Malaysia is known as one of the world’s most biodiverse destinations. Its rich habitat system ranging from lush wetlands to towering highland forests creates the perfect environment for all kinds of plant and wildlife species to thrive. For a true tropical rainforest experience in search of Borneo’s exotic flora and fauna, look no further than Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu, Sabah.
Tabin Wildlife Reserve, just an hour’s flight from Kota Kinabalu, the capital city of Sabah, stretches over 300,000 acres of lowland dipterocarp forest in the eastern part of the state. It is considered the largest wildlife reserve in Malaysia, being home to a large number of animals inhabiting its forests, some of which are highly endangered.
Whether you consider yourself a bird lover, a herpetologist or a casual nature lover, Tabin Wildlife Reserve has plenty of gems to keep you occupied and amazed. And after you tire of your adventures at the end of the day, Tabin has 20 units of cozy jungle-facing and river-facing lodges made of local timber, where you can rest up before taking on the next day’s explorations. To fuel up, their Sunbird Café has consistently received great reviews for the excellent food.
If you’re ready, here are 5 reasons why you need to go wild at Tabin Wildlife Reserve!
Reason No. 1: Elephants at your doorstep
Imagine taking a morning stroll around the resort area and bumping into a herd of elephants. Such sightings, though rare and not guaranteed, have been reported by Tabin guests and are highly anticipated.
The Borneo Pygmy Elephant (the world’s smallest elephant), along with the Sumatran Rhinoceros and Tembadau, are considered as three of Sabah’s largest mammals. They are some of the endangered animals that call Tabin their home, aside from seven of the eight primates, the largest predator – clouded leopard – and many smaller carnivorous animals.
Besides these, Tabin is also home to orangutans, sambar deer, sunbears, mousedeer, and otters and the park management has marked out trails in their names for visitors to explore. Trekking through these nature trails provides a wonderful chance to explore and learn about exotic rainforest trees, medicinal plants, rich fauna and the opportunity to sight rare animal and bird species.
Reason No. 2: Birds in paradise
If you are an avid birdwatcher, then Tabin is your paradise with more than 300 birds species recorded here, including all eight of Sabah’s Hornbill species. In fact, Tabin has been listed as an important Bird Area, too (IBA:MY027).
A die-hard birdwatcher once visited Tabin and recorded sightings of 94 species of birds in a day!
Other sought-after species, such as the Blue-headed Pitta, Black-and-crimson Pitta, Malaysian Blue Flycatcher, Temminck’s Sunbird, Purple-throated Sunbird, Everett’s White-eye, Yellow-rumped Flowerpecker, and rarely seen species such as Storm’s Stork, Jambu Fruit Dove, Large Green Pigeon, White-fronted Falconet, Great-billed Heron and Giant Pitta have been sighted in Tabin.
The largely lowland dipterocarp forest attracts an amazingly rich diversity of birds, including rare and endemic species, due to the abundance of food plants here. The relatively low canopy with sufficient natural lights makes birding and photography a delightful experience.
And you don’t have to go far to start your bird count. Sipping your coffee at the Sunbird Cafe, your eyes will be kept busy following active species such as the Black-backed Kingfisher and Red-throated Sunbird. If you’re too lazy to venture out, do some birdwatching from your lodge’s balcony overlooking the Lipad River, and you’ll be rewarded with some colourful winged discoveries, too.
Reason No. 3: Natural mud “spa” in the rainforest
Trekking to the Lipad Mud Volcano within the Tabin Wildlife Reserve is an experience indeed. One minute you are walking among tall dipterocarp trees, maneuvering over stray branches or roots, the next minute, you are in an open-air, canopy-less field of mud.
The active Lipad Mud Volcano is an elevated muddy hill with warm, salty mud bubbling from below the surface almost continuously; occasionally, the mud volcanoes have mild eruptions that add to their height and scatter small stones around. It is an area frequented by wildlife and birds for much-needed minerals and nourishment – and the evidence is in the foot/paw prints left behind on the grey mud.
The adventurous can go squelching ankle-deep in the mud, and experience a therapeutic clay facial mask. Just slather it on your face, let it sit there and wash off in the comfort of your log cabin.
Nearby is an observation tower where one can stake out for hours to catch a glimpse of the wildlife that visit the mud volcano daily.
Reason No. 4: Frogging for joy
Herpetologists, or those fascinated by frogs and toads, can jump for joy at Tabin. It is home to approximately 26 species of unique anurans (frogs and toads), of which 12 are endemic to Borneo, and 1 is endemic to Sabah.
Admire the beautiful patterns and unique markings of these various anurans: the Saffron-Bellied Frog which will make your finger yellow if you touch the yellow blotches on their body; White-Lipped Frog; Harlequin Tree Frog; Bornean Horned Frog, the only species with 3 derma projections; ‘translucent frog’ and Giant River Toad, just to name a few.
Also, there is the Tree Hole Frog, an endemic species, which changes its call tones daily according to the weather and the Jade Tree Frog, a near-threatened species which has translucent skin and visible turquoise bones.
Reason No. 5: Night safari
After dinner, hop on the resort’s jeep to explore Tabin in the dark. Many nocturnal wildlife and birds come out looking for food during this time.
With the skillful and sharp-eyed guides of Tabin, along with their high-powered torch lights, you will be able to spot a variety of wildlife such as owls, monitor lizards, pig-tailored macaques, pygmy elephants, frogs, civet cats and more.
Don’t forget to look up at the night sky and scatterings of stars – the constellations in this part of the world are just amazing!
Tabin Wildlife Holidays Sdn Bhd
Lot 11-1, 1st Floor, Block A, Damai Point,
Jalan Damai, 88300 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
Tel: +60 88-267 266, +60 88-258 266
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Daily flights connect Kota Kinabalu to Lahad Datu. Flight duration is about 1 hour. From Lahad Datu, a 1:15 hour drive, part of it on gravel road, will take you to Tabin.
Kota Kinabalu to Lahad Datu (7 hours)
Sandakan to Lahad Datu (4 hours)
Tawau to Lahad Datu (4 hours)