Category Archives: Wildlife
The Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC) is one of the most accessible natural rainforest in Sabah. It sits by a lake at the edge of the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve in Sandakan. RDC has been in operation since 1996 for environmental education purposes. Today, it is a 3-in-1 park (i.e. wildlife, bird and plant) for nature lovers and bird watchers where they can see the unique flora and fauna of Borneo. To students, it’s the best outdoor classroom to learn the rich biodiversity of rainforest ecosystem.
Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC) is managed by the Sabah Forestry Department and one of the most popular Environmental Education (EE) centers in Sabah. A pristine lowland dipterocarp and Mangrove forest with astounding 300 species of birds are recorded in the area.
The 4,300-hectare Sepilok-Kabili Forest Reserve has gained birders recognition worldwide for its iconic Bornean Bristlehead, Black & Crimson Pitta, Blue-headed Pitta, Giant Pitta, Black Hornbill, Rhinoceros Hornbill and more.
Visitors can walk along the trails and become acquainted with green giants such as the mengaris tree, one of the tallest tree in Borneo. Besides soaking up the sight and getting a good workout, visitors can refer to the interpretive panels along the trail, which has descriptions about unique residents of the forest.
Alert the little ones to keep an eye out for darting civets and flying squirrels (which can glide up to 100 Meters)! And lucky visitors have also spotted animals such as the elusive red leaf monkey, gibbon (the fastest moving primate in tree canopy), mouse deer, civet cat and many odd looking insects such as stick insect.
The tree that you must check out is Sepilok Giant, a Yellow Seraya tree (Shorea acatissima), which is about 65 Meters in height, with an estimated age of 800-1,000 years old.
Another tree worths a good look is Belian Borneo Ironwood (Eusideroxylon zwageri), the 7th hardest wood in the world.
Plant Discovery Garden
RDC also has a Plant Discovery Garden, which covers about 3 acres of land. This garden will make any botanist smile with its collection of hybrid orchids, arid land plants, aquatic plants, pitcher-plants, economic crops and tropical American plants.
There are colourful outdoor interpretive panels with descriptions of all the plants, which makes learning not only easy but also fun.
For serious learners, there are just too many local and exotic plants (flowers, herbs, spices, crops) to look at, just to name a few, peach palm, vanilla, tongkat ali, rubber, cassava, cinnamon, fig, and cycad (a living fossil and food of dinosaur).
The main attraction of RDC however, is of course the Canopy Walkway. Visitors can climb to the top of the observation towers and take in the breathtaking view from the 347-meter long and 25-meter high steel walkway.
The walkway is two meters wide, is very sturdy and can hold the weight of a large crowd. RDC has two towers that are named after the Bristlehead and Trogon and a single-column shelter called the Sunbird.
The designers of the canopy walkway made sure that it was not only safe for adults, but also for young children who are at kindergarten-level.
To the team at RDC, the younger children exposed to the wonders of Mother Nature, the better appreciation they will have for our rainforest.
The top platform of towers is about 17 Meters (56.5 feet) above the ground. Many birds, wildlife, fruits and insects live high on the tree, so these towers provide a great viewing point for bird watching and wildlife sighting. I’ve seen mother orangutan with her baby there before (see video).
Bornean Bristlehead normally feeds up in the mid and upper layer of tree canopy, and best seen from Canopy Walkway. You have higher chance of seeing them near Bristlehead and Hornbill Towers in RDC.
I’m very confident to say RDC has one of the best setup for bird watching in the world.
Many trees here are very old and over 50 Meters tall, most of these emergent trees are from the family Dipterocarpaceae, the main timber family of Sabah.
During fruiting season, you will see many birds and wildlife coming here for feeding.
Due to the tourist-friendly canopy walkway and nearby virgin rainforest where over 300 lowland bird species reside, RDC is really a haven for nature photographers and birdwatchers. RDC is also the most promising spot to see Bornean Bristlehead, the trophy bird species of birders, but you still need some luck. I saw it only once after three visits.
Many endemic, rare and colorful birds are active around RDC, for example, Bornean Bristlehead, Hornbills, Pittas, Kingfisher (8 species), Trogons, Malkohas, Leafbirds, Minivets, Spiderhunters (6 species), Crested Jay, Red-bearded Bee-eater, Broadbills, Woodpeckers, and Bulbuls. For full list, you may see this Checklist of Birds in Sepilok.
Some forest birds spend most of their time on canopy and best to be observed from RDC Canopy Walkway, while some prefers habitat in understorey and forest ground, so you need to explore the jungle trails for such birds. (Note: leeches might present during wet season)
According to birding community, the 1.9-KM Kingfisher Trail is very productive (many birds). There are many direction signages in the RDC trail network, so you should have no problem to get around. What I really like is – RDC also places many information panels in different spots to inform you what birds, trees and wildlife are (probable) nearby.
Inside the forest there are small ponds used by many birds as natural bird bath for bathing and drinking. Most birds only dip their wings to splash water on their backs. Parts of the bath is just about 2 inches deep, just enough for small birds. Keep an eye for Red-eyed Bulbul, Emerald Dove and Hairy-backed Bulbul there.
Garden birds such as sunbirds, spiderhunters and flowerpeckers are common too.
RDC is the most preferred venue for Borneo Bird Festival, which is usually held in Sep or Oct annually, the best visiting time for bird watchers who are looking forward for exciting activities such as bird race, talks, bird photography contest and exhibition.
The main visitor building has an exhibition hall that features the unique flora found in Sabah, plus the various icons in our animal kingdom including the Bornean pygmy elephant, orang utan, proboscis monkey and many more.
Visitors can also find information on reptiles and the main groups of birds. The building also has a multi purpose hall, which is often used for talks, screenings and other activities.
Besides animals, visitors can browse good collections of plant, fruit, tree and insect specimens in the hall. The information is presented in gallery style, with a lot of beautiful photographs with minimal text, available in English and Malay languages.
This Exhibition Hall is air-conditioned, so I love to come here after a long walk under hot sun outside LOL (and for the toilet too).
I must say the Exhibition Hall does a very good job in giving visitors an interesting overview of Borneo’s nature.
The infrastructure of RDC is quite well-thought, this makes RDC an excellent attraction, as well as a great location to organize mid-scale events.
Rainforest Discovery Center (RDC) is open from 8am to 5pm every day, but the trails and canopy walkway close at 8pm, so some visitors can do night walk and evening birding. RDC is a park opens to public, any walk-in visitor can buy a ticket to enter (see ticket prices below).
|Adult (18 & above)||RM7||RM15 (≈USD$4)|
|5-17 years old||RM3||RM7 (≈USD$2)|
|Below 5 years old||FREE||FREE|
All proceeds from ticket sales are used to organize environmental education programmes for students, teacher training courses and other environment-related activities.
Most wildlife are nocturnal. You may not see a lot of wildlife during daytime in RDC, but a night walk there would probably give you some pleasant surprises. Depend on your luck, you would see civet, moonrat, Malay badger, sleeping birds, glow worm, owls, stick insect, firefly, frog, bearded pig, flying lemur, etc. You hit jackpot if you spot Bornean Tarsier or Slow Loris, the most mysterious primates of Sabah. Known as Ghost Monkey locally, Bornean Tarsier is the smallest primate of Borneo and has huge eyes bigger than its brain.
Night Walk is available from Mon to Fri only (conducted between 6pm-8pm), you can register for the walk at ticketing counter (before they close at 5pm). The fee is RM30 (≈USD$8.50) per adult and RM15 (≈USD$4) per child (5-17 years old) for a minimum of 2 hours, RM15/person for each additional hour. A minumum of 4 visitors (but no more than 10) is required to form the night walking group, or you have to pay for the full amount RM120 (≈USD$34). Do bring torch-light (flashlight) and raincoat with you. You can take photos but no camera flash is allowed for small animals.
How to get there
The Rainforest Discovery Center is located at Sepilok, Sandakan, Sabah, about 25 KM to the west of Sandakan City (see Location Map). Public transport to Sepilok is available readily and the journey takes about 45 to 50 minutes one way. You can hire a taxi for a return trip for about RM100 per car (≈USD$28)(negotiable).
RDC Shuttle Service (within Sepilok Only)
RDC Shuttle Service (within Sepilok only) is available only when licensed taxi not around and depend on staff availability. It’s no guarantee but good to know this option anyway. The standard rate is RM10 (≈USD$2.50) per car. You can request for transport in following time:
9am-5pm: enquire for taxi or shuttle service at ticketing counter
5pm-8pm: enquire shuttle service at security hut
Photos taken in Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo
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Cuteness is a curse to wildlife. You would think so after seeing the Sun Bears of Borneo, which are also known as Beruang Madu (Honey Bear), Malayan Bear, or Dog Bear. As the smallest bear in the world, Bornean Sun Bear looks just like a walking teddy bear. Its cub is as adorable as a puppy, so many people keep it as pet.
However, when sun bear grows up, it’ll become a predator about 120-150cm tall and weigh up to 60 Kg. With long claws and big canine teeth that can rip apart a coconut in seconds, it’ll be very intimidating to its owner, then it would end up spending the rest of its life in a small cage, or being abandoned.
Bear cub, which is used to living with people, will lose its ability to survive in the wild. Some even forget that they are bear. When they are free, they will look for people and cause a commotion in village nearby. This is a sad but typical story of a sun bear, whose mother was probably killed by poachers and it was kept as a pet.
Sun bears are found throughout South-East Asia, but Bornean Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus euryspilus) is a subspecies half the size of Malayan Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus malayanus) and found only in Borneo.
Due to illegal poaching and deforestation, there are probably less than 10,000 of Bornean Sun Bears left. I’ve seen orangutan many times in the wild but saw sun bear only once, they are highly endangered, I believe.
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center (BSBCC)
In 1998, a journey to Sabah changed the life of Mr. Wong Siew Te (黃修德), a wildlife biologist from Penang (Malaysian state). He studied the ecology of sun bears in Borneo rainforest and fascinated by this smallest, most arboreal and least researched bear, and he was heart broken to see the suffering of captive sun bears everywhere.
He always calls sun bears the forgotten bears, because they are not getting the same spotlight and protection like Polar Bears and Panda. Sun bear is a favorite target of poachers because of its highly priced gall bladder. Wong knew, if he didn’t do anything, the only fate of this beautiful creature is extinction.
In 2008, Wong started Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center (BSBCC) in Sandakan, for conservation and rehabilitation of Bornean sun bears. After some years of fundraising and support from government, public and NGOs, BSBCC was fully operational and open to public in 2014. This brings new hope to our sun bears because they receive attention that they long deserve.
“The world is not changed by people who sort of care. …The world is changed by people who passionately, relentlessly care– sometimes, unreasonably so.” -Sally Hogshead
BSBCC is located just next to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center and inside 2.5-Hectare Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve.
Visitors only need to walk about 5 minutes to enter the visitor center and observation platform of BSBCC from orangutan sanctuary.
BSBCC opens from 9am to 3:30pm to public daily. Visitors can just walk in and buy a ticket to enter the Center. The following is the rate of ticket (can be used on same day for multiple entry). The prices have included 6% GST (or VAT) Tax:
|Adult (18 years old & above)||RM5.30||RM31.80 (≈USD$8.50)|
|12-17 years old||RM2.10||RM15.90 (≈USD$4)|
|Children (Below 12)||Free||Free|
|Senior Citizen (above 55 years)||Free||RM31.80 (≈USD$8.50)|
This is not a zoo, so be kind to the bears. Feeding, calling and disturbing the bears are prohibited. You are welcome to take their photos but please don’t use camera flash.
Besides conservation of sun bears, BSBCC is an educational site to show visitors the mysterious life of Bornean Sun Bears. A few information boards with info and photos of sun bear are erected along the stairway to sun bear viewing area. By the time you reach the observation platform, you already have basic knowledge about the bears.
The Observation Platform is where tourists can see the sun bears exploring and foraging in a forest enclosure. As I mentioned, sighting of sun bear is very rare in the wild, but you can see 4 or more of them at the Center. With short, sleek, dark brown or black fur, they look like big dog.
Between the bears and visitors is a high wall with a few electrical wires running across it. The 5,000-volt wire can deliver a painful but harmless shock to sun bears which try to climb over the wall. After being zapped a few times, all bears are quick to learn to avoid touching the fence.
Sun bears are forest dependent species and male sun bear needs 15 Sq. KM to find enough food. Sun bears are omnivorous and this natural forest is a good training ground for them to learn to survive in jungle, before they are released to the forest. Sun bears are excellent tree climbers too, and honey and durian are part of their favorite menu.
44 Bears 44 Stories
Most bears in BSBCC are victims of illegal captive and pet trade. So far BSBCC has rescued 44 bears, and all of them have a sad story in the past.
The first bear (named Natalie) was rescued from an illegal pet trade in 2010. She has “graduated” from rehabilitation program of BSBCC and released to her natural habitat on 17th May 2015. The latest member is a 3-month-old cub (Name: Tan-Tan) coming from Paitan in Aug 2015.
The rich expression and cute actions of sun bears really amused us. However, according to BSBCC staffs, some of the adorable behaviors are probably a sign of stress, for example, relentless pacing and obsessive grooming. One of them pacing back and forth at the same spot, it was used to do this when locked in small cage, but still carry on this stereotypic movement disorder in forest.
Another bear, Mary was captured by poacher and kept as pet in Ranau. Because of malnutrition, she has smaller body. She grew up with human so she forgot that she was a bear. Luckily, after mixing and learning from other bears, she is no longer walking on hind legs like human. Damai is probably another bear that thought she was a human. She wandered in residential area of KK after being abandoned by her owner.
At BSBCC, the experience is more than just looking at playful sun bears. BSBCC staffs and volunteers are always around the tourists, and they are beary passionate in sharing the individual story and amazing facts about the sun bears.
Same as Orangutan, Sun Bear is totally protected under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997. Hunting or selling them and you could be fined up to MYR 50,000 (USD 16,000) and/or being jailed up to 5 years.
However, poachers will still pull the trigger because each sun bear is valued over RM1,000 for its gall bladder (expensive ingredient of traditional Chinese medicine) and meat. You can contact Sabah Wildlife Department or BSBCC to report the offense.
The forest enclosure could be the first natural environment that some captive sun bears exposed to. A few of them were so afraid of walking out of their bear house to explore. Therefore, it’s great to see some bears such as Debbie is making progress. Debbie was saved from becoming a delicacy in a restaurant in Kota Marudu. She loves to climb high up to the tree for a nap and don’t mind others laugh at her drooling while asleep.
Climbing is an important skill for sun bears to reach the fruits and honey bee hives on tall trees. Sun bears also build nests on tree to sleep in, which is a dryer and safer resting place to avoid leeches and clouded leopard. Sometimes the staffs have to play the role as a surrogate mother to train sun bear to climb.
Only in outdoor, sun bears have the opportunity to use their sickle-shaped long claws to dig and ripe apart decayed wood to reach ants, termites and beetle grubs, the important protein source when fruits are scarce. Sun bears also help to build nesting hole for hornbills and flying squirrels after they dig a cavity in the tree for termites and honey.
BSBCC also feeds the bears every day so they can enjoy a balanced diet. The Center currently houses 36 rescued sun bears in two houses and a quarantine facility. Rescued bears will go through health check, quarantine, indoor & outdoor rehabilitation, a series of evaluation on fitness, before they are reintroduced to natural habitat. These processes can take a few years.
One of the characteristics of sun bear is its beautiful chest mark from cream to orange color with spots. Every bear has unique chest mark like a finger print. Below is a video of BSBCC to see sun bears in action:
Giving a Bear Hug
There are many ways to help Bornean Sun Bears. For example, you can adopt a sun bear, donate money, join their 2 or 4-week volunteer program, or visit the Center.
In Visitor Center, you also can buy some souvenirs / snacks / drink, or make a donation at the mini shop. They have sun bear T-Shirt, caps, toys, postcard, stickers, etc. for sale.
For more information about Bornean Sun Bears, below is the contact of BSBCC:
Tel: +60 89-534491
Postal Address: PPM 219, Elopura, Sandakan, Sabah 90000, Malaysia
GPS Coordinate: 5.864658, 117.949878 (see Location Map)
How to get there
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center (BSBCC) is located 25 KM to the west of Sandakan City and next to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. Public transport to Sepilok is available readily and the journey takes about 45 to 50 minutes one way.
The following is the departure time of regular shuttle between Sandakan and BSBCC. The bus fare costs RM4 (≈USD$1) per person one way:
Sandakan City → Sepilok: 9am, 11:30am, 2pm, 5pm
Sepilok → Sandakan City: 6:30am, 10:30am, 12:30pm, 4pm
Tel: +60 12-8067067, +60 17-8632684
Or you can take the mini-bus (route: Batu 14) near to the bus terminal of Nak Hotel in Sandakan.
You can hire a taxi for a return trip for about RM100 per car (≈USD$28)(negotiable). There is also a taxi stand in car park of Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center.
Photos taken in Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo
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