Borneo is the third largest island in the world and includes three countries – Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia. Thanks to the presence of the rainforest and the tropical climate, due to the geographical position straddling the equator, it ensures that there is a warm-humid climate all year round. All this set of things presents the ideal conditions for the growth of many species of animals and plants. In this article I will tell you about 10 wild animals that live in Borneo.
This large island, together with that of Sumatra (which I will tell you about in a future article), is a place where in addition to the 15,000 varieties of known flowering plants and the 3,000 species of trees, 220 terrestrial mammals (including elephants, tigers and rhinos) and 420 bird breeds.
Among the different animals that can be encountered in the jungle of Borneo are above all the orangutans that hide in the jungle, the long-nosed monkeys that sit on the branches of the trees, the pygmy elephants that move elegantly through the rainforest and, at dusk. It is possible to see the flying squirrels moving from one stem to another, while at night millions of bats come out of the largest caves in the world. In short, you will have understood that exploring the natural world of Borneo means experiencing first hand one of those documentaries that I usually watch before falling asleep! It is difficult for me to put all this into words, because it was a truly exciting thing, an experience that silences the mouth and fills the eyes with beauty and the heart with joy. Unfortunately, it is also a place that conveys a good deal of sadness due to the fact that the island has lost more than half of its primary rainforest due to palm oil plantations.
In this article I will tell you about some animals that can be seen inside the island. Before we start, I want to tell you that it is appropriate to respect some simple rules when you see them: first know that these are wild beings that do not show up when we want, but if you are lucky to meet them, remember not to scream at the animals inside the forest, not to touch them but above all, not to feed them. Last but not least, don’t leave rubbish lying around. These are simple rules but while traveling I realized that they are not so obvious.
That said, let’s get to know these wild animals better!
# 1 THE ORANGER OF BORNEO
In the Malay language, the word orangutan means “human of the forest”. A very appropriate definition for this species which shares over 97% of our DNA and which with us has similarities in behavioral traits such as emotion and intelligence. Borneo is one of the two main natural habitats (the other is Sumatra) where orangutans live, which are essentially solitary animals, can live up to 40 years in the wild and, if grown in captivity, even longer. They spend about half their day looking for food, in fact they eat wild fruits such as lychees, mangosteens and figs. They live most of their lives high up in the treetops on which they build nests to sleep at night and rest during the day and their bodies have incredible strength, thanks to their huge arms with outstretched toes and also their gripping feet. , by means of which they are able to move between the tops of the stems, swing or climb from tree to tree. The easiest way to see them in Borneo is to go to wildlife sanctuaries, established to rehabilitate orangutans that have been injured, orphaned or caught and illegally kept as pets. Among the main sanctuaries are those of Semenggoh, Matang and Sepilok, all in Malaysian Borneo. The first two are in Sarawak state and the second in Sabah. There is an increasing number of nature reserves in Indonesian Borneo too, such as Ketapang in the West Kalimantan region, managed by International Animal Rescue or as Samboja Lestari, which is located in a tropical rainforest area near the city of Balikipapan, in East Kalimantan.
# 2 THE PYGMY ELEPHANT
These are the smallest elephants in Asia, in fact they are about 25% smaller than the others belonging to their species. Compared to the rest of the Asian elephants, they are physically rounder, with a smaller face, larger ears, longer tails and straighter tusks. They need large areas of forest to roam freely and feed mainly on grasses, bamboos, palm trees, and fruit. On average, adults can eat up to 150 kg of food each day and consume over 150 different types of plants. There are two different theories on the origin of this elephant subspecies: the first suggests that this breed is native to the island, while another suggests that they were imported here in the 15th century. However, recent studies have shown that the pygmy elephant is a descendant of the extinct elephant of Sunda Island from which it separated about 300,000 years ago. Some of the more accessible areas to see them include the Danum Valley in the Sabah region, which boasts footpaths and an elevated walkway through the virgin rainforest. One of the best places to see Borneo pygmy elephants is along the Kinabatangan River, which is an important habitat along their migration routes.
# 3 THE MONKEY WITH PROBOSCIS
The long and big pendulous nose gives these primates a really funny look, so much so that their local name, Monyet Belandameans “Dutch monkeys” and was given to them to mock the look that the Dutch colonists of the nineteenth century, men from the long, pot-bellied noses had in common with these primates. Proboscis or nose monkeys are endemic to Borneo and cannot be found anywhere else. Males of this species have large bellies and long noses while females are much smaller in both nose and belly. Long-nosed males create deep sounds which they use to communicate with each other and alert in case there are predators. In the Sabah region, groups of nose monkeys are mostly concentrated around the Kinabatagan floodplains, as their ideal habitat is mainly coastal mangrove swamps and riverine forests. Early in the morning you can see the Nasics feeding in the trees that line the banks of the river, or you can see them inside the LebukBay Sanctuary, but I will talk about this in an article dedicated only to them.
# 4 THE FLYING RED SQUIRREL
Borneo is a territory famous for the diversity of flying creatures that populate it, including the red squirrel. It is one of the four subspecies of squirrels that are unable to perform actual flights, but rather demonstrate an excellent ability to glide from one tree to another to defend themselves from predators. They can jump among the trees thanks to the connecting membrane between the front and hind legs, called patagio, which, once extended, allows flight. The red squirrel is the largest of the Sabah rodents and is a species that is quite easily encountered in a few locations throughout Malaysian Borneo. Know that they are also nocturnal creatures who love to move when the sun begins to set, becoming active when the last light of the day fades and the evening begins to advance. The Rainforest Discovery Center Boardwalk is the primary site to see these creatures in action.
# 5 THE PANGOLINO
The peculiarity of this animal is certainly given by the skin, covered with horny scales on most of the body, which in the past was used by man as a defensive armor. Only the belly, the inside of the legs, the muzzle and the side parts of the head are uncovered, while the scales on the rest of the body form a protection that allows the animal to roll up if frightened, in fact they are sharp and act as weapons. It has no teeth and feeds on ants and termites. The illicit trade in pangolins, due to their delicious meat, has led to a massive depopulation of these mammals, especially in Borneo, where these creatures are incredibly difficult to detect in the wild. Most Panangolini sightings have occurred in the Danum Valley Conservation Area in northern Borneo.
# 6 THE TARSIO
Tarsiers are small carnivorous primates (they feed on insects) measuring up to 40 cm in length and weighing between 100 and 150 g. They have large eyes of 2 cm fixed in the orbits, and are also able to rotate the skull almost 360 ° with respect to the body. Their fingers are extremely long and swollen fingertips for a better grip on smooth surfaces and their nails are flattened, except for the index and middle fingers, which have claws. The tail and the long hind legs instead allow the Tarsier to jump of 2 m. They don’t sit very high in the trees, preferring to perch on a thin branch about 1.5 meters above the forest floor, so they can be spotted quite easily.
# 7 THE LORI SLOW
This primate was only discovered in 1770 by a Dutch zoologist. It is a small nocturnal animal but what makes it unique from other primates is its danger; in fact it is capable of giving a bite so poisonous as to kill a man. The poison is secreted by the glands inside the elbows which produce toxins which the animal then spreads on the body as a defense from predators. It also uses the same poison mixed with saliva to make its bite lethal for any insect. Slow Lory are much more common and widespread than some of the species listed in this article, making them more likely to be seen in several locations such as the Sayap Substation mountain area near Kota Kinabalu in northern Borneo. Some east coast wildlife destinations should also offer good spotting opportunities, especially in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Borneo Rainforest Lodge and Danum Valley Field Center.
# 8 THE BEAR OF THE SUN
The sun bear is the smallest member of the Ursid family and is the second rarest species of bear, after the giant panda. Its name comes from the cream-colored horseshoe shape they have around their necks, which are said to resemble sunset or the rising sun. The most distinctive feature of the Malayan bear is its 25 cm long tongue which it uses to extract honey and insects and its diet consists mainly of invertebrates, fruit and honey. This is a nocturnal and shy creature, rare to see in nature and in sunlight. If you want to meet them, a trip to the Danum Valley Conservation Area may be the best way to observe these animals in their natural habitat. Or, you could go to the Sun Bear Conservation Center in Sepilok, a centerset up to rehabilitate bears rescued from hunting and reintroduced their natural environment.
# 9 THE RHINOCEROS HORNBILL
The hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros) is one of the most majestic birds of Borneo and is the symbol of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, a territory in which there are eight of the 54 existing species and which has therefore earned the nickname of “The Land of Hornbills” . To be able to see it I woke up for three consecutive mornings at dawn and when I did, what I admired was a specimen with a white tail, a black body and a white and orange beak, on whose upper part is present a \”casque\” in the shape of a banana and composed of keratin. The reproductive behavior of the Rhinoceros Hornbill is very interesting: the couple builds a nest in a tree cavity and once the eggs have been laid, the male seals the female in the cavity, using mud and feces to build a wall. There remains only a small hole through which the male passes food to the female and to the young once they are born.
# 10 THE NEBULOUS LEOPARD
This feline is so named because its coat features large irregularly shaped ellipses with dark outlines, reminiscent of the shape of clouds. It is an arboreal creature, able to climb hanging from the branches upside down using its large legs and sharp claws to ensure a good grip. The clouded leopard has short, powerful legs equipped with rotating rear ankles that allow it to descend safely upside down. Sharp eyesight helps him to judge distances well and they use their long tail to maintain balance. This common, or rather, this “not rare” Borneo feline is a charming little hunter living in the rainforests. To see it in action in a natural setting, I recommend a night tour in the Danum Valley or the Deramakot Forest Reserve in northeastern Borneo.