IT’S A JUNGLE OUT THERE!
When looking at any relief map to try and pinpoint where Borneo’s at, you’ll have to zoom in quite a bit. The country is comfortably sandwiched between Indonesia to the south, Malaysia to the north and Brunei, also north. It claims bronze for the third-largest island in the world (after Greenland and New Guinea), but it’s the largest in Asia. It can also boast being the geographic center of Maritime Southeast Asia, as it is located north of Java, west of Sulawesi and east of Sumatra. Many moons ago Indonesian natives called Borneo Kalimantan – from the Sanskrit word Kalamanthana. It has a marvelous meaning: ‘burning weather island,’ which perfectly describes its hot and humid tropical weather. HOME TO THE OLDEST RAINFORESTS IN THE WORLD How does 140 million years sound to you? Now, if a forest has this amount of time under its canopy then no doubt it’ll be the center of the evolution of and THE PLACE where you’ll find endemic species of plants and animals. Borneo’s rainforest is one of only a handful of natural habitats of the endangered Bornean orangutan. Other forest species also find refuge here – the Borneo elephant, the eastern Sumatran rhinoceros, the Bornean clouded leopard, the hose's palm civet, and the Dayak fruit bat. Oh, the excitement of a jungle safari! FOUND ONLY IN BORNEO Borneo is home to around 222 mammals (44 endemic), 420 birds (37 endemic), 100 amphibians and 394 fish (19 endemic). How’s that for stats! Wait, here’s more. The ‘heart of Borneo,’ a 220,000 km² (84,942 mi²) region in the mountainous section of the island, is home to 10 primate species, over 350 bird species, and 150 reptile species. While we’re on a roll… a rich number of 15,000 plants have their roots firmly planted in Borneo soil, of which 6,000 are found nowhere else in the world besides here, along the swamps, mangroves, lowland and montane forests (the ecosystem found in the mountains) of the island. SOUTHEAST ASIA’S MOST INCREDIBLE WILDLIFE Now, this is one iconic animal. The orangutan is, unfortunately, also one of the most threatened. Permanent residency is not their thing. They build themselves a fresh nest out of tree branches at night. Every night. And their sleeping quarters must be fresh – all the better for a supple and soft night of slumber. By the next day, the twigs have inevitably dried up and are rendered useless. An uncomfortable rest is not an option. Book a safari that operates along the Kinabatangan River or in Deramakot Forest Reserve to find yourself in orangutan country. OPEN WIDE Let’s talk about the saltwater crocodile. Don’t be fooled by the name. They love swamps and rivers. While most crocodiles are relatively social animals that don’t mind sharing basking spots in the sun as well as food, Borneo saltwater crocodiles are more territorial and are somewhat intolerant of their own kind. Adult males, for instance, will share some of their territory with females, but watch out if a rival male gets too close and personal… They mate in the wet season, laying their eggs in a nest made of a mound of sticky mud and soggy vegetation. Predators must think very carefully when approaching, as Mother fiercely guards the nest and hatchlings. Also, don’t be fooled by their lethargic appearance. They are fantastic actors. Simply put, they’re agile predators with explosive agility and supersonic speed to match when striking their prey – water rockets really. They hit the water at 24 to 29 km/h (15 to 18 mph) for short bursts. That’s nearly three times as fast as the fastest Olympic swimmers. This is alternated with an ambient cruise mode of 3.2 to 4.8 km/h (2 to 3 mph). Chat with the locals when you’re on a ‘salty safari,’ before wandering near the water. It’s no urban legend that they can move faster than a racehorse for short distances across land! BIGGER IS BETTER The Borneo pygmy elephant might be smaller than the African elephant, but it’s still sizeable. They abound in the north and northeastern parts of Borneo. Their genetic distinctiveness makes them one of the top priority populations for Asian elephant conservation. Conservationists routinely conduct elephant censuses by counting dung piles along 216 line transects in five of the main pygmy elephant managed ranges. They cover a total distance of 186.12 km (115.65 mi). Results of this survey taken a few years ago suggest an elephant population of between 1,000 and 3,000 individuals inhabiting Tabin, Lower Kinabatangan, North Kinabatangan, Ulu Kalumpang Forest Reserve and the central forest of Sabah. Their numbers are dropping at an alarming rate, so choose a safari operator that channels a dedicated amount of the money for your tour to conservation. THE SECRETIVE NATURE OF THE SUNDA CLOUDED LEOPARD It is the timid nature of theirs that makes their habitat somewhat of a mystery. The clouded leopard is a mostly solitary creature. They usually hunt on the ground, but they can use their climbing skills to hide when threatened. Borneo’s lowland rainforest is home as well as logged parts of the forest below 1 500 m (4 900 ft). (NOTE: What does this sentence mean?) The stocky Sunda clouded leopard is mostly a greyish yellow or a grey hue. It sports a double midline on its back and is marked with tiny dappled cloud-like patterns on the shoulders – hence the name. These markings are spotty in the middle and form two or more rows arranged vertically from the back on its flanks. Our Sunda tips the scales at 12 to 26 kg (26 to 57 lbs), but you want to know about its fantastic dentistry, right? Its canine teeth are 5.1 cm (2 in) long, which, in regards to its skull length, are longer than any other living cat on planet Earth. To wrap it up, its tail can grow to be just as long as its body – perfect for balancing. Because of its hardened horseshoe-shaped hyoid bone situated in the midline of the neck between the chin and the typhoid cartilage, it has one of the dreamiest of purrs. Combine this with those pupils that contract to vertical slits, and you have one striking mammal to focus your camera lens on. BORNEO’S GREENEST STATE Let’s remain in Sabah. This Malaysian state is Borneo’s greenest, with the most original forest cover remaining intact even though there are extreme deforestation levels. Enter a significant number of state-run national parks and protected areas offering the safari-goer a feast of the finest wildlife watching opportunities in Borneo. OFF TO DANUM VALLEY Just under three hours by road from the coastal nook of Lahad Datu, Danum Valley Conservation is primeval rainforest heaven. Dense clouds of mist meander over the tops of tall tropical trees, whilst lush undergrowth made up of a ridiculous number of greens is there for you and your safari boots to wade through. The wildlife of Danum Valley is a sight to behold. Bearded pigs and Sambar deer have claimed the lawns around the living quarters as their own. Characterful maroon langurs are also frequent visitors. There are lovely suspension bridges over the Segama River as well as canopy towers to take you even closer to the animals. Former safari-goers claim the best wildlife watching in the valley is at night on a safari drive. It’s going to be you, the guide, flying squirrels, many species of civets, the gliding colugos (flying lemur family) and slow lorises twisting themselves amongst the trees. For the lucky safari-goer in Danum Valley, there is the chance of spotting a Borneo pygmy elephant or even a clouded leopard. Book your spot! LOUNGE IN AN IBAN LONGHOUSE This is one of the classic experiences offered in Malaysian Borneo. Make your way from Kuala Lumpur, explore Kuching and take your pick of Sarawak's celebrated national parks, then it’s off to Iban’s longhouses. Getting there by boat is going to be a memorable adventure... Here you are afforded the chance to interact with locals who called the jungle home long, long before cell phone chargers and drive-thru takeaways. Resting on stilts high above the water, the longhouses differ in size and are home to families all living together under one roof. You won’t be the center of attention all the time. Though the Iban people are quite shy, some families offer a very warm welcome to safari-goers. Prepare to wear a feathered headdress! You’ll sleep under a mosquito net after being offered a drink of tuak – the local rice whiskey. Go for a hike into the jungle the following morning, take a tour of the lush surrounding gardens and test your accuracy after a crash course in how to shoot a traditional blowpipe gun! WHEN TO GO TO BORNEO March to October = dry season. The rains will be less frequent during this time. Note that this is peak season and considered the best time to see the orangutans. Borneo lies within the tropics, so high humidity and rain at any time of the year are to be expected. The wettest months are generally between December and February when the northeast monsoon goes berserk – we recommend you opt for the milder months. We can’t recommend going on a safari in a real equatorial rainforest enough. It’s soul-cleansing, on top of being one of the greatest adventures of your life.