Sabah, Borneo: Mammals

Borneo hosts some of the most beautiful, secretive and strange mammals in the world. From the elusive cats to the dog-like civets, many a mammal hides in the dense vegetation of the Bornean rainforest. Excluding the primates, many of the mammals are very difficult to see, being either rare, nocturnal or well camouflaged. Below is our mammal list from our Sabah trip, not including primates:

Malay Civet, Small-toothed Palm Civet, Masked Palm Civet, Asian Palm Civet, Bearded Pig, Borneo Pygmy Elephant and Plain Pygmy Squirrel. Plus Clouded Leopard prints and a glimpse of a Leopard Cat.

You may notice that half of the confirmed list above are civets. And all of these civets were spotted in just one night. It was our first night in the Danum Valley, and we had a night drive booked for 8:30pm. We were in an open lorry, with a guide with a flashlight stood with us to look for eyeshine and therefore the animals. An hour or so later when we returned, we had seen a lot of nocturnal animals. The three civet species we saw on the drive were Small-toothed Palm Civet, Masked Palm Civet and Malay Civet. We had great views of the Masked Palm and Malay Civets, with the Masked Palm feeding beside the track, and the Malay being sat on a tree root right next to the track. This just goes to show how diverse the Danum Valley is.

All four civet species are omnivores, eating a variety of food, from birds and rats, to fruits such as rambutan and mango. They’re quite strange looking animals, which have a cat-like body, but with a long head and snout. It was fantastic to see so many. The Danum Valley must be one of the best places to see various civet species in the wild.

Borneo is also home to many cat species, but due to thick vegetation in the rainforest and their camouflaged coats, they are very difficult to see. Quite a few of the species are nocturnal, and the ones that aren’t are still very secretive and tend to stay in thick cover. Borneo is home to possibly the least-known cat in the world: the Borneo Bay Cat. Almost nothing is known about their behaviour, ecology or habits. They’re classified as rare, but only because they seem to occur in low density.

In the Danum Valley, we had been told that a group had come across a Sunda or Borneo Clouded Leopard just a couple of weeks before our visit. Despite this, we new our chances were very slim and we didn’t see a Sunda Clouded Leopard but we did come close. We were crossing a river, when we came across a set of large paw prints running along the bank. Clouded Leopard paw prints! They were very fresh, probably after the rains we had had the same morning. It was very exciting to know that we had seen the marks left behind by such an impressive animal.

Clouded Leopard Paw Prints

 We also glimpsed another of Borneo’s cat species. On our night drive, after seeing three civet species, we though it couldn’t get any better. But suddenly the engine stopped and the flashlight turned to the side of the track. There we saw a flash of a furry, spotty tail and body. A glimpse of a Leopard Cat. It jumped away from the side of the track very quickly after the flashlight had focused on it, but it was a decent, if quick, view of one of Borneo’s wild cats.

Both of the above species are carnivorous. The Leopard Cat usually eats smaller prey, such as rodents, lizards, amphibians and insects. Little is known about the diet and habits of the Sunda Clouded Leopard. This is mainly because of how secretive they are, so studying them is difficult.

The next mammal is much bigger than all the mammals I have focused on so far. The Borneo Pygmy Elephant. These elephants are classified as endangered, mainly due to habitat loss and fragmentation, but we came across a small herd of these elephants feeding on the shores of the Kinabatangan River just as it was getting dark. The Kinabatangan River is one of the best places in Borneo to see Pygmy Elephants, as they regularly come right down the grass covered banks to relax, wash and eat. Another fantastic mammal species to add to the list, and a new one for me.

Borneo Pygmy Elephants

 Borneo’s rainforests hold many mysterious mammal species, many of which are very elusive and are perfectly adapted to live in the dense vegetation. We have only seen a portion of the mammals hiding in Borneo, but the ones we have seen have been a real treat.

I apologise for the lack of photos on this post, but many of these species were nocturnal or were only glimpsed, making getting pictures quite difficult.


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