Today is set aside as an arrival day in Kota Kinabalu (often referred to as “KK” by locals) – the provincial capital of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Kota Kinabalu is a pleasant city, with views onto the islands that pepper the tropical South China Sea offshore. Borneo is the world’s third largest island and conjures up images of an untamed and verdant forest paradise. The entire island was originally a vast rainforest, but now human disturbance has fragmented what was once an endless sea of greenery. Despite this, large tracts of forest still exist and our Borneo photography tours are sure to impress even the most seasoned traveller!
Today on our Borneo photography tour, we have an early morning start as we fly out of KK bound for Sandakan. We then make our way to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. This is a very educational experience, as we learn about the plight faced by Borneo’s wildlife as a result of habitat destruction and hunting. Orangutans are of course emblematic of Borneo’s rainforest wildlife, and we will spend some time with rehabilitated “Orangs”, while receiving an informative lecture on the subject.
This morning, we will also visit the Labuk Bay Proboscis Sanctuary on our Borneo photography tour,, which should allow us excellent photographic opportunities of these interesting primates! Our mode of transport changes post our visit to Sepilok and Labuk, as we hop onto a boat and head for Sukau and our wonderful lodge. Sukau Rainforest Lodge is perched on the banks of the Kinabatangan River, and is well situated to give us the best opportunities to photograph the remarkable wildlife of Borneo. During our time here, we will have the opportunity to embark on walks and boat cruises (both during the day and at night) to photograph Borneo’s wildlife.
Superb rainforest wildlife is to be seen along the extensive riparian forests on the Kinabatangan River at Sukau. The surrounding area has unfortunately been reduced to endless tracts of commercial palm oil plantations. As a result, nearly all the wildlife in the area has been forced into a narrow strip of forest along the river. This concentration of wildlife is phenomenal, so we will spend our time on the Kinabatangan River and its black-water tributaries in small motorized boats. These boat trips are simply amazing as one is able to creep up quietly and get close to both mammals and birds on our Borneo photography tours.
The “old man of the forest” – highly endangered Bornean Orangutan – is our main target for the trip and Sukau offers us our first real chances for this lowland species. The word orangutan means “man of the forest” in the Malay language, and we will be extremely fortunate to have the chance to witness this creature in its natural habitat at close range on our Borneo photography tours.
Some of the other wildlife we may encounter while meandering through the quiet channels include Red and Silvered Leaf Monkey, Long-tailed and Pig-tailed Macaque, amazing Proboscis Monkey (named for its exceptionally large fleshy nose), Bornean Gibbon, Oriental Small-clawed Otter, Bearded Pig and colugo (Malayan Flying Lemur). Also possible sites include the striking black and yellow Mangrove Cat-eyed Snake and the Reticulated Python (the longest snake in the world). The Kinabatangan River also offers a chance to find an incredible array of birds and highlights could well include the rare and highly endangered Storm’s Stork, Lesser Adjutant and Grey-headed Fish Eagle.
A further highlight on our Borneo photography tour will be the opportunity to do a boat excursion on the Kinabatangan River at night. This will give us additional chances of finding Bearded Pig, Malay and Common Palm Civet and, if we are very lucky, the strange binturong (Bearcat) or Fishing Cat could be sighted. Birding highlights on our Borneo photography tours could well include the impressive Buffy Fish Owl, roosting Stork-billed and Blue-eared Kingfisher, White-crowned Shama and Malaysian Blue Flycatcher.
Today we overland to Tabin Wildlife Sanctuary, but have stop to make en route at the massive limestone Gomontong Caves where an estimated 2 million bats and 1 million swiftlets (of four species) make their home. The valuable swiftlet’s saliva nests have been collected for centuries in production of the fabled bird’s nest soup. We will take a tour along boardwalks inside these huge caves where we may observe the birds-nest collectors harvesting Edible-nest and Black-nest Swiftlet for soup (these fearless collectors climb high onto the cave ledges using flimsy rope ladders, an amazing sight and incredible feat!).
The three largest mammals of Sabah occur at Tabin, namely the Bornean Pygmy Elephant (this is not as yet an official subspecies of the Asian Elephant but new genetic data provides compelling evidence that these elephants may be a distinct population), banteng (wild cattle) and the Sumatran Rhinoceros. Tabin is a sanctuary for the Sumatran Rhino, but these “hairy rhinos” are rare and highly endangered, and we would have to be extremely fortunate to come across one of them on our Borneo photography tours . We will have chances again for Bornean Orangutan, the ultimate wildlife symbol of these parts, as well as the endemic Hose’s Langur and Bornean Gibbon.
Tabin Wildlife Reserve is one of the richest in terms of wildlife and birds. You are very likely to have excellent views of the endemic Hose’s Langur, Bornean Gibbon, Beaded Pig, and several troops of Pig-tailed or Long-tailed Macaques. Other special mammals that we might expect to encounter include gaur and Bornean Pygmy Elephant. On the night outing, good views of Common Palm Civet, Leopard Cats, Thick-spined Porcupine, Small-toothed Palm Civet and Banded Palm Civet are very likely. The birding is especially excellent here, including all 8 species of Hornbills found in Borneo (Helmeted, Wreathed, Wrinkled, White-crowned, Malaysian Pied, Bushy-crested, Black and Rhinoceros).
Otter by Nancy Bell
Today we will drive on bumpy dirt tracks and navigate river crossings to access the vast primary forest of the Danum Valley Conservation Area before arriving at the world-famous Borneo Rainforest Lodge. The Danum Valley conservation area protects some of the last remaining pristine lowland rainforest on the island. We will spend the next few days of our Borneo photography tour along the road and network of excellent trails where we have a good chance of seeing some of the fantastic mammals and birds of the area.
Our accommodations for the next four nights of our Borneo photography tour are superb, and an unexpected luxury in our remote rainforest location!
Our rainforest lodge, situated along the banks of the Danum River, allows us access to work our way through the diverse and often muddy trails to search for mammals such as Sambar Deer, Greater Mouse-Deer, Bearded Pig, Common Tree Shrew, Prevost’s Squirrel and the diminutive Plain Pygmy Squirrel. A major attraction to this reserve is the fantastic canopy walkway that allows unique access to the little-known canopy world of Borneo’s rainforest lowlands, and here we have excellent chances of photographing the Bornean Orangutan. The Danum Valley is a hotspot for many species of primates. Highlights could include the scarce Slow Loris, Western Tarsier, Bornean Gibbon, impressive troops of Red Leaf-Monkey and Long-tailed and Pig-tailed Macaques.
Night drives and walks in the Danum Valley can be very productive at times and provide a superb opportunity for seeing a range of secretive rainforest mammals. Species that are regularly seen include Sambar and Red Barking Deer, Greater and Lesser Mouse-Deer, Red and Thomas’s Giant Flying-Squirrels, colugo (Malayan Flying Lemur), Thick-spined Porcupine, Banded Palm, Common Palm and Malay Civet, and Leopard Cat. Rarer species that occur include the spectacular Clouded Leopard, Flat-headed Cat, Malayan Sun Bear, Malay Badger, Western Tarsier and the rarest of them all, the Sumatran Rhinoceros (now facing extinction in Danum).
The Danum Valley is also very rich in birdlife, and is one of the best areas in the world for the colourful pittas. One of the Borneo photography tour highlights could include a sighting of the Great Argus, a type of pheasant which is famous for having the longest feather of any of the world’s bird species! Countless opportunities abound – whether it is a bright green, slender Vine Snake or a rainforest frog, there will plenty to keep is busy in Danum!
On one of the mornings of our Borneo photography tour , we will head up a hill to a tower that overlooks Danum Valley to enjoy sunrise over the lowland rainforest. This can be a spectacular affair, and will leave us in no doubt as to the primordial feel of this ancient rainforest.
After a final morning in the Danum Valley, we will transfer to Lahad Datu for a flight transfer to Kota Kinabalu where we will overnight.
This morning our magical Borneo photography tour will conclude after breakfast as we are transferred to the airport for departure.
Although Dale grew up in suburban London, which certainly isn’t replete with wild animals, his addiction to wildlife films instilled a deep love for animals and the outdoors, and he has subsequently left London and spent the last 20 years travelling the globe working with, and photographing its wildlife.
During this time, he has produced more than 400 nature, travel and photography oriented magazine articles and has worked on numerous wildlife documentaries including for the BBC. His photographs have appeared on high profile front covers and he has won several awards with global publishing companies.
Aside from having guided widely in Africa, his extensive experience in tropics, whether it be the steamy jungles of south-east Asia or South America, or the endemic rich island of Madagascar, make him the natural choice for ORYX’s Brazil, Borneo and Madagascar tours. His sense of humour and relaxed demeanour ensure that he is a hit with all the people he guides, both young and old!
Nancy and I had an absolutely fabulous time travelling and photographing with Dale in Borneo. We came home with some spectacular images of primates, and with so many of them it’s going to take us weeks to get through them all and process all the ones we want to. We were very impressed with all of the arrangements ORYX made to assure that this was a very high quality trip. The ground agents, the lodges, the local guides, the transportation, were all absolutely first class.
Thanks again for such a superb trip. We hope to travel with ORYX again soonBorneo
You have all been great to work with and the trip was amazing.
Everything was well planned and organized, the lodges were very pleasant, and the local guides were excellent. We saw every animal on the list and got great photos. I hope you know how lucky you are to have Dale, because he’s a star among photographer tour leads.
He’s not only an extremely talented photographer for wildlife, macro, landscapes, and people, he’s a fountain of interesting knowledge about flora and fauna, and he has an innate ability with animals that’s a big advantage when photographing them. Even if we don’t see what we’re looking for while searching for wildlife, he can always find something cool and unusual to photograph in an interesting way, so it’s fun all day long and never boring. When it comes to non-photography guide-related tasks, he takes charge and is competent in every way.
Thanks again for everything and I look forward to traveling with Oryx again in the future.