Close encounters with Sabah Wildlife

The state of Sabah, Borneo, is home to one of the richest areas of wild fauna and flora in the world. Sir David Attenborough has visited more than once for his famous documentaries and the wild life surely has to be one of the top attractions for any visiting tourist.


Turtle Island

Our first stop would be the Turtle Island Sanctuary, just off the coast of the town of Sandakan, in the Sulu Sea.

Turtle Island Sanctuary is made up of 3 islands, Pulau Selingaan, Pulau Bakkungaan Kecil and Pulau Gulisan, that play an important conservation role in the lives of the local turtle population, in particular the Green Turtle and Hornbill Turtle.

The current turtle population in under threat – turtle eggs have become a highly sought after delicacy through Asia, which in turn is seeing a devastating effect on the future generations of these species. A handful of full time rangers dedicate their time and effort to foster the delicate process of human intervention in the turtle conservation process. Selingaan Island is open for visitors, restricted to just 50 per night, to keep the state of the island as undisturbed as possible. We were a handful of a few visitors allowed to visit for a very special evening and night!

Each night, rangers scour the beaches at night for any ‘Mumma turtle’ landings. Any new Mumma’s are tagged and once they have completed their egg laying process, their eggs are delicately removed and taken straight to the hatchery to be buried, and tagged along with the date the eggs were laid. Once ready, the eggs are hatched, generally 60 days later, and the baby turtles are released back into the ocean.




This whole process was thrilling and exhausting! We waited until 11pm that night to view a Mumma turtle landing on the beach. We quitely stood behind her as she laid her eggs and watched the ranger delicately removing the eggs.

After watching the Ranger bury the eggs, it was back down to the beach to help the newly hatched baby turtles born that day be released into the midnight waters. This is a delicate operation as it should be about the turtles making their way to the water as unassisted as possible. A few, however, need a little help being turned around and pointed in the right direction!




Staying at turtle island and witnessing this precious moment in the wild will be something that sticks with me for years to come.

Borneo Sun Bears

Home to the smallest bear in the world, the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Facility in Sabah, are doing amazing things for the conservation of these cuties.


A canopy walk around the main large enclosure allows visitors to view the Bears in the natural habitat. They are very good climbers and can often be heard fighting with the fellow residents!

Like the Orangutan, the Borneo Sun Bears are under constant threat due to forest degradation, illegal poaching for Bear parts and the hunting of Bears as pets.


Donations and the continued support of the Facility keep this good work up. The Facility is open daily from 9am – 3:30pm, with cost around 30RMB for adult foreigners.


Kinabatangan River cruises

The Kinabatangan River winds its way through some of the most diverse and popluated wildlife areas in all of Sabah. Making our way via a quick 5 min boat ride to our accmodation for the night, we were soon briefed on what kind of Sabah wildlife we might be able to see during our evening cruise that night, and the morning cruise the following morning.

Our tireless group leader Ronnie gave us some great information on the 5 main primates that could be found along the river.





That evening as we took off in our boats along the river, we were not dissapointed. Our first great find was a massive group of Pigmy Elephants eating and playing in the water in the dusk light! We were really lucky to see so many of these beautiful creatures as they are usually quite shy.




We then met many of the Primates that Ronnie previously described to us, including several tribes of Prosbicis Monkeys, Macaques and the big one – an actual wild Orangutan! I didn’t think there was any left in the wild. Such a great find! We were also treated to a range of beautiful local birds, including my favoutite, the Rhinocerous Hornbill.





Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary

The Park is well set up with boardwalks through the forest allowing an open interaction but with minimal human interference. Open platforms and decks allow visitors to view the Orangutans during their feeding times. Food is minimal and intentionally boring in order to allow the Orangutans to forage food for themselves. Feeding times are at 10am and 3pm.




The most popular area had to be the new Nursery. A one way window allows you to view the residents undisturbed as they enjoy their jungle swing gym. Watching these guys wrestle with one another, as well as getting scolded by the owners for being ‘naughty’ is defintely a treat. The skills the baby orangautans learn here are vital for the survival back in the wild. You can tell the volunteers and workers genuniely love caring for these rare primates.



The Sanctuary is open every day of the year, the cost for foreigners is 30RMB plus a 10RMB for the use of cameras.

Sabah, Borneo, is home to some amazing wildlife. It was incredible to be able to get a glimpse of such diversity on just one trip. The destruction of forestland, in particular for the controversial Palm Oil, is saddening, and the attempts to try and reverse this impact on the wildlife may be irreversible. I think as visitors to Sabah it’s important to be educated, as well as being informed about purchases involving palm oil when returning home. I hope the state of Sabah can continue their great work in preserving this great wild life.


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