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National Park

How the Bornean rhinoceros was hunted to extinction in Sarawak

In the beginning of 20th century, the Bornean rhinoceros was common in Sarawak.

Also known as the Eastern Sumatran rhinoceros or Eastern hairy rhinoceros, it was one of the three subspecies of Sumatran rhinoceros.

Its subspecies name (Dicerohinus sumatrensis harrissoni) was named after British anthropologist and Sarawak museum curator Tom Harrisson.

Compared to other Sumatran rhinos, the Bornean rhinoceros has the darkest skin and the fur on its calves is much denser.

Unlike the other two subspecies, the Bornean rhinoceros is markedly smaller and its head size also relatively smaller.

Rhinoceros in Borneo during prehistoric times

When sea levels fell during the Late Miocene period, between five and seven million years ago, Sundaland probably stood above the sea once again.

These mammals included primitive rhinoceroses, elephants, and monkeys. In detail, these forests may have looked somewhat different from the forests we see today.

According to Hans P. Hazebroek and Abang Kashim Abang Morshidi in National Parks of Sarawak, many animals that were widespread across the Asian continent may have reached Borneo at this time.

When the sea level rose during the early Pliocene Epoch, Borneo turned into a huge island again. So the mammals that reached Borneo stayed here and continued to evolve in isolation.

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The primitive rhinoceros most probably came to Borneo five to seven million years ago.
Edward Banks’ account on rhinoceros hunting in Sarawak during the 1930s

While the primitive rhinoceroses survived their journey into Borneo, most of their descendants did not survive long enough on this island.

Over the past century, this animal was highly threatened by hunting, poaching for their horn and habitat loss.

Even during the 1930s, Sarawak Museum Curator Edward Banks described how the rhinoceros population in Sarawak had been greatly reduced.

In an article published on The Sarawak Gazette on Aug 2, 1937, he wrote, “Fifty years ago anyone who shot a rhino was rather disappointed; he couldn’t eat it all, it was too far to carry home, and the most that could be obtained from it was an occasional sword hilt made from the horn; these can still be obtained at a fabulous price.”

According to Banks, a rhino in the 1930s may fetch anything up to $300-$400. He pointed out, “Its horn being the most useful part but the blood and flesh also fetch a price, solely on account of the supposed aphrodisiac properties appreciated by the Chinese.”

Banks also highlighted areas in Sarawak that had high number of rhinoceros populations included Ulu Rejang, Ulu Baram and Ulu Trusan.

“There are almost none now and in fact after a prolonged visit to the Ulu Trusan into a once populous rhino country, I saw only once a trace made about three years ago and nothing else under five years ago,” Banks wrote in 1937.

He continued, “A once populous rhino district has been wiped out by the Dayaks and one can only feel that it is a good thing that no rhinos have strayed in during the last five years and attempted to repopulate the district as they would have assuredly gone too.”

Hunting Bornean rhinoceros

The museum curator also commented on how different ethnics hunted these rhinoceros. The Punan was “an uncontrollable curse until he had finished all the rhinos”. Meanwhile, the Kayans and Kenyahs “were, as usual, reasonable, shared their beasts out among themselves, and made them last, until they finally took up a little over the garden wall poaching.”

Nonetheless, the ones that brought more harm to the rhinos were the wandering bands of professional Dayak hunters.

Banks described them to be really persistent, stating “..(they) stay on the beast’s tracks from fifteen to twenty days until they catch it up.”

Even during the 1930s, there were no bands of hunters because there were no more rhinos.

Back then there were only few individuals on Mulu, Murud, Laiun and Tibang mountains. If there were odd ones that showed up in Baram and Trusan, there were the strays coming over from the Kalimantan side.

Hazebroek and Abang Kashim also pointed out, “It is reputed that the last rhinoceros in Mulu was hunted and killed just before the Second World War. Once these magnificent animals must have been quite common in Mulu. As indicated by Berawan guides, large pools on some ridges of Gunung Mulu presumably represent their wallows.”

Sarawak’s last rhinoceros is at Pulong Tau?

Pulong Tau is an area flanks the Bario highlands. It straddles part of the headwaters of the Baram, Tutoh and Limbang rivers.

In 1986, the National Parks and Wildlife Office staff sighted rhinoceros tracks and wallows in the area.

Then in 1997, they disovered rhinoceros tracks again but there were no sightings of the animals.

Regardless, the Malaysian government declared the Bornean rhinoceros to be extinct in the wild in Malaysian Borneo.

In March 2016, however, a young female rhino was captured on the other side of Sarawak border in East Kalimantan. Hence, this gives us hope that they still exist in the wild.

Is it fair to say that Sarawakians were the ones who drove the rhinoceros into extinction in our own backyard? We believe so.

In Banks’ own words, “It is not too much to say that the rhino has been immolated to provide the Chinese with babies, the Dayak hunters with patent leather shoes and their girlfriends with silk umbrellas.”

Animals that have gone extinct from Niah Cave, Miri

While 40,000-year-old human remains and rock art might be the highlights of Niah’s archaeological site, many tend to overlook the cave’s prehistoric fauna.

When archaeologists dug up the site, they found more than just pottery. They also found bones attributed to remains of food as well as charcoal from the fires they used to prepare the food.

Based on findings by Tom Harrisson, Dirk Albert Hooijer, Lord Medway (now the 5th Earl of Cranbrook) and Gustav Heinrich Ralph von Koeningswald, they found bones of animals that no longer exist.

Here the animals that have gone extinct from Niah Cave:
1.Tapir (Tapirus indicus)

The tapir has not only gone extinct in Niah Cave but from the whole of Borneo island.

A compilation of specimens from cave excavations in both Sabah and Sarawak reported that Malay tapirs once occurred in northern Borneo. They were roaming around this part of the island from the late Upper Pleistocene, ca. 45,000 years ago through Holocene to near recent dates.

The reasons that they are no longer found here are due to climate change during the post-Pleistocene era, together with restoration of the humid tropical rainforest environment which would have reduced the extent of available habitat favourable to the species.

According to research, it is possible that the final disappearance of the tapir from the island was a recent phenomenon, perhaps occurring over the last 500 years.

Now, they are found mostly throughout the tropical lowland rainforest of Southeast Asia, including Peninsular Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.

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2. Asian giant pangolin (Manis paleojavanica)

Recently, pangolins have made headlines for being the most trafficked mammal. Sadly, their ancestor species were most probably extinct due to humans too. The giant pangolin was 2.5 times the size of the Sunda pangolin.

Lord Medway excavated bones of the Asian giant pangolin at the Niah Cave and then Hooijer identified it in 1960.

They found that it was similar to the extinct giant pangolin in Java island.

Furthermore, carbon dating suggests that the Niah bones are about 42,000 -47,000 years old. This coincides with the presence of humans in Borneo.

Researchers believed this was the first Borneo mammal to become extinct after the arrival of humans.

Species that are extinct from Niah Cave, but not from Borneo

Apart from these, archaeologists have also found bones of other animals which no longer can be found in Niah Cave. But they can still be found in other parts of Borneo.

These include the bearded pig (Sus sp.), orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), banteng (Bos Javanicus) and clouded leopard (Felis nebulosa).

The oldest orangutan teeth found in Niah Cave are larger than those of the biggest animals living today. These animals were possibly larger…but it is possible that maybe it was only their teeth that were larger.

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Seduku the Orangutan enjoying her banana while hanging from a tree at Semenggoh Nature Reserve.

Meanwhile, it is undetermined if the bearded pig we have today is the same species as its ancestors.

Just like the orangutan, the bones and teeth of the prehistoric pig are very much larger than the present-day Borneo bearded pigs.

In National Parks of Sarawak, Hans P. Hazebroek and Abang Kashim Abang Morshidi suggested the smaller body size of the animals is a trend during the latest stage of evolution of the Bornean fauna.

“This trend is possibly related to changes in the environment, from the more seasonal forests of the Pleistocene to today’s rainforests.”

However looking at the extinction of the tapir in Borneo and its presence in other regions, as well as the complete extinction of Asian giant pangolin, there might be unknown factors also influencing this stage of evolution.

What you need to know about Borneo’s only two macaque species

Unlike other primate species such as the orangutan or proboscis monkey known worldwide due to their endangered status, Borneo’s macaque species are infamously known as pests.

Despite their status as pests, surprisingly, there are only two macaque species residing in Borneo.

Check out what makes these two species of macaques unique primates to share the island of Borneo with:
1.Long-tailed macaque (Macaca fascicularis)
Long-tailed macaque.

This primate is native to Southeast Asia. Although they are named the crab-eating macaque, they don’t live entirely on crabs for their diet. They are opportunistic omnivores.

According to Junaidi Payne and Charles M. Francis in A Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo, a group of long-tailed macaques can often be detected by their calls. The most common call is being ‘krra!’ which might explain why it is called “kera” in Malay.

Fruits and seeds make up to 90% of their food intake. However, they also prey on insects, frog’s eggs, and small birds.

They are commonly found at the beach, mangrove areas and along the river. With more humans encroaching on their habitat, these mammals have become more adaptable, taking advantage of our facilities.

Some long-tailed macaques take food from garbage cans and even have no qualms stealing food from people.

With their opposable thumbs, they know how to open food containers or simply grab your food.

They often travel in groups of 20 to 30 but only part of the group can be seen at one time. Individual macaques tend to be less noisy than langurs when travelling through the tree canopy but groups are more noisy.

Sometimes you can even spot them running in a group at coastal beach such as at Bako National Park and Similajau National Park.

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A group of long-tailed macaques seen scavenging from a dumpster at Sarawak Cultural Village.
2. Pig-tailed macaque (Macaca nemestrina)
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The Macaca nemestrina at Sepilok, Sabah, Malaysia. Photo credit: Hectonichus [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

Do you know that this is the only primate which often descends to the ground to flee from man?

In Peninsular Malaysia and Thailand, however, these pig-tailed macaques are trained to pick coconuts by their handlers.

They are distinctively known for their short tails, which look like pig tails. These primates are typically found in the jungle, and with increasing agriculture and human activities, plantations. Also known as Sundaland pig-tailed macaques, they feed on fruits, seeds, berries, fungi and small invertebrates.

Ecologically, scientists discovered that they play an important role as seed dispersers of rattan.

If you are not familiar with them, you might know them as ‘beruk’.

Get to know two species of gibbons found in Borneo

The Borneo orangutan is the only great ape found in Asia. Here in Borneo, it shares the rainforest with 12 other primate species including two gibbon species.

Although they more closely resemble monkeys, gibbons are actually called smaller or lesser apes, and like all apes, gibbons lack tails.

Compared to great apes, gibbons are small, exhibit low sexual dimorphism (meaning there’s not much difference in size or appearance between male and female) and do not make nests.

They are also known to be the fastest and most agile of all tree-dwelling, nonflying mammals.

Here are the basic things you need to know about the two gibbon species that can be found in Borneo:
1.Bornean white-bearded gibbon (Hylobates albibarbis)

It is also known as the Bornean agile gibbon or southern gibbon. Before this, it was considered as a subspecies of the agile gibbon (Hylobates agilis). However, based on DNA research it is classified as a completely different species.

They are commonly seen with grey or dark brown fur, a black face and white beard.

According to Borneo Nature Foundation, gibbons are harder to study than orangutans because they travel very quickly through the forest canopy and are difficult to habituate.

It is crucial to study more about this particular species of gibbon since it is an endangered animal.

Additionally, it is endemic only to southern part of Borneo, between the Kapuas and Barito rivers.

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Kapuas river in Kalimantan.

Additionally, the Bornean white-bearded gibbon is endemic only to southern part of Borneo, between the Kapuas and Barito rivers.

Sixty-five percent of their diet comprises fruit, while 23% is made up of leaves and insects.

They rely heavily on dense and tall forest areas for safety and travelling. Hence, logging and mining are huge threats to their survival.

Gibbon Behaviour Project by Borneo Nature Foundation is the only project in the world dedicated to the long term study of Bornean white-bearded gibbon.

They found out that the 2015 huge forest fires in Central Kalimantan had a long term impact of the gibbon population even two years after the incident.

After a large part of the forest habitat was lost to fire, the gibbons had to fit into a smaller space and forced to compete for more food and other resources.

Just like humans during home intrusions, some of these gibbons were moving to a new area after the fire and raising conflicts with other groups.

2.Mueller’s gibbon or Bornean gibbon (Hylobates muelleri)
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Hylobates muelleri is one of the gibbon species that can be found in Borneo.

According to A Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo by Junaidi Payne and Charles. M Francis, Hylobates muelleri is basically grey-brown but with a wide range in coat colour and pattern.

It is endemic to the island of Borneo and can be found in the northern and eastern part of the island.

In Indonesia, they are distributed in a number of protected areas including Betung Kerihun National Park, Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park, Kayan Mentarang National Park, Kutai National Park, Sungai Wain Protection Forest and Tanjung Puting National Park.

Meanwhile in Malaysia, Hylobates muelleri occurs in Pulong Tau National Park, Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary and Semenggoh Nature Reserve.

How do you spot this mammal in the forest? Payne and Francis stated that they are most often detected by the loud, bubbling call of the adult female, heard during the first hours of daylight and carrying for a distance of over 2km under suitable conditions.

Their diets are mainly made up of fresh, ripe fruits, young leaves and small insects.

They are social animals, just like all primates. Plus, all gibbons are strongly territorial. Mueller’s gibbons usually can be found in small groups consisting of one adult male, one adult female and one to three young.

Each group defends a territory of 20-30 hectare. So, it is sad and depressing to see them after being rescued in a small, confined cage such as in Matang Wildlife Centre.

They wouldn’t be there in the first place if it weren’t for irresponsible human acts like keeping them as pets or wildlife trafficking.

Getting close to endangered animals at Matang Wildlife Centre

If you want to take a closer look at some of the endangered wildlife in Sarawak, make a pit stop at Matang Wildlife Centre.

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Welcome to Matang Wildlife Centre!

Located about 40 minutes’ drive from Kuching, the centre houses threatened wildlife in large enclosed areas of rainforest or spacious cages.

Here you can see crocodiles, sun bears, bearcats (binturong), gibbons, porcupines, civets, tortoises and orangutan.

There are several kinds of birds as well such as oriental-pied hornbill, black hornbill, imperial pigeon, hill myna, wrinkled hornbill, bushy crested hornbill and Buffy fish owl.

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Take your time and enjoy your 40-minute walk through the Animal Enclosure Trail
Matang Wildlife Centre is not a zoo

The Animal Enclosure Trail is where it takes visitors past the animals enclosures for an opportunity to see the resident animals there.

The trail takes about 40 minutes to finish but visitors can always take their time to observe the behaviour of each species.

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The enclosure for crocodile and gharial.

Although the centre is not a zoo but rather, a dedicated centre where endangered species are rehabilitated, one cannot help but feel sad to see the animals out of their natural habitats.

Most of the animals have been confiscated from members of the public who kept them illegally as pets. At Matang Wildlife Centre, they must be rehabilitated and trained on how to fend for themselves before being released into the wild.

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Can you spot some of the animals in the photo?

How long do these animals need to be rehabilitated? The length of time can vary depending on the species.

Visitors can see that some of the different animal enclosures have been designed to closely resemble their natural habitats in the wild.

The enclosure for sun bears, for example, has a lot of trees. Plus, their food is placed high up in those trees to encourage the bears to use their climbing skills.

Some of the animals such as binturong and porcupine are nocturnal, so visitors might not be able to see them during the day.

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Somewhere in one of these burrows, there is a porcupine sleeping.

It was good to see some of the local visitors bringing along their young children to visit Matang Wildlife Centre.

Hopefully the future generations of Sarawakians will be more proactive in protecting the state’s endangered animals.

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The animal enclosure trail is perfect for family to bring their young children to learn more about the wildlife.

Part of Kubah National Park, you can also do a jungle trek at Matang Wildlife Centre. There is the Pitcher Trail (about two hours), Sungai Trail (about three to four hours), Sungai Senduk trail (about one hour) and Sungai Buluh trail (about two hours).

Unfortunately, all the the trails were closed temporarily during KajoMag’s visit.

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Sambar deers in enclosures.
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Oriental-pied hornbill.
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A gibbon sucking its thumb.
Read more about other national parks here:

Five things you can enjoy at Similajau National Park

Five reasons to visit Danau Sentarum National Park, Indonesia

What to do in Gunung Gading National Park, Lundu?

3 easy trails in Bako National Park you must visit

Six nature attractions near Kuching City, Sarawak

3 trails in Similajau National Park you must visit

The nearest national park to the energy town of Sarawak, Bintulu, is Similajau National Park.

Widely known by its official name, ‘Similajau’ in the early days of the park’s establishment, locals preferred to call it ‘Likau’ after the biggest river flowing through the area.

The national park is more than just unperturbed coastlines. It has jungle trails for visitors to explore and enjoy the park’s diverse biodiversity.

According to Sarawak Forestry website, the park is home to 185 species of birds as well as 24 species of mammals including Borneo bearded pigs and macaques.

There is only one main trail at the park where one has to cross Sungai Likau via suspension bridge to start.

From there, the trail eventually breaks into eight different routes.

With eight trails to choose from, first-time visitors might not know which trail to take.

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Are you wondering which trail to take?
Here are KajoMag’s top 3 trails in Similajau National Park you must take at least once:
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Sungai Likau.
1.View Point trail

Imagine looking over South China Sea at the mouth of Sungai Likau. The View Point trail is about 1.3km long and takes about 40 minutes one-way.

A shelter sitting on top of a small rocky headland at the mouth of Sungai Likau will greet you at the end of this trail.

It is a fairly easy hike passing though few small streams.

2.Turtle Beach trails I and II
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The orange-coloured Turtle Beach II.

There are two turtle beaches and they are only about one kilometer apart. It takes about 3 hours and 15 minutes to reach Turtle Beach I and another 25 minutes to reach Turtle Beach II.

The whole stretch of Turtle Beaches I and II are about 3km long. So if you have extra time, you can slowly explore both beaches.

Speaking of time, after reaching Turtle Beach II, if you still have the time and stamina, continue to hike another 1 hour and 20 minutes to reach Golden Beach.

It is a very long walk but you can make the trip in a day as a long as you start early. Those who have visited the Golden Beach have raved about its beauty as the coastline is lined with scenic cliffs.

Both Golden and Turtle Beaches have similar golden-coloured sand. The sand consists mainly of large, well-rounded quartz grains that have an orange tint due to their high iron content.

Hans P. Hazebroek and Abang Kashim Abang Morshidi wrote in National Parks of Sarawak that the sand is derived from the Nyalau Formation sandstone that forms the coastal cliffs and inland river beds.

“Erosion by breaking waves and flowing breaks the sandstone down into its constituent mineral grains. Sea currents, which flow parallel to the coast, continuously distribute and redistribute the ebach sands.”

That explain why the sand at these beaches stays golden in color.

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Countinue ahead to Turtle Beaches I and II as well Golden Beach.

3.Batu Anchau
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The trail leads to Batu Anchau.

While the rest of the trails at Similajau National Park can be finished without any climbing, the Batu Anchau trail requires a little bit of climbing.

Hence, the trail is for those who are fit as the trail has several fairly steep sections. According to Hazebroek and Abang Kashim, this is a good route for those interested in watching forest birds. And you may see long-tailed macaques and gibbons along the way as well.

Tips and tricks

No matter which trail you are planing to take, the best is to start early. Wear light clothing to protect you against the tropical heat.

All these trails can be muddy after rain so wear shoes which come with strong grip. Additionally, do not forget your sunscreen and insect repellents.

5 things you can enjoy at Similajau National Park, Bintulu

Situated about 30km from Bintulu town, Similajau National Park covers a total area of 22,230 acres.

The park was gazetted in 1978 and opened to public in 1995.

Here are 5 interesting things about Similajau National Park:
Similajau National Park
Pay your entrance fee at this office before going into the park.
1.It is place where you can hike to the sound of waves crashing

There are about eight trails catering for visitors of all ages at Similajau National Park. The plank walk and education trail take about 15 and 20 minutes respectively. Thus making them suitable for young children.

Then, they have Circular Trail (1.7km), View Point Trail (1.3km), Batu Anchau (1.8km), Turtle Beach I Trail (6.5km), Turtle Beach II Trail (7.6km) and Golden Beach Trail (10km).

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Choose your trail!

One tip for if you choose the Golden Beach Trail: start early and pack up some strength and endurance. Although you can make a round trip in one day, it is a very long walk.

Most of the trails go along the coast of Similajau. So you can imagine hiking these routes while listening to the waves crashing.

Additionally, the trails are mostly flat with little climbing required.

Apart from that, you can also soothe your soul with the sounds of insects and maybe some Bornean bearded pigs walking or champing their food.

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Hike along the South China Sea!
2.The sand is gold in colour!

Golden Beach got its name thanks to its gold-coloured sand. This type of sand can also be found at Turtle I and Turtle II beaches.

Hanz P. Hazebroek and Abang Kashim Abang Morshidi wrote in National Park of Sarawak that the parent rocks along the coast of the park include sandstone as well as mudstone.

“The resultant soils are red-yellow podzolic soils, composed of varying proportions of clay and sand with a few centimetres of decomposing plant remains on top. The yellow-orange colours are due to insoluble iron oxides.”

Putting geology and chemical composition aside, the golden-coloured beach offers the perfect Insta-background.

But we warn you! Unlike white sandy beaches which feel smooth between your toes, these golden sands are rough and harsh. So don’t even think about walking on the beach bare-footed.

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The yellow-orange sand of Turtle Beach II.
3. There is a whale skeleton to greet you at the front office

Right outside of Similajau NP’s front office, there is a whale skeleton to greet you.

The story of this whale goes back to Dec 11, 2015 when it was first found stranded at Tanjung Batu Beach around 7pm.

Sarawak Forestry Corporation staff from Similajau NP, Malaysia LNG (MLNG) volunteers, Bintulu Fire Department and Civil Defense Department successfully released it back to the sea two hours later.

However, the animal was found dead at the same beach the next morning.

Identified as Cuvier’s Beaked Whale (Ziphius cavirostris), the carcass measuring 5.7m long was then transferred to Similajau National Park.

It is the first complete assembled skeleton of Cuvier’s Beaked Whale recorded in Sarawak and the second one in Malaysia.

The other one is on display at Universiti Malaysia Sabah’s Borneo Marine Research Institute aquarium.

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Say hi to whale skeleton before you head out to your journey!
4.It has a turtle hatchery

Three species of turtles have recorded landings at Similajau National Park; green turtle, leatherback turtle and hawksbill turtle.

They come from March to September annually. To protect their eggs, a turtle hatchery has been introduced to the park.

The staff usually dig their eggs from the beach and transplant them into the turtle hatchery. Then once the eggs are hatched, the hatchlings are released into the sea.

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A glimpse into the turtle hatchery.
5.Similajau National Park has the Sea Turtles and Reef Ball Project

Speaking of turtles, these marine reptiles were absent for five years from Similajau since July 2010.

Then, they came back again in 2015 to lay their eggs. One of the strong reasons why they came back was due to the Sea Turtles and Reef Ball Project.

From 2013 to 2016, a total of 1,500 artificial reef balls were deployed off the coast of Similajau National Park.

This was to create habitat for marine life as well as to improve the livelihood of the local community.

In addition to that, Sarawak Forestry Corporation stated that the presence of the reef balls in the waters of Similajau National Park have greatly reduced trawling activities close to the park, thus providing protection and encouraging the return of turtles to the beaches of Similajau.

If you are feeling generous, you can adopt a reef ball through the Reef Ball Adoption Program. The funds are used to buy and deploy these artificial reefs at Similajau National Park.

Your generosity might bring more turtles to the beach to lay their eggs!

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This is how a reef ball looks like.