Borneo – Danum Valley – The forest

First, some hard facts and numbers: The rainforest of Borneo – what’s left of it – is the oldest rainforest on Earth. And there is not much left of it. What you can find around Danum Valley is basically the last remaining piece of primary low-land rainforest in South-East Asia (besides Maliau basin).  The Danum Valley Conservation Area (DVCA) is a 438 sq. km tract of undisturbed forest in Sabah, Malaysia and is surrounded by a buffer zone – the Ulu Segama Forest Reserve. (see: http://www.forest.sabah.gov.my/usm/ ) The surrounding forest, which now serves as a buffer zone, has been logged and re-logged in the last few decades. The excessive timber extraction means that basically all the big, commercially valuable trees have been removed, leaving behind a degraded forest.  But, in 2006, “the Sabah State Government had placed the Ulu Segama – Malua Forest Reserves under its Sustainable Forest Management programme for the conservation and protection of the Orang Utan habitat. Following this move, the State Government put a total ban on logging activities in these two areas beginning end of 2007.” And it seems that things are looking up – there are even more areas being re-classified from Class II (Commercial) to Class I (Protection) Forest Reserves around Danum Valley, increasing the size of protected forests to over 450,000 hectare  – (you can read the details on the blog of dr. Glen Reynolds, the director of Royal Society SEARRP – http://www.searrp.org/category/blog/ )

On a more personal note: so, there are some really, really tall trees. 40, 50, 60 metre tall, with massive trunks or buttresses.  Almost impossible to take a picture that would somehow give it back.

Forest view from the tree platform, Danum Valley Field Center

And the platform itself:

the tree platform at Danum Valley Field Center

Most of the trees belong to the Dipterocarp family (believe me, this is not a word that was part of my vocabulary before, but now I use it shamelessly, just to show off). The type of the forest naturally changes with the elevation.  What is surprising – considering we are at the tropics – that there are very few palm trees around. Lots of lianas, though… The Segama River is a natural border of the primary rain forest.

Early morning fog over the Segama River, Danum Valley Field Center

Segama River, Danum Valley Field Center

One morning we took a car to the observation tower that provides a view over the valley. We had to get up at half past four, but I think the view was definiately worth it.

early morning fog over Danum Valley (from the observation tower)

sunrise over Danum Valley

sunrise over Danum Valley

And the forest is loud. Incredibly noisy. Myriad of cycads buzzing all the time and the result is earsplitting.

sounds of the cicadas at dusk

There was a certain kind of cycad that we used as an alarm-clock – they always started to go off at the same time (around 6.15 p.m) and we knew it was time to start heading back because soon it would get dark.

On the other hand, it might require some patience and luck to see any animals. The popular notion – that the rainforest is “teeming with wildlife” – might play a big role in inflating the expectations that most visitors have. One of them, a French lady, even complained that she spent more than an hour in the forest and “did not see anything”. That, of course, might happen. The orangutans – despite the fact that they are basically huge, orange/brown colored animals – are not as easy to spot as one would expect. The leaf monkeys, the gibbons, the flying squirrels all prefer the upper canopy. The bearded pigs can make their way through the forest almost without any sound.  You might hear the loud whoosing sound of the wings of hornbills – or their hoarse, crow-like croaks – but you probably won’t even get a glimpse of them through the dense canopy. But don’t despair – there is a certain kind of animal that you can find without much difficulty – the leaches.

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4 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Johan Hammar said,

    Hi and thank you for a very nice and informative blog. I have read it very carefully and really appreciate it. Well done.
    Im planning a trip to Borneo and the information you provide is very useful. In the above blog you have a wonderful picture, the fifth from above, from a tower overlooking the valley. I really have to go there when I visit Danum Valley and I wonder if you can provide some more information on how to get there, if it is far from the fieldstation etc. Thank you very much.

  2. 4

    whereeveryougo said,

    oh, sorry, I see now. Yes, for that we took a car – you can organize the tour there to see either the sunset or the sunrise. The other tower that I meant is close to the field station, but you cannot see that far from there (still worth climbing!)


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