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Tabin-acle of Wildlife

Part 2

By Henry Goh

A Northern Grey Gibbon, endemic to the tropical rainforest of northern and eastern Borneo.

During a teleconversation with friends, a question popped in our minds: where could we have a short holiday in Sabah with friends coming over from Kuala Lumpur?

After researching a few locations, we zeroed-in on Tabin Wildlife Reserve (TWR). After making all preparations that were necessary, we eagerly waited for the day when the journey would begin.

The day arrived soon enough and everyone was loaded into a comfortable van for the long road trip to TWR. We chose to travel by road versus taking a flight to Lahad Datu and then a short 1.5 hours by road to TBW.

Travelling by road accorded us a first-hand view of the vast and picturesque country side. Looking back, we had no regrets making the decision. The time was well spent as we had the wonderful opportunity to interact and share some light hearted banter, anecdotes and hilarious memories of times past during the time spent in the van. The several stops along the journey provided memorable insights of the life and culture of the people which we would not be able to appreciate if we had chosen to take a flight. And the sampling of village style food was just great!

A common Palm Civet

We arrived in TWR late evening with some time to spare to freshen-up before dinner. The first night safari commenced soon after dinner. We observed, with the help of light by a powerful torchlight, nocturnal animals like the Malayan Civet, Lesser Mouse Deer, a rare Black Flying Squirrel and a Common Civet going about foraging for food. A Malaysian Blue Flycatcher was fast asleep oblivious of our presence and a Yellow-bellied Prinia gave us an inquisitive stare before turning the other way and to slumber.

Yellow-bellied Prinia


We started our day early. By 7 am everyone was at the breakfast table. Breakfast was in two parts. A light bread, butter and jam plus coffee before we set out for our rendezvous with the wildlife. A heavier breakfast of noodles, omelet and fruits was served after we returned about an hour and a half later. Such a breakfast spread made us feel spoilt as we are accustomed to having simple city breakfast of coffee before rushing off to the office. It was a good change though.

The early morning walkabout yielded a pair of Rhinoceros Hornbills, A ‘friendly’ Crested Serpent Eagle, a family of Northern Grey Gibbon. All were seen and photographed at close range.

Crested Serpent Eagle

After breakfast (the second one) we were loaded on to a truck for a trip to the Lipad Volcano to experience the mud facial. As this was already covered in a separate article published last week I will not dwell further on the visit. Nonetheless we did some birding along the way, targeting the Blue-headed Pitta. No luck as it did not show-up.  There was no night safari tonight as it started to rain as we were about to set out. Nature dictated, we listened and had an early night. 

Lesser Mouse Deer

Day 3

All were up early as usual. After breakfast we set out for a drive, this time in the day. The routing was to the perimeter fence and back. We saw Rhinoceros Hornbills, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Crested Serpent Eagle, Wallace’s Hawk Eagle and smaller birds at a distance.

A male Rhinoceros Hornbill
A female Rhinoceros Hornbill

After lunch our guide suggested another round of birding which we gladly approved. It was a ‘right’ decision as it produced two Lifers in a Purple-naped Spiderhunter and a Black-crowned Pitta.  The final night yielded 3 Common Palm Civets, 2 pairs of Red Giant Flying Squirrels and a Buffy Fish Owl.

Buffy Fish Owl

All in all, the trip was a resounding success. A Tabina-cle indeed! (Eds: to mean a tabernacle). Everyone was in high spirits and enjoyed the long scenic drive to Kota Kinabalu, with a question in our lips – where and when is the next adventure in Sabah!

Henry Goh is the Vice Chairman of BirdLife International for Southeast Asia.

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