Orangutan Borneo

We had journeyed to Sabah the Northern most Malaysian province on the Island of Borneo in search of pristine rainforest and wildlife. 

Our trip concentrated on Danum Valley, said to be one of the greatest primary rain forests left in the world, and the Kinabatangan Wildlife Reserve stretched out along the lower reaches of the might Kinabatangan River.

The wildlife was simply stunning – these are a few highlights.

Borneo Sunset

Sunset on our first night on Borneo. The third largest island in the world.

BaldHiker Retreats
Borneo pink Sunset

The Danum Valley Rainforest

Hot, sticky and awesome…. (also full of leeches hence the rather stylish green leech socks!) Leeches are responsive to light and mechanical stimuli. First, they can detect movement.

So, if you brush against a tree and tread heavily, they will feel, rather than hear, you are coming. Secondly, they can detect you by your body temperature. They have heat receptors. Leeches easily dry out and go into a torpid state if they do.

But add water and they will rapidly spring into action. They can even burrow into the weave of ordinary socks in order to attach themselves to your skin and gorge on your blood. A better option is wearing those specially developed leech socks.

Danum Valley Rainforest

The Trees of Borneo

Away from the only roadway into Danum Valley the jungle went on for square mile after square mile of seemingly endless primary rain forest with huge emergent tree species breaking through the canopy.

The many tree species of Borneo are spectacular and without a doubt need to be seen to be fully appreciated.

For instance, the Eusideroxylon zwageri, known locally as Belian is a very slow growing species that can live over 1000 years, so hard and dense that termites can’t get into it and the wood doesn’t sink because of its sheer dense weight, Eusideroxylon means sinking wood.

Danum Valley

Unfortunately, nothing has ever stopped a chain saw, so these amazing primary rainforests need our protection more than ever. What about the Mangrove trees?


The mangrove ecosystem serves an important role in flood mitigation, it also prevents coastal erosion and is important as a feeding ground for migratory birds. Sabah occupies 59% of total mangrove area in Malaysia which is also home to the Proboscis monkey.

Borneo Lizard
Forest floor dwelling lizard.

Some 105 species of lizards have been discovered in Borneo’s tropical rainforests

Once down on to the Kinabatangan River the wildlife was a bit easier to spot (and fewer leeches.)

Borneo Wildlife heron

Long Tailed Macaque, (Macaca fascicularis) a very calm placid species that is known to be one of the most successful primates in South East Asia. What is the main diet of a long tailed macaque? 

They thrive on a very varied diet of fruits, leaves, small mammals and birds, shellfish and crabs, but is also quite at home scavenging food around the outskirts of towns and villages, especially on mainland Malaysia, and this activity actually brings the tourists into some locations to feed them and photograph them.

They can travel in troupes of up to 30 at a time but this number is not limited.

Long Tailed Macaque

This female Long Tailed Macaque posed beautifully.

female Long Tailed Macaque

Buffy Fish Owl. (Ketupa ketupu) Main habitat, lowland primary rainforest. Diet consists of fish, crabs, frogs, small reptiles and birds. It will also forage on carrion. They will usually hunt on the riverbank but will on occasion wade in shallow streams or rivers.

Buffy Fish Owl

A very rare (and very brief) sighting of a pair of Asian Short Clawed Otters. (Aonyx cinereus) These otters have such small claws they don’t extend past their webbed paws.

They are the smallest otter species in the world. Favoured habitats, freshwater wetlands and mangrove swamps. It feeds on molluscs, crabs and other small aquatic animals.

Asian Short Clawed Otters

The Borneo Orangutan

Finally, after a week of searching two of the best wildlife reserves in South East Asia at dusk on our last day on the river a glimpse of a truly wild orangutan, (Pongo pygmaeus.). 

She was just building her nest for the night and held within it a small baby. 

Borneo Orangutan

A very, very special moment in our trip. Bornean orangutan differs in appearance from the Sumatran orangutan, with a broader face and shorter beard and also slightly darker in color.

There are three sub species on the island, each local to different parts of the island, with the Northwestern Bornean orangutan being the most threatened sub species.

How many Northwestern orangutans are estimated to be in the wild? It is estimated that 1,500 individuals are left in the wild.

They have been affected severely by logging and hunting and their habitat has been fragmented to a devastating degree. Northeast Bornean orangutans are the smallest in size and found in Sabah and eastern Kalimantan as far as the Mahakam River.

While the subspecies in much higher numbers is the Central Bornean orangutans, with at least 35,000 individuals.

Orangutan Borneo

They spend nearly their entire lives in trees—swinging in treetops and building nests for sleep. What do orangutans eat?

They live primarily on fruits, even getting most of their water from the juicy fruits or from tree holes where fresh water has collected after the rains. 60% of the orangutan’s diet, includes lychees, mangosteens, mangoes and figs.

They will also eat young leaves and shoots, insects, soil, tree bark, and occasionally eggs and some small vertebrates.

Their main habitat is Lowland rainforests and tropical, swamp and mountain forests. Populations have declined by more than 50% over the past 60 years, and the species’ habitat has been reduced by at least 55% over the past 20 years. Sadly, they are classed as critically endangered.

Once away from the wildlife reserves we entered more ‘civilised’ areas.  Whilst there we’re more people around it did give us the opportunity to see orang-utan close up in two rehabilitation areas.  

These orang-utan had been rescued from palm oil plantations and were slowly being taught to live independent lives.  Here’s a couple of the best shots.

Borneo Orangutan

So many wildlife treats along the way it was unimaginable, for instance the Asian Elephants. (Elephas maximus indicus) also known as the Asiatic elephant and the largest Asian land animal.

More than two-thirds of an elephant’s day can be spent feeding on grasses, but it also eats large amounts of tree bark, roots, leaves, and small stems.

Asian Elephant Borneo

The cultivated crops such as bananas, rice, and sugarcane are favorite foods, and this habit has gotten them into conflict with locals on too many occasions.

Elephants are always close to a source of fresh water because they need to drink at least once a day. 

Are Asian elephants listed as endangered? Yes, yet Another Asian animal listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Borneo is a truly special place with some spectacular wildlife.

Borneo Rainforest monkey in a tree
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  1. Brenda Webb says:

    I always love your articles and photos.
    The only thing that I wouldn’t have cared much for would be the leeches. {{shivers}}
    But all in all it sounds like a trek worthwhile.
    These are such beautiful and exotic animals,it must have been incredibly amazing to be able to photograph them in their natural habitat.
    I’ll be looking forward to you next adventure. So take care and watch out for those bloodsuckers. lol

  2. Great photos. I remember being quite frightened by the larger Orangutans in the rehabilitation areas- the adults males were HUGE!

  3. Katrhyn Burrington says:

    Wonderful photos Tom! The posing Long Tailed Macaque shot is really beautiful – I almost feel I could reach out and stroke her fur!

  4. We have been all over the Malay Pennisula but haven’t been to Borneo yet. We will have to so we can get a glimpse of the man of the forest .

  5. Stunning photos, Borneo is high in my ‘to visit’ List. I’ve spent time in the Amazon and also Northern Laos in the jungle and the experiences will stay with me forever.

  6. Richard Cooper says:

    We were at those very places last August. Fantastic, especially the river safaris.

  7. Jolly Mampilly says:

    Wow, unbelievable.
    Congratulations for you extraordinary work.
    Pls visit Kerala.
    You will get almost similar experience in here.

  8. Albatross says:

    Wow, you managed to see so many different animals, how lucky. My expectations for our upcoming trip to Borneo have just been raised, fingers crossed we’ll have a similar experience.

  9. These are some of the most impressive pics of Borneo we have seen! we are working on planning trip there for next year. Looks so beautiful.

  10. Satubumikita says:

    Amazing photos and the journey… Regards from bandung, indonesia.

  11. Meredith@GreenGlobalTravel says:

    What stunning sunsets! Beautiful photographs.

  12. Paul Browne says:

    I went there in 2003 and climbed Mount Kinabalu. A life changing visit, beautiful country and fantastic people. I visited Sepilok Nature Reserve and saw the orang utans being introduced back into the wild. Fantastic experience. I’d love to go back.

  13. Angela Pointon says:

    Beautiful photography, brings back to life my own memories.

    1. Tom Warburton says:

      Anyone that suggests the Proboscis monkey looks like me will be in for it……

  14. Rhian Evans says:

    Wow absolutely amazing photographs, certainly sold the Borneo to me.

  15. Hansi Riley says:

    Paul, what amazing animal and rainforest shots! The only rainforest I’ve visited so far is up in Tofino, Canada. I wish those destroying these forests realized the riches we haven’t even discovered yet. Let alone the forests and their inhabitants, thanks for sharing these gems!

  16. Quirky Little Planet says:

    Stunning photography! Borneo is on my wish list.

  17. Amazing wildlife. How fun this must have been! I hope to go there–my dad lives in Bali and has been wanting to take me to see the orangutans but now that I have 2 small kids, I have to wait until they are old enough to take such a trip.

  18. Africa Inside says:

    Such a beautiful place. I had heard it was so difficult to see wildlife and there were hardly any trees left so I was happily surprised to see your photos. What tour operator would you recommend for a trip there? thanks. Lori

  19. Wildlife Consultant says:

    Amazing pics! These place is truly mesmerizing who will not love to visit here, the place looks awesome and worth visiting.

  20. PurpleTravelKate says:

    OOooo!! the baby orangutans, they are so ridiculously cute!

    1. Paul Steele says:

      Hi Kate 🙂 I am a sucker for a baby Orangutan too

  21. Tom Warburton says:

    Thanks to Paul for hosting these. Thanks to everyone for the lovely comments. Seeing the wild orang-utan was a real treat. It was almost dark so we were very lucky to see it at all. The otter’s were also amazing. Our guides were much, much more excited about the otters than the orang-utans as they hardly ever saw them. Want to go again!

  22. Maria Eugenia says:

    Bellisimas imagenes. Me encantan. <3

  23. Gina Stark says:

    Stunning photos, Paul. Great captures and I’m eager to get there myself! Thank you for taking us there. Gina

    1. Paul Steele says:

      Hi Gina, Tom made me so jealous 🙂 thx

  24. Rosalind Newsham says:

    just returned from Borneo yesterday- fantastic place – heaven on earth!

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