A Malaysian state well-known for its islands and wildlife parks, Sabah provides ample wildlife experiences in the outdoors.
For all nature and wildlife enthusiasts, a journey around the attractions of Malaysian Borneo, where Sabah is found, will be an unforgettable experience – ranging from coral reef dives, trekking Mount Kinabalu, or exploring the jungles of the state, which is occupied by around 55 per cent forest.
Among the most extraordinary jungle experiences on offer in Malaysia is a boat trip up Sabah’s longest river, the 560-kilometre Kinabatangan, which begins in the Crocker Range in Southwest Sabah and ends at the Sulu Sea southeast of Sandakan.
From the Kinabatangan’s headwaters to its vast river mouth, the river passes through a diverse range of habitats – dipterocarp forest, seasonally flooded riparian forest, oxbow lakes, nipah, and mangroves – each offering opportunities to see some of the region’s wildlife.
Cruising down the river, travellers have the chance to spot proboscis monkeys, orangutan, gibbons, Bornean pygmy elephants, tarsiers, slow loris, macaque monkeys, crocodiles, freshwater sharks, Irrawaddy dolphins, and hornbills, among a variety of other birds.
Trading an above-water adventure for one below, travellers can step across to Pulau Sipadan, a jewel of an island off the north eastern coast of Borneo, to enjoy world-class diving.
Lying five degrees north of the equator in the Sulawesi Sea (Celebes Sea), Sipadan is home to more than 3,000 species of fish and hundreds of coral species, and is well known for its large numbers of green and hawksbill turtles, which gather there to mate and nest.
According to Sabah Tourism, it is not unusual for a diver to see more than 20 turtles on each dive, with a total of 12 dive sites in Sipadan, the most popular of which include Turtle Cavern, Barracuda Point, South Point, and Hanging Gardens.
Another island worth hopping to just 10 minutes away from Kota Kinabalu is Gaya Island, which forms part of the five-island Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park.
Gaya, which spans an area of 15 square kilometres and derives its name from the Bajau word ‘Gayo’ (meaning ‘big’), is the largest island in the park and is covered with dense virgin, tropical forest.
Explorers, take note: the island has 20 kilometres of hiking trails and three five-star resorts, including Gayana Marine Resort, which is home to the Marine Ecology Research Centre; the neighbouring Gaya Island Resort (by YTL Hotel Group); and the Bunga Raya Island Resort on the north-east of the island.
The coral reefs along the entire coast of Gaya island are also said to be in excellent condition, making it a surprisingly good diving destination, considering its proximity to Kota Kinabalu city.
And for a chance to give back to Bornean conservation efforts, travellers should take the time to visit the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, the only centre of its type dedicated to providing care and rehabilitation to rescued sun bears.
The mission of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sabah is to promote sun bear conservation in Borneo through animal welfare, conservation, rehabilitation, education and research, giving captured sun bears a better home and restoring their right to live in the wild.
Sun bears are listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Redlist. Travellers can contribute to the conservation of this species by visiting the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, with all proceeds going toward their survival.
Open since 2014, the facility also offers visitors the chance to see rescued ex-pet sun bears on their road to rehabilitation, as well as local plants and animals, including orangutans, macaques, squirrels, and diverse tropical tree species.
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Featured image: Diving in Pulau Sipadan (source: Tourism Malaysia)