Introduction and history
Kinabatangan is one of the most exceptional areas, but was long threatened by logging and land clearance. Influenced by the Sulu Sea and the rainfall of the interior, the lower part of the river plain floods regularly, thus at least five distinct habitats have developed contributing towards one of the most diverse concentrations of wildlife in Borneo. Today, people are recognizing the value of the lower Kinabatangan, for its natural beauty and its role in supporting nature diverse life.
The Kinabatangan River is one of Borneo’s longest and most majestic rivers, originating in south west of Sabah, it flows for 560 kilometers (347 miles) through eastern Sabah to the Sulu Sea on the east coast. The banks of the Kinabatangan River are predominantly covered with river vine forest.
Elephant grass grows in some areas and other areas that are covered by short grass were deforested by illegal logging operators. Besides the Kinabatangan River, the Menaggul River banks support a mixture of riverrine forest and fresh water swamp forest. This river is narrow and frequently blocked to boat traffic by fallen trees. At times the branches from trees on each bank intermingle high above the river. Finally, the Tenegang Besar River is approximately double the width of the Menanggul River. The lower portion of this river supports a mixture of riverine and freshwater swamp forest.
The equatorial climate is generally wet and humid and temperature range from 23°C to 32°C all year round. Rains are heaviest during the northeast monsoon between October and March. The river is generally 1 M above sea level but during heavy rain, it can rise as high as 12 M above sea level.
The forest covers alluvial flood with low sandstone and limestone hills. In addition, there are fresh water swamp forests and lakes as well as Ox-bow lakes. This lake supports a mixture of mainly secondary riverine forest and freshwater swamp forest. A narrow channel connects the Kinabatangan River to the Kelenanap Ox-bow Lake. It is also a source of fish for the local people. There are large areas of open water as well as many raft hyacinths, Eichhornia crassipes (exotic colonizing weeds that are unnaturally accelerating succession leading to the demise of the lake) in the lake.
The region is also home to saltwater mangrove forest, river vine forest, and dipterocarp forest. This region of the Kinabatangan has been prized by the scientists as a natural heritage site of international importance.
Logging has become an important source of income in the 1900’s and clearing of Kinabatangan River bank creates another great place for agriculture such as palm oil plantation. But it was a threat to the habitat for many rainforest species. In that period itself, forest fires occurred during the dry weather resulted unhealthy air conditions, which further stressed the biota and rainforest habitats. The local Governments are now monitoring and enforcing laws more strictly in order to prevent the rainforest destruction.
The lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary was announced as a “Gift to the Earth” by the Chief Minister of Sabah on November 16, 1999 and also giving its commitment to fully gazette and protect the 26,000 hectares of wetlands as wildlife sanctuary. On January 15, 2002, Sabah’s Chief Minister launched “Kinabatangan - A Corridor of Life”. The Lower Kinabatangan wildlife Sanctuary is gazetted as a Bird Sanctuary under the State Land Ordinance. A second gazettement under the Wildlife Conservation enactment is under way to turn it into a permanent wildlife sanctuary to be managed by the Sabah Wildlife Department.
Flora and Fauna
The Kinabatangan is one of only two known places on earth where 10 primate species can be found. These include the orang utan, long tail macaques, pigtail macaques, silver leaf monkey and several species that are endemic to Borneo, such as the Proboscis Monkey, the Maroon Langur and Bornean Gibbon. It is believe that the hunted Estuarine Crocodile - the largest crocodile species in the world - has become extremely rare, but can still be seen along the riverbanks.
The area is inhabited by at least 50 mammal species, and also serves as home to rare and endangered animals such as the wild Asian Elephant and possibly the Sumatran Rhino, which is on the verge of extinction and was last recorded in the area in 1993. Others that recorded are Bearded Pigs, rare oriental small-clawed otter, moon rats, Island flying fox, small bats, lesser mouse deer, prevost’s squirrel, Malay badger, binturong and civet cat.
Much of the Kinabatangan remains a mystery. Sharks and rays, usually thought of as sea creatures, live in freshwater in the Kinabatangan but little is known about them. The plant and animal life along the river has yet to be fully studied.
Patient visitors will be rewarded with the sight of hornbills and orangutan, and occasionally with glimpses of crocodiles or herds of elephant.
The Lower Kinabatangan area of Sabah is home to a nationally important population of elephants. Since the species is considered endangered worldwide, this population is also internationally important. There are currently about 95—115 elephants ranging in the lower Kinabatangan river region in the remaining forests of Pin-Supu, Gomantong, Pangi and Keruak Forest Reserves. These fragmented patches of forests have been cut off from the more extensive forest blocks and elephant ranges further inland by a major public road near Batu Putih and by plantations. This restricts the elephants' movement to an area that is too small for them.
Along the Kinabatangan river, it is common to see Fig trees along the river and Proboscis monkey can be seen in the Kinabatangan Floodplain. Some others plants that easy be seen are Palms, Orchids, Ginger plant, hibiscus, Crotons, Dillenia fruits that serve favorite shrub for long tail macaques and many species of bamboo. Not to mention about rattan, which serve as a source of income for the tribes.
Others like Gecko, water monitor lizard, Brown Bullfrog and file-eared Tree Frog, stick insect and bugs, butterflies and fireflies can be seen near to the river.
Main Attraction and activities
River Cruise - Safari
The cruise to the Camp is a River Safari by itself. Normally, the boatmen will zigzag around to show you the wildlife. Usually, the boatman will point out to you if they have seen something interesting. It is important that during the Safari tour, not to tease or shout at the animals. This the most relaxing and least environmentally-damaging way of viewing wildlife while at the same time transporting you with ease into the heart of the rainforest by boat. For those who would like an early morning rainforest adventure, you can choose to arrange trip from Sandakan, with some tour operators providing overnight accommodation at Sukau or Bilit.
Gomantong is the largest limestone hill and the most important source of edible birds nets in Sabah. During harvesting season, local collectors dangle from the roof of the cave on ladders made of rattan and bamboo can be seen collecting the nests produced by the agile swiftlets. The cave is open throughout the year. Gomantong Cave is located in the lower Kinabatangan area and the caves have become a major tourist attraction in Sabah. The caves can be reached in about one and half hour boat ride from Sandakan.
No doubt, this is another excellent place for bird watching. The Kinabatangan flood bank and the forest next to the bank offer a great ecology system and habitat for birds.
Almost 200 species of birds can be found in the lower Kinabatangan. To name a few, eight species of hornbills, the rare Oriental darter, Bornean bristlehead and the threatened Storm's stork are just some of the birds’ common to the area.
Along the Kinabatangan River, there are many trekking trails. Some trail leads you to Ox-bow Lake while some trails are design for tourist that was possible to see wildlife like orangutan and wild boar.
Mud and pools of water along the tracks are common during the rainy seasons, but it is during this season between the months of November and April where flooding occur, that many more animals are seen. The monkeys stay on trees, while the bigger animals – pigs, deer and even elephants can be seen on the high grounds. When paddling on boat around the Ox-bow Lakes, you will actually be moving amongst the canopies of the trees. Birds and butterflies will be seen in great numbers.
The best is to arrange a trip to the area from Sandakan. Flights from Sandakan to kota Kinabalu are regular. You also can choose direct flight from Kuala Lumpur to Sandakan.