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Sabah's The Maliau Basin & Imbak Canyon

The Maliau Basin
Known as “Lost World”, the basin is the greatest treasure in the southern central part of Sabah, one of the few remaining relatively untouched wilderness area on this Earth and site of the 7-tiered Maliau Falls. Two major expeditions in 1988 and 1996 have discovered a diverse and distinct flora including a variety of pitcher plants that flourish on the nutrient-deficient soil of the hearth forest, 37 species of orchid and a dwarf orange-coloured Rafflesia. The Basin supports a considerable variety fauna, more than 80 species of mammals including the rare and endangered Sumatra Rhinoceros, proboscis monkeys, red leaf monkeys and clouded leopard; over 270 species of birds including the exceedingly rare endemic Bulwer's Pheasant and a phenomenal diversity of amphibian and reptiles.

Only about 30% of the 588.4 sq km (58,840 hectares) Maliau Basin Conservation Area had so far been explored. The Maliau Basin Conservation Area encompasses the whole of Maliau Basin itself (390 sq km), plus an additional 198.4 sq km of forested land to the east and north of the rim, including the fabled Lake Linumunsut, formed by a landslide blocking a small tributary of the Pinangah River.



  Flora and Fauna


PhotoCredit: Sabah Tourism Board

The flora
Maliau Basin Conservation Area encompasses a diverse assemblage of forest types, comprising mainly of lower montane forest, rare montane heath forest and lowland and hill dipterocarp forest. Dominated by majestic Agathis trees, the lower montane forest, which also contains oaks, laurels and conifers such as Dacrydium species, grades into mossy cloud forest on the northern rim.

A distinctive feature of the lower montane forest are the many Dipteris ferns, lining the river banks. The water here is tea-coloured and acidic, due to the tannins leaching out of the peaty leaf litter.

The stunted montane heath forest occurs on flatter areas of the Basin on nutrient poor, acidic soils. Ant plants, rhododendrons and pitcher plants are common. Dipterocarp forest is found mostly on the Basin’s outer flanks and in the interior valley bottoms, and is rich in fruit trees.

Over 1800 species of plant have so far been identified, including six species of pitcher plant and at least 80 kinds of orchid, several of which are new records for Sabah. The rare Rafflesia tengku-adlinii has also been found in Maliau Basin, one of only two known localities in Sabah, the other being near Trus Madi.

New plant records for Sabah include:
  • Dacrydium elatum (a Podocarpus tree)
  • Mangifera bullata (a Mango tree and a new record for Borneo)
  • Rafflesia tengku-adlinii (one of only two known localities in Sabah)
  • Nephelaphyllum trapoides (orchid)
  • Bulbophyllum limbatum (orchid)
  • Nepenthes veitchii x stenophylla (pitcher plant hybrid)
  • Nepenthes hirsuta (pitcher plant)

and at least two species new to science, a tree, Polyosmo maliauensis and a moss, Trismegistia maliauensis.

Rafflesia tengku-adlinii   

Nepenthes veitchii   Rhododendron sp.

The fauna
Although much of the terrain remains to be explored, Maliau Basin Conservation Area has already revealed itself to be the home of some of Sabah’s most rare and endangered species, including the Asian Elephant, Orang Utan and Proboscis Monkey.

Bornean pygmy elephant Male Bulwer’s Pheasant Frog at top of pitcher plants


Others among the 82 mammal species so far confirmed include Clouded Leopard and Malayan Sunbear, while on the fringes of the Conservation Area, Banteng (tembadau) and the elusive Bay Cat have been seen.

An impressive list comprising almost 300 bird species has been recorded, including Bulwer’s Pheasant, Giant Pitta, Bathawk, Bornean Bristlehead and eight species of hornbills, together with several rare montane species, others found only on Mount Kinabalu and Trus Madi.

While the acidic waters of Maliau Basin are proving to support relatively few fish species, more than 30 species of amphibian have been found, including a frog which makes its home in pitcher plants!

Species completely new to science that have been discovered in Maliau include a fish, Betta gladiator, a crab, Thelphusula hulu and a water beetle, Neptosternus thiambooni.


Imbak Canyon Conservation Area

Imbak Canyon Conservation Area is located almost right in the heart of Sabah, just north of the famous Maliau Basin. It is in the Yayasan Sabah Forest Management Area, approximately 80 kilometers south of Telupid.

With a total area of about 30,000 hectares, Imbak Canyon Conservation Area encompasses two ridge-top Virgin Jungle Reserves plus the Canyon itself and makes a significant contribution to the coverage of protected areas in the centre of Sabah.

The Canyon is a Class II Commercial Forest Reserve, part of the one million hectare Yayasan Sabah Forest Management Area. In 2003, Yayasan Sabah voluntarily designated Imbak Canyon as a Conservation Area for the purposes of research, education and training, similar to Maliau Basin and Danum Valley Conservation Areas. Only two expeditions have so far been carried out in the area, one in 2000 organised by Sabah Forestry Department and located at the mouth of the Canyon, and the second in 2004, organized by Yayasan Sabah and focusing on the centre of the Canyon.

Spectacular view of the Canyon from the heath forest Early morning mist bathing Imbak Canyon The 30m-wide Imbak Falls

Imbak Canyon Conservation Area encompasses several different types of forest including lowland dipterocarp forest and rare lower montane heath forest, a lower altitude version of the famous ‘kerangas’ of Maliau Basin, with its special magical world of small, slender trees, pitcher plants and orchids.

The dipterocarps kapur and keruing are common in the lower areas, with kapur seedlings particularly abundant.

As a potential site for biotechnological research, Imbak has proved to be a rich source of medicinal plants, with more than 55 different species found during a 2-week Scientific Expedition in the Conservation Area in 2004.

The pitcher plant Nepenthes hirsuta has also been found in the lower montane heath forest, only the second sighting in Sabah, the other being in Maliau Basin.

Although only a small part of the Conservation Area has so far been explored, Imbak Canyon Conservation Area has already revealed itself to be the home of some of Sabah’s most rare and endangered species, including the Malayan Sunbear and Proboscis Monkey, a significant finding during the 2004 expedition.

So far at least 100 bird species have been recorded, including 5 bird species endemic to Borneo: Blue-headed Pitta, White-browed Shama, Black-throated Wren-Babbler, Borneon Blue Flycatcher and Borneon Bristlehead and also one species (Helmeted Hornbill) considered internationally near-threatened according to IUCN’s Red Data Book.

A beautiful Red-bearded Bee-eater from Imbak’s heath forest. The clear, tea-coloured Imbak River Two Malayan Flat-shelled Turtles, green when hatchlings and turning brown when adults, found near Imbak River

Imbak River is slightly tea-coloured, probably due to dissolved tannins, natural chemicals leaching out from the vegetation.
The waters of Imbak Canyon appear to support higher numbers of fish species than Maliau River (16 species to date), and at least 30 species of amphibian and reptiles were found within the 2-week, 2004 Scientific Expedition inside Imbak Canyon Conservation Area.


Jungle Trekking | Wildlife Watching | Photography

Getting There

By road: (Maliau Basin Conservation Area is reachable by road either via Tawau or Keningau, a 4-5 hour journey from both. Four-wheel drive is essential as the latter part of the journey is on logging roads)

Recommended Tour Package :

[F] SABAH NATURAL WONDERS - Maliau Basin, Danum and Kinabatangan