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. After arrival, we will pay a visit to one of Sepilok’s most acclaimed assets, which is its fantastic canopy walkway that stretches for about 500m through the high forest canopy of the reserve’s lowland rainforest. The stability of the walkway makes it a great place to photograph from, and we will be introduced to some of the islands myriad rainforest birds during the course of our visit here.
In the afternoon, we will visit the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary which should allow us excellent photographic opportunities of these interesting primates!
This morning on our Borneo photography tour we will head to the 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.
Our next port of call is the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. There are currently 44 rescued ex-captive sun bears residing at the BSBCC. The facility includes large forest enclosures to provide a natural environment suited to the needs and welfare of the sun bears and facilitate their rehabilitation back into the wild.
Our mode of transport changes post our visit to Sepilok, 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.
A night cruise gives us additional chances of finding Bearded Pig, Malay and Common Palm Civet and, if we are very lucky, the strange Binturong (Bearcat) or even Fishing Cat could be sighted! Birding highlights could well include the impressive Buffy Fish Owl, roosting Stork-billed and Blue-eared Kingfisher, White-crowned Shama and Malaysian Blue Flycatcher
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, and as a result, nearly all the local wildlife 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.
The highly endangered Bornean Orangutan is one of our main targets 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 very fortunate to witness this creature in its natural habitat and at close range.
Some of the other wildlife we may encounter during our Borneo photography tour while meandering through the quiet channels include Red and Silvered Leaf monkeys, Long-tailed and Pig-tailed macaques, the amazing Proboscis Monkey (named for its exceptionally large fleshy nose), Bornean Gibbon, Oriental Small-clawed Otter, Bearded Pig and Colugo (Malayan Flying Lemur). Reptilian possibilities include the striking black and yellow Mangrove Cat-eyed Snake, Reticulated Python (the longest snake in the world) and even the formidable Saltwater Crocodile. 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.
This afternoon sees us travelling to the massive limestone Gomantong 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 for production of the fabled bird’s nest soup. We will take a tour along boardwalks inside these huge caves where we may if we are lucky, 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!). As the day draws to a close, we will wait for the emergence of bats from the cave system. They often form enormous clouds outside the cave and are hunted by various raptors including Bat Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Brahminy Kite and Wallace’s and Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagles. We return to our lodge in the dark, enjoying a delicious dinner then turning on for the evening.
We have a further day in the area to cruise the river and photograph its fantastic wildlife. We will make a special effort to find and photograph the Bornean Pygmy Elephants, which are often found in the area.
We depart the Kinabatangan today, heading to the private Tabin Wildlife Reserve to further our Borneo photography tour. 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.
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 Sabah in terms of wildlife and birds. We are likely to have excellent views of Beaded Pig, and several troops of Pig-tailed or Long-tailed Macaques. With a healthy dose of luck, we may even see Gaur! On night outings, encounters with Common Palm Civet, Leopard Cats, Thick-spined Porcupine, Small-toothed Palm Civet and Banded Palm Civet are likely.
The birding is especially good here, and residents include all 8 species of Hornbills found in Borneo (Helmeted, Wreathed, Wrinkled, White-crowned, Malaysian Pied, Bushy-crested, Black and Rhinoceros).
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.
Dale Morris’ addiction to wildlife films at a tender age instilled a deep love for animals and the great outdoors. He has spent the last 20 years travelling the globe working with and photographing its wildlife and cultures throughout the world’s utterly diverse destinations such as Madagascar, Brazil, Borneo, the plains of Tanzania’s Serengeti, and other equally spectacular areas.
Dale’s wealth of knowledge and imagery has found its way into numerous publications. 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.
His sense of humour and relaxed demeanour ensure that he is a hit with all the people he guides, both young and old, creating long-lasting clientele whilst easily captivating new guests on a tour with him.
Ranging from the icescapes of Antarctica to the tropics of Bornea, Madagascar, Brazil and more, Dale’s endless passion and knowledge makes him a perfect Photo Tour Leader for your next ORYX tour.
Dale Morris is a Photo Tour Leader for ORYX private and scheduled departures.
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.Borneo
Our Borneo trip was wonderful in every way!
Your local guide was a real “gem”, I must tell you:
Although never boastful, he was personally responsible for three special wildlife sightings that drew many other lodge guests and their guides to each scene.
The first sighting was of a beautiful/mature alpha male orangutan, already bedded down in his nest along the Kinabatangan River near Sukau Rainforest Lodge. He first sighted him (only slightly visible with binos) in the nest late one afternoon. We made a plan to returned to the sight at first light; hoping for a photo op as he exited the nest. We quietly/patiently watched for over an hour – waiting for him to rise. Meanwhile he radioed the lodge to report our sighting. The other guests raced over and were rewarded with a fantastic/lengthy photo op; as the orangutan lazily rose and slowly ate vines for breakfast – all at close range within the same tree he had nested in overnight.
The second sighting was of a Tarsier on a night drive in Danum Valley near the Borneo Rainforest Lodge. Without any eye-shine, he spotted only what he described as an odd small “lump” on a tree trunk just off the road. He immediately stopped the driver, leaped out and confirmed – it was a Tarsier! Again he radioed the lodge.Other guests that had searched for days for the Tarsier were rewarded with an awesome photo op. After fully satisfied with photos; everyone quietly left the Tarsier right where it was first sighted – undisturbed.
The third sighting was of tiny bioluminescent mushrooms in Danum Valley. We had first photographed the mushrooms at the Crocker Range near the Rafflesia Centre, but only during the day. He explained the bioluminescence of this particular mushroom. Hoping for a night shot, we searched hard for it throughout the rest of our trip. On the last night in Danum Valley, he was the one who found them! They were glowing brightly right in front of the lodge. None of the local guides at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge had spotted them. These amazing/unique mushrooms were right under their noses all along!
We could not be more pleased with the itinerary and your attention to every detail.
Thank you Rainer & ORYX!