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A close-up experience with Borean pygmy elephants 

Whilst I was laid up in my room at the Kinabatangan Wetlands Resort from my fall the night before (I was later found to have 5 broken ribs) Karen headed out on a morning cruise (thinking my injury was not quite so serious) towards the ox-bow lake in search of monkeys and other wildlife. The previous afternoon we had seen the monkeys start to set up their roost for the night. The morning cruise was a chance to see them getting up before making their move back into the rain forests for the day.

The day before we had found a troop of Bornean pygmy elephants rumbling through the forest, but the undergrowth had been very dense so we didn’t get a really clear view of them. The Borneo pygmy elephant is a subspecies of Asian elephant that lives in the northeastern parts of Borneo. Since 1986 they have been listed as endangered as the population has declined by at least 50% over the last three generations (about 75 years) due to loss of habitat.

So, the highlight for the had been to see more monkeys but Karen and her fellow passengers were treated to a close encounter with a troop of elephants, including some tiny babies. I am so bummed that I missed this!!!

The Kinabatangan River is being overgrown
A troop of Bornean pygmy elephants roam along the banks of the Kinabatangan River in Sabah, Borneo
Cute baby elephant
A very lucky encounter with a troop of Bornean Pygmy Elephants

In summary …

  • We highly recommend taking a trip from Sandakan out to the Kinabatangan River and spending a few days exploring the river and the rainforest.
  • The proboscis monkeys, orangutans and if you are lucky Bornean pygmy elephants are amazing.
  • This is a remote location so there is no popping out to the shops, so you’ll be at your resort or on the river – unless you get to explore one of the villages.

Best time to visit Sandakan

March to early September are the driest months. This is a great time to see wildlife near the Kinabatangan river. From April to October is a good period for bird lovers as it is the flowering and birding season.

Where to stay?

1. KINABATANGAN WETLANDS RESORT

During our visit, we stayed at the Kinabatangan Wetlands Resort, which is probably the most exclusive resort in the area. It is a charming resort tucked in the wilderness of Lower Kinabatangan surrounding the pristine freshwater swamps and mangrove forest. The area is recognized internationally as an important wetland area and an attraction for people who find solace in the presence of the wilds and its stunning wildlife. 

The resort boasts 4 twin share rooms at its’ Longhouse Cabin which caters for traveller’s on a budget and requiring basic facilities. In addition to this, KWR has 10 spaciously designed Deluxe chalets for guests wanting more privacy, exclusivity and more facilities.

2. NATURE LODGE KINABATANGAN

Nature Lodge Kinabatangan (NLK) is located within Kampung Bilit, a village along Kinabatangan river and takes its name from the white trunked-kabilit trees found in the nearby forest. We are easily accessible by car, and this village consists of only 150-180 people from about 30 households. These villagers are mainly Orang Sugei (literally means River People) who make the living from fishing and making crafts work such as fishnets and boats. They will later sell their crafts to the nearby villages.

3. SAKAU RAINFOREST LODGE

Sukau Rainforest Lodge offers the rare comfort and luxury in the midst of the Borneo Rainforest whilst retaining an Eco-Lodge ethos, the delicate balance of true sustainability. 

The Lodge has 20 superior rooms and 20 villas.

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