At 560km long, Kinabatangan River is Sabah’s longest and Malaysia’s second longest river. Much of the lower Kinabatangan River is gazetted under the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary and it meanders through a flood plain creating numerous ox-bow lakes and making it an ideal environment for some of the best wildlife and birdlife found in Malaysia.
Kinabatangan River Basin
Due to its vast hinterland of jungle and limestone caves, the Kinabatangan floodplain has for centuries assumed strategic economic importance as a source for edible bird’s nests, bee wax, rattan and ivory. Many believe that as China and Borneo has trade links as far back as 631AD, the origin of the name “Kinabatangan” was derived from Kina (China) and Batang (large river). Moreover, based on Chinese records, there existed a Chinese settlement in the area most probably around Sukau.
Also in the 15th Century, a Chinese princess from the Kinabatangan married the first Sultan of Brunei. Between 1791-1808, the Sultan of Sulu even put his son as governor of this area and later in 1881, British North Borneo Chartered Company took over control of this area and paid US$5,000 per year to the Sultan of Sulu.
The inhabitants of the Kinabatangan region are mostly Orang Sungai of mixed ancestry including Tambanua, Idahan, Dusun, Suluk, Bugis, Brunei, Bajaus and Chinese.
Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary is one of two known places in the world to be inhabited by ten species of primates four of which are endemic to Borneo. It is also one of two places in the world where four colobines inhabit the same place – namely proboscis monkey, silvered langur, maroon langur and Hose’s or grey langur. It has the highest concentration of proboscis monkeys and orang utans in Malaysia.
Other wildlifes include long-tailed macaque, pig-tailed macaque, Bornean gibbon, two nocturnal primates namely western tarsier and slow loris and other mammals including Asian elephant and Sumatran rhinoceros.
Hoofed mammals which are mainly active at night include wild cattle or Tembadau, bearded pig and four species of deer namely sambar, greater mouse-deer, barking deer and lesser mouse-deer which is also the world’s smallest hoofed mammal.
Carnivores include the Malayan sun bear, the world’s smallest bear, four species of wild cat namely clouded leopard, which is the largest wild cat in Borneo, the leopard cat, marbled cat and flat-headed cat. Other small mammals include hairy-nosed otter, oriental small-clawed otter, smooth otter, Malay civet, common palm, small toothed palm, banded palm and moon rat.
Reptiles include reticulated python, tortoise, freshwater terrapin, monitor lizard and crocodile.
Among the 200 species found in the region are 8 species of hornbill (rhinoceros, helmeted, black, pied, wreathed, wrinkled, white crowned and bushy crested), oriental darter, several species of egret, Storm’s stork, Sunda ground cuckoo, stork billed kingfisher, brahminy kite, crested serpent eagle, greater coucal, red-crowned barbet, black and yellow broadbill, white-rumped shama, white-chested babbler, heron, hawk, osprey, falcon, pheasant, parakeet, buffy fish owl, frogmouth, nightjar, trogon, bee eater, roller, woodpecker, pitta, swallow, bulbul, forktail, warbler, flycatcher, flowerpecker, spiderhunter, drongo, oriole and crow.
Some 27 species of bats or an estimated 2 million bats, mostly wrinkled-lipped bats roost in Gomantong Caves. Among the famous inbabitants are four species of swiftlets namely white-nest swiftlet, black-nest swiftlet, mossy-nest swiftlet and white-bellied swiftlet. However only the first two species produce the coveted edible nests, which are made out of their saliva. A top grade white nest can fetch as much as US$4,000 / kg in Hong Kong.