From pygmy elephants to puffer fish, there’s nowhere better to experience the animal kingdom and head out on unique wildlife tours than the magical land of Sabah. An awe-inspiring destination with hidden treasures around every corner, Sabah’s varied and abundant wildlife will prove an undisputed paradise for animal lovers.
Scuba dive with stingrays, dolphins and hawksbill turtles, glimpse orangutans in the wild, and explore the vast acres of lush rainforest home to rare and colourful birds, leopards and the native proboscis monkeys, among others. From canopy walks to night safaris, jungle treks and rainforest adventures, Sabah’s jaw-dropping habitats are brimming with spectacular flora, fauna and wildlife.
1) See orangutans in Danum Valley
Spot Sabah’s star attraction in one of the world’s most complex ecosystems: the spellbinding Danum Valley is home to around 500 orangutans and features a treasure trove of rare flora and fauna to boot. This remote and untouched natural paradise enables visitors to experience the beauty of Sabah’s rich lands. Keep the camera ready as this stunning ecosystem is home to pygmy elephants, leopards, proboscis monkeys and more.
2. Visit Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
The world-renowned Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is perhaps the most famous place to see orangutans in Sabah. The centre helps nurse young and orphaned orangutans, preparing them to hopefully return to the wild. Around 25 kilometres west of Sandakan, and covering 40 square-kilometres of the breathtaking Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, the Centre has high boardwalk platforms where visitors can walk along and see orangutans swinging from the trees. Be sure to stay for feeding time, which is held twice daily and offers the best chance of seeing the resident orangutans.
3. Scuba in Sipadan
When it comes to the island of Sipadan, prepare to be dazzled. With white beaches, gin-clear waters and 3,000 species of tropical fish, it’s little wonder the idyllic island is a magnet for scuba and snorkelling enthusiasts. Pop your head below the surface and explore a vibrant world teeming with rainbow fish and sprays of vivid coral. Sipadan is also one of the few places around the globe where green and hawksbill turtles gather to mate and nest. With kaleidoscopic marine life, this region boasts no less than 12 top scuba sites including the Hanging Gardens, Turtle Cavern, Barracuda Point and South Point.
4. Spot whale sharks
From November to May, migrating whale sharks are spotted in the waters on the outskirts of the spectacular Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, attracted by the blooming phytoplankton in the marine park. Lucky visitors can savour this once-in-a-lifetime experience and glimpse the majestic creatures in the wild.
5. Explore Turtle Islands National Park
Famous for its population of green and hawksbill turtles, this national park is devoted to conservation and is located within the Turtle Islands near Sandakan. During the year, the turtles lay eggs on the beaches and the largest of the islands, Selingan, houses the park’s headquarters, a turtle hatchery, visitor accommodation and basic facilities. The best time to visit is usually between July and September, when the sea is calmer, though shoulder-season months can be less crowded.
6. See Sabah’s Sun Bears
Named for their golden necklace of fur, Bornean Sun Bears are the smallest and second most endangered bear in the world and are found in the rainforests in Sabah. Handily located next door to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) is a rescue facility and one of the best places to see the elusive species. Currently home to 46 rescued ex-captive Sun Bears, the BSBCC is set amid the lush rainforest. Visitors can walk along the viewing platforms and trails to spot the bears in their natural habitat.
7. Cruise with proboscis monkeys
Spot the characteristic long rubbery-nosed proboscis monkeys – endemic only to Borneo – along the Klias and Kinabatangan rivers. The Kinabatangan River is one of the monkeys’ favourite hangouts, quite literally, so keep your camera at the ready as you cruise and you may well spot the monkeys swinging and playing overhead.
8. More animal magic on the Kinabatangan
Spotting the endangered proboscis monkey is just the start of your wildlife adventure along the Kinabatangan. Stretching 560 kilometres, Kinabatangan is Borneo’s longest river and is teeming with rare species including pygmy elephants, crocodiles, orangutans, hornbills and a plethora of water birds. Get up close in this natural habitat and stay in tree houses, homestays, rustic camps and off-the-beaten-track lodges.
9. Go on safari in Tabin
Ignite your adventurous spirit in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve, which is home to a dazzling array of animals, including Borneo pygmy elephants, Sumatran rhinoceros, the tembadau, nine species of primate, and more than 300 exotic bird species, including the Bornean Bristlehead and Blue-banded Pitta. The reserve covers a jaw-dropping 300,000 acres, where visitors can embark on night walks, night safaris, bird-spotting expeditions and jungle treks. Stay in a rainforest lodge for an unforgettable experience in this extraordinary natural paradise.
10. Go wild in Maliau Basin
For the ultimate remote outdoors adventure, explore the untouched rainforest of the Maliau Basin. Also known as the ‘Lost World’, the basin rewards visitors with rare and abundant flora, fauna and wildlife. Take a dip in the glittering Maliau waterfall and spot unique birds and wildlife in this remote region.