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Lahad Datu: A gateway to virgin rainforest

17

August, 2018

Lahad Datu lies in Tawau Division on the east coast of Sabah Borneo. It was once a sleepy small village, tucked into the north side of Darvel Bay. Then, it grew into a bustling center for palm oil and cocoa industry. Moreover, Lahad Datu also has become an important timber exporting port. 

Lahad Datu is at mid-way between Tawau and Sandakan. Thus, anyone can reach Lahad Datu by road from any major town in Sabah Borneo. It takes about 7-hour overland drive from Kota Kinabalu to reach Lahad Datu. While 3-hour drive from Sandakan and 2 ½ hour drive from Tawau to reach Lahad Datu. But, some can opt to take a 55-minutes direct flight from Kota Kinabalu City using MASwings.

With its strategic location, Lahad Datu is a gateway paradise for the naturalist. Danum Valley Conservation Area, Tabin Wildlife Reserve, and Madai Caves are all situated there. This offers any visitors a chance to experience the nature and wildlife in Lahad Datu.

Lahad Datu is believed to be an early settlement area that existed as early as the 15th century. It is proven from the excavations that have unearthed Ming Dynasty Chinese ceramics. During the 19th century, a village named Tunku (east of Lahad Datu) used to be a notorious base for pirates and slave traders.

Danum Valley Conservation Area (DVCA)

Lahad Datu: A gateway to virgin rainforest

Canopy Walkway in Danum Valley. Photo: Rog

Danum Valley Conservation Area is a paradise for naturalists and wildlife enthusiast alike. It is about 438 sq. km area which 90% of it covered with virgin dipterocarp rainforest. Home to an almost unimaginable number of plants, insects, mammals, and birds, it is really a jungle out there!

Lahad Datu: A gateway to virgin rainforest

Orangutan in Danum Valley. Photo: Heather Christensen

DVCA is one of the tropical rainforest research establishment in Southeast Asia. It equipped with an extensive list of research and laboratories facilities. Many researchers prefer to make DVCA a base for biodiversity and environmental education. In 2016, one of the tallest tropical tree discovered by the researchers in Danum Valley. With its height reaching about 94.1m, anyone can see the trees through a moderate walk from the field center.

Though DVCA provides a base for researchers, it also opens for naturalists visitors. There are two accommodations available at DVCA, which are Borneo Rainforest Lodge and Danum Valley Field Centre. Borneo Rainforest Lodge offers visitors a luxury feels within the tropical rainforest. An exclusive retreat that provides an international standard of comfort to visitors. What’s more, the lodge is nearby the river. Visitors can enjoy sitting at the verandah while listening to the sound of the rainforest. If they are lucky, they might spot some of the rare birds from the verandah. Borneo Rainforest Lodge has its own jungle trails and a canopy walkway for its guests.

Lahad Datu: A gateway to virgin rainforest

Borneo Rainforest Lodge Verandah. Photo: Craig Ansibin

Lahad Datu: A gateway to virgin rainforest

Orangutan in Danum Valley. Photo: Heather Christensen

Danum Valley Field Centre (DVFC) is another accommodation in DVCA. It is available for the most budget-type visitors to spend their holiday in DVCA. DVFC has three different rooms, which are deluxe, standard and hostel. There are several activities that can be done at DVFC, such as guided jungle trekking, morning/night safari, swim in the river and catch a sunrise from atop Bukit Atur.

Tabin Wildlife Reserve

Lahad Datu: A gateway to virgin rainforest

Tabin Wildlife Reserve

Tabin Wildlife Reserve is another nature reserve in Lahad Datu. It largely surrounded by oil palm plantations and an hour drive from Lahad Datu Town. Tabin offers a comfortable wildlife resort in a small river valley. Gazetted in 1968 as a Class VII Forest Reserve, Tabin has an area of 122, 539 hectares. Making it the largest forest reserve in Sabah Borneo.

Lahad Datu: A gateway to virgin rainforest

Bornean Gibbon. Photo: Andrea Schieber

The existence of Tabin Wildlife Reserve is part of the State Government’s effort to protect and preserve wildlife. In 1984, Tabin declared as a wildlife reserve due to a large amount of Borneo Wildlife spotted there. Some of the wildlife is highly endangered mammals species, such as Borneo Pygmy Elephants, Sumatran Rhinoceros, Tembadau, and Banteng. There are also about nine species of primates and three species of cats recorded in Tabin Wildlife Reserve. Various birdlife species are also spotted within the forest reserve. With large numbers of hornbills and eagles as well as vividly colored birds can be seen flying around at the reserve area.

Lahad Datu: A gateway to virgin rainforest

A group of elephants at Lipad Mud Volcano. Photo: Tabin Widlldife Reserve

One of the highlights in Tabin Wildlife Reserve is the presence of several mud volcanoes. The mud volcanoes are known to provide rich mineral salts for birds and mammals. The presence of mud volcanoes are probably the reasons for the high concentration of wildlife in Tabin Wildlife Reserve. Moreover, there is a viewing tower is built at the edge of the Lipad Mud Volcanoes. Making it a perfect location for wildlife observation and bird-watching.

There is an accommodation available in Tabin Wildlife Reserve. It offers anyone a unique and comfortable stay in the jungle lodges as well as a great wildlife experience. There are about 20 units of jungle lodges (10 units River Lodges and 10 unites Hill Lodges) available at the Tabin Resort.

Several activities can be done at Tabin Wildlife Reserve which are:

  • Visit the mud volcanoes
  • Night safari to search for nocturnal wildlife
  • Trekking through the lush rainforests
  • Early morning walk
  • Birdwatching
Lahad Datu: A gateway to virgin rainforest

Jungle Trekking in Tabin Wildlife Reserve. Photo: EstherK Borneo

Whether you are a wildlife seeker or just looking for something fun, Tabin Wildlife Reserve will never fail to amaze anyone with a great wildlife adventures experience for Borneo holiday!

Madai Cave

Lahad Datu: A gateway to virgin rainforest

Tabin Wildlife Reserve

Another treasure that can be found in Lahad Datu is Madai Cave. It is an integral part of the limestone hills which located within the Baturong Madai Forest Reserve. Home to thousands of bats since hundred years ago and Madai Cave is one of Sabah Borneo’s most important site for supplies of bird nests. The Madai Cave is owned by the local villagers who live outside the cave, which is the Idahan people. Apart from harvesting the bird nests as their source of income, the Idahan people also take cares of the cave during the off-season harvest.

Madai Cave is also considered as the earliest known area of human settlement that existed from over 20,000 years ago. It is proven by the traces of human footprints were found preserved in layers and layers of bat droppings inside the caves. Madai Cave is also a burial site. Although the identity of those buried remains unknown to the villagers, except for grave the of “Nenek Apui” or grandma Apui. “Nenek Apui” is the original founder of Madai Caves but her remains have been dug a long time ago and now has been placed at Sabah Museum in Kota Kinabalu City.

Related article: Exploring Madai Cave 

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