Flowing 560 km from its source in the mountains of southwest Sabah east to Sulu Sea, the Sungai Kinabatangan – Kinabatangan River – is Sabah's longest (and Malaysia's second-longest) waterway.
The name 'Kinabatangan' comes from a combination of the words Kina – China and Batang – large river. Evidence suggests there was a Chinese settlement on the banks of the river as far back as the 7th century, trading in birds' nests, beeswax, rattan and ivory.
The designation of the Lower Kinabatangan as a wildlife sanctuary in 2005 was a commendable move. Sanctuary status is one level below that of a national park, so villages and agricultural development have been allowed to crisscross the protected sections. Furthermore, only the area immediately alongside the river is protected; as animals have lost their habitats when the surrounding areas have been converted into palm-oil plantations, they have effectively been pushed into the narrow protected corridor.
Sanctuary provides a variety of habitats including freshwater swamp, mangove, palms and bamboo – and is one of only two places in the world inhabited by ten species of primates. Four are endemic to Borneo – silvered, maroon and Hose's langurs, and the proboscis monkey. The Kinabatangan conservation area boasts the highest concentration of proboscis monkeys and orangutangs in Malaysian Borneo. Other wildlife encounters may include long-tailed and pig-tailed macaques, Bornean gibbons, the rare slow loris, leaf monkeys, western tarsier, pygmy elephants, estuarine crocodile, wild boar, Sumatran rhinoceros, and if you are superlucky – a clouded leopard. Over 200 species of birds are found here, including eight types of hornbill, lesser fish eagles, stork-billed kingfishers, black and yellow broadbills, pitas and bulbuls.
The lower Kinabatangan teems with animal and plant life, making it the best area for viewing wildlife, not just in Sabah but all of Southeast Asia. It offers a great encounter to Borneo Big 5 – the five most iconic wildlife animals in Borneo – the Pygmy Elephant, the Proboscis Monkey, the Orangutan, the Rhinoceros Hornbill and also the Estuarine Crocodile.