Sabah - one of the most diverse states of Malaysia

03.01.2011 In: Travel destinations

“Malaysia Truly Asia” is the tried and tested advertising slogan, which has considerably helped brand Malaysia and implant its unique identity to the world. The country is truly Asian and is made up of a potpourri of ethnic races, cultures, and religions. It is precisely this ethic mix, or cultural cappuccino, that brings out the best in Malaysia. From its food to its traditions the country is one of the most diverse and yet tolerant nations in Asia, if not the world. It is home to three main races - Malay, Indian, and Chinese - all practicing their respective religions alongside a multitude of many Christian churches, which prevail throughout the country.

Kuala Lumpur is home to the iconic Petronas Towers and is a vibrant commercial capital home to both government and commerce. Less known and almost 2,000 kilometers to the east, lies the world's third largest island, Borneo, home to two of Malaysia's largest states, Sabah and Sarawak. The island is also home to the countries of Brunei and Indonesia.

A focus on Sabah is rich in diversity of landscapes and people, as well as plant and animal life. Its landscapes range from long white sandy beaches to magnificent rainforests and Malaysia's largest freshwater floodplain, home to Borneo's unique proboscis monkey and the orangutan. Dominating the scenery is Southeast Asia's largest mountain, Mount Kinabalu, towering at an impressive 4,095 meters. It is the focal point of Kinabalu Park, Malaysia's first World Heritage Site (UNESCO, November 2000). Sabah is also the perfect place for adventure sports and offers world scuba diving sites - Palau Sipadan and Layang-Layang. Hiking, white water rafting, and a range of sea sports, as well as horse riding and golfing, are readily available.

Biodiversity and Conservation
The tropical rainforests are the world's most diverse forests, and Borneo is home to one of the greatest collections of plant diversity on Earth. Sabah's forests house more than 3,000 tree species. No other rainforests in the world show such abundance and diversity of a single family of big trees. Borneo has a very rich and diverse palm flora with about 280 recorded species representing more than 10% of the world's total.

No less impressive are available estimates for Borneo's fauna. The rich bird fauna has an amazing diversity of around 622 species, of which 434 are known to have been breeding. The Bornean snake fauna includes at least 154 species. Insects are by far the most numerous, and at least 5,000 beetle species alone have been recorded in Gunung National Park. Other groups of mammal species to be sighted are Sumatran rhinoceros, proboscis monkey, red banded leafmonkey, silvered leaf monkey, as well as the group consisting of dolphins and porpoises.

Shangri-La Hotels Commitment to the Environment
One of the best and most luxurious hotels in Sabah is Shangri-La's Rasa Ria located 45 minutes north of the capital city of Kota Kinabalu. The hotel offers five-star service in a natural environment adjacent to the rainforest. It is particularly pertinent to this article as Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts have, over time, shown a dedicated and committed spirit to protecting the environment and Rasa Ria is a star that shines in this field.

The hotel has its own nature reserve offering a first-hand glimpse into the Borneo jungle and is the cornerstone of commitment and contribution towards responsible and sustainable environmental tourism. Encompassing 64 acres within the resort, the Nature Reserve is a conservation effort between the Sabah State Wildlife Department and Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts.

The Nature Reserve
The Nature Reserve is aimed primarily at nature conservation and orangutan rehabilitation, with research, study, and education activities carried out as well. The Rehabilitation Program for orangutans is the only one of its kind on the west coast of Sabah (Sepilok Rehabilitation Center in Sandakan on the east coast is the main orangutan rehabilitation center in Malaysia).

The topography of the reserve is ideal, with steep slopes on the lower part of the hill gradually becoming gentler on reaching the ridge. The highest point stands at 90 meters above sea level. The hill is mostly covered by secondary forest growth and outcrops are visible at the ridge.

Among the activities available within the reserve are the nature walks, nocturnal animal watch, bird watching, mini canopy walk, and "In Search of Orangutans."

Twice daily, a ranger escorts small groups through the reserve to view the orangutans in the wild, lured to close proximity through a natural feeding program.