“…. During this time we collected some 300 birds, eighteen species of which were new to science….. several new mammals, four new reptiles and six new butterflies…”
– John Whitehead, 1893
The wealth of insect life in Kinabalu is astounding. Thousands of species of beetles, including large Rhinoceros beetles (Chalcosoma spp.) are common in the park. One of the most remarkable coleopterans found in the area is the Trilobite beetle (Duliticola spp.) who’s female keeps its strange larval shape for life. Many species of lepidopterans (butterflies and moths) have been recorded and many species of moths congregate round the artificial lights at park headquarters during night, which is the best place to observe them. Among the lepidopterans are interesting species like the Atlas moth (Attacus atlas), Rajah Brooke’s Birdwing (Troides brookiana) etc. Its is also home to a multitude of other endemic invertebrates, including the Kinabalu Giant Red Leech and Kinabalu Giant Earthworm (More info).
Freshwater fish are a less represented group of vertebrates in the park due to the scarcity of large water bodies. One common but endemic species found in most shallow flowing waters is the Bornean sucker fish (Gastromyzon borneensis) who uses a sucker formed from the ventral fins to cling on to boulders.
Being ectotherms, herpetofauna (amphibians and reptiles) are scarce in higher altitudes. Relatively, only few of Kinabalu’s herps can tolerate the cool temperatures that prevail above 850m. As an example the sun basking brown skinks of the genus Mabuya which are very common elsewhere, are very rare at mid and high elevations in Kinabalu. On Mt. Kinabalu below 1000m, a total of 48 species of frogs have been recorded, but only 33 species above that. As for reptiles, between 200-600m a.s.l., 17 species of lizards and 23 species of snakes have been reported and from then till 3000m, only 6 species of lizards and 13 species of snakes on record. The heights observation point for a reptile is for a snake, Rhabdophis murudensis, at 2200m. Some of the more commonly seen species includes the whip snakes (Ahaetulla prasina), bronze-back snakes (Dendrelaphis spp.), spiny-tailed agamids (Phoxophrys spp.), torrent frogs (Meristogenys spp.) and tree frogs (Philautus spp.). There are also a considerable number of point endemics such as the slender skink Spenomorphus kinabaluensis and Kinabalu bent-toed gecko Cyrtodactylus baluensis.
Kinabalu recorded more than 326 species of birds. The lowland birds are normally found below 1000m (3300 feet) while the sub-alpine zone birds forage for food at much higher altitudes including the summit plateau. Poring hot springs is a recommended place for bird watching as many species of flycatchers, flowerpeckers, spiderhunters etc. are commonly seen in the area.
The most common sub-alpine birds are the mountain blackbird and the mountain blackeye (Chlorocharis emiliae). Other species of the sub-alpine forests include the Kinabalu friendly warbler (Bradypterus accentor), little brown Sunda bush-warbler (Cettia vulcania) and the short-tailed bush-warbler and they are often seen skulking about in the undergrowth above 2000m (6540 feet). Higher up above the tree line the blue and white-browed shortwing can often be sighted. There are some 22 species of montane birds which include the red-breasted partridge, crimson-headed partridge, Everett’s thrush and Kinabalu serpent eagle.
Most of Kinabalu’s mammals live in the lowlands but some can be found in the lower montane forests and a few stray beyond. However except for few species, most are very hard to see due to their secretive nature. The orang utans (Pongo pygmaeus) which is very much identified with Borneo have been sighted at elevations up to 1450m (4750 feet). Most other primates of Borneo except the proboscis monkeys have been also recorded within park limits and include langurs (Presbytis spp.), macaques (Macaca spp.), Bornean gibbons (Hylobates muelleri), tarsiers (Tarsius bancanus) and the slow lorises (Nycticebus coucang). Visitors are unlikely to encounter the Asian wild elephants as they are found in the southern and eastern parts of Sabah. The other larger mammals recorded include the bearded pigs (Sus barbatus), sun bears (Helarctos malayanus), sambar deer (Cervus unicolor), barking deer (Muntiacus spp.) and mouse deer (Tragulus spp.). The ferret-badger (Melogale personata) is found at altitudes between 1100m (3600 feet) and 3000m (3300 feet). It has close relatives in the mountain ranges of mainland Asia and Java. However in Borneo it is confined to Mt. Kinabalu and nearby mountains. The smaller mammals seen include the tree shrews, squirrels (tree, ground and flying squirrels), pangolin (Manis javanica), porcupines while those likely to be spotted at night are the palm civets , Malay weasels, rats and mice, bats (including flying foxes) and the leopard cats. Kinabalu is also the home to Borneo’s largest insectivore, the moonrat (Echinosorex gymnurus).