Sabah, the Malaysian Borneo (formerly known as North Borneo), is one of the thirteen states of Malaysia. The people of Sabah are known as Sabahans. Sabah is the second largest state in Malaysia and shares the island of Borneo with Sarawak, Brunei and Indonesian Kalimantan. Borneo is the third largest island in the world and is located at the centre of the Maritime Southeast Asia. Sabah sits at the tip of Borneo and has a coastline of 1,440 km (900 miles), washed by the South China Sea on the West and the Sulu Sea and Celebes Sea on the East.
The history of Sabah can be traced back to about 20,000–30,000 years ago when evidence suggests the earliest human settlement in the region existed. Early inhabitants of the land lived in predominantly tribal societies which continued to exist until the 21th century. Later, in the 15th century, Sabah became a part of the Brunei Empire until an American Trader named Moses arrived in 1880s’ to lease it. From there, it was passed on to an Englishman named Alfred Dent who converted the lease into a cession. The British North Borneo Chartered Company was thus established and Sabah became a British protectorate in 1888, ruling over the state until the Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945 during World War II. After the surrender, North Borneo was administered by the British Military Administration and came under the British crown in 1946. Jesselton replaced Sandakan as the capital and the Crown continued to rule North Borneo until 1963. On 16 September 1963, Sabah merged with Malaya, Sarawak and Singapore (left in 1965) to form the Federation of Malaysia.
Nature & Wildlife – The rainforests of Sabah
Sabah is richly blessed with nature diversity, unique cultures, fun adventure, beautiful beaches, and fantastic cuisines for the adventurous taste buds. We have it all, from the world’s largest flower – the Rafflesia, one of the highest mountains in South East Asia – Mt Kinabalu, to one of the world’s top dive sites – Sipadan Island. Sabah is where you will find an awe-inspiring treasure trove of gorgeous islands, lush tropical rainforests, exuberant cultures and exotic wildlife. Sabah’s pristine tropical rainforests is home to many protected rare animals such as the Orang Utans, Proboscis monkeys which are endemic to Borneo; pygmy elephants, the endangered Sumatran Rhinoceros and rich birdlife which include eight species of hornbills.
The Kinabalu Park (Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage)
One of Sabah’s most iconic feature is The Kinabalu Park (World Heritage) designated by UNESCO in December 2000 where one of the highest mountains in South East Asia, the majestic Mt Kinabalu (4095.2m) is located. The Kinabalu Park covers a staggering area of 754 sq km (300 sq mile) and is home to about 1,200 species of orchids, 26 species of rhododendrons, 9 species of Nepenthes pitcher plants, over 80 species of fig trees, over 60 species of oaks and chestnut trees, 100 species of mammals, 326 species of birds, an estimated 5,000 flowering plants and this does not include the innumerable mosses, ferns and fungi. The beautiful Slipper Orchids, the insect-eating Rajah Brooke’s Pitcher Plants (world’s largest pitcher plant), 19 species of Begonia plants have been documented with probably half being endemic and over 300 species of birds have been recorded in the Park. Sabah is known to have the largest concentration of the Rafflesia population, the world’s biggest flower. It is also famous for its annual Mt Kinabalu International Climbathon.
World Class Diving Destinations
With its sandy beaches, tropical islands, blue waters, coral reefs and atolls, Sabah has several dive sites rated to be amongst the top ten in the world and many more yet to be truly explored. Sabah currently has 11 popular dive sites: wreck diving in Labuan, Pulau Tiga, Tungku Abdul Rahman Park, Layang Layang Atoll (one of the top ten dive sites in the world), Mantanani Islands, Wreck diving in Kudat, Lankayan Island, Kapalai Atoll, Sipadan Island, Mabul Island, Mataking Island. Here divers may find many rare or endangered sea creatures such as green and hawksbill turtles, napoleon wrasse, giant clams, manta,moray, parrotfish, as well as countless species of sharks and schools of thousands of barracuda, hammerhead and jacks etc. Sabah is not only known for its macro and pelagic reef’s larger inhabitants but also as a ‘Muck diving’ paradise with such rarities as the mimic octopus, flamboyant cuttlefish mandarin fish, harlequin ghost pipefish plus many types of weird and wonderful frogfish and nudibranchs. Sipadan (rated as one of the world’s top dive sites) – more than 3,000 species of fish and hundreds of coral species have been classified in this richest of ecosystem.
Sepilok Orang Utans Rehabilitation Centre
More than 4,500 hectares of virgin jungle were designated as forest reserve and sanctuary for these charming creatures, started in 1964 for rehabilitation of orphaned baby orang utans from logging sites, plantations and illegal hunting, returning them to the wilds as soon as they are ready. Orang-Utan (in malaysian “man of the forest”) are protected under the Fauna Conservation Ordinance which, among other things, prohibits hunting, trading or keeping them as pets.
Turtle Islands Park
Turtle conservation activities are conducted. Designated as a Marine Park, the islands of Selingan, Bakungan Kecil and Gulisan are safe haven for the endangered Green Turtles and Hawksbill Turtles after over 30 years of turtle conservation effort.
Kinabatangan Flood Plains
The river is 560 km long and the Lower Kinabatangan is estimated to have the largest concentration of wildlife in all of Malaysia. In fact, all 8 species of hornbills found in Borneo – the rhinoceros, helmeted, black, pied, wreathed, wrinkled, white-crowned and bushy crested hornbills, have been spotted here. The region is also renowned for colourful tropical birds, pygmy elephants, crocodiles, huge monitor lizards, wild pigs, otters and several species of monkeys and tree snakes. It is a haven for the rare proboscis monkeys, orang utans, the oriental darters, king-fishers and more.
The Danum Valley Conservation Area (438 sq km reserves of primary lowland rainforest several millions old) and Tabin Wildlife Reserve (120,500 hectares of dipterocarp rainforest) holds extraordinary biodiversity and shelter myriad of endangered wildlife such as Pygmy elephants and Sumatran Rhinos. There are some 275 bird species, numerous reptiles, amphibians, fishes and insects; its uniqueness lies in the dipterocarp forests covering over 90% of the area, a haven for various indigenous plant species and over 110 mammals species, including the highly endangered Sumatran rhino, the Borneo Pygmy elephants, Tembadau, clouded leopard, orang utans and proboscis monkeys, herds of deer, bearded pig, red leaf monkeys, silver langur, pig tail and long tailed macaque, and binturong. Wild orchids, lianas, jungle vines, towering strangler figs, and rare ferns are amongst the interesting collection of rainforest vegetation. Bird-watchers’ paradise. About 42 indigenous families representing less than 300 species have been recorded. Endemic species of Borneo such as the Asian paradise flycatcher, Borneon bristlehead, dusky munia, the large-billed blue flycatcher, blue-headed pitta and the Borneo wren-babbler are present. For the hard core trekkers, head into the depth of the Borneo jungle to the mystical Maliau Basin, nicknamed ‘Sabah’s Lost World’.
Weather in country
Sabah being a tropical country located at the equator roughly 4-7 degree N, the weather is generally hot and sunny all year round with occasional unpredictable rain showers. Rainfall is common throughout the year and the average rainfall is 250cm per year. Sabah has a uniform temperature of 32 degree C (lowlands) and 21 degree C (highlands). However, at Mt Kinabalu the temperature can drop to freezing level above 3500m. Humidity is high throughout the year. There are two main monsoon seasons, the North East Monsoon (October to February) which is the wetter period or rainy season and the drier South West Monsoon (March to October) which is considered the dry season. As Sabah lies under the typhoon belt, and is often referred to as “The land below the Wind”, it also experiences the tail effect of passing tropical and monsoonal typhoons. However, changing global weather condition has affected Sabah and it is difficult to accurately forecast the weather.