Ask the experts: Wildlife in Borneo

You asked: I've heard wonderful things about Borneo's wildlife, but want to know which parts to focus on. What do I need to know?

Published 14 Oct 2017, 09:00 BST, Updated 12 Jul 2021, 12:03 BST


Photograph by Getty

Q I've heard wonderful things about Borneo's wildlife, but want to know which parts to focus on. Is it easy to cross internal borders? Where's set up for tourists?

Laura Holt, freelance travel writer: Dense jungles, riverine landscapes and tropical islands make Borneo an enthralling prospect for nature lovers. But the island's rare creatures can be tricky to see, so effective planning is a must. Most travellers start with Sabah, which, like neighbouring Sarawak, is now part of Malaysia.

You don't need a visa to enter Borneo and the red tape between Sabah and Sarawak is minimal. In Sabah, spend a couple of days in beachy Kota Kinabalu, before climbing Mount Kinabalu, home to 300 species of birds and Borneo's star attraction: the orangutan.

Next, move on to Sandakan, where you can stay in stilted lodges next to Malaysia's second-largest river and head out on boat safaris to spot pygmy elephants and proboscis monkeys. Factor in an excursion to the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre and Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Continue into Sarawak by catching an internal flight to Kuching. From here, visit Sarawak's oldest national park, Bako, to spot flying lemurs.

Finally, delve into Borneo's wild heart: the Batang Ai Region. You'll travel upriver by traditional longboat, stay with the Iban tribe and venture out on hikes and boat excursions through ancient dipterocarp forest, where orangutans reside.

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Robert Jones, Borneo Travel: Borneo. You already have the picture: jungle, adventure and wildlife — especially orangutans. But there's more, and within easy reach, too: elephants in Sabah; turtles in Sarawak. There's world-class diving at Sipadan and some of the world's largest caves at Mulu, home to millions of bats and birds.

Sabah and Sarawak have a long-established tourism industry, but for the more adventurous, the Mesilau Basin offers nature treks through virgin rainforest, river safaris and staying in tribal longhouses. Or join rangers on empty beaches counting turtles.

The Indonesian state of Kalimantan covers two-thirds of Borneo, but very few venture this far. In Malaysian Borneo, visas are available for three-week stays on arrival at no cost; for Indonesia, 30-day visas are only available at three entry points and there is a charge of US$35 (£26) to extend your stay.

Transport is difficult in this undiscovered area and costs are high for the individual traveller but for many this is true Borneo. Tanjung Puting is the hot spot due to the near certainty of seeing orangutangs around Camp Leakey.

Robert Basiuk, Borneo Adventure: Borneo, the world's third largest island, is home to an amazing array of wildlife, from charismatic primates — orangutans, gibbons and proboscis monkeys — to the weird and spectacular, like hornbills, trogons, pittas, flying snakes, frogs and slow loris.

For viewing wildlife there are excellent options in the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak. In Sabah, the Kinabatangan River, near Sandakan, is a popular place for up-close viewing of Proboscis monkeys (endemic to Borneo); orangutans and pygmy elephants can also be easily sighted here.

The Borneo Rainforest Lodge in the Danum Valley, inland near Lahad Datu, has excellent visitor facilities and a rich variety of wildlife including orangutan, pygmy elephants, civet cats, hornbills and abundant bird life. Other areas known for wildlife viewing include the Tabin Wildlife Reserve and the Deramakot Forest Reserve (also near Lahad Datu). And, no trip would be complete without a visit to the well-known Sepilok Orang Utan Centre near Sandakan.

In Sarawak, the Bako National Park, close to Kuching, offers a variety of rainforest types and excellent wildlife viewing of Proboscis monkeys, wild boar, silvered langurs, migratory birds and other coastal wildlife. The more adventurous can opt for an upriver trip to Batang Ai, where protected rainforest areas provide a safe habitat for orangutans in the wild. Here, sightings of these elusive primates are frequent; this wild and lush setting also provides a fascinating glimpse into how a community can co-exist with wildlife. The Semenggoh Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, too, close to Kuching, allows visitors to view orangutans in a natural setting.

Published in the November 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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