Tag Archives: Birds

Tabin, the Sanctuary of Borneo Wildlife

Pig-tailed macaque

Located in east coast of Sabah, Tabin Wildlife Reserve is one of the best kept lowland rainforest of Borneo. I don’t want to hide the fact that most lowland of Sabah is now blanketed by oil palm. Tabin is surrounded by sea of oil palm, making it an oasis of the ecology desert (oil palm). In fact, this 112,000-hectare protected forest reserve harbors some of the rarest and endangered Bornean animals such as Pygmy Elephant, Sumatran Rhinoceros and Orangutan.

morning rays in rainforest
Last month I visited Tabin for 3 days. Though large part of Tabin is secondary rainforest being logged in the past, the forest regenerates really well over the decades. Tabin also has 9,000 hectares undisturbed primary forest known as the Core Area. Do you know that there are nearly 1,000 tree species in 50-hectare area of Borneo rainforest (Temperate Forest is up to 100 species only)?

Macaques

Guess what was the first animal I saw in Tabin. Can you recognise the “aliens” below?

butt of macaques
Pic: “Aliens” in Tabin

LOL they are actually the butt of pig-tailed macaques, a common but cheeky monkey. At the left is a male with its testicles, the sexy red butt at the right belongs to a female ready to mate.

pig-tailed macaques
In late afternoon, you would see dozens of macaques gathering on the ground feeding, socializing and grooming one another. Tabin Resort doesn’t feed them so they keep a distance from human. But you better lock the door and leave nothing outside your room, because these monkey know how to open door and ransack your stuffs.

macaque gathering
I was surprised to see a long-tailed macaque among a herd of pig-tailed macaques as if it’s one of the members. Wonder if both species speak the same language.

Bornean Gibbon
Pic: Bornean Gibbon foraging on a fruit tree. You can always hear their “whoop-whoop” loud and long call early in the morning at Tabin.

There are 9 primate species in Tabin, but gorilla isn’t on the list (though the movie says King Kong is from Borneo). The most famous primate here is Orangutan. Tabin is one of the releasing spots for rehabilitated orphan orangutan from Sepilok. To ensure they can survive in the wild, rangers will track and evaluate the new comers for 2 weeks.

Tabin Wildlife Resort

Tabin Wildlife Resort is the only accommodation and tour operator in Tabin Wildlife Reserve. To visit Tabin, you can book a full board tour package with them (Accommodation, meals, transport, activities and guide services are included). They also offer special tours such as bird-watching and frog camp. Please note walk-in tourist might not be entertained.

River Lodge of Tabin Wildlife Resort
Pic: River Lodge of Tabin Resort

After an hour of bumpy ride on 44-Kilometres of unsealed road from Lahad Datu town, I checked-in to River Lodge of Tabin Resort around noon. River Lodge is just next to Lipad River and you would see foraging animals at the river bank sometimes.

room of Riverside Lodge
The chalet looks small from outside, but the room is really spacious and completed with attached bathroom/toilet, private balcony, air conditioner, ceiling fan and hot water shower. The accommodation is comfortable and electricity supply is available 24×7. I’m happy.

Hill Lodge of Tabin Wildlife Resort
Pic: Hill Lodge of Tabin Resort

For honeymooners, Hill Lodge offers more luxurious and private space, so nobody can hear what you both busy doing in your room. I think it’s great for family too.

Sunbird Cafe of Tabin Wildlife Resort
Pic: Sunbird Cafe of Tabin Resort

Sunbird Cafe is where I have my buffet meals (and free flow of coffee) and it is the gathering point for all activities. The cafe has Wifi so you can check your Facebook, but the line would be slow if too many guests are sharing the connection.

Dusk Drive & Night Safari

Compared to my jungle trips in other places of Sabah, the activities at Tabin are really leisure, nothing made me gasping for air there. But I sweated a lot, as rainforest is warm and humid, when the dense trees trap the heat and moisture under their canopy during daytime.

dusk drive at Tabin forest
We started our Dusk Drive at 5pm. Unlike Africa, where you can see hundred of animals on open grassland. In Borneo, you need to look quite hard for the animals hiding among the dense wood. Luckily, the guide does the job for us. A napping monitor lizard high on a tree set off the excitement.

oriental-pied hornbill in flight
As the habitat of about 260 lowland bird species (FYI, oil palm estate only hosts 9 to 12 species), Tabin is a favorite destination of bird-watchers. Out of 8 hornbill species in Tabin, I saw 4 of them (Oriental Pied Hornbill, Rhinoceros Hornbill, Wrinkled Hornbill and Bushy-crested Hornbill) during my stay. If you are a hardcore birder, they will bring you to Core Area (virgin forest) to look for Blue-headed Pitta and Blue-Banded Pitta, which are endemic to Borneo.

crested serpent eagle
Pic: Crested-serpent eagle is the most common eagle here. We also spotted Wallace’s Hawk-eagle and Changeable Hawk-eagle.

Bornean Falconet
Pic: Bornean Falconet

The highlight is Bornean Falconet (a.k.a. White-fronted Falconet), which is endemic to Sabah and the smallest raptor in the world (about the size of a palm). There was a group of three perching on a tree very far away from us. Fortunately, our guide let us to have a better look with his high-power telescope. I tried to photograph them through the scope but the photo was blur, well. 🙁

pygmy elephants
Then we heard a loud roar from the elephants deep in the forest beside us. “It was a mother calling its calf”, our guide said. Though there are 200 to 300 elephants in Tabin, sighting of them is not guaranteed. We waited there for over 15 minutes but no sign of them coming near. When I almost gave up, two Bornean pygmy elephants emerged from the wood behind our truck! After wandering on the gravel road for a while, both of them headed to a neighboring plantation for juicy young shots of oil palm. Somehow this smart mammal figures out the time when electrical fence is being turned off lol.

common palm civet
The daylight was out soon and lot of fireflies flickering on the trees, but we didn’t stop the fun drive. On the way back to resort, our guide turned on the spotlight and here we went for a night safari. Besides a pair of sleeping Rhinoceros Hornbill on the tree, we saw other nocturnal animals such as Common Palm Civet and Leopard Cats. We were also watching a red giant flying squirrel took off from a branch, it could glide 100 Metres from tree to tree, we were told.

Buffy fish owl
Pic: a Buffy Fish Owl. A Brown Wood Owl was nearby too.

Night Walk

Dusk drive is cool but it would be more thrilling to walk around and search for other forest dwellers in the dark. After dinner, everyone grabbed a flashlight and explored deep in the jungle. We pointed our light to the shrubs, tree top, forest ground, tree bark, etc. and came across something interesting.

Crematogaster inflata
Pic: Crematogaster inflata, these ants look like carrying a “gold” knapsack, which is the enlarged metapleural gland that can secrete whitish defensive fluid and their bites are very itchy. Thank you Arthur Chung for the ID.

A single tree of Borneo can house 1,000 insect species. There are at least 50,000 insect species in Tabin, which is enough for you to explore for a lifetime.

mushroom on elephant dung
Pic: mushroom growing on an elephant dung. Everything in rainforest is recycled and exist for a reason.

snake
Pic: a small snake waiting quietly for its prey.

giant river toad
Pic: a giant river toad covered with irregular bumps. The big glands behind its eyes secrete poisonous fluid so don’t touch it!

Lipad Mud Volcano

The next morning we went to the Lipad Mud Volcano, something that makes Tabin special. The jungle trail to the mud volcano is 700 Metres and requires only 20 minutes trekking. We saw some fresh and old elephant dungs along the way, an evidence that elephants frequent this area. Anyway, I only found a tiny mouse deer and a few forest leeches.

jungle trekking in Tabin forest

coral fungus
Pic: a coral fungus

Lipad Mud Volcano
Pic: the Lipad Mud Volcano is as big as a football field and it is still growing. This might be the largest mud volcano of Borneo. Can you spot the tiny people in the photo?

animal tracks at mud volcano
Pic: elephant tracks at mud volcano

Animals love mud volcano as it is rich in sodium and calcium, the vital minerals that are not readily available in their normal diet. That’s why this is a good spot for wildlife sighting, as animals come here regularly for “salt lick” in late afternoon.

collecting mud
We love mud volcano too, not for salt lick but for skin care. Some says the mud is really good for skin so we collect some for facial SPA later.

face SPA with volcano mud
Some prefers to enjoy the muddy face mask on the spot.

walking in mud volcano
However, the outer ring of mud volcano is dry mud mixed with coarse sand. To collect the finest and silky wet mud, you have to go to the sources located in the centre, where you can see fresh mud burping and bubbling up from the ground. The mud in centre is deep and soft, so your shoes would be trapped in it. Some even lost their pant here (yes, that happened before).

Observatory Tower at Lipad Mud Volcano
Pic: the 5-storey observation tower next to the mud volcano. You can overnight there for more animal sighting.

mud volcano certiticate
Pic: making handprint certificate with volcano mud.

Lipad Waterfall

After getting ourselves dirty in mud volcano, we got on our truck and moved to Lipad Waterfall. The nature trail to the waterfall is only 400 Metres but we needed to cross a river as deep as our waist level.

Lipad Waterfall
Because of the heavy rain the night before, the water looked a bit murky, but it was clean and cooling. We washed away our mud at the river and took a dip in the waterfall pool.

Lipad Waterfall pool
Pic: Lipad Waterfall, pristine and unpolluted.

Other Activities

There are more things to do in Tabin. Just to list a few here.

You may check out the exhibition in Trogon Hall gallery, where they display some photographs and information of Borneo bio-diversity.

exhibition in

elephant skull
Pic: elephant skull in the Gallery

After a long day of trekking, it’s time to relax your tired feet by trying out the Rainforest Foot Soak at Eagle’s Nest. Various traditional tropical herb and plants (e.g. Kaffir lime leaf, Aloe Vera, Lemongrass, Betel Leaf, Pandanus Leaf, Galangal, Tumeric) are put in the hot water, and you can rub your feet against the smooth pebbles at bottom.

Rainforest Foot Soak

foot SPA at Tabin

So that’s my Tabin trip. You can see that our rainforest is an eco-treasure worths protecting and preserving. The good news is – Sabah government and NGOs are working together to connect all the isolated forest of Sabah, so wildlife can migrate freely among them for food and mates. In future, Tabin forest reserve will be part of the Heart of Borneo.

More Photos

Created with flickr badge.

Photos taken in Lahad Datu, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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Firefly Eco Camp – Good Morning to Borneo monkey

Firefly Eco Camp in Klias

Proboscis Monkey is the superstar of Klias Wetland. Every evening Klias River is like a busy canal, when hundreds of tourists come to visit this peculiar monkey. One guest even said, “there were more tourists than monkey.”

Therefore, the Best Time to see Proboscis Monkey is in the morning, when there are very few tourists around. The monkey is less stressful and you can get really close to them. That’s why I spent a night Firefly Eco Camp.

Firefly Eco Camp
Pic: Firefly Eco Camp

Firefly Eco Camp is located next to Klias River. Staying there will allow you to see what other ordinary tourists miss – the starry night and misty morning over Klias River.

night safari in Klias

I checked in to the camp around 6pm. After the dinner, we started our night river cruise at 8pm to look for firefly Xmas trees and crocodile, when other tourists had left. Though we didn’t find any crocodile, we saw many “summer Xmas trees”, where hundreds of fireflies congregated and flashing in synchronized manner like heart-beating.

dining hall of Firefly Eco Camp
Hour later we returned to the activity hall next to the jetty, to enjoy a serene evening next to Klias River.

Night Fishing in Klias

Klias River is inside Peat Swamp Forest with brackish water, which looks murky all the time. The river seems lifeless, but you will know that you are wrong when you fish.

night fishing
Klias River is connected to the sea. During high tide, fishes will follow the current entering the river for feeding. If you fish during that time, you will catch something in minutes.

fishing bait
Pic: our fishing bait is hot dog LOL. But it works well!

fishing in Klias
Most of us are first-time anglers. We were so excited when it was almost effortless to catch big fish in a few minutes.

fun of fishing
Pic: one caught to make one family happy

May be you want to watch our fishing video below:

catfish
All the fishes we caught that evening was catfish (暗钉 in Chinese, means “Hidden Nail”). It is a very common fish, though edible, locals consider it a lower-grade (dirty) fish, due to the impression that it eats human dung fallen from riverside toilet. It has venomous thorns on its pelvic and dorsal fins, which can cause severe pain when poke into your skin. Be careful when you remove the fishing hook.

giant freshwater prawn (udang galah)
Actually we targeted for Giant Freshwater Prawn (Udang Galah) that night, so we released all the catfishes. It was fun anyway.

riverside camp of Firefly Eco Camp
Pic: the hut where I slept

We had a couple of beer while fishing at river side. We talked until late night. I couldn’t wait to enter my small hut as it was so cool.

room of Firefly Eco Camp
The hut may look small from outside, but it can fit two people comfortably. Though there are only bed, light and fan inside, to me it’s a “luxurious camp”. I slept really well throughout the night.

Morning River Cruise in Klias

The next day I waked up early, sat at the small balcony to enjoy the nice river view. It was quiet in the morning and I saw some movement in the canopy. The monkey had waked up earlier than I did.

balcony of Firefly Eco Camp

river cruise in the morning
After having some light breakfast, we were ready for a morning river cruise on Klias River.

misty morning of Klias River
Pic: the misty swamp forest in the morning

Klias River of Sabah
Pic: the calm river of Klias with beautiful reflection on water

female proboscis monkey
Very soon we spotted the first proboscis monkey. It’s a female with pointy nose.

Borneo proboscis monkey
Then we saw the male proboscis monkey with big nose. From their eyes, we could see that they were not quite concern about our presence, a big contrast to evening time when there were too many tourists and boats around. We were the only tourist boat on the river that morning.

yawning proboscis monkey
So we could get really close to them for a good look. One of them was so relax and even yawned. This one was just on top of our heads. I was so worry that it would poo. Our boat found about 5 to 6 herds of proboscis monkey.

silver leaf monkey
Pic: silver-leaf monkey. There were some macaques too.

mangrove of Klias River
Pic: the mangrove trees of Klias River.

river cruise in Klias River
Pic: Peat Swamp Forest is an important habitat for rare Borneo wildlife

Nibung palm in Klias
Pic: Nibung Palm, a tree that grows between swamp and dryland. Its straight and strong trunk can be used for building houses and bridges.

mangrove fruits
Pic: fruits are abundant in the swamp but no monkey eating them, probably they are poisonous.

mangrove trees in river
Pic: mangrove trees that can survive in the water during high tide.

birds in Klias
I saw some birds such as Brahminy Kite, Oriental Darter (Snake Bird), Stork-Billed Kingfisher, Hill Myna and Greater Coucal. Sometimes you can see hornbill and woodpecker around this area too.

Below is a short video of our Morning River Cruise:

How to get there

Firefly Eco Camp is about 80 Kilometers away from Kota Kinabalu (capital city). It is very accessible, just next to the road (left side) to Kuala Penyu (see location map).

entrance of Firefly Eco Camp
Pic: the signage and entrance of the camp at roadside. You won’t miss it.

activity hall of Firefly Eco Camp

riverside lodge
Pic: the dining and activity hall of Firefly Eco Camp

Below is a short video of the camp and its dining hall:

view of Firefly Eco Camp from the river
Pic: view of Firefly Eco Camp from the river

long house of Firefly Eco Camp
If you have a big group such as 20 students, you can book the long house dormitory.

long house dormitory
The room rate starts from RM68 (≈USD20, as of Aug 2013) per head per night. You also can consider a 2-day-1-night full-board tour package for RM298 (≈USD90, as of Aug 2013) per head, which includes transportation, meals, accommodation, 3 river cruises, etc. They also offer optional tour to Sands Spit Island and other places.

For booking or latest info about Firefly Eco Camp, you may contact Borneo Starcruise (星程生态旅游公司) at:
E-mail: info@borneostarcruise.com / borneostarcruise@gmail.com
Website: www.borneostarcruise.com
Facebook: Click Here
Address: Ground Floor, Lot 7, Jalan Pasar Baru, Kampung Air, 88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.
Tel: +60 88-212009 / +60 17-8137911 (hotline)

Photos taken in Beaufort, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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