Pulau Tioman is a tropical island off the coast of Peninsular Malaysia. An extinct volcanic island, Tioman’s terrain is incredibly steep with narrow lowland areas lying next to vibrant coral reefs and mangroves. The island covers around 136 km2, with most of this covered by rainforest. Tioman’s isolation in the South China Sea means that many of its species are found nowhere else in the world – including the Kajang slender litter frog and Tioman walking catfish. Other species include long-tailed macaques, bumphead parrotfish, hawksbill sea turtles, slow loris, fruit bats, civet cats, oriental whip snakes, reef sharks and colugos (flying lemurs!). Tioman is also home to one of the world’s most incredible plants – Rafflesia cantleyi – the corpse flower. The island is accessible via ferry from Mersing or Janjong Gemok in the state of Pahang, or via plane from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur.
Average rating: 4.0 (very good)
Average spend per person: $350 ($350 – $350)
Number of reports: 1
Best time to visit: March – October
Typical activities: bird watching, boat trip, jungle trekking, scuba diving, snorkelling
Wildlife in Pulau Tioman
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the species visitors most want to see here are:
Bumphead parrotfish – 100% of visitors (1/1) reported sightings
Head to the nearby island of Pulau Tulai and sightings of bumphead parrotfish are routine in the island’s shallow coral reefs. These fish are the largest species of parrotfish reaching lengths of up to 1.5 metres. They can be seen in small schools biting off large bits of coral around Tulai. You don’t need to dive to see the marine life of Tioman, although you are likely to need a bum boat or speed boat to get around the islands. Ask around for local knowledge to find the spots where bumphead parrotfish have been most recently seen.
Colugo – 100% of visitors (1/1) reported sightings
Tioman supports a population of Sunda colugos (or flying lemurs). Colugos enjoy climbing open coconut plantations at night as the trees enable a quick route above the surrounding forest canopy. Several coconut plantations fringe Tioman’s lowlands near villages such as Kampong Genting and Juara. These areas provide incredible opportunities to witness them glide between trees against the starlit backdrop of the night sky. WildSide recommends staying at a local homestay and asking locals where colugos can be found. All that’s required is a bright torch.
Hawksbill sea turtle – 100% of visitors (1/1) reported sightings
Away from Tioman’s most touristy snorkelling sites such as Paya and the Marine Park, hawksbill sea turtles are a common sight on Tioman’s reefs. Pulau Renggis, Pulau Soyak, Pulau Tumuk, Pulau Tulai and the fringing reef at Kampong Salang all offer a high chance of encountering hawksbill sea turtles. Diving isn’t necessary in order to witness much of Tioman’s marine life, as most of the reefs are relatively shallow. However, in order to access these locations, bum boat or speed boat rides need to be arranged as access around the island by car or bike is limited. Turtles can be found at any time of day. To avoid disturbance from other snorkellers or divers, WildSide recommends going out during the early morning.
Macaque – 100% of visitors (1/1) reported sightings
One of easiest mammals to spot on Tioman. Long-tailed (also known as crab-eating) macaques congregate in troops of up to fifteen. They move from the forest edge to the plantations, then to the mangroves and into the fringes of the villages throughout the day. Just by walking around the village and entering part of Tioman’s forest you’re likely to encounter macaques. The island macaques are generally shyer than their mainland counterparts, although they can still become aggressive. Particularly if you have food or are carrying plastic bags. Make sure to keep all food, drinks, and plastic hidden away or within a rucksack. A great place to see them living up to their name and dining on seafood is Monkey Bay. Check out this article from National Geographic looking at the differences in behaviour from their city-dwelling relatives in Singapore.
ORIENTAL WHIP SNAKE – 100% OF VISITORS (1/1) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
While mildly venomous, these bright green snakes are extremely docile and generally unafraid of humans. This enables them to be seen shining out amongst the undergrowth around the footpaths. They can be difficult to spot, however, as they blend in well with their green surroundings. These agile creatures don’t stay still for long. Using their vine-like bodies to navigate, they can climb extremely fast up trees and across branches. So keep a close eye out for rustling or movement in the undergrowth or branches.
Rafflesia (corpse flower) – 100% of visitors (1/1) reported sightings
Rafflesia cantleyi is a parasitic plant endemic to Peninsular Malaysia and Tioman. It has one of the world’s largest flowers. Rafflesia’s large wax-like flowers are infamous for emitting a smell similar to rotting flesh. This is an evolutionary mechanism to attract flies to aid pollination. These plants exclusively parasitise vines such as lianas. Several known Rafflesia spots are present along the Tekek-Juara trail and in the forests around Juara. WildSide recommends finding a local expert to show you these spots as Rafflesia infrequently flower and the hosts are notoriously hard to identify.
Reef shark – 100% of visitors (1/1) reported sightings
The waters around Pulau Tioman are home to blacktip reef sharks which are often found in shallow waters, gracefully swimming over reefs and sandy flats. They are regularly seen when snorkelling and diving around the reefs. Renggis Island Reef, in particular, is a great spot to dive with blacktips. They are cautious sharks which are scared off by the bubbles created by diving, so snorkelling actually gives you a better chance of getting close to these graceful animals. If you don’t fancy getting in the water with them (although they are harmless), they can often be seen from the shore. There are also reports on TripAdvisor of restaurants feeding their scraps to sharks at the end of the day, allowing up-close sightings from the jetties.
Slow loris – 100% of visitors (1/1) reported sightings
Slow loris are not only nocturnal but also incredibly elusive and difficult to spot. Tioman’s steep, mountainous terrain makes finding slow lorises extremely difficult. In fact, only a few sightings have ever been recorded on the island, with the species only just being rediscovered after decades with no sightings. Find a local guide to take you into the forest and coastal plantations after dark to try and witness these fascinating creatures. Ash from the WildSide team was lucky enough to spot one during a night walk on the island. It turned out this was the first confirmed sighting and photographic evidence of this species on Tioman since its discovery in 1915. You can read his blog post or the full academic paper here – including some of the reasons why this may be a new species! It just goes to show what can happen when you get outside and look for wildlife!
Photo credit: Theo Crazzolara, under a Creative Commons license from Flickr