Why Is It So Special?

“Lower Kinabatangan, an ecotourism hot spot”  – National Ecotourism Plan 1995

It is most likely the best wildlife viewing location in Southeast Asia.


Malaysia’s first Gift To the Earth

The 26,000 hectare Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary is Malaysia’s first Gift To the Earth in November 1999,  a commitment by the Sabah State Government to conserve this area for it vast biodiversity and tourism value.


Kinabatangan floodplain is the few remaining freshwater swamp rainforests in Southeast Asia.

It is one of those very rare places on earth where TEN primates are found in one place. These include the orang utan, proboscis monkey and the Bornean gibbon.


The first research on Orang Utans in the wild is in the Kinabatangan. The current population of orang utans is 1,200 individuals (800 individuals within the sanctuary and 400 individual in forested areas outside the sanctuary) in the lower Kinabatangan.


There are FIFTY mammal species. That includes the endangered Borneo Pygmy Elephants with a population 300 individuals.


TWO HUNDRED bird species are found in this area, including eight hornbill species.


The rare oriental darter is among the bird species.

The floodplain is not running low on reptiles, that includes the estuarine crocodile and mangrove snake that can be spotted by the riverbank.


Plant life are equally enormous which accounts to 1,500 species in the lowland dipterocarp forest, 600 in freshwater and riverine forests, 300 on limestone outcrops, 50 in mangroves and coastal forest, and 10 species in lakes and treeless wetlands.


The fauna of Gomantong Caves has transformed the natural cave into one of Sabah’s two most important sites for birds’ nest trade. The limestone outcrop houses endemic plants and animals found nowhere else on earth.


The people living in the Kinabatangan are called “Orang Sungai”, meaning river people in the Malay language. They are of mixed ancestry with a long history of intermarriage with other ethnic groups, such as the Suluk from the Philipines and Chinese. The majority of the Orang Sungai are Muslim. Their livelihood depends on fisheries.


How To Get There?

The nearest airport and entry point to the lower Kinabatangan is Sandakan, in the east coast of Sabah. There are daily flights from Kota Kinabalu (the state capital of Sabah) and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia’s capital).  The flight duration from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan is about 45 minutes. The flight from Kuala Lumpur to Sandakan is 2.5 hours.  Flights are operated by Malaysia Airlines (the national carrier) and Air Asia (a budget airline). From Sandakan, the drive to Sukau is another 2 hours. Sukau is one of the five villages along the Kinabatangan river and the overnight base for our visitors. This is the village with better infrastructure.


Photo Credit: Caroline Pang