Our Guide to Wildlife in Borneo
Published on: August 13th, 2019
Last modified: July 27th, 2023
Borneo is one of Asia’s most captivating wildlife destinations, and is home to an array of endemic species.
Spotting wildlife is never guaranteed, so it’s an incredibly special moment when you hear an orangutan come crashing through forest canopy or spot a sun bear hiding in a tree.
From endemic bird species to spectacled langurs, our experts have put together these tips of where to see wildlife in Borneo.
1) Proboscis monkeys
Borneo’s proboscis monkeys are unique creatures, who earn their name from their sizeable honkers. Their astonishingly long noses can reach up to 18 centimetres (7 inches) in size, and help the animals attract mates and amplify the sound of warning calls. These incredible primates are endemic to Borneo, and this Malaysian island is the only place they’re found outside of captivity.
A highly endangered species, they live around rivers, coastal mangroves and swamps. Their choice of habitat is not merely coincidental; these impressive primates have adapted to their surroundings and have even developed webbed feet. There’s only around 7,000 of them left in the wild, and for this reason you have to venture to a very specific part of the island to find them. The proboscis monkeys reside in Bako National Park, which is about an hour and a half’s journey via road and river from the city of Kuching. Getting up close to these monkeys is not an easy task, but it’s so worth it once you’re greeted by a wonderfully charming cheeky grin.
Orangutans are perhaps Borneo’s most revered endemic mammal, and the very reason many travellers make the journey to the island. As the world’s largest primate, orangutans need large swathes of rainforest to survive. Unfortunately, these great apes are struggling to survive in the wake of mass deforestation. An admirable organisation in East Sabah is doing great work to combat this though, and the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is one of the best places to see these primates.
Spanning 43 square kilometres, Sepilok cares for young orangutans who have been injured as a result of illegal logging and deforestation. Orangutans typically spend 7 years here, during which time they’re looked after and prepared for life in the wild. This centre does a great job of showing visitors the orangutans in a responsible way, via viewing platforms, nature trails and night walks. With orangutans only residing in Borneo and Indonesia’s Sumatra, seeing them in their natural habitat here is truly rewarding.
3) Sun bears
A lesser known native animal, Borneo’s sun bears continue to be shrouded in an air of mystery. With their relatively small size, these Malaysian bears are far from what you may first think of when you hear the word bear. A nocturnal and shy species, these bears often resemble small dogs and it’s very rare to spot them in the wild. The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is helping to bring awareness to the plight of Borneo’s bears. Set up by Malaysian conservationist Wong Siew Te at the same time as Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, this centre focuses on rehabilitating bears back into the wild.
After being kept in quarantine for 30 days and having their health checked, the bears are free to move to the bear house, where they begin the integration process. Then, they’re released into the natural forest enclosure, to help prepare them for life in the wild. Visitors to the centre get to see the bears in their natural habitat from an observation platform, which is a rare opportunity given that these creatures are normally so shy. Guides are also on hand to talk about the sun bears as visitors make their way around, so a visit to this centre is a truly educational experience.
4) Native bird species
From the seas to the skies, Asia is filled with diverse wildlife. In untouched Borneo, there’s an incredible array of bird life flying over the verdant landscapes below. This bio-diverse country boasts an incredible 750 bird species, 40 of which are endemic to the region. Sabah, the Malaysian state of northern Borneo, is one of the nation’s wildlife hot spots and the perfect place for birdwatching enthusiasts. 622 bird species call this region home, and there are different spots across the country that cater to whatever type of birdwatcher you are.
Not far from Sabah’s capital Kota Kinabalu, the UNESCO World Heritage Kinabalu Park is home to a significant variety of the island’s endemic bird species. Covering a staggering 75,000 hectares, the differing environments – ranging from lowland forest to sub-alpine terrain – in this stunning national park create the ideal environment for 17 endemic bird species. To spot the elusive Banded Broadbill, head to Poring Hot Springs and the Langanan waterfall.
5) Spectacled langurs
Dusky leaf monkeys, or spectacled langurs, are found in both Malaysia and Thailand. Although Borneo is known for its orangutans, it’s also a great place to spot these endearing creatures. Coated in tufts of grey and brown hair with light patches around the eyes and mouth, these animals look as though they are constantly surprised. These vegetarian creatures spend their days grazing mostly on leaves, seeds, fruit and flowers.
The number of these monkeys has declined at a rate of 30% over the past 30 years, so spectacled langurs are almost recognised as a vulnerable species. The main threats to these adorable animals are farming and increased human settlement, so Borneo’s protected rainforests provide a necessary habitat for these vulnerable mammals.