Amazing adventure holidays with children in Sabah, Malaysia. The island of Borneo in East Malaysia is one the hidden gems of Southeast Asia tourist attractions. In the state of Sabah, kids can see wild orangutans and elephants up close and personal in their natural tropical environment. For a great adventure holidays for children that will take them off the beaten track and back to nature, Sabah is one of the best holiday destinations in Asia.

Orangutans In Borneo

The massive but gentle orangutans are sadly becoming an endangered species but there are still places in Sabah where you can see them in the wild without the need to go to any zoo.

While there are particular reserves where visitors can go to try to spot orangutans in Malaysia with kids, there is still activity going on in areas not frequented by tourists. For example, in Bukit Piton Forest Reserve three orangutans were recently spotted walking on the forest floor. This reserve, (formally known as North Ulu Segama) was named as a Class I Protection Forest in 2012, the highest legal status amongst forest reserves. WWF-Malaysia is active in restoring the degraded forest by planting indigenous trees which are beneficial to orangutans. As a result, Bukit Piton has a high density orangutan population.

This recent sighting is rare and amazing because the WWF-Malaysia orangutans are usually arboreal; they spend much of their time on trees or travelling from one tree to another (so you don’t get to see them on the forest floor that often).

Bornean orangutans are also not pack animals and therefore are seldom found in groups. This is most likely because they are big eaters and their favourite food is fruits, which tend to be seasonal and therefore sparse. As a result, you would expect most animals to travel and eat alone. The biggest groups of wild orangutans in Malaysia are usually mother-and-child pairs as young orangutans are dependent on their mothers until they are seven or eight years old.

Malaysia With Kids: Orangutans in Kota Kinabalu 

In this particular instance, the group of three orangutans included Oby and her daughter Bibi. These WWF-Malaysia orangutans have not been seen by the research team since before 2011, so it was good to know that they were both still alive and healthy.

The other orangutan in the group was a male which was unusual because adult male orangutans usually travel alone. He has been named “Yogi”after the previous WWF-Malaysia’s Sabah Terrestrial Conservation Programme leader, Dr Yoganand “Yogi” Kandasamy.

The Practicalities of Spotting Orangutans in Malaysia With Kids

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SOURC) is located in Sandakan which is about an hour flight from the city centre of Kota Kinabalu. SOURC was established in 1964 to help rehabilitate orphaned orangutans. It is a great place to take kids to see orangutans in something similar to their natural habitat rather than a zoo and because the primates are used to humans, the children can get pretty close. There are feeding sessions at 10am and 3pm which are perfect for kids to watch and learn about these increasingly rare animals.

There is much more to the Sepilok forest than just the iconic orangutan. Adjacent to SOURC is the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation CentreHere visitors can also see the smallest bear in the world.

Elephants in Malaysia

Elephants in Borneo are not a rare sight. Unlike other neighbouring countries – where while Asian elephants are becoming more rare – in Sabah the field teams of WWF-Malaysia have actually been overrun by the giant beasts!

Oswald, one of WWF-Malaysia’s Sabah Terrestrial Conservation Programme (STCP) field staff, tells a story of how in 2014, a team of WWF-Malaysia’s field staff was on their monthly routine fieldwork to retrieve photos from camera traps. They were in Danum Valley Conservation Area when they suddenly realised that they had camped too close to a Bornean elephants’ travel route. They could hear their trumpets became louder and louder!  

Interview with 7-year-old Brian who lives in Addo Elephant National Park 

Not wanting to leave their camp, valuable equipment and priceless wildlife photos on their cameras, the WWF-Malaysia team decided to be creative. Their solution was to perform a deafening percussion set involving their pots and pans in order to drive the elephants away. Their quick thinking actually worked and the herd changed their course.

The Practicalities of Spotting Elephants In Malaysia With Kids

Danum Valley Conservation Area is located in Lahad Datu and perfect for outdoor adventure holidays. There are direct daily flights from Kota Kinabalu to Lahad Datu and from Lahad Datu town it takes about 2 and a half hours drive to reach Danum Valley.

It’s worthwhile staying for 3 days or 5 days as there is a high concentration of wildlife and old forests which means your kids will get to experience a real family wildlife holiday. As well as elephant spotting, you can go for guided nature walks, do a tree top canopy walk or partake in some bird watching.


This story was sponsored by Sabah Tourism Board; Images: John Japil Brumas, Bob Middle Kappis, Murphy Ng, WWF