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Where to see Orangutan, Proboscis Monkey, Sunbear, Pygmy Elephant and Hornbill of Borneo

Orangutan Vs Proboscis Monkey

Does Sabah have anything extraordinary on world map? Foreigners would not know your favourite celebrity in Malaysia. But when you mention the word “Borneo”, they would reply, “Oh I know, that’s where orangutan lives!” Orangutan is a superstar in animal kingdom and is featured as much as Kangaroo and Panda in nature channels.

Superstars of Borneo: Orangutan, Proboscis Monkey, Pygmy Elephant, Sunbear and Hornbill

Superstars of Borneo: Orangutan, Proboscis Monkey, Pygmy Elephant, Sunbear and Hornbill

However, orangutan, a.k.a. Man of the Forest, isn’t the only wonder in our 140-million-year-old Borneo rainforest (Amazon is only 60 million). Come and meet the “Borneo version” of Playboy, Teddy Bear, Mini Jumbo and Love Bird, which are Proboscis Monkey, Sunbear, Pygmy Elephant and Hornbill respectively, the other four iconic wildlife rule the third largest island on earth. Allow me briefly introduce these charismatic and must-see animals of Borneo:-

1. Orangutan — Man of the Forest

say Hi to your cousin (just kidding), orangutan, is one of our closest relative, as their DNA is 97% resemble to human. If you look at their eyes and expression, you know they are thinking animal. Orangutan probably inspired the making of first King Kong movie, and you may have seen orangutan in movies such as Maurice in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and King Louie in Jungle Book.

Orangutan of Borneo

Orangutan is only found in Borneo and Sumatra

Orangutan is smarter than Chimpanzee. They know how to use tools, memorizing the fruiting season of different fruit and pass on this knowledge to their offspring. Orangutan is the only great ape of Asia. So please stop calling orangutan a monkey, that’s an insult to them lol.

2. Proboscis Monkey — Playboy of Borneo

This peculiar long-nosed monkey has an amusing nickname, i.e. Orang Belanda (means Dutch Man in Malay language) because of its big nose and beer belly (don’t be offended ok, if you are from Netherlands). Though you would think the long, pendulous nose of adult males is funny, the female monkey think it’s sexy. And strong male proboscis monkey has dozen of wives.

Male Proboscis Monkey

“Huh? Banana? No Thanks.”

Never feed Proboscis Monkey with banana. Their digestion system is meant for breaking down mangrove leaves. Anything sweet will ferment and create lot of gas in their stomach, and that could cause death.

3. Pygmy Elephant — Mini Elephant

Pygmy Elephant is the smallest elephant on earth and only a thousand of them left in Sabah, so they are critically endangered and far rarer than African elephant (with a population of 350,000+ and always reported as “in worrying status” by world media).

Pygmy elephant

Pygmy elephant is the most endangered elephant species

Pygmy Elephant looks like Asian Elephant, but both species separated from each other around three million years ago, and Pygmy Elephant evolves into a smaller subspecies that has longer tail and round baby face. Pygmy Elephants love durian and they swallow it as a whole.

4. Bornean Sun Bear — Teddy Bear of Borneo

About the size of a dog, Bornean Sun Bear is the world’s tiniest bear. The baby bear is so adorable and cuddly that some people keep it as pet illegally. For such a beautiful creature, you might imagine that they live a fairytale life in a candy house filled with cookies.

Bornean Sunbear

LOL Bear

Instead, they live in danger every day. Poachers shoot them without hesitation, for their highly priced gallbladder. And their cute baby bears would be kept as pet, but will be abandoned eventually after they grow too big to be handled. Never live in the wild since young, these bears won’t survive.

5. Hornbills — Love Birds of Borneo

Hornbills are monogamous and a symbol of fidelity. I always see them flying in pair. There are 8 species of hornbills in Borneo, each with interesting characteristics. For example, Helmeted Hornbill is called Burung Tebang Mentua (Chop Mother-in-law in Malay language) by locals because of its long eerie call that sounds like evil laughter.

Hornbills of Borneo

Hornbills of Borneo

During hatching period, female hornbill seals herself inside a tree hole, leaving a slit for feeding by her “husband”. The male can come back and forth as many as 70 times a day to feed. This goes on for months until the chick hatched. If this is not love, what it is then.

Best Place to See Them All?

You can see these “big 5” wildlife in only 2 days in Sandakan, the gateway to wildlife sanctuary of Borneo. Sepilok and Kinabatangan will be your best destinations for wildlife sighting in Borneo. For tour and accommodation, I stayed in the lodges of Nasalis Larvatus Tours which are rated as 4+ stars by TripAdvisor.

1. Sepilok

Sepilok is a a virgin forest reserve about 26 KM away from Sandakan City and highly accessible by public transport. Tourists love this place because they can see Orangutan, Sunbear and probably Hornbill in one trip. The following are three parks that are adjacent to one another in Sepilok.

1) Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC)

Founded in 1964, SORC is the most popular tourist attraction in Sandakan. Orphan orangutan is sent here for survival skill training such as climbing and food hunting. They will be released to the wild after they “graduate” from this orangutan school. The best time to see them is during the feeding time at 10am and 3pm daily. The Centre also has a hall where you can see cute baby orangutan playing in nursery.

Feeding time at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Feeding time at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

2) Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC)

Located just next to SORC, BSBCC houses and rehabiliates over 40 bears rescued from illegal zoo and pet owners. BSBCC won the Best Nature Attraction in Sabah Tourism Awards 2017 and its founder Dr. Wong is named as one of the CNN Heroes in 2017.

A sleeping sunbear high on tree

A sleeping sunbear high on a tree

The bears roam in a confined forested area for tourists to observe them from a rised platform. You will be amazed by their tree climbing skill and playful behavior. Some staffs are around to share the story of each bear. Their sad stories could make you cry, but sun bear gets far less attention than Polar Bear and Panda.

3) Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC)

RDC is a beautiful forest park with tall tropical trees, lake, nature trails and exhibition hall. You can walk on their 15-Metre high sturdy walkway to see everything at canopy level.

Canopy walkway of Rainforest Discovery Centre

Canopy walkway of Rainforest Discovery Centre

This place is also an ideal bird-watching location where you would find hornbill, kingfishers, pitta, and Bornean Bristlehead, the superstar endemic bird of Borneo. If you are a tree hugger, check out the Sepilok Giant, an estimated 800-1,000 years old Ironwood tree in the park.

Nature Lodge Sepilok

For accommodation, I spent a night in Nature Lodge Sepilok (GPS: 5.875559, 117.950068, see Location Map) in Sepilok and able to make a day trip to all 3 parks near the lodge.

Location of Nature Lodge Sepilok and its surrounding attractions

Nature Lodge Sepilok is near to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Rainforest Discovery Centre, and Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

Below are some photos of Nature Lodge Sepilok.

Nature Lodge Sepilok is a family friendly accommodation

Nature Lodge Sepilok is a family friendly accommodation

The lodge is constructed in smaller scale to give more privacy and tranquility to tourists. They don’t want a big lodge with hundred of noisy tourists.

Rooms of Nature Lodge Sepilok

Rooms of Nature Lodge Sepilok

The room is nice and clean with air-conditioning. It is as comfy as a 3-star hotel room. The pictures above shall give you an idea.

The open bathroom of Nature Lodge Sepilok

The open bathroom of Nature Lodge Sepilok

And the toilet and bathroom is a little surprise. It’s a backyard garden with bath and toilet area partly concealed by plant. There is no tall building around, so don’t worry about your privacy. In fact, taking bath and doing my business in semi-open area is oddly satisfying. One of my friends found bird nest in her bathroom.

Cute cats at Nature Lodge Sepilok

Cute & friendly cats at Nature Lodge Sepilok

Every time I walked around the lodge, I always ended up with cat fur all over me. The cats there are so cute and friendly.

Mango Garden Cafe of Nature Lodge Sepilok

Mango Garden Cafe of Nature Lodge Sepilok

Breakfast at Mango Garden Cafe of Nature Lodge Sepilok

Breakfast at Mango Garden Cafe of Nature Lodge Sepilok

The food in Mango Garden Cafe of Nature Lodge Sepilok is delicious and rich in variety. They even look yummy in photos. Every meal time is a happy time for me.

Delicious food in Mango Garden Cafe of Nature Lodge Sepilok

Delicious food in Mango Garden Cafe of Nature Lodge Sepilok

By the way, you can buy almost every necessity in their shop, e.g. raincoat, soft drink, instant noodle, snack, toiletries, sunblock lotion, insect repellent, drinking water.

Little shop in Nature Lodge Sepilok

Little shop in Nature Lodge Sepilok

Nature Lodge Sepilok is really a great place for a relax and leisure vacation. For booking, you can reach them at: http://www.insabah.com/nature-lodge-sepilok or Phone: +60 16-8302038

2. Kinabatangan River

Let’s keep it short, Kinabatangan River is simply the best place to see orangutan, proboscis monkey, pygmy elephant and hornbills in the wild. You need a bit of luck to see pygmy elephant and orangutan though, as they are always on the move (please note this is not a zoo).

Kinabatangan River

Kinabatangan River is the longest river of Sabah

No matter what, I can assure that you won’t be disappointed with your trip in Kinabatangan, because there are so many other amazing wildlife to look at.

Nature Lodge Kinabatangan

Seeing wildlife in their natural habitat is a more exciting experience, so I visited Kinabatangan and stayed in Nature Lodge Kinabatangan (GPS: 5.494785, 118.204908, see Location Map) at Bilit Village, which is in upstream of Kinabatangan.

Tasty Soto (Beef soup) in Kinabatangan Town

We stopped at Kedai Kopi Santa of Kinabatangan Town for lunch. Their Soto (Beef soup) is one of the best in Sandakan.

Nature Lodge Kinabatangan of Kinabatangan River

Arrived Nature Lodge Kinabatangan

It took about 2 hours of road trip from Sandakan City to Bilit. The Lodge is located about 30 Metres away from the Kinabatangan River.

Nature Lodge Kinabatangan

Nature Lodge Kinabatangan is a highly ranked accommodation in Tripadvisor

Sunset river cruise

Sunset river cruise

After we checked into our room, we started our sunset river cruise and saw a baby crocodile on the river bank right away.

Birds of Kinabatangan

Kinabatangan River is one of the best bird-watching sites in Borneo

There were many birds along the river. I saw Purple Heron (many!), Little Heron flying next to our boat, Black & Red Broadbill, Lesser Adjutant (known as Burung Botak locally, means Bald Bird), Rhinocerous Hornbill, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Brahminy kite, and Oriental Darter (Snake Bird).

Long-tailed macaques in alert

Long-tailed macaques in alert

Then we saw a group of Long-tailed macaques in commotion. They stood up looking at a pile of log, probably there was a monitor lizard or crocodile hiding in there. The highlight is a few herds of proboscis monkey on the trees.

Sunset river cruise at Kinabatangan River

Sunset river cruise at Kinabatangan River

Pygmy elephants at Kinabatangan

Pygmy elephants at Kinabatangan

After the interesting river cruise, we had our buffet dinner in the lodge. We enjoyed some fresh vegetables planted in their garden.

Buffet dinner at dining hall of Nature Lodge Kinabatangan

Buffet dinner at dining hall of Nature Lodge Kinabatangan

The activity didn’t stop there. We went for a night walk in the forest around 8pm. If this adventure is too much for you, you may stay back at the lodge to join some fun activities such as local dance.

some critters in night walk

Critters we saw in night walk

With the help of our guide, we spotted a few nocturnal animals in the dark. A jewel-color kingfisher slept like a fluffy ball on a twig, so cute. A researcher put up a white sheet to attract insects with light. We went busybody there and checked out the bug. Near the end we saw a number of big flying foxes foraging on a cotton tree. It’s quite a thrilling experience.

Nature Lodge Kinabatangan is in the forest of Kinabatangan

Nature Lodge Kinabatangan is in the forest of Kinabatangan

After day long of playing, I went back to my lodge to rest. The lodge is inside the rainforest. It’s a special feeling to sleep in a forest, so peaceful and quiet, almost like a therapy.

Nature Lodge Kinabatangan at night

Nature Lodge Kinabatangan at night

They also have dormitory if you prefer backpacker style accommodation.

Reading room in Nature Lodge Kinabatangan

Reading room in Nature Lodge Kinabatangan

Room of Nature Lodge Kinabatangan

Room of Nature Lodge Kinabatangan

My room is quite spacious and comfortable. I love big space as it makes me more relaxing, so I’m really happy with my room, and it has air-conditioner.

Misty morning of Kinabatangan River

Misty morning of Kinabatangan River

The next day we waked up around 6am for a morning river cruise. Though it’s really early and I was sleepy, the sighting was very rewarding. The morning was cool and refreshing with a bit of mist on the river.

Orangutan on top of a Durian tree

We spotted an Orangutan on top of a Durian tree

We were so lucky to see an orangutan waked up from his nest high up on a durian tree. Another trophy is Storm’s stork, which has only around 200 left in the world, and Kinabatangan is their stronghold.

River cruise is the best way for wildlife sighting at Kinabatangan

River cruise is the best way for wildlife sighting at Kinabatangan

Wild Proboscis Monkey is quite common here. You can easily see about 20 of them here.

Group of wild Proboscis Monkey in Kinabatangan

Group of wild Proboscis Monkey in Kinabatangan

If you love to experience this safari trip, you may contact Nature Lodge Kinabatangan via the following channels:
Website: naturelodgekinabatangan.com
Facebook: NatureLodgeKinabatangan
Phone: +60 88-230 534
E-mail: sales@nasalislarvatustours.com

Both Nature Lodge Sepilok and Nature Lodge Kinabatangan are operated by Nasalis Larvatus Tours, a licensed travel agent of Malaysia.

Flight to Sandakan

You can fly to Sandakan City by Malaysia Airlines or AirAsia from Kota Kinabalu City (KK)(50 min flight) or Kuala Lumpur (KL)(2 hours 50 min). Flight is available every day. If you book at the good time, you can get really cheap round-trip ticket like about MYR200 for KK-Sandakan and MYR400 for KL-Sandakan flight. You can use Google Flights to check the fare prices from all airlines. Nasalis Larvatus Tours also can pick you up at Sandakan airport.

Famous Spring Noodle and Century Egg Dumpling of Sandakan

Famous Spring Noodle and Century Egg Dumpling of Sandakan

By the way, Sandakan is the second largest city of Sabah and also a foodie paradise, do try some yummy local food such as spring noodle when you visit Sandakan!

Photos taken in Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

Dangerous Animals of Sabah


More than half of Sabah is in wilderness, so there are something which we should watch out for, or they will remind us that they deserve our respect. I sweat whenever I hear ignorant tourists say something like, “Oh dear, the orangutan / hippo / sun bear is so cute!!!” Wildlife is not our house pet. They never like human so don’t expect they love our caress.

1. Elephants

Bornean Pygmy elephant (Elephas maximus borneensis) is the biggest mammal in Sabah, and there are less than 1,500 of them left. With 2.5 Metres in height and body weight in tons, you know you can’t afford to trust this giant babe.

Bornean Pygmy elephant
Above: the habitat of our elephants is destroyed by logging and oil palm plantation. Read more here…

Due to oil palm plantation, logging and land clearing for farmland, the loss of lowland forest has brought the elephants into more contact and conflict with people. Bornean Pygmy Elephant is timid but also a very protective parent. The overexcited tourists, who come too close to the herd that has calf around, would find themselves in danger.

Memorial stone for Jenna O'Grady Donley
Pic: Memorial stone for Jenna O’Grady Donley

In 2011, a Australian tourist, Jenna O’Grady Donley, was stabbed to death by a bull elephant in Tabin Wildlife Reserve. She was an animal lover and sadly she was too close to a bull elephant which was said to be mentally unstable. Rest in peace Jenna.

Bornean Pygmy elephant
Above: the elephants are in stress even at this distance. They round up to protect the calf. Photo of Kinabatangan.

In the video below, you can see that an elephant was agitated when we were too close to them:

Click Here to see wider video

2. Wild Boar

In contrast to their domesticated cousin (pig), wild boars are agile and the favourite target of hunting game because they are difficult to catch. Wild boars are elusive and prefer to flee from our sight in most cases, so it is hard to believe that they have the record of killing bears and tigers in battle. They can pose a threat to people if they want to protect their young. Jungle trekkers are best to move away quietly and leave them alone.

Wild Boar

Wild Boar
Above: adult wild boar has long teeth that can kill.

3. Cattle

Tembadau (Banteng) is supposed on the list. It is a wild cattle similar in size to domestic cattle and is totally protected under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997. However, I find the domesticated cattle are far more dangerous, as they always roam in middle of the road. You will need to be extra careful when you drive in the countryside. Do not honk them, otherwise the group will disperse and running like mad cow in all directions on the road, causing danger to other motorists. Well, I will not pay a single cent of compensation for accidentally knocking down cattle, because it is illegal to let them wander around in the first place.

cattle on the road

4. Crocodiles

Saltwater or estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) is the largest crocodiles in the world and they are found in rivers and swampy areas of Sabah. Crocodile is the master of sneak attack, so it was a big threat to the villagers who washed their cloth and fished in the rivers.

man-eater crocodile
Above: this crocodile killed a few villagers. Photo of Tuaran Crocodile Farm

Basically there is no hope for survival when we are grabbed by the powerful jaws of this 4-Metres aggressive monster. Sometimes people see them having sun bathe in unlikely places such as Tuaran and Papar.

beware of crocodile
Above: warning sign at Kinabatangan River

crocodile show

5. Snakes

Vipers and cobra are the most famous among them, but you should fear the banded sea krait or yellow-lipped sea krait (Laticauda colubrine) the most, because one drop of its venom can kill three adult and there is no antidote!

beware of snakes

Sea snakes are trapped in the fishing net occasionally. When the unlucky fisherman is busy sorting out the fishes, he might be bitten by sea snake without knowing it, due to the anesthetic effect of the venom. The poison will dissolve the muscles of his body and his urine will turn into cola red color. At last, he dies in enormous suffering. Good news is – sea snakes are not aggressive unless threatened, though all sea snake species are highly venomous.

yellow-lipped sea krait
Above: sea snake is more poisonous than cobra but it’s not aggressive. Photo from Banggi Island

yellow-lipped sea krait
Above: yellow-lipped sea kraits in fish tank of the Green Connection

reticulated python
Above: reticulated python can eat a human if it is big enough

6. Jellyfish

This passive little semi-transparent marine life lurks in the sea, but can kill the unfortunate swimmers by its deadly touch. The two dangerous species found in our water are the Box Jellyfish or Chironex fleckeri, whose toxin could kill victims in less than five minutes, and Ubur-ubur merah.

Jellyfish warning
Above: jellyfish warning on Manukan Island

The application of vinegar, which contains acetic acid, can disable the jellyfish’s nematocysts that have not yet been discharged into the bloodstream. After the death of a few tourists, vinegar is always available for such first aid in islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. If you are stung, look for the lifeguard on the beach immediately, they know what to do.

7. Hornet

Let’s forget about the honey. You will not hesitate to get away from their nest as far as possible. If one stung is painful, 100 stung will be a painful death, so terrible that nobody would want to commit suicide by intentionally provoking the hornets. It is also advisable not to agitate a hornet near a nest, as the distress signal will trigger the entire colony to attack. If that happens, submerge into the water is probably the only way to save you. For your info, perfumes can be mistaken as the pheromone of hornets and set off the attack too.

Hornet nest
Hornet also likes to build nest under the roof and water tank of houses. The nest may be as small as a tennis ball in the beginning. But if you don’t eliminate it in early stage, it will grow to the size of sandbag and pose a serious threat to the residents. By that time, only Fire Department can help you to remove the huge nest safely.

Hornet nest
If you are too close to a bee hive, the patrolling bees will come and buzzing around you to investigate if you are a threat. It’s very important that you stay still and don’t agitate them (with sudden move or swatting them). After the guard bees leave, move slowly away from their territory. In contrast to honeybee, a hornet can sting multiple times. If a child has anaphylactic reaction to bee sting, attack by one hornet is deadly enough.

8. Mosquito

Finally the last one but not the least is mosquito. If one mosquito gets into your room, you know you will have problem sleeping whole night long. Anyway, causing bad sleep is not how mosquito kills hundred of people every year. Mosquito is deadliest disease vector which spreads infectious diseases such as Malaria, Dengue and Yellow Fever. Sabah is the red zone for Malaria. Therefore, please make sure your house is free of stagnant water that serves as a breeding ground for them.

model of Aedes aegypti mosquito
Pic: Among all mosquito species, Aedes aegypti (locally known as Nyamuk Aedes) is the most dangerous, as it can spread diseases such as dengue fever and yellow fever. It is easily recognized by white stripes on its legs and body.

There is no tiger in Borneo, in case you wonder why it isn’t on the list. As you may see by now, dangerous animal is not necessary a man eater or a big animal. Even if it can look friendly and adorable, wildlife is wild, never treat it like a pet. Most of the time, those wildlife look timid and afraid of human, and tourists can get away 99.99% of the time. But you need only one incident to lose your life.

Photos taken in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo