The Kinabatangan River is the largest and longest river in the Malaysian state of Sabah. Stretching 560km from the Crocker Range in the southwest of Sabah to the Sulu Sea in the east, the Kinabatangan River sustains one of the world's richest ecosystems. The lower basin of the river itself is the largest forest covered floodplain in Malaysia and has the largest concentration of wildlife in the South East Asian region.
A trip up the river at dawn or dusk is the best opportunity to see the wildlife. You might even sight an Asian elephant or a Sumatran rhinoceros wandering through the trees. Optional tours can be arranged for night safaris as well to spot crocodiles, birds and nocturnal animals. The river, used for transport, trade and communication, has been the lifeblood of local people for centuries. Forest products such as edible birds' nests and bees' wax, elephant ivory and hornbill casqued were once traded.
Nowadays there are about 20 palm oil mills in the Kinabatangan basin, which process the produce from rapidly expanding oil palm plantations. The oil is used in the production of margarine, soap, livestock feed, lubricants and many other industrial and household products. Large-scale commercial logging and small-scale farming began along the Kinabatangan in the early 1950s. This provided the people of Sabah with income and employment. Several forest reserves were created in the 1970s, but these were quickly reallocated for agricultural use.
The Orang Sungai is group of indigenous people native to the state of Sabah. Groups of communities live along the Kinabatangan River and depend on the river ecosystem for fish, prawns and forest products including rattan, beewax, camphor and edible birds' nests. Their name originated during the colonial rule by the British, who collectively named all communities living along the Kinabatangan as the River People.
Over the years they have progressively intermarried with other indigenous races and migrant groups such as the early Chinese immigrants, Bugis from Indonesia, and Suluks and Cagayans from the Philippines. They now live largely in scattered settlements along the Kinabatangan from the upper to the lower reaches.
Kampung Sukau is a community of approximately 1200 people made up of 150 families who are all of the Muslim faith. It is accessible by unsealed road, branching from the main Sandakan-Lahad Datu or, alternatively, by boat along the eastern coastline of Sabah. Basic infrastructures exist in the form of small government clinic, a primary school. Electricity is available in the village but the supply is not consistent. There is still not clean running water and villager rely on rainwater and river water from the Kinabatangan.