Kinabatangan River is the second longest river in Malaysia. And one of the best places to see wildlife in the whole of South East Asia. Cutting its way through the North East of Sabah, the Malaysian part of Borneo, it stretches 560 km before reaching the Sulu Sea. Surrounding the river is a mix of biodiversity-rich forests and wetlands, interspersed with palm oil plantations and degraded habitats. Despite, or because of, the pressures in the area, Kinabatangan provides an important wildlife refuge and incredible diversity of life. Boat trips along the river bring you face-to-face with orangutans, pygmy elephants, proboscis monkeys, and macaques, as well as a host of amazing birdlife. The reason for this abundance is in part due to the loss of habitat surrounding the River which concentrates wildlife in the remaining stretch of protected forest. This makes Kinabatagan an incredible but confronting experience.
Average rating: 5.0 (very good)
Average cost: costs vary from $100-1,000 for a multi-day tour of the river depending if you are happy to arrange it yourself or want a more luxurious experience. There is a great guide to the area here.
Best time to visit: the best time to visit is the dry season between March and October.
How to get there: the most popular way is to fly to the city of Sandakan. Although you can also drive or take a bus from the capital Kota Kinabalu (~5 hours). Once you are there, most of the Kinabatangan River lodges or tours will include transportation to and from Sandakan.
Typical activities: boat trip, jungle trek, wildlife watching
Number of reports: 1
Last update: 2022
WILDLIFE IN kinabatangan river
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the most popular species that can be seen here are:
orangutan – 100% OF wildside users (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Kinabatangan River offers one of the best chances of seeing a wild orangutan in all of Borneo. If you go on a three or four-day tour you are almost guaranteed to see one. It’s estimated that there are around 1,100 Bornean orangutans living in the area. And unlike other locations, they can be spotted from the River itself. This means you don’t need to trek through the jungle to find them, but can sail along the River in a tour boat and spot them along the banks. The Abai Jungle Lodge gets rave reviews on TripAdvisors and lots of reports of orangutans in the hotel grounds.
Asian elephant – 100% OF wildside users (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Alongside the monkeys and apes, the other big wildlife star of Borneo is the pygmy (or Bornean) elephant. This sub-species of Asian elephant is almost only found in the North East of Borneo. With around 2,000 living in the area, this makes up about 95% of the entire population. Pygmy elephants are generally found in lowland rainforests and river valleys such as Kinabatangan. Degraded forests are actually an important habitat for these elephants which makes the River one of the best places to see them. Groups of elephants often gather together along the river banks forming herds of up to 50 individuals. If you spend a few days touring the area you have a great chance of spotting these fantastic animals!
proboscis monkey – 100% OF wildside users (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
These unusual monkeys are endemic to the island of Borneo. They are typically found alongside rivers and mangrove forests. They spend most of their time in trees, only occasionally venturing out on land to forage. It’s estimated that around 1,500 individuals live in the area, making Kinabatangan River the best place to see proboscis monkeys in the wild. Most tours include a boat cruise to the Menanggul River where they gather in the evening to roost. The early evening is a great time to look for proboscis monkeys, with their loud honks making them easy to locate.
macaque – 100% OF wildside users (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
The River is also home to two species of macaque – the long-tailed and pig-tailed macaque. Both species are easy to spot and can be seen on any of the tours, often in the channels off the main River. As you might expect, the best way to tell these two species apart is by their tails. Long-tails have extremely long tails, while pig-tails have shorter tails which they hold up like a pig.
Photo Credit: barnabasvormwald under a Creative Commons licence from Pixabay