The Mammals of Borneo’s Deramakot Forest Reserve

Borneo is a popular destination for specialised wildlife tours. One of the most animal-rich areas is the magnificent Deramakot Forest Reserve, in the northern Sabah region of the island. The reserve provides a habitat for almost 75% of the mammals that inhabit the area, including some of its most high profile.

The Deramakot Forest Reserve

The 137,000 acres of the reserve are split into sections, some of which are designated for sustainable logging. However, under the superb forest management this has had little impact on the protected conservation areas, and it is considered one of the best places in the country for wildlife tours that observe a range of rare mammals.

Clouded Leopard

Deramakot is home to the largest extant population of one of the world’s rarest cats, Neofelis nebulosa or the Clouded Leopard. A sighting of this beautiful but elusive animal is one of the most sought after experiences. They are extremely good climbers and can grip on to large tree branches in every position, including upside-down, but very little else is known about the mysterious cat, adding to its enigma.

Bornean Pygmy Elephants

Elephas maximus borneensis is a subspecies of the Asian Elephant. They grow to an average length of just under three metres, making them around a fifth smaller than their mainland counterparts. They have round faces and torsos, with large ears, short, straight tusks and very long tails that often drag behind them. Scientists have determined they possess genetic differences from other Asian elephant species and they’re renowned for having a much gentler disposition, which has fuelled the belief that they may have descended from a domesticated population.

Bornean Orangutan

Another favourite sighting on wildlife tours, Pongo pygmaeus is native to the island. The species has attained critically endangered status, with their population declining by an alarming 50% over the past 60 years due to drastic loss of habitat. There are three subspecies, with the Northeast Bornean Orangutan (found in Sabah) – the smallest – growing to around 1.2m. It has a wide, rounded face with a tufted beard and slightly darker colouring than the distinctive orange of the Sumatran species. They live for the most part in the canopy of the forest, using their long arms and powerful hands and feet to swing between the branches.

Red Langur (Monkey)

Also endemic to the island, Presbytis rubicunda can be seen in the lower altitude forests, usually living in groups of a male, his ‘harem’ of three or more females and their young. They are primarily arboreal, feeding on leaves, flowers and fruits from the high branches. They grow to around 40-55cm (not including the tail which is around 63-74cm) and get their name from the striking auburn colour of their coats.

An Abundance of Mammals

As well as those mentioned above, it’s possible to observe many other mammals in the reserve on dedicated wildlife tours, including Thomas’s Flying Squirrel, Sambar, Binturong, Sunda Stink Badger, Striped Palm Civet, Otter Civet and North Borneo Gibbon.

Along with forest walks to explore the reserve with local naturalist guides, visitors can embark on numerous night drives to encounter some of the more unusual and secretive nocturnal species.

Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in the wildlife of Asia. Marissa chooses the expert-led wildlife tours itineraries organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of flora and fauna in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.

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Author: Desiree Michels