As we headed off to Sabah, one of two Malaysian territories on the island of Borneo, it was the orangutans that topped my list of must-sees.
Sure, I’d seen one before – likely at some zoo or other, but nothing compares to seeing animals in the wild, in their natural habitat. And what I hadn’t expected of Sabah was the sheer variety of wildlife that lives on this island.
Sabah is becoming known as something of a honeymoon hotspot, not least because of its romantic landscapes and some of the world’s best sunsets. But its wildlife is also a big draw, and I found it difficult not to fall in love with many of the animals of Borneo.
You’ll find some of the great creatures we came across in photos, and don’t miss the video to see these swingers (and other animals) in action…
See more video of our time in Sabah.
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Sandakan
Sadly, like animals in many parts of our world, orangutans have been coming off second best to man in recent years.
So it’s wonderful to visit places like Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, in Sandakan – a safe jungly haven for the animals. This is no sanitised experience where orangutans are hemmed in in pens. Sepilok is set in a 43 square kilometres of protected land at the edge of Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve and is home to around 80 of the apes.
They’re in no way forced to come and pose for photos – although some seemed to pull off cheeky modelesque moves at times – we viewed them from a platform overlooking the jungle, where they stopped for lunch.
Other animals on the orangutan island of Borneo
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre
Just next door, another wonderful conservation project introduced us to one of Borneo’s other great endangered species. I often view bears with the kind of caution you should afford to any “tear-you-apart-with-my-bare-hands” animals.
But I’ve fallen head over heels for the Bornean Sun Bear. It’s perhaps one of the cutest I’ve seen – and though they have been known to kill humans – mostly out of their own fear, they eat bugs and grubs.
You can easily see both the orangutans and sun bears in a day, and perhaps even fly back to Sabah’s capital and home to many of its beach resorts, Kota Kinabalu. But if you do want to spend more time in and around Sepilok, and enjoy the jungle setting there’s the rustic Sepilok Nature Resort.
Kinabatangan River safari
The Kinabatangan River is Malaysia’s second longest, and as we journeyed by boat from Sandakan to Sukau Rainforest Lodge on the river, it certainly felt that way too. After nearly three hours by speed boat we found ourselves in the very heart of Sabah’s rainforest.
The lodge has great day and night river safaris, where you can spot proboscis monkeys – check out those noses, pygmy elephants (sadly they’d moved upstream by the time we got there), and a host of kingfishers. Just don’t consider swimming in the river unless you’ve had a good look round…
Experience it for yourself. Book now with this exclusive special offer from Skytrak Travel: 10 nights in Sabah, Borneo, from £1,108 per person, incl. flights with Royal Brunei Airlines. Available for booking until February 28, 2015.
Shangri-La Rasa Ria Hotel’s Nature Park
Tourism is all too often accused of in some way damaging the environment. It’s refreshing therefore to visit a five-star hotel that’s not only aware of the wildlife around them, but actively works to preserve it.
That’s just what we found at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Hotel, in a secluded spot on the coast outside of Kota Kinabalu. It has a 64 acre area of rainforest to the far end of its three-kilometres of private beach, which is home to its nature reserve.
The hotel started with a Orangutan Care project that aimed to rehabilitate the animals. But it has broadened its efforts to provide a great environment for many more of Borneo’s wildlife – from birds to reptiles, and small mammals like monkeys and deer.
But on the orangutan island of Borneo, the man of the forest as the name translates, is still king of the jungle. And long may they reign.
One thousand years ago orangutans were found across Asia, from as far north as China and as far south as Java, Indonesia. Now they are only present on Borneo and Sumatra, numbering just 22,000 and 5,000, respectively, so projects like the Shangri-La’s which looks after baby orangutans to adulthood – when they move to Sepilok – are vital.
They certainly manage to bring in a crowd of fascinated onlookers wherever they are spotted.
Experience it for yourself. Book now with this exclusive special offer from Premier Holidays: 12 nights at the Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria from £1,199 per person, incl. flights with Royal Brunei Airlines. Available for booking until February 28, 2015.
I fell in love with the animals of Borneo while on a project with iambassador, in partnership with Royal Brunei Airlines and Sabah Tourism. As always all opinions and wide-eyed wildlife-loving wonder are my own.