Sabah, Borneo is home to many wild and rugged reserves and parks that harbour populations of some of the world’s most elusive species.
Among the most elusive and some of the most sought after are the nocturnal mammal species, Borneo has a host of rare and elusive nocturnal mammals including Sunda clouded leopard, Binturong, Sunda colugo, various species of civet, several species of slow loris and many other species. This tour is the first of its kind to target all of these species. Of course seeing many of these rarer animals is going to be very hard and require a great amount of luck, but this is the first and only tour that offers chances and dedicated time to try and see all of them in their various habitats, as well as a wealth of other mammal life in this wonderful region.
This tour visits three locations which all offer unique chances for different wildlife, such as Sun bears in Tabin, Flat-headed cats in Kinabatangan River and Sunda Clouded leopards in Deramakot.
If you wish you can also add on a pre-tour extension which will head into the rugged Tawau Hills. This park is full of wonderful wildlife, much of which is not found in other areas visited on this tour, it is also a known location for just about the most elusive mammal in Borneo. The extremely rare and poorly understand Bay cat. A separate brochure can be sent with information about this can be sent out to you if you are interested.
Sunda Clouded Leopard
Sandakan / Deramakot Forest Reserve
On your arrival you will be collected from the airport and taken towards Deramakot Forest Reserve. This 55,000 hectare reserve is home to many of Borneo’s large and iconic species including elephants, orangutans, Borneo gibbon, banteng and several elusive species which are seen here with more regularity than anywhere else in the world. It is these species which are the real highlight for us and our main targets when here. They are also largely nocturnal and so we will head out into the forest at night for extended drives.
This is to maximise our chances of seeing the wonderful Sunda clouded leopard, sun bear and marbled cat, but along with these species several other rare species have been seen here such as Sunda colugo, Sunda pangolin, banded linsang among other incredible and rare species.
Deramakot Forest Reserve
For the next seven full days we will become as nocturnal as our targeted species and spend the days rested and walking around the accommodation complex (there are many bird species that can be seen around here) and then after dinner at night we will explore the forest.
The reserve here is mature secondary and primary lowland rainforest, the large reserve is bordered with another, equally large, protected forest. Along with the incredible array of wildlife known from here and the apparently easy-going clouded leopards that live here the best part of visiting Deramakot is that there are not as many regulations as in other protected forests in Borneo and so we are largely free to explore at our own pace. As a result we will undertake extensive drives every night, often until late into the night, or starting in the middle of the night and heading out into the early morning, in the hope of seeing the forests charismatic wildlife. Along with the targeted cat species we will hopefully see more common species such as various civets, various flying squirrels and maybe even the rare sun bear.
As well as the incredible list of mammals here the forest is also full of birds and boasts list of over 250 species; with luck it is possible to see 70 or 80 species in a day including many Borneo specialties. Some of the birding highlights here might include great argus and crested fireback pheasants, great-billed heron, large green, thick-billed and little green pigeons, giant, banded, blue-headed and black-headed pittas, white-fronted falconet, various leafbirds, various hornbills, various malkohas and trogons.
A good deal of flexibility is needed on this section of the trip as our local expert guides will dictate the best ways and the best times for us to head into the forest to search for wildlife and this is decided on a day to day basis. After 8 long-nights or spotlighting and hopefully many successful sightings we hope to have a good few sightings before we head to our next location tomorrow.
Sukau / Kinabatangan River
This morning we will depart from Deramakot and head towards the village of Sakau along the banks of the Kinabatangan River. On our arrival we will check in and then have lunch. Afterwards we will be taken on the river for our first river cruise / safari.
The longest river in Sabah, Kinabatangan River measures 560 km from its headwaters in the Crocker Range of southwest Sabah to its outlet at the Sulu Sea on the East coast of Sabah and according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Kinabatangan wildlife sanctuary is one of only two known places on Earth where 10 primate species can be found living wild. The enigmatic Bornean orangutan and the curious looking proboscis monkeys are the two most sought after primate species here however the ubiquitous long-tailed (or crab-eating) macaque is the most common.
Other than the primates mammals are well represented here however most species are nocturnal or very elusive. The largest inhabitants are Borneo’s own endemic sub-species of Asiatic elephant (the Borneo pygmy elephant) which we will try to see and the incredibly rare and nearly mythical Sumatran rhino.
Another fairly common and large inhabitant here is the largest reptile in the world, the saltwater crocodile. This part of the river traces through lowland forest and mangrove swamps near the coast provide sanctuary for them.
With all these diversity going around, it is no wonder Kinabatangan wildlife sanctuary is the best destination to get close-up and discover its remarkable wildlife and fascinating habitats. Bird watchers usually find the Kinabatangan simply incredible while they spot incredible bird species from the famous Borneo’s hornbills to the rare Storms storks.
After our first trip this afternoon we will return to the camp for dinner and then after dark head out again in search of semi aquatic flat-headed cat. There are some tributaries and sections of the main river in which it may be possible to see flat-headed cats. We will have a spotlight and search the river banks, here we will probably see the glowing eyes of the crocodiles as they watch from the riverbanks and hopefully spot flat-headed cats and other elusive species such as otter civets. We will return to the camp for the night after a hopefully successful search.
Sukau / Kinabatangan River
Today is a full day to explore the forest and river around the lodge further and of course after dark we will head out on our second and final specific search for the flat-headed cat.
Gomatong Cave / Tabin Wildlife Sanctuary
This morning we will depart after breakfast from the Kinabatangan River and travel to Gomantong Cave, this is one of the world’s most famous caves and was immortalised in the BBC’s Planet Earth series due to the enormous mountain of guano and the millions of cockroaches and other invertebrates that live there. The forests around the caves are home to many species of wildlife including orangutans, in fact wild orangutans can possibly be seen throughout the entire trip we are taking, so it is always worth keeping an eye out for them in all of the forests. The cave is some 90m high and full of wildlife, alongside the innumerable invertebrates including the odd looking long-legged centipedes there are four species of swiftlet (white-nest, black-nest, mossy-nest and white-bellied) and around 27 species of bats (mostly wrinkle-lipped bats which number around 2 million in the cave). The black-nest swiftlets are the species whose nests are collected and eaten as a delicacy in China and South East Asia. The nest harvests are done sustainably now and the method for collecting them involves the locals having to climb high up into the caves on a network of rickety ladders and ropes. The nearly self-sufficient ecosystem inside the cave is completed with predators including bat hawks and pythons that feed on the bats and swiftlets as they come and go from the caves.
From the cave we will continue to Tabin Wildlife Sanctuary. Once we get to the sanctuary we will check in, have lunch and head out into the forest (the exact itinerary of our daytime activities is variable and may change but we will have a morning and afternoon excursion into the forest on each full day here); Today we may start with a guide walk with one of their expert local guides. Nestled within the rainforest beside the Lipad river, the resort is home to a surprising variety of birds, insects and small mammals, even right beside the buildings of the resort it is possible to see several species and discover the rich variety of jungle herbs, some endemic, used for generations by local folks for the treatment of various ailments.
In the afternoon we are likely to visit the active Lipad mud volcano which provides a mineral salt lick for wildlife. After trekking through the rainforest for around 20 minutes, we arrive at the elevated bare area of the mud volcano which is frequented by wildlife (elephants, bearded pigs, sambar, muntjacs and other species) and birds. The adventurous among us can try the effects of the volcanic mud, said to be responsible for a fine complexion, by applying the mud to their skin. Trek back to the resort along elephant trail, which is a great way to experience the forest and spot elusive species that live in the dense forests here. We will have one pre dawn drive included over this couple of days as well.
After dinner we will have our first extended night drive and try and find some of the nocturnal mammals which are abundant here. With luck it is possible for Sunda clouded leopards, flat-headed cats and sun bears here but it is more likely that we will find various flying squirrels, several species of civets, yellow-throated martens, Philippine slow loris as well as reptiles and amphibians
Tabin Wildlife Sanctuary
For the next three full days we will explore Tabin further, we will in head out in the morning, afternoon and then after dark. We will trek along various trails, visit a watch tower and spend some time up there and wait for animals fly past, emerge from the forest and cross the road or climb along the canopy and into view. We will also drive the roads in search of as many species as we can find. In between our excursions into the forest we will return to the lodge for our meals and a little rest.
Once again our longer night drives here will give us the special edge in trying to find our elusive mammal species. It is always amazing to see that the vast majority of the wildlife seen in Tabin are found alongside the edge of the forest and the border with the palm oil plantation, many species enter the plantation to feed after dark and with the abundant rodent species in the plantation there are many Sunda leopard cats here, in fact Tabin is probably the best place in the world to see this species.
This morning we will have a dawn drive at Tabin (one final chance to see wildlife here) before breakfast at the lodge and then depart to catch your return flight home. We recommend booking an evening or night flight so there is enough time to get back from the reserve to the airport today. Otherwise we can drop you off at a hotel in Sandakan today.
Please note that the itinerary stated above is correct as our planned intentions for the tour. However adverse weather conditions and other local considerations can necessitate some modifications of the itinerary during the course of the tour; any changes will be made to make the best of the time and weather conditions available to us.
This tour is available on different date (subject to availability) please contact us for more details about running this tour on a date which suits you more.
Borneo’s climate is very tropical. This means one minute the weather is hot and humid, the next it is raining in sheets. However, in general, throughout the year, the temperature during the day remains in between 21-30C. As with all tropical climates, Borneo has a rainy season and a dry season. The dry season lasts from May to September. The wet season however is harder to define and forecast. September is the height of the dry season and this should improve our chances of seeing wildlife, particularly along the rivers in Kinabatangan. However you should always expect rain in Borneo – at any time of year.
Everything mentioned in the above itinerary is included. Including accommodation, all transfers, guides, activities and most meals are included (however lunches and dinners in towns and cities are often not included). There will be bottled water provided on request throughout the tour.
We will also have our own private vehicles for transfers and excellent local drivers. We also use expert local guides in Deramakot Forest Reserve and the senior naturalists in Sukau and Tabin Wildlife Sanctuary too who have years of experience working these areas and all safari activities are included. All your park entrance fees are also included. We include around 7 hours of spotlighting a night in Deramakot as well as specially arranged extra long night drives in Tabin. Also included is a good selection of field guides about the local wildlife as well as a selection of documentaries about Bornean wildlife. If you wish to watch any of these they will be available of the tour leader’s laptop and the books are available for you to use on request.
We recommend you bring along your own binoculars or spotting scope as well as appropriate clothing; which should be both light and durable walking clothes and also light wicking. Long sleeves are good to keep you out of the sun. Any medication, books or other items of a personal nature is of course up to you to bring along. Oh and please bring plenty of memory cards or film for your camera.
We provide a comprehensive species list of all the vertebrates present in the areas we are visiting as well as some of the best field guides and reference books for the areas we are visiting. There is usually a spare pair of binoculars but in a group of 4 people these do not stretch too far. We also provide a spot light for nocturnal viewing and if we can send a zoologist escort we will also bring a thermal imaging scope.
Nearly everything is included in this tour. The only things not included are international flights, travel insurance (contact us for more information one what is required from your insurance policy), any food bought outside of the three main meals, drinks outside of any offered with the meals and the bottled water provided each day and any items of a personal nature such as souvenirs and tips. Any applicable departure taxes and not included (but maybe included in the cost of your flights). Please check before departure.
We do not book international flights, however we do recommend certain airlines that have good connections to and from our tour start and exit point. We are based in the UK and so recommend these airlines based on what is best available from our home airports (in London and Manchester for example), however we can recommend flight options for you based on wherever you are travelling from.
Good airlines to get from the UK to Malaysia is KLM or Air Malaysia, both have a few different options for arrival and departure from Kuala Lumpur and provide competitive prices and a good standard of service on board. Flights from KL to Borneo are easy to connect and Air Malaysia and Air Asia run regular flights to many destinations in Sabah and Sarawak, Borneo.
All UK passport holders and most other nationalities are not required to have a visa issued in advance for Malasyia. You can get a visa on arrival at Kuala Lumpur airport, but it is recommended you seek advance from the Malaysian embassy or consulate in your home country for more information.
There are no mandatory vaccinations needed to visit Malaysia, but it is recommended to be protected against TB, polio, typhoid, tetanus and hepatitis A as well as taking a form of malaria prophylactics (although this is not mandatory). Please consult your doctor about your individual requirements for visiting Indonesia as soon as you have decided on this trip.
Ms. Julija Grinberga - Latvia
C. Scharf - San Francisco
Anita Ericson - Sweden
Miles & Ingrid - Oxfordshire, UK
Ms. Lesley Cupitt - Queensland, Australia
Mr. Peter Hobbs - San Francisco, USA