The fantastic animals in Borneo

by Jan

This year we made an amazing trip to the rainforest to see the fantastic animals in Borneo.  If you want  unique wildlife, then Borneo is an ideal destination, as it’s home to some of the rarest and most interesting animals in the world.

Borneo lies between between Malaysia and Indonesia in southeast Asia.  It is the third largest island in the world and has one of the oldest rainforests.  Borneo is also one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world, with habitat that ranges from dense jungle to coastal reefs.  This varied landscape is a haven for animals and home to many unusual and protected species.  Unfortunately many of the Borneo wildlife is now endangered.

This travel guide will show you some of the fantastic animals we saw on our trip to Borneo.  Discover information about the amazing Borneo wildlife and where you can expect to find them.

We chose Borneo because its one of the two places in the world where orangutans live (the other being Sumatra), but there’s an impressive collection of other fascinating wildlife in Borneo to see.

Here are our favourite animals in Borneo:

Orangutans in Borneo

Of course, one of the best reasons to visit Borneo is to see orangutans. This was certainly true for me, as I have loved these adorable animals since I was little.

Orangutans are long-haired, orange primates who only live in Borneo and Sumatra.  It was a long anticipated trip, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The Bornean orangutan is the largest tree-climbing mammal and the only great ape found in Asia. We first saw orangutans at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Sadly, these Borneo primates are a critically endangered animal and this is becoming more worrying with the increasing loss of rainforest to palm oil plantations.

Luckily Sabah Government opened the Sepilok Centre to rescue and help orphaned orangutans and rehabilitate them.  The aim is to help the orangutans learn basic survival skills, so they can live independently in the rainforest.

Shortly after our visit, we also had the chance to spot orangutans in the wild, as we travelled on a river safari down the Kinabatangan River.  It is easy to book this trip as part of an all-inclusive Borneo wildlife tour.

However, if you’re hoping to spot Borneo wildlife in the rainforest, you’ll need a good pair of binoculars and a sharp eye.  Obviously the animals are in their natural habitat and will often hide high up in canopy.

It’s worth being patient though, as you’ll reap the rewards when you do spot some unique Borneo wildlife.  I can’t begin to describe the buzz of excitement when you spot your first orangutan in the wild!

Orangutan encounter on the boardwalk at the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre in Borneo

For more information on our trips to the jungle and the Sepilok Centre, read our posts:-

A trip to the rainforest in Borneo

The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Proboscis monkeys

Proboscis Monkeys sitting on a branch in Borneo

The Borneo proboscis monkey is well-known because of its unusual looks, especially its huge nose and pot belly.  The monkey’s nose can grow as big as 18cm long!

These bizarre-looking animals are endemic to Borneo and live happily alongside orangutans by the Kinabatangan River in Eastern Sabah.  Surprisingly, proboscis monkeys use their big noses to amplify its warning calls, when attracting mates .

It is easier to spot proboscis monkeys than orangutans,  as they live in bigger groups.  The monkeys usually jump into action when they hear the boats approaching. Sadly, the proboscis monkey is another of the endangered species in Borneo, because of the destruction of its habitat.

Now, if you want to see this unique animal more close up, head to The Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary. This is located in the mangrove forest of Labuk Bay, about 43 km from Sandakan. The sanctuary provides a home to at least 60 proboscis monkeys and provides a wonderful opportunity for wildlife lovers who want to observe proboscis monkeys close up.

Sun bears

We saw these delightful Borneo mammals at the Sun Bear Conservation Centre  in Sepilok (opposite the Orangutan Sanctuary). Sun bears are the smallest bears in the world and only live in Southeast Asia.

We loved watching sun bears in their natural habitat, especially the very cute bear who sat right in front of us.  He seemed happy and was completely oblivious to his admiring crowds.

The sun bears have a unique, pale yellow horseshoe shape on their chests.  These animals also have a very long tongue which helps them get honey from bee hives.

Borneo Sun bear at the rehabilitation centre in Sepilok, Sabah

Green turtles and Borneo marine life

Turtle laying eggs at Turtle Island, Borneo

If you want a life experience that you’ll never forget, take a trip to Turtle Island.  Turtle Island Park lies 40km North of Sandakan in the Sulu Sea. The beach is a nesting and breeding ground for the Green and Hawksbill Turtles.

We were fortunate enough to see a mother turtle lay 73 eggs and later to see a basket of new-born turtles released to the sea. Quite honestly, the whole experience was magical and we made memories we will never forget.  We also saw sea cucumbers, star fish, a sea snake, sponges and a variety of fish.

Later, whilst staying at Kota Kinabalu, we took a trip out to one of the 5 islands of the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, Here we saw an abundance of marine life swimming in the coral reef system. The highlight was when a green turtle swam by.

Macaque monkeys

We spotted plenty of these cheeky little monkeys in the trees when we were on our jungle safari on the River Kinabatangan. There are 2 species of macaque which share the Bornean forests with orangutans – pig tailed macaques and long-tailed macaques.

Macaques live in large social groups.  Luckily, they spend their time together in the lower trees, so are much easier to spot than orangutans. Macaques don’t seem to mind the speed boats, so you can sit and watch their monkey antics at leisure.

Macaques are fascinating to watch and really do take a leap of faith when they jump between the branches.  Amazingly, they never seem to fall, though it often seems close!

The Sabah Wildlife Department have built purpose-designed rope bridges for the monkeys and apes to cross the river.  This is in order to reconnect the different forest habitats.  We did see a couple of macaques using these, though they didn’t look at all confident.

Orangutans cannot swim and there have also been sightings of them attempting these precarious bridges, though not whilst we were there.

Three monkeys in the rainforest in Borneo

For more details about the itinerary for our adventure in Borneo, read our post:-

12 day Borneo itinerary:  the ultimate travel guide

Borneo pygmy elephants

Borneo Pygmy Elephant, Kinabatang River, Borneo

The population of Borneo pygmy elephants is restricted to the northeast corner of Borneo.  We were lucky enough to see one little elephant hiding in the reeds by the banks of the River Kinabatangan.  We also saw evidence that they had been near our jungle lodge!

Malaysian monitor lizards

Malaysian Monitor Lizards like to make their homes in the hollows of trees or holes by river banks. We saw several monitor lizards during our visit to Borneo, both in Sandakan and Kota Kinabalu.  They were often on the grounds of places where were staying, for instance the Nexus Beach Resort and Nature Lodge.

Generally, the monitor lizards were just meandering or lazing in the sun by the water.  They are very easy to spot and don’t seem bothered by humans, though it’s probably best not to get too close.

We also saw some monitor lizards in a tree on Turtle Island.   They were probably hoping to get lucky with some abandoned turtle eggs.

Monitor Lizard, Nexus Resort, Borneo


We loved seeing saltwater crocodiles basking in the sun by the shores of the Kinabatangan River.   We saw one massive crocodile just lying by the edge of the river and the smaller baby on a mud bank.

Large Crocodile, crocodile, Kinabatangan River, Borneo
Baby crocodile, Kinabatangan River, Borneo

More amphibians and reptiles

You don’t have to go out on a river tour to spot animals and wildlife in Borneo. This little frog had great camouflage in the mud and this very confident gecko joined us for dinner!

Rainforest Frog, Borneo
Gekko seen on a visit to a rainforest in Borneo

The birds of Borneo

There were plenty of native Borneo birds to spot along the banks of the River Kinabatangan, including the distinctive Hornbills. We were fortunate in spotting a rhinoceros Hornbill.

However, our favourite Borneo bird was the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher. This is a very small, brightly-coloured Kingfisher, which only lives in lowland rainforest. It is the smallest of the kingfisher species.

We spotted this Borneo kingfisher roosting one night, when we were on a walk with our guide at Nature Lodge, Kinabatangan.  It was so still I didn’t think it was real, but could see its little heartbeat. Stunning.

Borneo rainforest at night roosting kingfisher

Creepy crawlies

The Chimptrip twins have got very beady eyes when it comes to spotting smaller creatures.  They loved going on night walks on the hope of seeing some more unusual Borneo insects.

One of the most exciting insects we spotted in Borneo was a praying mantis.

In addition to a torch, the boys remembered to pack a fluorescent light for Borneo.  This is  for spotting scorpions at night.  I prefer not to see them!

Magnificent Beetle, Borneo Rainforest


On the return journey to Sandakan from the Kinabatangan River, there is an option to stop at the Gomantong Caves.  Millions of Wrinkle Lipped Free-tailed bats live here and all fly out at dusk.

There is also a large population of cockroaches who have made their home in the guano deposits.  It is apparently very smelly, but there is also a chance you may spot an orangutan here.

Are you planning your own trip to see the amazing animals of Borneo?   Find out more information in our other blog posts.

A guide to Borneo

We hope you enjoyed reading about the fantastic animals in Borneo.  We’d love to hear your comments below.

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