Tabin Wildlife Expedition

June 11, 2010

Tabin Wildlife Reserve


Providing a sanctuary for many of Borneo’s endangered species — including the critically endangered Sumatran Rhinoceros, the Asian Pgymy Elephant, the Wild Ox and the orangutan — Tabin is one of the largest wildlife reserves in all of Borneo.

      Located in eastern Sabah and just over an hour’s drive from the airport of  Lahad Datu, Tabin spreads over 120,000 hectares (making it twice the size of Singapore). Although much of the forest was selectively logged in the past, Tabin has a core of pristine rainforest and several smaller virgin jungle reserves.

      Large oil palm plantations border the region near Tabin Nature Resort, attracting a large number of animals and birds who come in search of food. Elephants, pigs, deer, civet cats, leopard cats, spectacular hornbills, eagles, owls and other raptors are all frequently spotted near the Resort, especially on early morning or night drives along the plantation border.

      The presence of a huge “mud volcano” within hiking distance of the Resort attracts many different animals and even birds which come to feed on the mineral-rich ground built up around the steam vents. A five-storey observation tower facing the mud volcano provides a perfect hide for viewing birds and any animals which come to feed, especially just after dusk.

      Tabin’s birdlife is impressive, with at least 220 species recorded. Eight Borneo endemics including the Bornean Bristlehead, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Blue-headed Pitta and Blue-banded Pitta inhabit the region, while all of Borneo’s eight hornbills can be seen.

      The only video filming of a wild Sumatran Rhinoceros in Borneo was made in Tabin in 2006; there are estimated to be only 20  rhinos left in Sabah, and perhaps 30 in all of Borneo. An on-going rhino conservation project is based at Tabin.

      Located in a narrow river valley, Tabin Wildlife Resort offers visitors a haven of comfort, with attractive air-conditioned wooden chalets. The boardwalks linking the Resort’s buildings are ideal for birdwatching, while otters are frequently spotted in the Lipad river nearby. The easy accessibility of much of Tabin’s wildlife is a boon to keen photographers, avoiding the need of carrying heavy equipment for long distances.

Mud Volcano

Visit Lipad Mud Volcano, one of the several mud volcanoes found in Tabin Wildlife Reserve and the one located nearest to Tabin Resort.  The minieral-rich mud volcano act as “salt-licks” are frequented by animals & birds.  Try to identify the multitude of  animal treks found here. Smear some mud on your face as this is believed to do good  to your complexion.



Trekking through one of the many nature trials in Tabin can be a fulfilling experience. Look out for animal foot prints, interesting birds, butterflies & extraordinary plants.  Learn the calls of birds and animals from our guides or try out the medicinal effects of some of  the jungle plants.


Night Safari

Experience night life in the tropical rainforest traveling n top of an open-top vehicle.  Look out and smell for the presence of nocturnal animals & birds, many of whom you will not notice until being pointed out by our eagle-eyed guides.


Night Walk

Armed with torch lights, walk with our nature guide in the pitch darkness of the jungle trail deep in the Borneo rainforest, the feeling is both exciting and sensational.  Our guide will unearth the mystery of the forest and point our interesting facts of the forest night life for you.


Dawn Drive

A drive at dawn along the Reserve’s road to spot wildlife and birds that may be out to search for food.  Experience the beauty of Tabin engulfed in the refreshing morning mist.


Lipad Waterfall

After a sweaty trek through one of the humid nature trials, arrival at the serene and shady area of the Lipad falls, sometimes called the ‘Twin-falls’ as an additional waterfall  is created sometimes after a heavy downpour.  Dip yourself in the  inviting river drained by the cascading falls & be truly embraced by nature.


Tabin Rainforest Herbal Foot Soak

The rich rainforest eco-system in Tabin makes it a botanical treasure land.  The herbal foot soak is consisted of  hot water infused with the wonderful blend of natural herbs will work to sooth and stimulate the feet, circulate blood and restore physical and mental harmony.  Lay back amidst lush vegetation and bird songs, have your feet submerged in a hot basin of herbal goodness, accompanied by the tickling sensation of herbs on your feet, will surely work to caress your soul. 


With the recent capture of a wild rhinoceros on film at Tabin Wildlife Reserve — an historic first in Borneo — Sabah’s largest sanctuary has confirmed its vital importance in conserving Borneo’s wildlife.

      The Sumatran rhino is critically endangered, with perhaps as few as 20 individuals in Sabah, and maybe only 30 in the entire island of Borneo. Wildlife enthusiasts who come to Tabin know there’s no chance they’ll spot one of its iconic rhinos. After all, scientists have been conducting surveys since 1990 and until recently, virtually all they’ve seen is footprints and droppings. However, visitors have the opportunity of seeing a remarkable range of wildlife, including the two other large mammals for which Tabin is famed: the Asian Pygmy Elephant and the Wild Ox (tembadau).

      You don’t necessarily have to trek through the forest to see elephants. On a recent visit, a friend and I decided to go in search of interesting insects and other creepie crawlies. Just 20 metres or so along a trail leading off the Resort’s approach road, we heard the unmistakable rustling of an elephant close by, followed by loud trumpeting. We followed the noise back down to the road, where we stood immobile and watched in awe as a bull elephant with a pair of handsome tusks cautiously emerged from the scrub and walked across the road, less than 30 metres from us and less than 100 metres from the Resort’s café!

      Unlike the elephant, the rhinoceros is incredibly shy and has a vast area at Tabin (some 120,000 hectares, twice the size of Singapore) in which to hide. Sabah Wildlife Department, together with several conservation agencies, not only conducts  rhino research at Tabin but guards against poachers. One of the reasons for the critical status of the rhino is that it has been hunted for its horns for generations — despite the fact that research shows the horn has no medicinal value whatsoever.

      Tabin’s forest was selectively logged from the 1960s until late in the 1980s, so apart from a core area of almost 9,000 hectares of pristine rainforest, and several smaller virgin jungle reserves, most of Tabin Wildlife Reserve is secondary forest. You might think that this diminishes the amount of wildlife, yet paradoxically, you often have a better chance of seeing animals and birds in a secondary forest. The oil palm estates which surround much of Tabin attract animals such as elephants, pigs, civets, leopard cats, hornbills, eagles and other raptors, so early morning and night drives along the dirt roads near the Resort can be surprisingly productive.

      The biodiversity of Tabin, and the fact that it is home to a number of endangered species, led to its being gazetted as wildlife reserve. One of the biggest reserves in all of Borneo, Tabin can easily support large numbers of elephants (there are thought to be as many as 300 here) and other mammals including the orangutan.

      Tabin’s birdlife is magnificent, with over 220 species including eight found only in Borneo. You may hear the distinctive cry of an Argus Pheasant on a morning drive, spot Scarlet Sunbirds sipping nectar as you lunch in the café, see several or even all of the 8 species of Borneo’s hornbills as you walk the trails, catch sight of  owls during a night drive, see a Crested Serpent Eagle hunting for prey near the oil palms and be overawed by the jewel-like beauty of a Black-and-yellow Broadbill or a darting kingfisher.

      Visitors have been coming to the reserve, a little over an hour by road from Lahad Datu, since Tabin Wildlife Resort opened in 1999. The Resort’s original eco-tents (erected on wooden platforms) were great for those who love camping, but the subsequent construction of 20 attractive wooden chalets with air-conditioning, 24-hour electricity and hot water means visitors can now enjoy a remarkable degree of comfort while exploring the wildlife.

      You really know you’re “in the jungle” at the Resort. The chalets and other buildings — constructed to avoid disturbance to the environment — shelter in a narrow valley beside the Lipad river. The open-sided Sunbird Café and lounge area are of timber, and include more than a dozen magnificently carved giant wooden pillars, each one different and graced with curving vines, leaves, birds, flowers or animals. Wooden boardwalks link the accommodation with the main Resort facilities (and also provide a good location for bird-watching).

      Native orchids have been placed in the trees around the Resort, and brightly coloured flowers which attract sunbirds and butterflies planted nearby. Since the arrival of Eddie Quah, a hotel manager with years of experience, the standard of service, maintenance and food at the Resort have taken a quantum leap forward. With warm, friendly staff and guiding headed by Dennysius Aloysius, a highly experienced specialised nature guide, Tabin Wildlife Resort compares favourable with any good international wildlife lodge.

      A range of trails and activities act as an introduction to  the diversity of Tabin, and because the birds and animals are most active in the cooler early morning and evening, there’s plenty of time for relaxing during the hotter part of the day. A large natural rock pool a couple of minutes’ walk from the Resort is a popular place for cooling off, while a walk further upstream brings you to pristine pools and tiny waterfalls, fringed by lovely forest, perhaps with a brilliant orange bauhinia vine nearby.

      No visit to Tabin is complete without a visit to the Lipad mud volcano, one of several in the forest which provide “salt licks” for animals and even birds. A 700-metre trek off the main boundary road leads through the forest —  where several of the trees have magnificent buttress roots and luminous fungi might be spotted — to a natural clearing about 80 metres across. In the centre of this, liquid mud burps up gently, and as it flows outwards, hardens to form greyish soil with small boulders and stones which have been spewed up when the “volcano” has one of its periodic mild eruptions.

      Tracks of various animals, including deer and pig, can be seen leading across the soft mud of the volcano. The 5-storey observation tower at the forest fringe is the perfect spot to sit quietly with a pair of binoculars to observe the birds. Hornbills are common, and the beautiful Blue-throated Bee Eater can often be seen. Those who stay on after the sun has set may be rewarded with the sight of a deer or bearded pig coming to get its dose of calcium, sodium and other minerals which are concentrated in the volcanic mud.

      The Gibbon Trail through the rainforest leads to the Lipad Waterfall, where the reward for those who’ve trekked for about 1 1/2 hours is a dip in the refreshing pool at the base of the falls.

      There is just so much to be seen around Tabin Wildlife Resort, and it’s all so easily accessible. From the haunting morning wake-up call of gibbons nearby to the gentle lullaby sung by the Lipad river as you fall asleep in your comfortable bed at night, Tabin is pure enchantment.

Locations visited

Tabin Wildlife Reserve


Land Birds 1 species
Rhinoceros Hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros) 5 Hornbills



Written by

North Borneo Safari

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