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Malaysia 2014 Part I: Mt. Kinabalu & Crocker Range (Sabah, Borneo)

In the summer of 2014 I went to Malaysia. The trip brought me to beautiful places on Borneo, Pulau Tioman and the Malay Peninsula. The places I have visited on Borneo are: Mount Kinabalu National Park, Crocker Range, Gunung Mulu National Park, Bako National Park, and Kubah National Park. On Pulau Tioman I stayed in the Paya Beach Resort. On the Malay Peninsula we just visited Kuala Lumpur.
I was not alone. I went there with my traveling buddies Jasper Boldingh, Jorg Schagen, Sander Schagen, Bart Misana, and Dieuwertje Smolenaars. We met Daniël Pos and Daphne Melenhorst in our first hostel and they joined us at Mount Kinabalu National Park and Gunung Mulu National Park. I want to thank them all for the good company, finding animals and assisting with some photographs.
The first part of my report will be about Mount Kinabalu National Park and Crocker Range on Borneo.

Mount Kinabalu Nationaal Park

The biggest attraction of this park is the 4095,2 meter high Mount Kinabalu. The slope of this mountain has a very rich plant and animal diversity. We did not visit the top of the mountain. It was very expensive and we probably walk too slow, because we are too busy searching for animals. Even if you are not going to the top there are enough trails left to enjoy. The headquarters are 1500 meter above sea-level and from there you can still climb all the way to the power station. In the park you can see a lot of montane species, but also a lot of species that are only in this park! In total we visited this park three days.

On the first morning we went to the power station and it was still dark, cold (yes on Borneo), and even when it was light it was still dark under the canopy. It was the first time I met the photography conditions of the primary rainforest. The conditions are hard because there is not a lot of light in the shade of the canopy, and when there is light it is very bright. It will be very challenging to make good photos on this trip. On the first morning I did not find any amphibians and reptiles. It was probably too cold and dry. It did not make me very hopeful.

That I just had to be patient was true, because in the afternoon we found the first amphibians and reptiles. That was at lower elevations near the headquarters. During a walk Dieuwertje and I found a skink, but unfortunately too fast for identification and a photo. When we returned we found Kuhl’s Creek Frogs (Limnonectes kuhlii) in a well next to the road and Jasper found a Dwarf Gecko (Hemiphyllodactylus typus). A good start!

The next day Dieuwertje and I walked the same trail and on the way back we unexpectedly saw one of my highlights of the trip. It was a Kinabalu Crested Dragon (Hypsicalotes kinabaluensis) sitting on the fence. I saw this creature when we were at around 2 meter from it. We were lucky that this animal usually moves very slow. I was more impressed with the beauty than actually focussing on making photos. I really enjoyed the moment, which was absolutely a highlight!

When we were driving to Poring Hot Springs (another place in the National Park), to spend the afternoon, a snake crossed the road. Sander and I ran out of the car to get this beauty. It was a Speckle-bellied Keelback Snake (Rhabdophis chrysargos). This is a frog eating snake of the lowlands and midhills. After a photo session he could snake away into the wildernis.  

When entering Poring Hot Springs we already saw Common Ground Skinks (Mabuya multifasciata). After a canopy skywalk we walked the trail to the bat cave. That was a very nice walk with Sabah forest skinks (Sphenomorphus sabanus) and Black-bearded Gliding Lizards (Draco melanopogon) on the way up. Jasper already went into the cave and found besides bats a Cave Racer (Orthriophis taeniurus) hunting them.

When we were next to the bat cave we met an Australian guy. He told us you can visit the park during night time. He went up (further than the bat cave) at 22:00 and he returned in the morning. During his walks he saw some species I really want to see like a Kinabalu Pit-viper and many beautiful tree frogs. He told us that they were easy to spot during the night. If I knew this earlier I would have done it too, but the next day we would already go to Crocker Range (and do it there).

Mount Kinabalu National Park was great, but the jetlag and being unexperienced caused that I have the feeling I could have seen more. I want to go back in the future with the knowledge of today.

Crocker Range (Banjaran Crocker)

Rafflessia rip-off

We visited the Rafflessia Centre. We payed 100 RM to walk with a guide and see a (smaller than at Poring Hot Springs) rafflessia. We hoped that the guide would show us more and see beautiful primary rainforest. In reality we walked next to the road, entered the bushes next to the road, climbed down a bit and the guide pointed at a rafflessia. The guide told us to take our time to make photos and walk a bit and then he left. So we did, but after an hour rangers came looking for us and they were worried. We did not return in time so they started looking for us. We were not supposed to stay there. They looked relieved when we were back. I did not see anything during the walk. Maybe our expectations were too high, but it felt like being ripped-off.

The disappointment

Crocker Range promised a lot of beautiful things similar to Mount Kinabalu. After reading an article by Indraneil Das about the area I was really psyched. There is a lot of primary rainforest containing a lot of montane species. I really wanted to go into the rainforest at night. But the problem is that there are NO trails going through primary rainforest. The trails at Crocker Range are through secondary growth or domestic/disturbed areas. If you want to see primary rainforest, do NOT go to Crocker Range. Good to know that the primary rainforest is a well protected area, but for me as a tourist it was a big deception.

Not everything was bad. During one of the night walks we saw the Dring’s Slender Litter Frog (Leptolalax dringi) and I got my first leech! The Dring’s Slender Litter Frog was really a beauty. The ‘lava-like eyes’ are one of the most beautiful frog-eyes I have ever seen.

List

This list contains amphibians and reptiles that I could identify. Not all of them are on the photos.

Frogs:

  • Dring’s Slender Litter Frog (Leptolalax dringi)
  • Four-lined Tree Frog (Polypedates leucomystax)
  • Kuhl’s Creek Frog (Limnonectes kuhlii)

Lizards:

  • Asian House Gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus)
  • Black-bearded Gliding Lizard (Draco melanopogon)
  • Common Ground Skink (Mabuya multifasciata)
  • Dwarf Gecko (Hemiphyllodactylus typus)
  • Kinabalu Crested Dragon (Hypsicalotes kinabaluensis)
  • Sabah forest skink (Sphenomorphus sabanus)
  • Spotted House Gecko (Gekko monarchus)

Snakes:

  • Cave Racer (Orthriophis taeniurus)     – Jasper only –
  • Sarawak Keelback (Amphiesma sarawacense)

  Part II about Gunung Mulu National Park is online now, and you can find it here.

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© 2017 Nature & Wildlife Photography by Ronald Zimmerman

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