Kinabatangan River

The Kinabatangan River – Wildlife Sanctuary of Borneo

Borneo’s Kinabatangan River –  A Wildlife Sanctuary

The Kinabatangan river in Malaysian Borneo, winds its way down from the mountain ranges of Sabah and travels 500km until it reaches the lowland forests (arguably the last forested floodplains of Asia) and exits the mainland, discharging itself into the Sulu Sea.  

This spectacular river, the longest in northern Borneo, is one of the best places on the earth to see wildlife, and it is the essential life-blood or “corridor of life” of the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. The Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary is an area 26,000ha in size, gazetted by the state government as a protected area under the state’s Wildlife Conservation Enactment of 1997.

A journey up the Kinabatangan river, and its giant oxbow lakes, is a must for visitors keen to discover unique flora and fauna of Borneo.  All along the banks of the river the tropical riparian forest is home to myriad endemic species, such as the proboscis monkey, orang-utan, reticulated pythons, pygmy elephant, crocodile, and spectacular numbers of birds, insects, and reptiles.

Also here you will come across the villages of the Orang Sungai or the ‘River People’, who have lived here, in harmony with nature, for centuries.

Kinabatangan River Mouth
View of Kinabatangan river mouth and Sulu Sea

Rainforest & caves

In the backwoods of the Kinabatangan is a vast rainforest where limestone caves can be found. This includes the Gomantong Cave, inhabited by thousands of bats and swiftlets. This cave is also famous for its edible bird’s nest – known to have high medicinal values.  Furthermore, due to its fruiting trees, the jungle area around the Gomantong Cave is known to be a roaming area of wild Orang Utans.

Gomantong Caves
The Gomantong Caves

Orang Utans & primates

The Kinabatangan wildlife sanctuary is home to 10 species of primate, including 4 which can only be found in Borneo.

On a river cruise, you can often see Proboscis monkeys perched high in the trees, as well as other species of monkeys such as langurs, macaques, gibbons and even wild Orang Utans.  These are sometimes sighted at close range, but more often you will need a good pair of binoculars for spotting.

Proboscis Monkey Kinabatangan
A proboscis monkey

Great sightings of Borneo wildlife

The Kinabatangan is home to a great number of wildlife apart from the many species of primates.

The sanctuary offers a chance of seeing Bornean Pygmy Elephants.  These elephant are attracted to the river on a regular basis, and are often searching for edible plants by the river bank, and either basking in the sun, or crossing the river.

In addition, you might spot River otters, freshwater crocodiles, freshwater terrapins, monitor lizards, colorful snakes and large sized pythons on tree branches.

Other interesting sightings in the wildlife sanctuary include the wild boars, a few species deer such as the greater mouse deer and sambar deer, different species of cats such as the clouded leopard, marbled cat, leopard cat and also the rare and super elusive flat-headed cat.

The forests surrounding the Kinabatangan river are also home to the world’s smallest honey bear known as the Bornean Sun Bear.

A night walk or night cruise allows the sightings of nocturnal animals such as the amicable-looking slow loris and tarsier.

Orang Utan in Sabah
Orang Utan – “Man of the Forest”

A bird watcher’s paradise!

The Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary is a world-class bird watching destination.

It is home to an approximately 250 different species of beautiful tropical birds including the 8 species of hornbills.

Bird enthusiasts from all over the world travel to the Kinabatangan in an epic search of the Oriental Darter, frogmouths, different species of flowerpeckers and spiderhunters, nightjars, different species of beautiful trogons, birds of prey such as the Crested Serpent Eagle and Changeable Hawk Eagle and many more.

Kinabatangan Birds
Stunning birds of Borneo

Wildlife holiday in Borneo

If you are planning on a nature based holiday, wildlife tour, or bird watching expedition the Kinabatangan river and rainforests of Borneo offer some of the best experiences in the world.

Contact us at for more information.

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