List Words : Insider Secrets | 05 July

5 of Borneo's best-kept wildlife secrets

Borneo is a land of untouched rainforest, epic rivers and amazing wildlife. Award-winning guide Kevin Albin reveals how to avoid the honeypots, starting with sun bears – his personal passion

1: Sun Bear Conservation Centre, Sepilok

Malayan sun bear in Sepilok (Dreamstime)

Sepilok is a popular destination to see the orangutans, but right next door is a sanctuary for sun bears (helped along by my Wanderlust Guide Awards bursary). These bears are the smallest of all sub-species and, like the orangutans, they are arboreal and are losing their habitat through deforestation. Sadly, they are also poached, captured for pets, and used in Asian medicine.

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre currently has 25 bears in residence. Conservationists are nursing them back to health and, where necessary, are preparing them to be released into the forest. As so few people know about the sun bears, including Malaysians and Indonesians, the Centre is also involved in education and raising the animal's profile.

2: Lupa Masa

The entrance to Poring Hot Springs (Dreamstime)

Picture an eco camp made from giant bamboo – with palm-thatched shelters, solar-powered lighting, and a reed bed toilet system. Lupa Masa camp blends almost seamlessly into the forest, which is full of jungle animals who live undisturbed. Here you can track down exotic birds, curious insects and a range of primates – such as gibbons, who make the most enchanting noises. Clear rivers and stunning waterfalls complete the experience. There are no roads or wildlife hunters, and the camp provides vital employment for local people.

Lupa Masa means literally to 'forget time' – and near to Poring Hot Springs, surrounded by beautiful Mt Kinabalu National Park, it's easy to see why.

3: Picnic with the Penan

Penan father and son, counting their catch (Dreamstime)

If you are looking for a genuine experience in the jungle with local people, this one is exceptional. The Penan, once a truly nomadic tribe, know exactly how to live in harmony with the forest. You'll need to venture deep into the rainforest on a light aircraft flight to Long Lellang, and take a boat journey in a dug-out canoe.

Witness how the jungle provides for its inhabitants with food, water, and shelter – as well as baskets and bracelets made from rattan, and even musical instruments from bamboo. The area is stunning, and the trekking guides are very knowledgeable.

4: Kinabatangan River

A family of pygmy elephants waving from the bank of the Kinabatangan River (Dreamstime)

This is a remarkable place to see wildlife: pygmy elephants, proboscis monkeys, and even saltwater crocodiles live along this river. Cruise the river at dawn and dusk, stay in a bamboo hut at Sukau or Abai Village, and savour the great food being served.

For a wildlife encounter with a difference, take a night walk in the jungle with a local guide: they'll find things that you would never have spotted on your own. The nearby Gomantong Caves are worth a visit for their bats and swifts – a spectacle straight out of a David Attenborough documentary.

5: Santubong

Mt. Santubong in Kuching Wetland National Park (Dreamstime)

Santubong is across the bay from Bako National Park near Kuching. It's where 19th-century British explorer and naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace carried out some of his research, which is thought to have been instrumental in Darwin's theory of evolution. For wildlife enthusiasts, there's the chance to spot rare hornbills, turtles, and Irrawaddy dolphins.

If you're feeling fit, Mt Santubong is worth the four-hour trek to the summit. 

Kevin Albin won Bronze in the 2011 Wanderlust World Guide Awards. He used his prize bursary to help set up the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. Find out what makes him an award-winning guide here.

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