Borneo Wildlife in the Deramakot Forest

Deramakot lies in central Sabah, northwest Borneo. It's reached by a drive of about 4 hours from Sandakan, the major part being through seemingly endless palm oil plantations. The sustainably managed forest reserve is known as the best place in Borneo to have a chance of encountering the spectacular clouded leopard, but even so, sightings are few and far between.

I found myself with a few clear days before needing to be back at university to give a talk in Kuala Lumpur, so on the spur of the moment (after checking with Alternative Adventure Borneo that it would be OK to turn up at such short notice), I booked a flight to Sandakan for the following morning. 

Once installed in a room at Deramakot, there was a meal and then it was straight out into the evening to see what we could find. Sharp-eyed guide Elsie was balanced on top of the cabin of the vehicle. For the following two evenings, we headed out in the afternoon with a packed dinner to be eaten just after dusk before continuing the search for creatures during the night.

The most abundant mammals were civets and flying squirrels and we came across representatives of three species of each.

Most dramatic of the civets were the boldly marked Malay civets, in all cases seen on the ground. Island palm civets and small-toothed civets were seen at various heights in the trees.

There was no sign of clouded leopards over the three nights I had at Deramakot, but there was one beautiful smaller representative of the family, the elegant leopard cat, always a delight to see. I had met them before at Tabin.

Flying squirrels were common, with the giant red flying squirrel demonstrating some smooth long glides. We also saw the black flying squirrel and Thomas's flying squirrel.

Primates were far less abundant than I've seen at Danum Valley and Tabin, but we did encounter a young orangutan and some long-tailed macaques, and the gibbons livened up one morning with their glorious singing. My favourite primate of the trip, however, was a slow loris, much closer than I'd seen before (the last one had been high up a distant tree at Kubah in Sarawak).

The one animal I had not seen before was a sweet little lesser Ranee mouse, which I was too busy watching to manage a photograph before it scurried down the stem of the leaf it was on.

On the night drives, as an eery moon rose, we encountered file-eared frogs, buffy fish owls, sleeping crested serpent eagles, and little prinias.


During the day, there were many more interesting birds to see, such as Blyth's paradise flycatcher, whiskered tree swift and oriental darter.

A large Koompassia tree was decorated with several bee nests and blue-throated bee-eaters were ready to enjoy the feast. A rudimentary set of spikes up part of one side of the tree had served the local Dusun in their honey raids. Elsie told us that an orangutan has also been seen raiding honey.

On my final morning at Deramakot, the north Bornean grey gibbons sang loudly as we stopped to watch Rajah Brooks' and Malay birdwing butterflies enjoying a mass of flowers. There were also five-barred swordtail and striped ringlet butterflies.

On the drive out of Deramakot, a rare Storm's stork strolled down the road and we came across the tail end of a group of elephants.

I very much enjoyed the stay at Deramakot, while not seeing much new to me (just the mouse), some of the sightings were the best I'd had. Elsie and husband Mike Gordon are expert guides and there was lots of good conversation. Fellow travellers Chiara, Manfredi and Rich were excellent company for two of the days and I saw Chiara and Manfredi some time later as they passed through KL on their way home.


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