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11 Incredible Places to See Wildlife in Malaysia

David Pettitt

With its equatorial climate and vast untouched regions of ancient rainforest, Malaysia is one the world’s premier wildlife destinations. Covering two-fifths of the peninsula and over two-thirds of Sabah and Sarawak, Malaysia’s rainforest is incredibly diverse and supports hundreds of animal, bird, plant, reptile, marine and insect species – many of them extremely rare or endangered. Orangutan can be seen in the jungles of Borneo, all ten species of hornbill are found in the country and the secretive and illusive, Malayan tiger, Sumatran rhinoceros, sun bear, clouded leopard and Borneo elephant all find sanctuary here. With multiple national parks, state parks, nature reserves and conservation areas, here are 11 of the best places to see wildlife in Malaysia.

1. Danum Valley Conservation Area

Covering a vast swathe of northern Borneo, the undisturbed primary rainforests of the Danum Valley are at the heart of a wider ecosystem of global importance. This area has never been permanently settled by humans and consequently supports an incredible variety of trees, plants, mammals, birds, reptiles and insects. The rainforest here is thought to be the oldest in the world with the canopy, in some parts, reaching close to 60 metres. Orangutan, gibbon and proboscis monkey, sunbear, deer, clouded leopard, 300 bird species and the exceptionally rare Bornean rhinoceros and Borneo pygmy elephant have been recorded.

Location: In the far north east of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo
Best time to visit the Danum Valley Conservation Area: Between March and October

Proboscis monkeys in the Danum Valley, Malaysian Borneo

2. Taman Negara National Park

With its high mountains (including the highest peak on the peninsula), thick impenetrable rainforest and extraordinary biodiversity of both animal and plant life, Taman Negara is a magical place. Its location in the centre of mainland Malaysia and within driving distance of the capital makes it easier to visit but also means it plays an important role in education and conservation initiatives. All hard to imagine, the rainforests of Taman Negara are thought to be around 130 million years of age and support a wide variety of flora, including the rare rafflesia, and animals from deer, elephant and monkey to hornbill and monitor lizard.

Location: Peninsula Malaysia to the north east of Kuala Lumpur
Best time to visit Taman Negara National Park: From March to November

3. Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Established in 1964 with the founding principle to protect, rehabilitate and, ultimately, return orphan orangutans back into the wild, Sepilok was the first centre of its kind in the world when it opened. The rescued orangutans reach the centre for a variety of reasons but most arrive due to poaching, deforestation or the illegal pet trade. The primary aim of the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is to prepare young orangutans for realise back into the forest by teaching them the skills needed to survive. The wider reserve adjoining Sepilok covers a large area of rainforest with around 200 orangutans living free here.

Location: Northern Sabah to the west of Sandakan
Best time to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre: March to October

Adult orangutan in the rainforest of Borneo, Malaysia

4. Mossy Forest, Cameron Highlands

High above the rolling tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands, the Mossy Forest clings to the highest elevations of Gunung Brinchang – the tallest mountain of mainland Malaysia. Almost constantly shrouded by cloud and mist, the forest has evolved its own special ecosystem in response to the unique climatic conditions which, in turn, support a wide range of indigenous flora including carnivorous pitcher plants, primitive fern varieties, mosses, lichens and orchids. The forest is also home to a number of insects, frogs, snakes, mammals and birds. Trails and raised wooden boardwalks wind through sections of the forest.

Location: In the north of peninsula Malaysia
Best time to visit the Cameron Highlands: Year-round but best from February to September

5. Batang Ai National Park

One of Malaysia’s more recent protected areas, Batang Ai was declared a national park in 1991. Set around a series of rivers and large man-made lake, the national park is only accessible by boat and is the homeland of the Iban people. Batang Ai’s relative isolation has meant that the dense tropical rainforest here is mostly undisturbed and provides sanctuary to some of the region’s most endangered animals. There is a healthy and stable wild orangutan population and the reserve is also home to gibbon, langur, clouded leopard, bearded pig, river turtle, a number of different snakes and five species of hornbill.

Location: Southern Sarawak close to the Indonesian border
Best time to visit Batang Ai: Year-round tropical climate with April to September slightly drier

Red leaf langur in Batang Ai National Park, Malaysian Borneo
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6. KL Forest Eco Park

The KL Forest Eco Park is set in the middle of downtown Kuala Lumpur under the shadow of imposing KL Tower. No other city in the world can claim to have a tract of ancient rainforest at its heart and, although the size has diminished over the years, it still covers a large area and is a haven for wildlife. There are over 200 different species of tree, numerous birds and a number of different animals ranging from bats, squirrels and civet cats to silver leaf monkeys and macaques. A highlight of the KL Forest Eco Park is the fabulous canopy walk – a series of 20 metre high elevated walkways that wind through the rainforest canopy.

Location: In the centre of Kuala Lumpur beside KL Tower
Best time to visit Kuala Lumpur: Hot and humid all year but with more rainfall in March and April

7. Kinabatangan River

The second longest waterway in Malaysia, the Kinabatangan River rises in the Crocker Range and flows through the pristine rainforests of northern Sabah to the mangrove swamps of the coast. The Kinabatangan River traverses one of the world’s greatest wilderness areas, where thick jungle, wetlands and mangroves combine to provide a perfect wildlife habitat. The best way to experience the wildlife here, especially for bird viewings, is by boat and during your time here you will cruise the river in search of gibbon and hornbill, proboscis monkey, orangutan and, if fortunate, to see the endangered Borneo pygmy elephant.

Location: Northern Sabah between Sandakan and Lahad Datu
Best time to visit the Kinabatangan River: Year round but best from April to October

Rare Borneo pygmy elephant in the jungle of Borneo, Malaysia

8. Langkawi Archipelago

Known as the ‘Jewel of Kedah’, the islands that form the Langkawi archipelago are a tropical paradise. Separated from the mainland by the Straits of Malacca and surrounded by the clear-blue Andaman Sea, only four of the 99 islands are inhabited with most visitors heading to the main island – Pulau Langkawi. Jungle-clad mountains, karst landscapes and the emerald paddy fields of the interior give way to palm-fringed beaches, charming fishing villages and coral reefs teeming with marine life. Unsurprisingly, there is excellent snorkelling and diving with over 250 fish species recorded and 50 different corals identified.

Location: Andaman Sea off the north western coast of the Malaysian peninsula
Best time to visit Langkawi: October to April when sea conditions are best for snorkelling

9. Kinabalu National Park

Dominated by Mount Kinabalu which, at 4095 metres is highest point on the island of Borneo, Kinabalu National Park is also Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. The reserve is one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet and, with four climatic zones, supports an incredible range of flora and fauna with more than 5000 species of plant (including the giant rafflesia flower and 1000 types of orchid), 90 different mammals and 300 bird species recorded. Animals include orangutan, Malayan weasel, leopard, Bornean gibbon, tarsier, bearded pig, elephant, rhinoceros hornbill and mountain serpent-eagle.

Location: To the east of Kota Kinabalu in northern Sabah
Best time to visit Kinabalu National Park: March to October when the risk of rain is lower

Gibbon sitting in a tree in Kinabalu National Park, Borneo

10. Royal Belum State Park

Surrounding Lake Temenggor, the second largest on the mainland, and bordering Thailand, remote Royal Belum State Park is one of Malaysia’s finest nature reserves. First established in 2017 in an effort to protect the region’s flora and fauna, Royal Belum State Park is home to some of the country’s rarest and most endangered animals including the Malayan tiger, Sumatran rhinoceros, sun bear and white-handed gibbon. The park is also known for its excellent bird watching with over 300 different species currently recorded including the colourful red-crowned barbet and all ten species of Malaysian hornbill.

Location: Far north of peninsula Malaysia close to the Thai border
Best time to visit Royal Belum State Park: Between April and September

Great hornbill flying in a national park in Malaysia
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11. Gunung Mulu National Park

Gunung Mulu National Park, in Borneo, has one of the most extensive limestone cave systems on the planet and, currently, nearly 300kms of caves have been identified and explored. Gunung Mulu is also home to the world’s largest cave passage and the world’s largest known natural chamber – the Sarawak Chamber which towers 80 metres in height. Surrounded by primary rainforest, rivers, limestone cliffs, karst towers, springs, swamps and waterfalls, Gunung Mulu is important for its high biodiversity with over 3500 plant species recorded, thousands of fungi species, 28 species of bat and huge flocks of swiflets and swallows.

Location: Northern Sarawak close to the border with Brunei
Best time to visit Gunung Mulu: Tropical climate but less rainfall in March, April and July to September

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