Nature Escapes

Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary

"Take A Rainforest River Safari"


The best place to see wild jungle animals, the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary makes a trip to Sabah worth all the extra effort. A vast floodplain of lowland rainforest and freshwater swamps, the Kinabatangan River severs the landscape for easy access to view some of Borneo's most fascinating mammals and birds.

Travel upriver in the early morning hours to catch the jungle coming alive for the day. No other wildlife experience in Malaysia matches a river safari for wild animal sightings in one outing.

Get a real feel for biodiversity by watching pygmy elephants grazing on grassy riverbanks, listening for the hard wingbeats of hornbills in flight or enjoying proboscis monkeys leap in the tree canopy. And all from the comfort of a river boat.

Spend a few days at the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, a network of conservation areas serving as a corridor of exotic tropical life.

Natural Things To Do

Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary: Nature Attractions

River Safaris

Many visitors to tropical rainforests usually expect to see endangered animals on every trail. The rainforest is not an open African savannah; jungle animals hide for survival. A river safari gives you an unique experience to appreciate the wilderness in all its green glory. Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary

The Kinabatangan River cuts a path deep into the forested interior of Sabah's spectacular freshwater habitats. Wildlife is in abundance as both rare and endangered mammals thrive in the rich riverine forests, with over 250 bird species.

Ten different primate species, including gibbons and leaf-monkeys, are found here, one of only two such places on the planet. The wild menagerie continues with estuarine crocodiles, civets, wild boar, otters and plenty of snakes, lizards and frogs. Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary

If you dislike jungle trekking, then a cruise up the river and its narrow tributaries for slow rides and amazing sights of the tropical natural world. Take advantage of early daylight hours as the mist disappears to unveil active birdlife and the rustling of rainforest creatures.

Be sure to take the short ride, through low hanging branches to navigate the narrow passageway, to the Oxbow Lake to watch macaques and water birds. And keep an eye out for snakes coiled among the extended tree boughs.


Freshwater swamps and lowland rainforests harbor thousands of flowering and fruiting plant species. These rich, green resources support hundreds of forest and water birds that make the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary a haven for bird observation.

Long-legged herons and egrets and long-necked Oriental darters wade in shallow waters in search for fish, Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary
while overhead the whoosh of hornbill wings alerts you to a fantastic photo opp.

The Kinabatangan River is a natural gathering point for colorful kingfishers and the endangered Storm's Stork. Standing on guard on trees overhanging the river, Brahminy kites and crested sea eagles perch before another feeding flight.

In the forest and swamp habitats, the bulbuls, babblers, flycatchers, flowerpeckers, sunbirds, woodpeckers and many other feathered species flicker among the vegetation to keep every jungle trekker busy.

Arrange for a night walk or boatride to spotlight owls on the prowl.

Jungle Trekking

Staying at jungle lodges anywhere near the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary offers good trekking trails to venture off the river and deeper into the rainforest. Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary
flickr/El Rabbit

The sanctuary is a hodgepodge of secondary forests, flooded swamplands, oil palm plantations, dipterocarp forest, mangroves and oxbow lakes.

Each of these habitats are worthwhile for finding pythons, vipers and other reptiles; sighting civets on tree limbs, or catch a monitor lizard thrashing over the forest floor.

If lucky, you'll come upon Bornean orangutans moving slowly in the tree canopy to feed on fruits or find the flattened leaves of a nightly nest atop a tree crown.

Traversing the various habitats also lets you encounter local traditions, whether its farming and harvesting practices or insights into the encroachment of plantations and issues related to conservation.

Gomantong Caves

Just ten kilometers away from the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, the Gomantong Caves showcase bats and swiftlets with a look at local birds nest collecting activities.

Reachable by road, the jungle paths to the caves can even spring some surprises with monkeys and orangutans passing by. Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary

But inside the limestone outcrop a whole new ecosystem exposes its strong ammonia odor to reveal the build-up of piles of guano on the cave floor. Rich in nutrients, these bat and bird droppings create a microhabitat for gazillions of crickets and cockroaches.

Local villagers descend on homemade ropes, rattan ladders and bamboo poles from light-spewing holes atop the cave roof to harvest the precious and edible swiflet nests that fetch high prices in the Chinese markets, thus pushing collectors to take the risks involved. This ancient tradition is done twice a year from February to April and July to September

Millions of bats roost in the cave during the day before their mass exodus each evening to feed on insects abundant in the rainforest.

Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary: Getting There

Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary

From Sabah's capital of Kota Kinabalu you can either fly into Sandakan or take an overland route. The drive from Sandakan to Sukau, the main staging area for Kinabatangan activities, takes 1-2 hours with public transport available. The 350 km drive from Kota Kinabalu lasts at least six hours with extra time for scenic pit stops.

  • The sanctuary does not have a Visitors' Centre like a national park, so you are dependent on local tour operators for arranging accommodation and activities along the Kinabatangan River.
  • There are a lot of choices with varying price levels located at Sukau. However, it is best to always make arrangements prior to arriving in Sukau.
  • Transportation is not easy, nor inexpensive, without combining it with a tour package.
  • Homestay programs are available in surrounding villages for an alternative experience living with the Orang Sungai (River People).

Gomantong Caves

Visiting Hours: Daily from 8 am to 6 pm

Admission Fees:

Malaysian Adult: 5 MYR
Malaysian Child: 2 MYR
Non-Malaysian Adult: 30 MYR
Non-Malaysian Child: 15 MYR
Camera and Video Fee: 10 MYR


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