Wildlife Watching on the Kinabatangan River | Malaysian Borneo

After  the most incredible day at the Orangutang Sanctuary in Sepilok in Borneo, the following day I planned to to try and see my other favourite animal- elephants. I love elephants and was lucky enough to volunteer with them in Thailand a few years back. However I had never seen one in the wild, nor had I ever seen a Pygmy Asian elephant, which are only found in Borneo so as you can imagine, I was very excited! My friend and I booked ourselves onto a boat trip down the Kinabatangan River, the second longest river in Sabah. This river flows through the heart of Borneo’s rainforest and a boat trip down it is an amazing way to catch a glimpse of the masses of unique wildlife that live on the riverbanks.


A coach picked us up from our hostel in Sepilok, and it was couple of hours drive to Sukau, the part of the jungle where the boat tours start and the centre of the river’s tourism. On arrival, we were shown to a huge wooden cafe area with a beautiful view of the river and given some yummy snacks, and got chatting to the other people on the boat trip. We were then given lifejackets and shown on to a very narrow boat on the river. It was only two seats wide but luckily my friend and I got seats right at the back near the guide which was handy as he was really knowledgeable but quite quiet! As we set off, he kept pointing out animals that we would never have spotted had we been out there on our own; somehow he managed to spot the eyes of the crocodile just peeking out of the water from quite a distance… and if that was just its head we could see, it looked like a big one! After this we kept spotting our own ‘log-odiles’, when a log looks convincingly like a crocodile, but none of us spotted another real deal. To be fair our boat was quite low to the water and slightly rickety so I wouldn’t have fancied seeing any others!

My personal highlight (and everyone else’s) of the boat trip was about half way through, when we all spotted a wild herd of elephants eating the long grass by the river side. We stopped for ages to watch them and they were gorgeous! There were three big elephants and two or three smaller ones including a tiny baby, that you could only just see above all the tall grass. We were informed by the guide that the herd was a mixture of Asian and Pygmy elephants- the Pygmys are the ones that are only found in Borneo in Asia. The herd stayed and ate for a while, calmly ignoring the boat load of paparazzi that we all became, and then headed off into the rainforest. It was so incredible to see a wild herd!



Smiling for the paparazzi!



As the boat turned to head back down the river, our driver/ guide pointed out a few more animals. We saw a few different types of monkey, first some long-tailed Macaques, walking along wires across the river, then were pointed out some Proboscis monkeys, which are the ones with an unusual looking trunk-like nose, unique to Borneo. We also saw from a distance, some gibbons swinging through the trees- I needed a long lens camera!

Our guide seemed able to spot just about anything and we were pointed out a bright green snake wrapped round a branch in a tree on the side of the river, which we would have never spotted in a million years- despite its bright colour, it blended into the branches.  We also saw some huge hornbill birds flying past- I’m not sure what type as a few different ones live in Borneo but they were impressive! The sun started setting over the trees as we made our way back to base, and the sky blended into some incredible colours. When we got back to the base, we had an amazing Malaysian buffet waiting for us, tons of curries and sauces and noodles- it was delicious.


Proboscis Monkey
Incredible Sunset

Once we had eaten, we got taken back by coach to Sepilok. It had been such a good trip! It was so amazing to see these animals in the wild in a rainforest- I was so gutted to leave and wish we’d booked the overnight trip which included a night trek in the jungle, but my friend hadn’t wanted to so we hadn’t. Guess I’ll just have to go back! The following day, I chilled by the hostel pool and soaked up the rainforest atmosphere in Sepilok. It was a really beautiful setting for a hostel, one of the prettiest I’ve ever stayed in.

Borneo Summary

That evening I got a taxi to Sandakan in the hope of visiting Turtle Island, my next favourite animal. After leaving the island, I caught the six hour public bus back to Kota Kinabalu. During all of these bus journeys, the scenery was unreal, as we went right up into the mountains and looked down on the rainforest. Throughout I noticed for myself the amount of deforestation taking place in Borneo. We drove past so many palm oil plantations and parts of the rainforest that are being cut and removed for timber. This has severely reduced the amount of rainforests in Borneo and therefore endangers the lives of the incredible animals that live there- which is so sad. Sadly, apparently the reason there are so many animals to be spotted on the edges of the Kinabatangan is because this is where they have been pushed back to because of the lack of rainforest. There are a few organisations working to try and prevent this deforestation, fingers crossed they will find a solution to prevent deforestation and save the home of these beautiful animals- before its too late.



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