Danum Valley, 130-million-year old Borneo rainforest
Though a large part of Sabah is covered by forest, very few have seen the beauty of virgin Borneo rainforest. Most forest that we see around our cities and countryside is degraded jungle or secondary forest. Compared to regenerated forest, undisturbed virgin forest is characterised by taller trees, with denser, richer and more biodiversified of flora and fauna.
If you want me to name the jungle that is best representing Borneo tropical rainforest, I will say Danum Valley. With a size of 438 square KM, this 130-million-year old forest is older than Amazon rainforest (60 million years) and the habitat of Borneo’s rarest and most precious plant and wildlife.
Mostly lowland dipterocarp and riverine forest, Danum Valley is one of the richest conservation areas in the world with over 200 species of tree per hectare. You could find huge commercial timbers such as Kapur,Keruing, Seraya and Belian everywhere. To lumbering companies, these trees look like standing gold bars. To scientists, this forest is the least explored treasure, which holds the secrets that can change our future. But sadly, to most Sabahans, these are just wood that ought to be cut to give way to development.
I was in Danum Valley last month but stayed for less than 24 hours. Danum Valley is 97KM at west of Lahad Datu. After travelling over 2 hours over a gravel road, I reached Borneo Rainforest Lodge, the accommodation in Danum Valley, about 8pm. I left at 1:30pm in the following day, so I only tried night drive at night, 2.6-KM jungle trekking in next morning and canopy walk in next afternoon.
After every tourists got to the back of a jeep, we started our night drive around 8:30pm. The jeep moved slowly on the road, with a “spotter” who held a spotlight and scanned the surrounding forest for reflection of the animal eyes. Once an animal was spotted, the car stopped and the friendly guide would explain what we saw. That night we saw only flying squirrel (the tail), firefly, mouse deer, bearded pig and Sambar Deer, not much. Due to the bright full moon, most animals were hiding deep inside the jungle to avoid predators. Another group who did night walking inside the forest saw many interesting things though, e.g. huge stick insect, colourful frog, civet cats and leopard cat.
The next morning we started our jungle trekking at 6am in the morning. I was already there at 5:40am and I saw a big orangutan fed on the fruit tree in front of Borneo Rainforest Lodge (BRL). According to the BRL staff, its name is “King” and it always comes here during fruiting season. There is also another orangutan family also comes here quite often. Seeing orangutan in the wild is such a wonderful experience. King didn’t seem to bother about the presence of people and carried on his feeding from branch to branch.
There are over 50KM of jungle trails for visitors to appreciate the pristine rainforest in Danum Valley. One of the most recommended trails is the 2.6-KM View Point trail, the one that I was trying. Be observant and you will spot many types of orchids, lichens, lianas, fungus and mushroom along the trail. The morning of Danum Valley is always misty and cooling as if it has a macro-climate of its own. It’s a leisure walk coz of the cooling fresh air (but can be tiring to those who are lack of physical exercise). You also can hear lot of loud gibbon calls.
Ancient Kadazandusun Burial Site. After 40 minutes of walking, we took the junction that led us to an ancient burial site at a cliff. We were asked to be keep quiet and be respectful. The guide showed us a 200-year ancient coffin, who was made of strong Belian wood (Diamond Wood) and belongs to a chief. There is also a blowpipe inside the coffin. These coffins belong to Dusun Supan who lived around this area in the past (now they had moved to lowland at Kinabatangan). Later we went to a platform high above the ground, to see a small coffin of a child. Besides the coffin is a pile of old human bones and skeleton. Then we returned to the View Point trail and continued the trekking.
View Point. After 16 minutes, we reached the View Point which has two wooden platforms to get a breathtaking bird eye view of rainforest and Borneo Rainforest Lodge. You won’t understand how happy I was to see an ocean of pristine rainforest. After seeing so many oil palm “forest” everywhere in Sabah, I had doubt if big forest really existed in Sabah. As a matter of fact, most Sabah wildlife attraction areas such as Kinabatangan are the “Concentration camp” of wildlife because the animals are pushed to small patches of forest fragmented by oil palm plantation.
However, Danum Valley is naturally an animal kingdom and 124 mammals, 72 reptiles, 56 amphibians and 37 fishes live happily under one big mass of forest. Whichever rarest and endangered Borneo wildlife you can name, you find them all here in Danum Valley. For example, large mammals such as Sumatran Rhino, Sun Bear, Benteng and Pygmy Elephants, primates such as Orangutan, Proboscis Monkey, Leaf Monkey, Tarsier, Slow Loris and Macaque, highly secretive cats such as the Sunda Clouded Leopard, Bay Cat and Leopard Cat. The elusive Bay Cat, which is a sub-species endemic in Borneo, was only spotted in Mulu (Sarawak) and Danum Valley.
Our lodge looked so small under our feet. Couldn’t believe we walked that far. Too bad it was nearly 8am so sunrise view was not available. I took out my packed breakfast, with ham sandwich & fruit, and enjoyed a great break time with nice view.
Waterfalls & Pool. Later we dropped by the Fairy Waterfall (27 Meters high) and Serpent Waterfall next to the trail. Too bad it was dry season, the water volume was so small that the waterfalls didn’t look big and impressive. Though it was drought season, little sunlight contacts the forest ground so it is always wet. The last stop is a Jacuzzi Pool where you can swim and enjoy “fish massage”. The small fishes will nibble your feet and remove the death skin. It is a bit painful but doesn’t hurt. Lastly, we were back to the lodge about 11:30am. The jungle trekking took us about 5 hours, as we stopped briefly in every interesting site.
Before the trip, we were warned that there were many big tiger leeches in Danum Valley, but we saw only two small brown leeches. If you are bitten by a tiger leech, you will be qualified to get a “Blood Donation” certificate from Borneo Rainforest Lodge. Of course this is for fun only, you still need to pay RM5 (about USD$1.50) to buy it. Since there was no leech biting me, I caught a leech and let it sucked my blood. Later I was told that it was a brown leech (not tiger leech), but I was still qualified to get the certificate. Well, I did it for fun but the 1-hour bleeding annoyed me.
I went back to my room, take a shower and packed my bag for check-out at 1:30pm. On the way out, we dropped by the Canopy Walk. For bird-watching, you will really appreciate the 300-Metre-long and 27-Metre-high canopy walkway built by Borneo Rainforest Lodge and it won the Best Nature Attraction award in Sabah Tourism Awards 2009. In year 2008, a bird guide Richard Webster discovered a new bird species (Spectacled flowerpecker) on this canopy. Who knows you might discover a beautiful new bird that can be named after your beloved wife (mother-in-law if it is an ugly and noisy bird). If you look carefully, you will see many bee hives on Menggaris tree, the favourite nesting tree of wild honey bees due to its height.
In Danum Valley, you can see or hear flock of big hornbills flying over your head almost every hour. This is one of the few places in Malaysia where we can find 8 species of hornbills. Do you know there are more than 290 bird species in Danum Valley? That is almost half the bird species of whole Borneo! Some birdwatchers pay thousands to come to see only one bird in Danum Valley, the Bornean Bristlehead (only found in Borneo). Other rare birds include Great Argus, Bulwar’s Pheasant, Giant Pitta, Bornean flycatcher, Bornean Ground-cuckoo and many more.
BTW, I saw a leopard cat and some long-tailed macaques on the road. The staffs say you might see elephants if you are lucky. I also saw the helicopter of Martha Stewart heading to Danum Valley. I don’t know why the whole world is so crazy about her. Anyway, too bad I didn’t see her. From her blog, she is so happy to see “King”, the orangutan. She is quite crazy about our Borneo wild man I guess. No wonder West Malaysians want to “steal” our orangutan. So the federal government is interested in rehabilitating our orangutan? A middle finger to you! You only want the tourist $$$. But I’ll be more than happy to send illegal immigrants to KL, as we have nearly million of them here. I can guarantee that they are also wild men.
It is no surprise that Sabah government is planning to nominate Danum Valley as a world heritage site. Actually Sabah has only about 92,400 hectares of virgin forest, less than 5% of all forest area in Sabah. If we clear them, they will never be the same again; the millions-year old ecosystem will be lost, no matter how hard we try to recover them later. Rather than cutting down the trees for their wood and paper, we should keep the forest as nursery ground for our priceless wildlife, world-class research hub for tropical rainforest, sustainable income source for tourism and high quality conservation area to combat global warming. And no coal plant near to Danum Valley, please. The Sabah Chief Minister always says conservation is important to protect the eco-treasures of Sabah, but he is the one who approves the logging at Danum Valley and Maliau Basin. What a joke!
Other canopy walk in Sabah:
Photos taken in Lahad Datu, Sabah Malaysia