The greatest concentration of wildlife in Malaysia, and possibly all of Borneo, can be found remarkably close to Sandakan, along the lower reaches of Sabah’s biggest and longest river, the Kinabatangan. Wild orang utan, macaques, red and silver leaf monkeys, elephants, dozens of beautiful nirds including several species of hornbill, crocodiles, civet cats and otters may all be viewed in this region, although the most famous creature of all is undoubttedly the bizarre Proboscis monkey.
Thanks to their habit of socializing in the mangrove trees along the river banks late afternoon, the Proboscis monkeys are very easy to spot. Found only in Borneo, the male of this species has a large pendulous nose, fat belly, thick white tail, and a peculiar mixture of colours that makes him look as if he’s wearing grey tights, white underpants and an orange jacket. The Proboscis monkey is large, and has webbed feet which make him a strong swimmer. He is remarkably entertaining to watch as he leaps forcefully into space, seeingly without thought of where to land, crashing heavily and with maximum noise into a nearby tree.
The many dramatic and beautiful birds of the Kinabatangan region include elegant Egrets, several species of Kingfisher, the Oriental darter or Snake bird which dives underwater to catch its prey, swift and vividly coloured Bee-eaters, and Hornbills, huge ungainly birds with a heavy wingbeat and strange casque on their beaks.
Visitors who prefer an indepth look at the area’s wildlife can stay overnight at Sukau, just two hours by road from Sandakan, where accommodation is provided by local tour operators. For at least two hours in the late afternoon, visitors thread through the fresh-water swamp forest to discover the Proboscis monkeys and other wildlife in the comfort of a boat. Because of lack of public transport to Sukau, the only practical way to visit is with a tour operator.