Malaysia evokes images of postcard-perfection. Think on it for a moment and no doubt your mind will conjure up pictures of breathtaking natural beauty, endless sandy beaches, lush rainforests and the glittering Andaman Sea. This is a truly captivating destination explains Tessa Watkins, not to mention one of the best countries in the world when it comes to exotic wildlife…
Delve deep among the lush foliage and dive into the crystal clear waters, and you will find a plethora of magnificent creatures just waiting to be discovered. In Borneo alone for example, there is more than 74,000 acres of rainforest teeming with wildlife. Blessed with a cornucopia of life forms, Malaysia promises more than 8,000 species of flowering plants, including the world’s tallest flower – the rafflesia – the world’s biggest cockroach and the tallest tropical trees on the planet.
An intoxicating mix of magnificent mammals, unique birds and beautiful butterflies make this magical destination a wildlife lover’s paradise – here are just a few of our favourites:
More than 200 species, ranging from the smallest shrews and mice to magnificent elephants and gaurs, call Malaysia home. Among the rarest of the country’s mammals are the Malayan orangutans, the Sumatran rhinos and the Malayan Tapir – spot one of these beautiful creatures and consider yourself lucky as they are all in danger of becoming extinct.
Then there’s the Malayan Tiger. An enduring symbol of bravery, strength and grandeur, this elusive beast, known as Malaysia’s national animal, is usually only sighted in Pahang, Perak, Kelantan and Terengganu.
Asian elephants, the Malayan tapir, flying lemurs, leatherback sea turtles and Sumatran rhinoceros – the smallest existing rhino on earth and the most endangered – can all be spotted in the dense jungle, but it’s the monkeys that reign supreme here. Perhaps one of the most renowned inhabitants of the rainforests is the Bornean orangutan. Those seeking out this fun and playful creature should head for the dense and mountainous east Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak and look up – they are often found sleeping in nests constructed from branches.
The indigenous proboscis monkey, known for its colossal conk, coexists with the orangutans. Head to the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary in Sabah for face-to-face encounters with this iconic primate.
The destination’s warm tropical climate means eagle-eyed twitchers can observe a host of bird species in their natural habitat, whether that be dense rainforest, tangled mangrove trees or along sea beaches. Mynas, Eurasian tree sparrows, yellow-vented bulbuls and black-naped orioles are just a few of the birds that are waiting to be discovered. Keep your eyes peeled for the white-breasted kingfisher too – a tiny, beautiful bird, often spotted perched high above the rainforest or close to water.
Marvellous marine life
With turquoise waters surrounding picturesque islands and lapping pristine beaches, Malaysia promises a wide array of dive sites – the perfect opportunity to explore the kaleidoscopic marine safari beneath the waves. Dive into the sparkling Andaman Sea and explore brightly-coloured coral, or visit the coral-clad Perhentian Islands and explore the Sugar Wreck, where you can swim with sea turtles and clownfish, amid the shell of a sunken freighter.
Where to go
Now that you know what to look out for, here’s where to spot Malaysia’s wildlife:
Sipadan National Park, Sipadan Island: The only oceanic island in Malaysia, marvel at thousands of sea turtles, schooling sharks, barracuda and coral walls.
Bako National Park, Sarawak: Abundant wildlife, jungle streams, waterfalls and secluded beaches make this 6,738-acre park a must-visit.
Turtle Island Park, Sulu Sea: Committed to rescuing these endangered animals, marvel at turtles as they hatch and take their first, life-affirming steps into the big blue.
Kuala Koh National Park, Gua Musang: Abundant flora and fauna await visitors to this national park, along with more than 300 bird species.
Similajau National Park, Sarawak: Spot long-tailed macaques, gibbons, shrews, squirrels, civet cats and birds at this wildlife-packed park, bordered by dense green forest. Those feeling brave can seek out the saltwater crocodile from a safe distance, and the false gharial, which looks scary but actually feasts on fish (not human flesh!).
Gunung Mulu National Park, Sarawak: Explore caves and karst formations at this UNESCO World Heritage site, which promises a canopy situated high above the rainforest – ideal for wildlife spotting and admiring the towering limestone cliffs.
Kuala Lumpur Butterfly Park: The largest butterfly garden in the world spans nearly two acres of secret gardens with more than 5,000 butterflies, plants, ferns, fresh water turtles and Japanese koi fish.
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Borneo: Sitting in protected land at the edge of Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, around 70 orangutans live here freely, while about 25 orphaned animals are housed in the nurseries.
Where to stay
No wildlife lover’s trip to Malaysia is complete without staying at Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort in Borneo, surrounded by 400 acres of tropical forest and boasting a private nature reserve with resident orangutans.
Set sail on a mangrove river cruise to wildlife-spot and visit the Orangutan Nature Interpretation Centre, located in the resort. Enjoy your morning coffee while birdwatching from the canopy, before embarking on a jungle walk. Youngsters will be in their element at the kids club, helping the rangers care for the baby orangutans.