For nature lovers who wish to experience wildlife adventure as an alternative to trekking, river cruising is the perfect choice.
In Malaysia, there are many rivers and mangrove areas where wildlife viewing is possible from the water. Riverine and mangrove habitats are home to large amounts of indigenous flora and fauna; and by nature many animals are drawn to water sources for drinking and cooling. Whether for serious exploring or just a leisurely outing, a river cruise is an escape to another world. Glide beneath large overhanging trees with the rustle of animals, the call of birds and look out for creatures below the surface. Be rewarded with scenic hill views or spectacular limestone formations on the way, and end the cruise at a waterside stop for a meal amidst the splendours of nature.
WILDLIFE CRUISING AROUND MALAYSIA
There are navigable rivers in all parts of Malaysia as well as swampy mangroves along much of the coast. The most suitable for wildlife exploration are those with calmer waters where the observer can look out patiently with binoculars and cameras ready. Cruises can be early in the day, mid-evening or night depending on the type of fauna targeted for viewing. ‘Sungai’ is the Malaysian word for river, and among the more established sites for cruising are Sungai Kilim on Langkawi Island where tree crabs, iguanas and macaques are seen among the trees and mangroves. A thrilling highlight is experiencing the eagles that swoop down on the feed thrown into the water. Sungai Selangor, just two hours from Kuala Lumpur is famous for its firefly colonies that flicker together like festival lights. A similar fireflies cruise is found in the Santubong area in Sarawak and Kampung Ibok in Terengganu.
In Sarawak, there are also riverine or coastal cruises outside Kuching to watch the crocodiles along the riverbanks or a little further out of the estuaries to see dolphins. Borneo, with its dense jungles and sparser population, is home to an amazing variety of wildlife. River cruising on the Kinabatangan in Sabah, one of the longest rivers in Borneo offers some of the best opportunities to observe Borneo fauna. Of specific interest is the rich primate family; this is one of only two areas in Asia with 10 primate species. These include those endemic to Borneo such as the proboscis monkey, maroon langur and the Bornean Gibbon. The Sukau river village area is located on the boundary of an important protected area in Sabah, the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. As a protected wetland site in Sabah, Kinabatangan is a conservation area for species such as the Orang Utan, the Borneo elephant and other wetlands animals including Storm’s stork and the flat-headed wild cat.
RIVER CRUISING TIPS
Some river cruise boats have canopies while some don’t in order to afford unobstructed views, especially if you are hiring a local boat on your own. Bring along sun cream or a brimmed hat against the sun for the journey. Binoculars are most handy and zoom cameras will afford the sharpest photos. Insect repellant is useful for evening and night tours. Cruises at estuaries or coasts depend on the tides. For example, crocodiles are easier to see at low tides when the mud banks are exposed. Check with the operator for exact departure times for your preferred cruise. Observing wildlife need patience, a keen eye, common sense, good timing and luck. Monkeys, crocodiles, dolphins, fireflies and so on are wild creatures, therefore sightings are unpredictable. Hiring a knowledgeable guide will increase your chances of seeing what the lesser trained eye might miss, since tropical animals are masters at camouflage. Lastly, river cruises are rarely doe in the heat of mid-day, as it gets too hot for both human and other wildlife!