Despite Sabah’s rather haphazard approach to making the most of its superb natural resources, the designation of the Lower Kinabatangan as a wildlife sanctuary in 2005 was a commendable move. That said, 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.

This means that it is highly likely that, over a number of boat rides and short treks, you will see elephants (if they are in the area), orang-utans, proboscis monkeys, macaques and gibbons. The resident birdlife is equally impressive. With luck, visitors get glimpses of hornbills, brahminy kites, crested serpent eagles, egrets, exquisite blue-banded and stork-billed kingfishers, and oriental darters, which dive underwater to find food and then sit on the shore, their wings stretched out to dry. The river itself holds freshwater sharks, crocodiles and rays, and a great variety of fish species.

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