The Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, accessible by 3 hours drive from the city of Sandakan, lies within the vast floodplain of the Kinabatangan river - one of the longest rivers in Malaysia. At 27,000 ha, the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary is part of an important network of conservation areas in the lowlands of eastern Sabah. Together with existing Forest Reserves, a natural corridor of natural vegetation links the lower tidal reaches of the river (which are fringed with mangrove forests) to the seemingly endless Forest Estates in the upper catchment of the Kinabatangan river. With a rich array of unique habitats, a diverse wildlife fauna and a rich culture and history of the Orang Sungai (in Malay, river people): the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary is by far the most fascinating of natural protected areas in Sabah.
Visiting this area can be the most amazing experience for any nature lover and there are around 7 different riverside lodges that you can stay at. From these lodges you have regular river cruises, and forest trails, which will give you an almost guaranteed chance of seeing rare jungle wildlife.
The exceptional variety of primates that share these forests are astounding: Orang Utans, the agile Gibbon, Borneo's Proboscis Monkey are the three of its most charismatic primates and less often seen are the nocturnal flying lemur, slow loris and tarsiers. During the drier months of the year, the Asian Elephant (which are one of Asia's most highly endangered species) roam these forests during their annual migration to the floodplain. When forest fruits begin to ripen, the hornbills and an array of wild and endangered birds, feast on a multitude of fleshy fruits that can be found in these forests. With the large network of swamps and lakes in the region, a large number of aquatic animals inhabit the Kinabatangan: community of freshwater fish; freshwater rays and sharks; crocodiles and wild otters.
Since the early days of trade in Borneo, the Kinabatangan river has been one of the major access routes to the natural resources of the forests and caves - rattans, resins from forest trees and edible bird"s nests have been but the few valued harvests of the Kinabatangan. Small settlements established where such resources were near-at-hand. The Orang Sungai (a broad term that has been given to the people who settled along rivers) are of a mixed and diverse heritage. The true natives had intermarried over the centuries with traders and settlers that have made their way to the Kinabatangan. Over all this time, the forest and rivers have been central to the livelihood of the people here. Working to maintain this balance between the wise use and conservation of this unique floodplain has been the key to the conservation efforts here. WWF-Malaysia's projects director wrote that, "right here in the lower Kinabatangan, some of Malaysia's and Borneo"s rarest wildlife achieves its greatest abundance alongside people collecting rattan and fishing for their livelihood". A balance can be achieved, which should be the goal for the future of the people and forests of the Kinabatangan.
Getting to the Kinabatangan is fairly easy. There are daily flights from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan and from Kuala Lumpur to Sandakan with both Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia. From Sandakan it is a 3 hour drive to the village of Sukau from where you access the riverside lodges.