The 560-kilometre Kinabatangan River is Sabah’s longest river, beginning in the Crocker Range in Southwest Sabah and ending at the Sulu Sea southeast of Sandakan. From the headwaters to its vast river mouth, the Kinabatangan passes through a diverse range of habitats, including dipterocarp forest, seasonally flooded riparian forest, oxbow lakes, nipah and mangroves. Whilst the upper reaches of the Kinabatangan River have been extensively logged, much of the lowland forest and mangroves have survived.
This vast floodplain forest contains a rich mix of vegetation that supports a remarkable diversity of wildlife; including proboscis monkeys, orangutan, gibbons, Bornean pygmy elephants, tarsiers, slow loris, macaque monkeys, crocodiles, freshwater sharks, Irrawaddy dolphins, hornbills and a variety of other birds.
In 2005 the Sabah government gazetted the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. This protected area essentially forms a narrow wildlife corridor that follows the river. Whilst the sanctuary now safeguards an area of 27,800 hectares, a range of conservation issues remain. A number of NGOs and researchers are active in the Kinabatangan, contributing to conservation projects and working to better understand the environment.