This article was originally published on Freme’s UK tourism website.
One of the main attractions of Borneo is the wildlife. Among the lush and pristine wilderness you can find hundreds of species of birds, mammals, reptiles and insects, many of which are endangered or unique to Brunei.
Of course, what makes wildlife both exciting and frustrating is that you can never guarantee which animals you’ll see. But when they do emerge from their shady refuge, and you spot something no one else has seen, they can make your trip even more special.
Simply put, they make sure that no one tour is the same.
Here’s a taster of who you might spot when they’re not hiding from the heat of the day:
Scientific name: Nasalis larvatus
Otherwise known as: Long-nosed monkey
IUCN Red List: Endangered
Believe it or not, the males’ enormous fleshy noses both impress females and help their calls to resonate and scare off rivals. You wouldn’t think it to look at them, but proboscis monkeys are also known for their webbed feet and are excellent swimmers. They certainly need to be to escape crocodiles! Fortunately, proboscis monkeys spend most of their time in the trees in small groups, usually one male and several females, and are rarely seen on the ground. They are protected in Brunei, which supports one population, but there are fewer than 1,000 left in the world due to hunting and deforestation.
Fun fact: Unlike the reddy-pink faces of the adults, the babies’ faces are blue.
How to spot them: Look for their ginger heads and listen out for the sharp, crow-like cawing of their alarm call.
Best chance of sighting: Early morning or dusk among the mangroves is best, so any of our tours which pass through them: The Best of Temburong; Temburong Highlights;Temburong Experience; Temburong Adventure; Brunei Nature (Mangrove River Safari Tour)
Scientific name: Macaca fascicularis
Otherwise known as: Crab-eating macaque, cynomolgus monkey
IUCN Red List: Least concern
You’ll more than likely see these cheeky primates before you take our tours! Chattery macaques have even been known to cause havoc among rush-hour traffic and in the local markets. It goes without saying that they can thrive in a range of habitats, but mostly in mangroves and forests, where they eat fruit and fish for crabs. They prefer to snuggle and sleep on branches that overhang rivers, so like the proboscis monkey they need to be good swimmers! They live in small groups of one male and several females, and have pinkish-brown faces.
Fun fact: It’s the female macaque which has a “beard”, although both sexes also have cheek whiskers.
How to spot them: Check the tops of trees close to the river and look for their brown backs or grey chests.
Best chance of sighting: Any tours that pass through the mangroves or along the River Temburong: The Best of Temburong; Temburong Highlights; Temburong Experience;Temburong Adventure; Brunei Nature (Mangrove River Safari Tour)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Scientific name: Passer montanus
Otherwise known as: Tree sparrow, Eurasian sparrow, European tree sparrow, German sparrow (US)
IUCN Red List: Least concern
These little birds will give you a taste of home! Tree sparrows are also found in Europe and the US, but are sadly in decline due to farming methods. They flourish here in Southeast Asia, and can be seen foraging for seeds and insects among thick trees and bushes. Unlike their larger house cousins, male and female Eurasian tree sparrows are identical, with white collars, black cheeks, chestnut-brown heads and pinkish legs. They pair for life and nest in tree hollows and other gaps.
Fun fact: During the breeding season, their beaks turn slightly blue!
How to spot them: Listen out for their short, loud chirps. They sometimes forage in groups, so look out for a strange “sideways rain” among the trees.
Best chance of sighting: Along the Canopy Walkway at Ulu Temburong National Park, included in these tours: The Best of Temburong; Temburong Highlights; Temburong Experience;Temburong Adventure; Brunei Nature
Scientific name: Buceros rhinoceros
Otherwise known as: –
IUCN Red List: Near Threatened
Of the 8 species of hornbill in Brunei, the rhinoceros hornbill is the largest and is almost the size of a swan! Its fiery-coloured horn, or “casque”, looks like a clog and contrasts with its curved white beak, black feathers, and white tail with black band. Although the males have a red instead of a white eye-ring, males and females look identical. Hornbills usually eat fruit and insects, but they have been known to take reptiles, rodents and even small birds.
Fun fact: The rhinoceros hornbill is also known as “the chief of the birds” among some of the native Dayak tribes in Brunei.
How to spot them: These hornbills don’t tend to congregate in large numbers, so you may need to watch out for that “fiery clog” among the treetops. Alternatively, listen out for their call, which sounds like a slowed-down chicken cluck. Its casque helps it to resonate more too!
Best chance of sighting: Although hornbills have been spotted in mangrove forests, they prefer hilly forest, and so we recommend any tours that include Ulu Temburong National Park: The Best of Temburong; Temburong Highlights; Temburong Experience; Temburong Adventure; Brunei Nature;
Look out for our up and coming birdwatching tour!
Scientific name: Pyrops karenius
Otherwise known as: Lanternfly, lanthorn bug
IUCN Red List: Unassessed
Despite its name and the fireflies painted on its wings, the beautiful lantern bug only lights the jungle with colour. Its long red and yellow beak, or “rostrum”, was once thought to glow like a lamp, but instead it’s used for feeding on fruit. There are many different types of lantern bug, but they haven’t been studied in depth and so far scientists have mainly classified them by appearance. With the bugs’ exotic wings and heads, who can blame them?
Fun fact: In the 19th century, a lantern bug bite was thought to lethal. Luckily, these little creatures don’t have jaws and prefer the taste of sap.
How to spot them: If you’re squeamish, don’t worry – lantern bugs tend to keep very still, so look out for their flashes of green, red and yellow on the thicker tree trunks, especially around dusk.
Best chance of sighting: Along the Canopy Walkway in Ulu Temburong National Park, included in these tours: The Best of Temburong; Temburong Highlights; Temburong Experience;Temburong Adventure; Brunei Nature;
Scientific name: Eutropis rudis
Otherwise known as: Brown rough mabuya
IUCN Red List: Unassessed
Mabuyas are a type of skink, and unlike many of the other animals on this page, they spend most of their time on the ground rather than in the trees or water, snacking on insects and other invertebrates. The rough mabuya has a dark brown and yellow-lined stripe running from its eye to its hind legs.
Fun fact: When attacked, a skink can shed its tail to escape. Fortunately, it can regrow it, but it might not be as long and as glamorous as the original one.
How to spot them: Mabuyas can move quickly, so look out for tadpole-squiggles of movement across bare rocks and patches of soil.
Scientific name: Crocodylus porosus
Otherwise known as: Estuarine crocodile, “salty”
IUCN Red List: Lower risk
Despite their reputation, saltwater crocs have better things to eat than humans, such as fish, monkeys and birds. Although they can move lightning-fast at close range or when startled, they are quite cumbersome on land, and spend most of their days basking or sitting just below the surface of the water waiting for prey. Crocodiles are abundant in Southeast Asia and Oceania, but their skin is highly prized and illegal poaching is putting pressure on their population. Crocs of up to 100 years old have been documented, and they have even been spotted swimming in open ocean.
Fun fact: A group of crocodiles on land is known as a “bask”, and a “float” if they are in the water.
How to spot them: Crocodiles certainly aren’t shy and may be spotted in “basks” on the banks of the Temburong and in the mangrove channels.
Best chance of sighting: Any tours that pass through the mango channels and along the River Temburong: The Best of Temburong; Temburong Highlights; Temburong Experience;Temburong Adventure; Brunei Nature (Mangrove River Safari Tour)
Bornean Keeled Pit Viper
Scientific name: Tropidolaemus subannulatus
Otherwise known as: North Philippine temple pit viper
IUCN Red List: Least Concern
You may spot the turquoise and cream mosaic of the females or the white-on-green stripes of the males snoozing on low mangrove branches after their latest meal. Like all vipers, the keeled pit viper is venomous, but fortunately it’s quite shy, and only birds or rats need worry! Until 2007 it was classed as a species of Wagler’s pit viper, and is sadly threatened by deforestation and the international pet trade.
Fun fact: The viper’s venom contains a peptide called Waglerin-1, which is used in some wrinkle-remover creams!
How to spot them: Keep your eyes on branches at low-to-mid canopy level, up to about 20 metres (65 feet) off the ground.
…and we’re just getting started. There’s also gibbons, tarsiers, barking geckoes, flying snakes, false gharials, monitor lizards and over 400 species of bird, one of which – the spectacled flowerpecker – has only recently been documented, and Brunei is only the second place in the world where it’s been seen.
But don’t take our word for it. Discover Brunei’s beautiful wildlife for yourself and take home a snapshot of nature as it should be.