Malaysia is a remarkable country split into two parts separated by the South China Sea. Peninsular Malaysia borders on Thailand to the north and shares a maritime border with Singapore to the south. East Malaysia is on the island of Borneo and shares a border with both Brunei and Indonesia. Both the peninsular and island locations of the country create unique habitats for some truly fascinating animals. If not planning your own transportation, choose a company such as G Adventures that travels to both the peninsular and the island sections of the country.
Malaysia is home to nearly 20 percent of all animal species and has 210 different species of mammal. The Indochinese tigers in Malaysia have recently been classified as a separate subspecies and are not found anywhere else in the world. They are slightly smaller in size than Indian tigers although other physical characteristics are indistinguishable from their northern cousins.
The leopard has a wide ranging habitat and patrols much of Asia, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. Melanistic leopards, often referred to as black panthers, are more prevalent on the Malay Peninsula. Although melanistic leopards are due to a recessive gene, the striking clouded leopard is its own species and widely considered to be an evolutionary link between the small cats and the big cats. The Sunda subspecies is very rare and restricted to Sumatra and the island of Borneo.
The smallest species of bear, the sun bear is also an inhabitant of the peninsula and prefers tropical rainforests such as those found in Southeast Asia. As their habitat disappears the range of the sun bears is becoming limited and both Peninsular and Borneo Malay are two of the areas where they appear to be less threatened.
The Sumatran rhinoceros is a critically endangered member of the rhinoceros family and is also the smallest member. One of the remaining six populations lives in Malaysian Borneo and another on the Malay Peninsula. The rhino is a solitary animal and prefers rainforests and swamps as its habitat.
The Malayan tapir is another solitary rainforest dweller that makes its home on the Malaysian peninsula. Although endangered there is a large population in the rainforests of Malaysia where they enjoy a protected status.
Lowland animals such as elephants and gaurs inhabit higher altitudes on the peninsula, sharing mountain habitats with siamang gibbons and lesser moon rats – animals related to hedgehogs but with the appearance of rats. Numerous deer, boar and other prey animals inhabit many areas of the peninsula including Malaysia.
East Malaysia with its mountain and forest regions has animals that are isolated from one another and therefore found nowhere else. Bornean ferret-badgers are only seen with certainty on Mount Kinabalu in the highland forests although they may have also been sighted in nearby regions. The Kinabalu black shrew is critically endangered as its habitat on Mount Kinabalu is slowly being destroyed by human activity. Individual species of civet, squirrel and other rodents are unique to the mountains of Borneo.
Many ape species are found in East Malaysia including the siamang and white-handed gibbon. Proboscis, the world’s largest monkey are endemic to the island and several species of macaque including the pig-tailed and crab-eating macaque are also among the 10 species of monkey found there.
Bird watchers will find both parts of Malaysia a paradise. More than 600 species have been seen on the peninsula with at least 38 species on Borneo that are not found elsewhere in the world. Hornbills, woodpeckers, pitas, bulbuls and barbets are some of the variety present in both sections. The great hornbill, the largest of the species and the rhinoceros hornbill are two of the family members that are only found here in Southeast Asia.
Even reptilian fanciers will enjoy a trek through Malaysia with 150 species of snake found in the region, 16 of which are poisonous. The Malayan pit viper is only 76 cm but its quick bite causes severe pain and can be fatal without treatment. The 5.7 m king cobra is more impressive in size but prefers to use its venom on other snakes and reptiles. This placid reptile is more inclined to leave if confronted, but if provoked into an attack its venom is filled with potent neurotoxins and this, combined with the large amount of fluid delivered in the bite, quickly leads to paralysis and death.
The country has thousands of insect species and the butterflies are some of the most delightful. One of the surest ways to see the ephemeral species such as the electric-green Raja’s Brook’s Birdwing is to take a trip to a butterfly farm. Other fascinating insects like the huge rhinoceros beetle and the giant stick insect can often be found in the wild. Smaller species will be more elusive but a good guide can help spot them.