Sabah is blessed with some of the world's most
astounding natural diversities. Sites such as the Maliau Basin have not even yet
been fully explored, and each new research team finds animal and plant species
unknown to science.
Sabah's formidable topography, unique habitats -
Mt Kinabalu, South East Asia's highest mountain is found here - and climate, its
relative isolation and the fact that even during the ice ages there was little
change have all contributed to the present biodiversity.
Sabah's environment has much deteriorated over
the past thirty years, an unfortunate side effect as vast tracks of the world's
oldest rainforest have been used
liberally to develop Malaysia.
Now, the remaining jungles are protected, many of
them in national parks, most of them easily accessible and with good
infrastructure for travellers.
Places of Interest /
Forest Reserves in Sabah
Some of Sabah's Natural Highlights
There are some 13 species of primates in Borneo,
at least nine of which can be found in Sabah. The
Proboscis monkey is maybe the most spectacular: the male sports a
huge nose, in addition to a 'beer-belly', and it is clad in an orange 'jacket'
with white 'leggings' and a long white tail. The female only sports a little
nose. They live in two distinct groups, the bachelor group and the harem group.
The latter can consist of up to 20 animals, whereby the alpha male is constantly
on the look out for intruders from nearby bachelor groups... In Sabah, this
monkey is easily observed in Sukau, and also in Klias. At dusk they settle in
trees along the river banks where they are observed at leisure during a river
The Orang Utan
is probably the best known primate in Borneo. Highly endangered due to rapid
habitat loss, the future in the wild for this ape looks bleak. In Sandakan, at
the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, orphaned and pet orang utans are
trained to live again an independent life in the rainforest. The programme may
last up to six years before the apes can be relocated to some of Sabah's
undisturbed national parks or wildlife reserves. To observe orang utan in the
wild is extremely difficult though with some luck you can spot them around Sukau
in the Kinabatangan area, at Danum Valley and also at Tabin. For an almost
guaranteed sighting visit the Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre in Sepilok; your
entrance fee will go towards the conservation of this endangered species.
Other primates include the
gibbons, rare to see but often heard: its melodious call
can be heard in the jungle early in the mornings. Amongst the smaller primates
are tarsiers and
slow lories, and
leaf monkeys are amongst the more elegant inhabitants of the
jungle, albeit extremely difficult to find. Two
macaque species inhabit Borneo, the pig tailed and long tailed
macaques. Though very shy like all primates they often live close to human
habitations where they profit of our typical signs of civilisation: waste and
garbage. There they find easily food for their large groups. They breed fast,
another factor that contributes to the fact that this is maybe the only species
in Borneo that is not really endangered and concerned by habit loss.
Over 100 different species of mammals are found in Sabah, the largest amongst
them being the Borneo pygmy elephant.
This elephant was previously thought to the a subspecies of the Asian elephant (Elephans
maximus), but recent DNA studies have shown that this elephant has developed
on Borneo. To-day it is only found in Sabah in small pockets of forests, often
adjacent to plantations and human-animal conflict is a delicate issue here. Even
though highly endangered and totally unique it continues to be threatened by
rapid habitat destruction. Government efforts have been stepped up recently to
ensure the survival of this species. With luck you can observe them in the Sukau
area, at Tabin Wildlife Reserve and in Danum Valley.
Other unique mammals include the
Sumatran rhinoceros, the
Clouded leopard and
Malayan sun bear, the
Banteng (tembadau/wild ox) and the
elusive Bay Cat as well as other
There are more than 500 species of birds in Sabah, some of them extremely rare
due to the special habitat they prefer. Some birds only live in the higher
regions of Mt Kinabalu and Trus Madi mountains, and thus naturally can only be
found here in Sabah, and nowhere else in Borneo such as the
Kinabalu magpie. All eight species of
hornbills that occur in Borneo are
represented in Sabah, plus some splendid rarities such as
Bulwer’s pheasant and Argus
pheasant, Giant pitta,
and Bornean bristlehead.
Sabah's flora keeps on astonishing visitors and
researchers alike. Being a 'biological hotspot,' Sabah's plant variety is
particularly lush and again specialised habitats such as the higher ranges of Mt
Kinabalu provide a home to plants found nowhere else on Borneo. Amongst the most
impressive flowers is certainly the genus Rafflesia,
and in Sabah there are a few places where you have good chances finding them in
bloom: Poring Hot Springs area, and the Rafflesia Conservation Area, near
Tambunan. As recent as 1996 a new species was discovered, the Rafflesia tunku-adlinii. It is different from others in that is has no white spots on its
petals, the otherwise characteristic mark of most Rafflesias.
There are over a 1000 species of
orchids, and at the Tenom
Agricultural Centre you can admire a great variety. Most wild orchids, unlike
commercially grown hybrids, don't flower year-round so don't be disappointed
when you only see the smaller orchids commonly found in Borneo's rainforests...
belong to the carnivorous plants and the largest, containing up to four litres
of digestive liquid, can be found on Mt Kinabalu and Trus Madi. One Nepenthes
species in the Maliau Basin provides shelter and breeding ground for a species
of specialised frogs!
The forests also provide building materials and
medical herbs which the indigenous people of Sabah have used for times
immemorial. With natural forests dwindling at a fast rate it was realised that
there is actually more than just wood to it - the so-called non-timber-products (NTP) are
becoming increasingly important economic factors. They include, amongst others,
water, climate, materials for traditional implements, medical herbs, shelter for
animals and humans, eco-tourism facilities... a well known NTP is rattan,
popular in furnishing, and of course also bamboo, well documented for its