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Maliau Basin Conservation Area

17th March, 2017

Story by RMM

Known as Sabah’s Lost World, the Maliau Basin Conservation Area (MBCA) is a huge bowl of pristine forests described as one of the few remaining relatively untouched wilderness areas in the world.

Bounded by a formidable escarpment reaching over 1,675m above sea level, the almost circular Basin encompasses 390 km² of pristine forest. It is a virtually self-contained ecosystem, never permanently inhabited and with large areas still remaining to be explored and documented. The whole Basin is a single huge water catchment, drained by only one river, the Maliau River, which flows out through a gorge in the southeast of the Basin.

Recognizing the uniqueness of the area, in 1981 Yayasan Sabah voluntarily designated MBCA. This is to support the purpose of research, education and training, along with Danum Valley Conservation Area.

In 1997, the Sabah state government upgraded the MBCA to a Class 1 Protection Forest Reserve, providing legal status as a protected area. This is extended to its present size of 588.4 km² and includes forested land to the east and north of the Basin. Buffer zones surrounding the whole conservation area also add to its protection.

Maliau Basin forms an almost circular amphitheatre, about 25kms across, sharply defined on all sides by cliffs or steep slopes up to almost 1600m high. About 14 to 15 million years ago, area where the Basin now lies was under the sea part of a much larger river delta. With passing of time layer after layer of slit, sand and mud were laid down in the slowly sinking delta, to harden into the beds of siltstone, sandstone and mudstone weathered much more quickly than the harder sandstone snd siltstones, forming narrow, steep-sided valleys with curtaining waterfalls.

MBCA contains an unusual assemblage of forest types, comprising mainly of lower montane forest dominated by majestic Agathis trees, rare montane heath forest and lowland and hill dipterocarp forest. The flora are distinct and diverse with at least eight species of pitcher plant and several orchid species have been recorded here for the first time in Sabah, including the striking necklace orchid Coelogyne odoardi, endemic to Borneo. Maliau may be one of only two remaining sites of the rare Rafflesia tengku-adlinii, first discovered here in 1988.

This area has become a global hot spot for the conservation of bird biodiversity. With over 290 species such as the Bornean Bristlehead, Blue-headed Pitta, Black-headed Pitta and Banded Pitta, Peregrine Falcon and Bulwer’s Pheasant, have been recorded here and the surrounding buffer zones, of which an astonishing 26% are listed as threatened or near-threatened by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

Over 80 mammal species have so far been recorded in Maliau and its adjacent area, including some of Sabah’s rarest mammals such as the Sumatran rhinoceros, clouded leopard, Malayan sunbear and proboscis monkey. The surrounding forest is also refuge to the endangered Banteng and Borneo pygmy elephants.

Other mammals that have been found here include the red barking deer, Bornean yellow Barking deer, Sambar deer and Bearded pig. Small mammals include primates (Red-leaf monkeys, Grey-leaf monkeys, Bornean Gibbons, Pig-tail macaques, Long-tail macaque), civets, rats, shrews, porcupines, pygmy squirrel, pangolin, etc.) Field investigation has shown that Maliau Basin may house the highest number of spectacular waterfall per unit area in Malaysia and perhaps in the world. One of Maliau Basin’s well-known waterfalls is the magnificient 7-tier Maliau Falls. Other waterfalls, not less spectacular are the Takob-Akob Waterfall, Giluk Waterfall and Ginseng Waterfall.

Another attraction here is also Lake Linumunsut, which is set in the lush lowland dipterocarp forest just outside the northern rim of the Basin. It is Sabah’s only true lake – the others are oxbow formations found in floodplains of larger rivers. The Lake has a special cultural significance to the indigenous people who live nearby; a local native Murut legend tells of a dragon that lives in the lake and holds back the water with its massive tail.

A number of basic accommodation facilities in the form of research stations (Agathis, Nepenthes, Ginseng, Seraya, Lobah, Eucalyptus, Strike Ridge), ranging from basic camping areas to well-equipped permanent structures are available in and on the periphery of MBCA. The Stations are located along a series of trails.

Visitors to MBCA are welcomed, but access is strictly controlled and permission to enter must be obtained in advance from Yayasan Sabah. Activities that can be done here include jungle trekking, birdwatching, night walks, night drives for noctural wildlife spotting, swimming and nature photography.

For more information, please call Yayasan Sabah Group at +6 088 326300 Ext. 6314, fax to +6 088 326316/326315, email yscemd@gmail.com/maliaubasin@gmail.com or visit http://maliaubasin.org.

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