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10 Places To See Wildlife While Helping To Conserve Them

Wildlife tourism is increasingly being seen as a way to raise awareness of environmental conservation and support local communities with a source of income that does not come at the expense of the ecosystem[1].

Nations can harness wildlife tourism to expand and diversify the economy while safeguarding their biodiversity and attaining multiple Sustainable Development Goals. On top of that,  tourism became an income source for the communities residing close to the wildlife. 

While certain ecotours may be more detrimental to the environment and its wildlife than previously thought, their positive effects cannot be denied.

Here are ten wildlife experiences you can visit in Malaysia that will contribute to the conservation of our natural treasures.

#1: Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Source: DAAin

Established in 1964, the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SOURC) converted 43 sq km of protected land in Kabili Sepilok Reserve into a rehabilitation site for orangutans. As of now, it is estimated 60 to 80 orangutans are living independently in the reserve. Approximately 25 orphaned orangutans are housed in the nurseries. 

The centre is owned and managed by the Sabah Wildlife Department, which provides some funding, supplemented by the entrance fees charged to tourists.

The main objective of the Centre is to provide care for young orangutans orphaned due to illegal logging and deforestation, as well as those who have been unlawfully captured and kept as pets. At Sepilok, newly arrived orangutans undergo a health assessment before starting lengthy rehabilitation to reintegrate them into their natural habitat. The process may take up to seven years and requires all hands on deck. 

Besides rehabilitating orphaned orangutans, the centre also cares for injured and displaced wild orangutans, as well as other wildlife including the endangered Bornean Pygmy elephant.

Organised tours to the Centre depart from different locations in Sabah, each offered at different prices. A public bus is available from Sandakan, taking approximately 45-60 minutes. A bus from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan can conveniently drop you off at the Jalan Sepilok junction, situated roughly 2.5km away from the Centre. The journey from Kota Kinabalu takes approximately 5 hours. Taxis are commonly found outside the Centre, charging around RM40 for a ride to Sandakan.

#2: Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

A few stone’s throw away from the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah, the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) is the sole sun bear conservation centre globally. Established in 2008, it is dedicated to offering care and rehabilitation to rescued sunbears while fostering international awareness about the species.

Founded by, Dr (Hon) Wong Siew Te, one of the few Malaysian wildlife biologists trained in Taiwan and the U.S.A. His groundbreaking research on sun bears in the Bornean rainforest has led him to explore one of the most endangered wildlife habitats on the planet, where conducting fieldwork poses significant challenges.

After seeing captive sun bears enduring deplorable conditions and drawing from his background in animal welfare, veterinary education, and his personal affection for sun bears, Wong was motivated to establish the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in 2008.

Opened in 2014, the visitor centre allows visitors to observe rescued ex-pet sun bears on their journey to rehabilitation. Additionally, the centre showcases local flora and fauna, including orangutans, macaques, squirrels, and a wide variety of tropical tree species.

#3: Gunung Mulu National Park

Home to 85,000 ha of some of the oldest pristine rainforests in the world, it is no wonder that Gunung Mulu National Park was listed as a World Heritage site in November 2000. Gunung Mulu is divided into two distinct zones: the Wilderness Zone, covering more than 90% of the Park area managed by the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC). The second zone is the Tourism Zone, run by Borsarmulu Park Management Sdn Bhd (BPM).

Besides trekking through the vast expanse of spectacular equatorial rainforest, you can also try your hands at adventure caving and experience the geo-diversity of the region. The one-leaf plant Monophyllaea pendula can be observed clinging to the rock face at the entrance of Clearwater Cave. There’s also Salacca rupicola, an endemic palm that grows on the cliff adjacent to Deer Cave, and the pitcher plant, Nepenthes muluensis, visible near the summit of Gunung Mulu.

Deer Cave, in particular, is famous for the iconic bat exodus, where swarms of flying mammals are seen flocking in or out of the caves on a daily basis.

This remote wilderness area can only be reached by flight. Maswings, a subsidiary of Malaysian Airlines, operates daily flights to Mulu from the cities of Miri, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu. 

#4: Belum Rainforest Resort 

Source: Going Places

Belum Rainforest Resort stands as one of Malaysia’s foremost ecotourism holiday spots. Nestled within the heart of a tropical haven on Pulau Banding, the resort offers a quintessential experience for nature enthusiasts and vacationers.  With its serene ambience, breathtaking vistas, adventurous pursuits, and opportunities to intimately connect with nature, the Belum Rainforest Resort encapsulates the very essence of what one seeks in a retreat.

The resort is located near the Belum-Temengor Forest Reserve in Perak one of the oldest rainforests in the world, estimated to be 130 million years old. The reserve is home to the native Jahai people and critically endangered animals like the Malayan tiger, the Asian elephant, the Malayan gaur, the Malayan tapir and ten species of hornbills[2].

Besides guided nature walks, you can also visit the stingless bee farm to learn more about the relationship between the bees and the rainforest ecology or the wild orchid garden, a bio-diverse living museum that showcases up to 30 species of wild orchids that have shaped Belum-Temengor Rainforest.

#5: Rainforest Discovery Centre

Nestled just 23 kilometres away from Sandakan town in Sabah, and strategically situated in close proximity to the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre, the Rainforest Discovery Centre offers a diverse array of attractions for nature enthusiasts and curious visitors alike. Among its prominent features are the famed 620-meter-long Rainforest Skywalk, enlightening exhibition halls, the enchanting Plant Discovery Garden, the pristine Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, comprehensive environmental education programs, and a serene lake graced by a picturesque suspension bridge.

Internationally recognised as an Important Bird Area (IBA) in 2009, RDC frequently serves as the venue for the annual Borneo Bird Festival. The event draws bird watchers from across the globe. If fortune smiles upon you, you might catch sight of remarkable avian species, including the endemic Bornean Bristlehead, Blue Headed Pitta, Wallace’s Hawk-Eagle, Great Argus, Blue-banded Kingfisher, and others.

The RDC provides visitors with the opportunity to get up close to nature via its Nature Experience program. The program includes a guided excursion to the Plant Discovery Garden, a Rainforest Walk, and a variety of indoor and outdoor activities. The night walk is especially recommended for fully immersing in the rainforest ambience. Many visitors find the experience of anticipating the appearance of the Red Giant flying squirrel, typically emerging around dusk, particularly enjoyable.

#6: FRIM (Forest Research Institute Malaysia)

Source: ExpatGo

FRIM stands as one of the foremost institutions for tropical forestry research across the globe. It was established in 1929 and evolved from the former Forest Research Institute into a fully recognized statutory body. On February 10th 2009, FRIM was designated as a Natural Heritage Site under the National Heritage Act 2005 and was subsequently declared as an official National Heritage site on May 10th 2012. The Institute isn’t stopping there though as it is currently working towards being recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sitting on a 545-ha site adjacent to the Bukit Lagong Forest Reserve in the Kepong municipality, 16 km northwest of Kuala Lumpur, FRIM hosts a variety of must see attractions situated amongst a natural forest environment

Among the attractions you can visit is the skywalk where you can get magnificent views of both nature and the city from 141 above sea level, the arboretum, a living repository for hundreds of species of trees and plants including native dipterocarp trees and Rumah Terengganu, a Malay traditional house built entirely out of Chengal wood without even a single nail used.

#7: Semenggoh Nature Reserve

Source: Trip Savvy

In addition to the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre, you can also visit the Semenggoh Nature Reserve in Kuching, Sarawak. Established in 1975 as a sanctuary for Orangutans who were injured, orphaned, or being held captive as illegal pets, the Centre has since become a habitat for the Orangutans and also a place for visitors to learn about this endangered species.

Presently, the Semenggoh Reserve encompasses various significant institutions, namely the SARAWAK FORESTRY’s Botanical Research Centre (BRC), Seed Bank & Nursery, Semenggoh Wildlife Centre (SWC), and the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre (SBC).

Within the Semenggoh Reserve, a community of thriving adolescent and young adult semi-wild Orangutans resides. The reserve serves as a habitat for rare flora and fauna, including the giant squirrel, pygmy squirrel, gibbons, and a diverse array of bird species. Given this rich biodiversity, Semenggoh Nature Reserve is an ideal haven for nature enthusiasts and admirers.

#8: Sukau Rainforest Lodge

Source: Sukau

Sukau Rainforest Lodge is situated along the shores of the Kinabatangan River in Sabah. Albert Teo, the founder and managing director of Borneo Eco Tours (BET), aimed for the lodge to provide a comprehensive ecotourism experience. As Albert observed, “an ecotour without a good ecolodge is not complete.” The lodge not only offers a wildlife-watching experience but also serves as a base of operations for the Kinabatangan area.

The Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, spanning an expanse of 26,800 hectares, constitutes a segment of the Kinabatangan region—the largest floodplain in Malaysia, encompassing a total land area of 23% in Sabah, equivalent to 16,800 square kilometres. Officially a nature reserve in 2005, the Lower Kinabatangan is home to numerous species, including orangutans, Bornean pygmy elephants, and proboscis monkeys.

Immerse yourself in captivating sights and scenes by joining the river cruises on offer. You’ll never know if it’s your lucky day to encounter species native to the area, such as the Orangutan, the Borneo Pygmy Elephant, the Rhinoceros Hornbill, the Proboscis Monkey, and the Estuarine Crocodile.

As the lodge is in Sandakan, consider travelling via flight to Sandakan Airport from Kota Kinabalu or Kuala Lumpur. Alternatively, there are buses using various operators (Bunga Raya Express, Sida Express and Tung Ma Express) from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan. A bus journey may take up to 6 hours. 

#9: Kilim Karst Geoforest Park

Source: The Star

Kilim Karst Geoforest Park remains the first geopark in the Southeast Asia region. Situated on the eastern side of Langkawi Island, it is a mere 20-minute journey from Kuah Town. Kilim Geoforest Park is home to extensive mangrove forest and limestone rock formations emerging from the riverbed dating back around 500 million years.

The geopark is currently run by The Cooperative of Kilim Village Community Langkawi Limited, whose membership is composed of the villagers of Kilim Village. The Cooperative aims to become a leading community-based cooperative and a focal point of reference at the national and global levels.

Don’t miss the famous mangrove boat tours where you can witness the pristine mangrove forests and towering limestone rock formations as well as watch the amazing animals living there such as brahmin kites and white-bellied sea eagles, exotic birds, mud crabs, squirrels, monkeys and monitor lizards among others. You might even spot an otter or dolphin!

Even though Langkawi is an island, it is very well connected with various other places. The most convenient means of travelling to Langkawi is by air. Plenty of flights are available from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) to Langkawi International Airport. Daily flights also operate from the nearby Penang International Airport. 

Ferry services are a widely favoured method among travellers for reaching Langkawi. Numerous ferry operators offer daily trips. The duration of a ferry ride varies between 1 hour and 15 minutes to 2.5 hours, depending on the chosen route. Currently, there are four routes linking Langkawi to the mainland from Kuala Perlis, Kuala Kedah, Penang and Satun (Thailand). 

#10: The Habitat Penang Hill

Founded in 2013, The Habitat Foundation is a non-profit organisation established with the primary goal of promoting the conservation of biodiversity and natural ecosystems in Malaysia and Southeast Asia.

In 2016, following a proposition in 2012, Habitat Penang Hill officially opened for guests. The park comprises a 1.6km nature trail that traverses the ancient permanent rainforest reserve, which has existed for 130 million years.

On September 15, 2021, an expanse exceeding 15 thousand hectares of terrestrial, coastal, and marine terrain situated in the northwest region of Penang Island was formally designated as the Penang Hill Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO’s Man & The Biosphere Program’s Executive Council. The concept was initially conceived in 2017 during The Habitat BioBlitz, and The Habitat Group has played a pivotal role in transforming this UNESCO recognition into a tangible accomplishment.

The Park Trail spans approximately 1.6km and is surfaced with HYDROMEDIA®, a non-slip, permeable concrete designed to absorb rainwater from its surface and gradually release it into the underlying soil. The trail is constructed to be accessible, except for the ascent to Curtis Crest Tree Top Walk. Additionally, numerous points of interest dot the route, in addition to the wealth of flora and fauna that can be explored throughout the journey.

Explore our sources:

  1. Growing Wildlife-Based Tourism Sustainably: A New Report and Q&A. (2018). The World Bank. Link.
  2. E. Ding. (2019). In Malaysia, one of the world’s oldest rainforests awaits. CNN. Link.

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