Best wildlife encounters in Borneo

Best wildlife encounters in Borneo

Borneo is the largest island in Southeast Asia, and one of the most biodiverse land masses on the planet where elephants, tigers, orangutans and rhinos coexist. In this blog post we pick out the most endearing animal species in Borneo that you can spot – from the iconic orangutans and proboscis monkeys to the more weird and wonderful – and which are the best places to head for wildlife viewing in Borneo.

Wild Cats in Borneo

There is a ‘Big 5’ of wild cats in Borneo and, whilst spotting them is not easy, there is a number of lodges operating nocturnal wildlife safaris that offer the best chance of these majestic nocturnal creatures. 

  • Sunda Clouded Leopards

The jewel in the crown for serious wildlife enthusiasts visiting Borneo is to spot a Sunda clouded leopard. This elusive feline has a light grey coat overlaid with distinctive darker cloud shaped patterns, with a lengthy tail and short limbs. Very few visitors get lucky enough to see a clouded leopard, but with time and dedication you can increase your chances from remote to slim. The best place to see a clouded leopard in the wild is the Deramakot Wildlife Reserve in Sabah. The set up here is more suited to the more dedicated naturalists, with simple accommodation and a focus on night drives which offer the best chance of seeing the more elusive cats and other mammals.

  • Sunda Leopard Cats

Possibly the easiest of the Big 5 to spot, the Sunda leopard cat is roughly the size of a domesticated animal and has distinctive leopard-like spots on its fur. The limbs are longer than a house cat with webbed toes, and the head is very small with pointy ears, a white mouth and two stripes running vertically between the eyes. These cats can be found all over Borneo’s forests, and also in plantations and even in small villages. The best place to spot a Sunda leopard cat is the Danum Valley in Sabah, but you also have a good chance to see them at the more easily accessible Tabin Wildlife Reserve and on the Kinabatangan River.

  • Marbled cats

More often spotted on camera traps, the marbled cat has similar colourings to the clouded leopard but are much smaller. The predominantly grey brown coat has reddish marbling circled with black, and random dark blotches towards the tail. The best place to see the marbled cat is the Deramakot Wildlife Reserve.

  • Flat-headed cats

Inhabiting Borneo’s primary and secondary forests in areas near to freshwater sources, the flat-headed cat is adapted for hunting in water. It has a long snout, flattened head, retractable claws and sharp teeth that are ideal for hooking small aquatic prey such as shrimp, frogs and small fish. Similar in size to a domesticated feline, the fur on its head is orange whilst the colouration on the back is grey/brown with a white underbelly and the tail is distinctly short. This is one of the shiest wild cats in Borneo, but the best place to see flat-headed cats in the wild is at the Deramakot Wildlife Reserve.

  • Borneo bay cats

The enigmatic Borneo bay cat is a very rare species that is endemic to the island of Borneo, and a close relative of the marbled cat. Slightly larger than a domesticated cat, bay cats have uniform chestnut-brown fur with a long tail, rounded ears and a small head. Very little is known about the ecology of the Borneo bay cat as few studies have been made. Hence there is very little chance of spotting one in the wild.

Other Mammals in Borneo

Borneo is home to several endangered mammal species, their depleted numbers being down to severe habitat loss caused by deforestation. Amongst these are a number primates, including the endearing pongo pygmaeus (Bornean orangutan), and over 40 species of mammals that are endemic to Borneo including the proboscis monkey. Some of the following mammals are larger and therefore easier to spot in the wild. 

  • Orangutans

Requiring little introduction, orangutans are one of the primary reasons many people visit Borneo. Despite huge amounts of deforestation, and resulting habitat loss for the species, Borneo is home to the largest number of orangutans anywhere in the world with around 100,000 individuals. This compares to around 7,500 individuals in Sumatra, the only other land mass where orangutans exist. With around 96 per cent of our DNA, these orange haired apes are highly intelligent and display many human-like mannerisms in the way they perform tasks and interact with their young. For guaranteed sightings head to the rehabilitation centres at Sepilok or Semmengoh near Kuching. The best places to spot a wild Orangutan are as follows: Kinabatangan River, Danum Valley Conservation Area, Deramakot Forest Reserve and Batang Ai.  

  • Proboscis monkeys

Endemic to Borneo, proboscis monkeys inhabit the island’s rainforests, coastal mangroves and waterways. Named ‘Dutch monkey’ in one of the local dialects because of their hefty nose and pot belly, these colourful and curious creatures live in large groups consisting of a single male and up to a dozen females. Other adult males live in bachelor groups until they able to attract a mate with loud calls that are amplified through their long noses. The enlarged stomach allows for a large volume of digestive bacteria, which is required for their astringent diet of green leaves and fruit. The proboscis monkey is the only primate known to ‘chew the cud’, as they are known to regurgitate their food to chew twice. One of the best places to spot proboscis monkeys is on the walking trails of the Bako National Park in Sarawak.

  • Pygmy elephants

Unsurprisingly Borneo pygmy elephants are the smallest of the Asian elephants, standing at an average of around 2 metres, yet they are the largest mammal on Borneo. Pygmy elephants are predominantly dark grey with small round faces, over-sized ears, straight tusks and long tails. There are an estimated 2,040 pygmy elephants left in the wild with over 95% of them found in the Malaysian state of Sabah. Their habitat tends to be in flat areas of lowland rainforests near rivers and are attracted to secondary forests with fewer trees and less canopy. Family groups are often seen on the banks of the Kinabatangan River, and sometimes can be spotted swimming across the river. Lone male adults can occasionally be found roaming in upland forests.

  • Flying squirrels

Seeing a red giant flying squirrel in full flight is one of the best wildlife watching experiences in Borneo. They grow up to 50cm in length and nest in tree holes in primary and secondary rainforests, and can glide up to 100m between trees to search for their diet of forest fruits and seeds. Being a nocturnal creature, they only emerge from their nests at dusk so there is a limited window of opportunity to see their spectacular air show. The canopy walkway at the Rainforest Discovery Centre near Sepilok is a great place to see the red giant flying squirrel launch itself from a tree and glide over the rainforest. They also make regular appearances outside the restaurant at the MY Nature Resort.

  • Sun bears

 Growing up to a maximum of 80kg, the sun bear is the smallest of the bear family. They have a rugged short black coat with a distinctive pale bib-shaped patch on the underside, and are primarily nocturnal creatures that feed on fruit, insects, termites, rodents, small birds and honey. With long claws and a stocky build they and are excellent tree climbers, and have a long tongue for extracting the nectar from bee hives which explains their colloquial name of the ‘honey bear’. Sun bears were once prevalent across swathes of Southeast Asia’s lowland forests. In recent years numbers have decreased by up to 30% due to the dual pressure of habitat loss caused by deforestation, and to an even more alarming extent through hunting. The gall bladders of Sun Bears, along with other body parts, are highly sought after for traditional Chinese medicines. Nursing mothers are also hunted, and their young are sold on to the pet trade which results in young bears found to be living in unnatural captive conditions in Sabah, with no access to outdoor areas.

The best place to learn more about the plight of these creatures is at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, located near Sepilok. This is a rescue and rehabilitation operation, where captive bears are taken care of in a large forest enclosure to provide them with the skills to be reintroduced to the wild.

  • Silvered langurs

The silvery langur, also known as the silvery lutung and silvered leaf monkey, is a small and agile primate that lives in forests and mangroves near sources of water, inhabiting both inland and coastal areas. The name is derived from the grey tips to their brown or black fur which gives them a silvery appearance from afar. These primates are diurnal and move from tree to tree in groups of up to 30 individuals with one dominant adult male. Silvered langurs are herbivores and their diet consists mainly of leaves, fruit and seeds. The best place to spot these elusive creatures is on the walking paths of the Bako National Park, on the coastline of Sarawak.

  • Bornean Slow Loris

The slow loris is a small mammal measuring up to 30cm, and the only known venomous primate in the world. When threatened these pint-sized creatures raise their arms to access toxins that are secreted from their armpits, and then mix this with their saliva and then biting. Their appearance is often described as cute, with soft fur, small round heads and oversized eyes which play an important role in their ability to feed and move around at night. The slow lorises are nocturnal omnivores that lean from branch to branch, foraging for fruits, seeds, eggs and insects. Their numbers have steadily decreased over the years due to deforestation, and as they have become fashionable pets in certain parts of Asia - fuelled by internet video sharing sites. The best place to see a Bornean slow loris in the wild is on a night drive at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve.

  • Maroon langurs

Endemic to the island of Borneo, maroon langurs are found in the canopies of lowland forests and mangroves across the island. The maroon langur, or red leaf monkey, was so named for their bushy reddish coats and their herbivorous diet which they source from the rainforest canopy. These primates are equipped with a chambered stomach, to assist with breaking down the cellulose in their leaf-based diet. They grow up to just 60cm with an equal length of tail, and have powerful hind legs to leap between trees so as to avoid predators on the forest floor. Maroon langurs are sociable creatures that live in groups of up to 12 individuals, with one dominant male and several adult females. They tend to split into groups and roam the canopy at dawn and early afternoon in search of food, and spend the middle of the day resting. The best place to see maroon langurs in the wild is at the Danum Valley Conservation Area, whilst staying at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge.

We hope you have enjoyed this round up of Borneo's most exciting wildlife that you might spot on one of our tours of Borneo. Please get in touch if you would like any help planning a wildlife adventure to this very special island.