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Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary

The Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary lies within the vast floodplain of the Kinabatangan river - one of the longest rivers in Malaysia. At 27,000 ha, the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary is part of an important network of conservation areas in the lowlands of eastern Sabah. Together with existing Forest Reserves, a natural corridor of natural vegetation links the lower tidal reaches of the river (which are fringed with mangrove forests) to the seemingly endless Forest Estates in the upper catchment of the Kinbatangan river. With a rich array of unique habitats, a diverse wildlife fauna and a rich culture and history of the Orang Sungai (in Malay, river people): the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary is by far the most fascinating of natural protected areas in Sabah. Visiting this area can be the most amazing experience for any nature lover.

The Kinabatangan river begins its course deep in the forested interior of Sabah. Where the river meets the lowlands, a rich mosaic of lowland forests, forested swamps and islands of limestone outcrops are found. These natural forests represent one of Malaysia"s largest floodplain forests. Floodplain forests are unlike the lowland forests that were once common throughout Eastern Sabah. Forests that develop here need to be able to tolerate periodic inundation of flood water that are common during the seasonal monsoons season. In areas where the land remains under water for long periods, the forest give way to open woodlands or to herbaceous swamps that are sometimes almost entirely carpeted with sedges and grasses. Ox-bow lakes are also a common feature of the floodplain. These are large meanders of the river that have been cut-off from the main channel due to a process of erosion and deposition. Over time, these lakes too will be part of the floodplain landscape as the lakes fill up with alluvial sediments and begin to be colonised by swamp vegetation.

It is not surprising that given this rich mosaic of habitats, the abundance and rich diversity of wildlife are so apparent in the floodplain. The exceptional variety of primates that share these forests are astounding: Orang Utans, the agile Gibbon, Borneo"s Proboscis Monkey are the three of its most charismatic primates and less often seen are the nocturnal flying lemur, slow loris and tarsiers. During the drier months of the year, the Asian Elephant (which are one of Asia"s most highly endangered species) roam these forests during their annual migration to the floodplain. When forest fruits begin to ripen, the hornbills and an array of wild and endangered birds, feast on a multitude of fleshy fruits that can be found in these forests. With the large network of swamps and lakes in the region, a large number of aquatic animals inhabit the Kinabatangan: community of freshwater fish; freshwater rays and sharks; crocodiles and wild otters.

Since the early days of trade in Borneo, the Kinabatangan river has been one of the major access routes to the natural resources of the forests and caves - rattans, resins from forest trees and edible bird"s nests have been but the few valued harvests of the Kinabatangan. Small settlements established where such resources were near-at-hand. The Orang Sungai (a broad term that has been given to the people who settled along rivers) are of a mixed and diverse heritage. The true natives had intermarried over the centuries with traders and settlers that have made their way to the Kinabatangan. Over all this time, the forest and rivers have been central to the livelihood of the people here. Working to maintain this balance between the wise use and conservation of this unique floodplain has been the key to the conservation efforts here. WWF-Malaysia"s projects" director wrote that, "....right here in the lower Kinabatangan, some of Malaysia"s and Borneo"s rarest wildlife achieves its greatest abundance alongside people collecting rattan and fishing for their livelihood". A balance can be achieved, which should be the goal for the future of the people and forests of the Kinabatangan.

Source: NST Travel Times

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