Out on the Kinabatangan River with John Bakar

WordsRachel Maria Taylor
PhotographyJody Daunton

Snaking 560 kilometres across east Sabah, from the Kuamut Highlands, through pristine jungles, swamp forests, floodplain wetlands, to finally pour out into the Sulu Sea, the Kinabatangan River is a precious corridor that connects forest remnants along its flanks. The rich yet fragile ecosystem of the Lower Kinabatangan, that has been eaten into over decades of logging, agricultural expansion and oil palm plantations, is now a protected sanctuary revered for its abundant wildlife and unique environments.


John Bakar, our guide, who grew up in an indigenous community within the central region of Sabah, is highly experienced in finding wildlife after being a nature guide for nearly two decades. "When I started working in ecotourism I realised 'wow, this is what I'm supposed to be doing' ". John fell in love with the job; he had found a vocation that balanced his native upbringing with his pragmatic approach, blending a knowledge of local tradition and history with scientific understanding.


Working in ecotourism also provided him with a new perspective on Sabah's wildlife, which is abundant on the Kinabatangan waterways. Here is one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in Borneo, including: proboscis monkey, silvered langur, maroon langur, orangutan, long-tailed macaque, pig-tailed macaque, Bornean gibbon, western tarsier, slow loris, Borneo pygmy elephant, Malay sun bear, clouded leopard, leopard cat, marbled cat, flat-headed cat, civet cat, tortoise, freshwater terrapin, monitor lizard, crocodile, and many bird species, including all eight hornbills found in Borneo.


Over the years John has added many strings to his bow, all of which feed into his love for Borneo's wildlife. On a number of occasions he has represented the state to discuss native wildlife and birdlife; he conducts surveys and consultancy work for the government; he is an inductor at the volunteer program at the Sepilok orangutan sanctuary; and, as an extension of the volunteer program, he has established a forest restoration project on the Kinabatangan River, his favourite place in Sabah.


To read the full article about the Kinabatangan River area, its wildlife, John Bakar and his experiences guiding there, order yourself a copy of Volume Seven from our shop.