Borneo: Danum Valley Conservation Area: Day One- An Encounter with a Wild Rhino!

Asia Day 11

NB-I’ve had to split the adventures in Danum over 2 posts as there was just too much to cover…

As agreed with our Kinabatangan tour, we were escorted by minibus to a bus ‘shack’, where a double-decker public coach awaited our arrival.
There were a lot of odd characters aboard the bus and not to mention a handful of crying kids. The lack of European people on the bus also made us a little anxious and paranoid that were we even on the right bus!

Nonetheless we rocked up to Lahad Datu about 2 hours later- a town which despite being one of the more prominent locations on the Borneo Sabah map, was only about 4 streets wide and long and, much like Sandakan, a bit of a dump.

Despite this we still had trouble trying to find the Danum Valley Science Research Centre Office and, despite asking numerous locals, no-one seemed to have a clue what we were on about. Alas, 30 minutes later we found it- realising we had probably passed it two or three times…Its not actually hard to find- we’re just idiots!

Science Research Centre

Before travelling, this is one thing I did a lot of research on.
In fact our entire trip around Borneo was scheduled around the transportation into and out of the valley;
Buses return from the valley on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays at 8.30am and head back into the valley on the same days at 3pm. To make the most of the valley, we planned to head in on Friday, giving us the weekend to explore, before heading back on Monday morning.
The Science Research Centre is, well- as its title suggests- and is located at the heart of Danum Valley- an area visited by fewer people than have climbed to Everest Base Camp!
The place is a real nature find- where if lucky, you will encounter wild orangutans, elephants, rhinos, gibbons, cats, monkeys and so on and so forth.
It isn’t a hostel, nor is it advertised as one and I read many blogs about the main office being pretty sticky and reluctant to let standard tourists in. However, we had no such problems- didn’t even have to rely on a backup story.

Our only problem was that there weren’t enough people to necessitate two buses and as the first bus was already full, we would have to fork out on private transport to navigate along the 2 hour dirt track into the cloud forest.
We also had to find a computer in Lahad Datu, to print off our University confirmation- which would ensure we got the student discounted price.

It took us a half hour to source out a computer which, when we did, there were a couple of dozen school kids going mad on World Of Warcraft, briefly turning their attention to the fact that there were now two white people interrupting their social lives.

Student slips printed we returned to the Office, where we were informed that now there would be two buses going and therefore we wouldn’t have to pay extra for a private taxi..result! It did mean we would have to wait a little while longer for our bus to arrive.
In the meantime we paid up for:

A Park Permit: 20MYR
Dorm Rooms: 45 MYR per night
Return Transport: 60MYR

We opted out of the full board option and thus saving money by stocking up on peanut butter and noodles. We took extra money to pay for ranger guides/ night safaris/water that would be sorted at the centre within the valley. In total we spent about 220 MYR/$60 for the 3 nights!

After briefly introducing ourselves to the other eager-goers in the office we saw off the first mini-bus, leaving 8 of us to wait for the second.

The Most Incredible Drive

Throughout our trip I’ve mentioned how we’ve lucked out. From the Orangutans in Sepilok, all the way back to New Zealand and Australia- everything has gone better than could have possibly expected. The trend did not stop and for the 8 of us in our minibus we were about to become some of the luckiest few people in the world!

While the bus ahead motored off, our driver stopped for some plantain and for a half hour chit-chat with the shack owner. This, what seemed like a selfish, impromptu act, was to unveil itself as the catalyst to an incredible series of events.


As we meandered through the dirt-track and descended into the valley, we were stopped in our tracks by about 100 rushing people, many of which were Television crews, including National Geographic and the WWF trust.


Everyone was huddled around a container and as we joined the melee, we learned that inside was a Pigmy Sumatran Rhino- one of only 3 found and caught in Sabah, Borneo and an animal that had taken over 5 years to track down throughout Danum! Here in front of us, the trackers had just caught the animal and were encasing it to be airlifted to a nearby rehabilitation centre, where it will hopefully be used in a breeding programme in a bid to reverse the imminent extinction of the 50 or so remaining Pigmy Rhinos in the world!



This was one of the rarest animals in the world and we couldn’t help but resist to peak through the box for a look! What an experience and a truly unforgettable moment!

We were just as astonished as everyone else, but we really couldn’t have been any luckier. A lot of the people we spoke to had gotten word that the Rhino had been sited over a year ago and had been volunteering in the valley ever since. Film crews and nature documentaries had come and gone- including none other than David Attenborough, who was at the valley and lodging in the same Scientific premises only 2 weeks before our arrival. And yet we had merely hopped onto a delayed bus, held up by a hungry and overly chatty bus-driver and had stumbled upon one of the rarest wild animals in the world! Amazing!

We watched as the Rhino was airlifted away and then stumbled back into the minivan, high on excitement and adrenaline. Nobody could quite believe what had just happened and it was just about all we talked about for the next 20 minutes.



Were we the luckiest people ever? Well just as we asked ourselves that the mini-bus came to a grinding halt. A puncture? Karma? Breakdown? No. Ahead wails of elephants could be heard and as we looked out, a lone Pigmy Elephant was jogging along the dirt-track!


We creeped up to it as it darted into the bush, crying out for its family. We waited…it came out and then retreated back into the bush…came out and retreated… before the tail-end of the herd answered its calls and came trotting around the corner…A wild Rhino and now a herd of wild Elephants, within the space of an hour! Epic!

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Without wanting to disturb the Elephants too much we continued into the valley, now surrounded by immense forest on all sides; Much of this land has never been discovered or ventured into by humans- who knows what is out there!

An hour later, after snaking through some epic scenery, through fields of fog and Jurassic trees, we reached Danum Valley Scientific and Research Centre- a small complex in the middle of absolutely nowhere!

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The group from the minibus ahead had been waiting for us and jibed at us for taking so long- well weren’t we smug!

Didn’t you see the Rhino? What about the Elephants? They laughed at our stories, but this quickly morphed into envy as we relayed through our pictures. They hadn’t seen a thing! Thanks lazy driver who had to eat plantain! Sometimes it pays to be the turtle in life… But what an entrance….Welcome to Danum….



6 thoughts on “Borneo: Danum Valley Conservation Area: Day One- An Encounter with a Wild Rhino!

  1. Hi, beautiful photos. we like to go there in August. Can you please tell me, how you managed the booking for the DVFC? It’s seems to be really hard to get a direct contact (not with a organiced tour like sticky rice travel). Many thanks!

    1. Hi. Thanks.
      So, we didn’t book in advance- as you mention direct contact is pretty hard- as they don’t want the area to become a touristic place. We booked on the spot at the office in Lahad Datu- there were about 12 of us in total- we all met along the way and there wasn’t any problem at all. Make sure you get to the office for about midday though as the buses leave at 3pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays into the Valley.

      1. Wow. Many thanks for the extremely fast reply and the informations. We will have a rental car on Borneo. Do you know if it’s allowed to drive with an own car to the DVFC?

      2. No problem. As far as Im aware you’re not allowed to drive in….or you will at least require permits which are pretty hard to obtain. The normal route into the valley is the minibus system from the office in Lahad Datu- so most probably you will have to leave your car somewhere in Lahad Datu if you’re planning on heading into the valley

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