, visit during the fruiting and flowering season (March-October), and avoid the heat of the day, just like the animals – early morning and late afternoon are best.
The following alphabetical checklist of Sabah’s major parks, conservation areas and reserves gives an indication of the huge variety of wildlife that Malaysia’s most ecologically varied state has to offer.
Kinabalu Park The Kinabalu National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mountainous region with a huge range of different altitudinal eco-systems. World famous for bird watching: so far 326 species (33 endemic) have been recorded, representing more than 50% of all bird-species in Borneo. Specialities include the Kinabalu serpent eagle, the Kinabalu friendly warbler, the crimson-breasted wood partridge and the Borneon mountain whistler. Some more impressive figures: 90 species lowland mammals; 22 species montane mammals; 61 frog and toad species; some 200 species of butterfly have been recorded plus 112 ‘macro’ moth species that can be found at 2000m and above; and 40 species of fish (representing 9 families). And the plant life is no less impressive: in the Kinabalu National Park are represented 5,000 – 6,000 species of vascular plants, comprising of over 200 families and 1,000 genera: 1,000 orchid species, including five species of slipper orchids; 608 fern species; 9 Nepenthes species (pitcher-plants, including 4 endemic species); 24 Rhododendron species (5 species are endemic to Kinabalu); 78 Ficus species (over 50% of the 135 species found in Borneo); 52 palm species; 6 bamboo species and over 30 ginger species.
Crocker Range National Park Vast mountain range in western Sabah. Good for bird watching such as the golden-napped barbet, and many more rarities. Likely wildlife sightings include mountain squirrels and mountain tree shrews, rarer sightings include orang-utans, the ferret badger and Hose’s civet.
Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary Vast, riverine floodplain in the northeast. Good chances to see proboscis monkeys, leaf monkeys, crab eating macaques, mud-skipper “walking” fish and estuarine crocodiles. With some luck and during the right seasons visitors can spot Asian elephants, Borneon gibbons, otters, monitor lizards and deer. Rare sightings of orang-utans, Malayan sun bears, clouded leopard and smaller wild cats. Bird watching is spectacular. Hornbills, including the rare wrinkled and helmeted varieties, endangered Sunda ground cuckoos, as well as kingfishers, Brahminy kites, Raffles malkohas, and red-crowned barbets.
Danum Valley Conservation Area and protected forest region in the southeast. Supports impressive animal life including 124 species of mammals, such as Asian elephants, Sumatran rhinoceros, wild cattle, sun bears and clouded leopards. Excellent bird watching including all hornbill species in Borneo!
Pulau Layang-Layang Coral-reef island 300 kilometres northwest of Kota Kinabalu. Excellent opportunities for viewing big fish like Napoleon wrasse, manta-ray, giant humphead wrasse, hawksbill turtles, and white tipped and hammerhead sharks.
Pulau Tiga Park Marine national park comprising three islands off the west coast of Sabah. Most famous for its megapode birds on the main island, and for “Snake Island” with its large (over 800) population of sea snakes (yellow-lipped-sea-kraits).
Klias Wetlands An area of mangrove forest reserves with wildlife such as proboscis Monkeys, gibbons, crocodiles, water birds and a superb display of glowing fire flies at night. Watch also bats rule the skies at dawn as they swarm out to look for food.
Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary World-famed facility in the Kaibili-Sepilok Forest Reserve outside Sandakan. Rehabilitates orang-utans confiscated from captivity or displaced by forest clearance.
Sipadan and the Semporna Islands marine and islands’ park in the southeast. Excellent opportunities to see a wide range of fishes.
Turtle Island Marine Park A group of three islands off the northeast coast. Famous for green and hawksbill turtles, and observing hatchery procedures.
Ulu Padas and Long Pasia Mountainous region of montane and heath forests in the far southeast corner. Great for bird watching. Not well known for wildlife, but leopard cats have been sighted.