Borneo's bewildering biodiversity is bound to set the pulse of any wildlife enthusiast racing - with 247 land mammal species (44 are endemic); a bird checklist of 673 species (37 endemic); 180-odd amphibians and 394 types of fish (19 endemic), a smorgasbord of wonderful sightings await keen naturalists who make it to the island's wild places.
The world's third largest island after Greenland and New Guinea, Borneo politically is divided between Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak); Indonesia and Brunei. Originally mostly clad in primeval rainforest, Borneo today still retains about 30% of its forest cover, making it one of the world's three great rainforest areas - the other two are in the Congo basin and the Amazon. As of 2016, Sabah has approximately 1.9 million hectares of totally protected areas, of which 9% are set aside as 'wildlife refugia', meaning reserves or conservation areas. Outside of these legally protected sites additional localities have been declared conservation areas, or 'Other Effective Area-Based Conservation Measures'. While most of the wildlife hotspots we take clients to are located in lowland rainforest, there is a splendid example of montane habitat on Mount Kinabalu.
Biogeographically, Borneo is part of Sundaland, which also includes Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and Bali. Shallow seas separate Borneo from these other land masses, so their wildlife has noticeably more in common with each-other, than is the case with wildlife in other areas which may appear geographically close by, such as Australia and the Philippines. However the latter two countries are separated from Sundaland by deep waters such as along the Wallace's Line, which explains the evolution of very different faunal assemblages.
Our itineraries are focused predominantly on Sabah, which has excellent infrastructure; is safe to explore and where splendid wild places contain the majority of the sought-after and distinctive endemic species which attract wildlife enthusiasts.
Borneo's exquisite primeval rainforests are home to celebrated primates such as the Orangutan and the unmistakeable, endemic Proboscis monkey, as well as an assortment of other species including Bornean bearded gibbon; Red leaf monkey (Red or Maroon langur) and the adorable, nocturnal and goggle-eyed Western tarsier and Bornean slow loris.
On the edge of riparian forest along the lazy Kinabatangan River, Bornean pygmy elephants may be encountered, and at some of the recognised rainforest wildlife hotspots, the comical-looking Bornean bearded pig and dainty Greater and Lesser chevrotains - the most primitive of ruminants - forage on the forest floor and can be seen especially during night excursions.
Nowadays however, it is an intriguing assortment of smaller carnivores and some rare cats - that attracts keen mammal-watchers from around the world. They journey to rainforest sites such as wonderful Deramakot Forest Reserve, where enigmatic species such as the ultra-elusive Sunda clouded leopard, are best sought. The only fairly regularly encountered of Borneo's cats is the charming little Sunda leopard cat. During a few nights' stay at sites like Deramakot Forest Reserve or Danum Valley Conservation Area, mammal enthusiasts stand a chance of chalking up an impressive species list, including the likes of Binturong (the strange so-called 'Bear-cat', largest of the island's Viverrids); any of the resident Porcupine species; the unexpectedly coloured Malay weasel and the very scarce Malay stink badger (one of two skunks found outside of America), along with other Viverrids such as the Masked palm civet; Small-toothed palm civet and even the strikingly patterned Banded linsang. Borneo is 'squirrel Nirvana' with its 33-odd species ranging from the enormous Red giant flying squirrel - which happily is quite easy to locate at places like Sepilok, to diminutive Least (Plain) and Whitehead's pygmy squirrels, the latter being frequently observed on Mt Kinabalu.
Visiting birders are in for an absolute treat: with an experienced and knowledgeable guide along the route including Danum Valley, Sepilok, Kinabatangan River and then Mt Kinabalu for montane species, it isn't unrealistic to tick off some 300-odd species on the Sabah checklist. Flagship 'specials' include the national bird, Rhinoceros hornbill - along with 7 other hornbill species; beautiful Black-crowned and Blue-headed pittas; Scarlet-rumped and Whitehead's trogons; the iconic and very distinctive Borneo bristlehead; Stork-billed and Banded kingfishers; Golden-naped and Bornean barbets;Yellow-breasted and Orange-bellied flowerpeckers; a host of colourful Sunbirds, Leafbirds, and so much more.
On the forest floor, you might encounter the impressive Great argus pheasant; the lovely Crested fireback, or in montane rainforest even Crimson-headed partridges, fossicking about. Night excursions oftentimes reveal Buffy fish owl; Brown wood owl or the little Mountain scops owl and Collared owlet, as well as the remarkable Frogmouths.
Reptiles & Amphibians:
Herping (reptile and frog) enthusiasts too, will not be disappointed, given the species richness which goes hand-in-hand with tropical rainforests. While all of the sites we include in our itineraries have substantial species lists when it comes to herpetofauna, some such as Kinabalu National Park (montane species) and Tabin (which is home to 26 anurans including 12 Bornean endemics), are especially recommended.
Distinctive amphibians range from the large Borneo river toad to tiny Inger's bubble-nest frog which measures only 3 - 4 cm. Perhaps the best known Bornean frog is the colourful Wallace's flying frog, which has its fingers and toes webbed right to the tips, enabling it to parachute between trees, or down to the forest floor. Another unmistableable frog, the Bornean horned frog, is quietly coloured so as to blend in with leaf litter. Reptiles abound, with the two largest - the Saltwater croc and Asian water monitor, second biggest of all lizards - frequently being encountered during river cruises down the Kinabatanga River. Present at forest streams or puddles, are Spiny terrapin (endangered) and Forest soft-shelled turtle. Apart from Monitors, the best-known of Borneo's 105-odd species of lizard is the 5-banded gliding lizard (genus Draco), which as its name implies, is able to glide easily between trees using colourful 'wings' which are actually membranes that it extends along with movable ribs, enabling it to glide over distances. Sometimes, 'Draco' lizards may be pursued by the 'flying snake' or Paradise tree snake, yet another rainforest denizen able to glide thanks to certain physiological adaptations. Possibly the most celebrated of the island's 160 or so snake species, the flying snakes are mildly venomous but harmless to humans. Potentially dangerous venomous snakes (24 species) include an assortment of Pit-vipers and Sea krait.
Entomologists will be astounded by Borneo's invertebrates, with a plethora of remarkable invertebrates being found there. It is estimated that there are some 3,000 species of arthropods in Borneo's lowland rainforests. These include iconic species such as the enormous Raja Brook's birdwing butterfly. The world's longest Stick insect, measuring 57cm, was discovered at near Gunung Kinabalu Park. During rainforest outings, visitors are bound to see a variety of interesting beetles, grasshoppers, amazing Leaf insects, and more. Some weird and wonderful critters found in Sabah include the Stalk-eyed fly; the Lantern fly; Pill millipedes on the forest floor; Whip scorpions, bizarre Violin beetles, Cave centipedes and then, the 'friendliest' though least desirable, Leeches. (To avoid being 'leeched', do remember to pack leech socks).
Needless to say, Borneo's flora, comprised of some 15,000 species, includes innumerable wonders. Species endemicity is estimated at 34%. Complex ecosystems created by the floral communities range from lowland to montane rainforests; swamp forest, peat swamp forest; 'Kerangas' heath forest and Sunda Shelf mangroves. The Dipterocarp trees in Bornean forests are the world's tallest tropical trees. It is in Borneo that one of the planet's largest flowers, the parasitic Rafflesia, is found: the flowers of Rafflesia arnoldi can reach 3 feet in diameter and weigh in at 7kg. The other plant which produces a gigantic flower, Titan arum, is also found in Borneo. There are an astonishing 1,700 Orchid species, some being incredibly beautiful and/or endangered. 51 new Orchid species were discovered since 2007. Another plant group Borneo is appreciated for is its 50-odd species of carnivorous Pitcher plants.
Finally, the marine aspect is worth mention as Borneo has marvellous coral formations and opportunities for turtle-watching too, are superb. To this end we highly recommend adding a relaxing beach break after a busy wildlife-oriented itinerary.
The sample itineraries on our website are posted just to give an idea of what there is to enjoy - and how to go about doing so, in Sabah. Do contact us if you would like to discuss a tailor-made tour, or, if you would like a fully guided, specialist trip for example for birding and/or mammal-watching.