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updated: 26 Apr 2005
carried out in October 2000.
In normal usage, the term Sepilok forest
reserve is loosely used to mean both the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve (Class
VI, the dryland forest) and the Sepilok Forest Reserve (Class VI, the mangrove
area). This report covers BOTH FRs.
I Virgin Jungle Reserves (VJR).
5529 ha. (Kabili-Sepilok 4,294 ha and Sepilok 1235 ha.)
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and Sepilok VJR are situated about 22 km from Sandakan town along Labuk
Road. The main access into the VJR is at the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation
Centre where the Mangrove Trail leads to the Sepilok-Laut mangroves, about 4.5
km south. Others include forest trails from the Sepilok Arboretum also link to
the main Trail. The western and eastern boundaries are accessible as there are
unsealed, oil palm plantation roads close to the boundaries.
Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC) is on the northern edge of the
VJR. In the north, adjacent to the VJR, is the Sepilok Arboretum where the Forest
Research Centre complex is situated. The Forest Research Centre (FRC) and the
Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre are administered by the Sabah Forestry
Department and the Sabah Wildlife Department respectively. See
The Mangrove Trail
stretches about 5.5 km from SORC to the Sepilok-Laut Reception Centre, located
in the Sepilok FR (Class VI). There are small bridges and
bird-watching towers built by British volunteer groups brought in by the SORC
long-term research plots in the VJR which are managed and monitored by FRC.
the days of the Chartered Company, Mr. Pryer owned a coffee plantation on the
lower Kabili River, in the southwest of the VJR. This was abandoned in
about 1910 following an outbreak of disease amongst the labourers and a slump in
the coffee trade. There was another coffee plantation- owner unknown- in the
southeastern portion. A graveyard is said to exist on the lower left bank of the
Kabili River in Compartment 18. Occasional coffee trees could still be seen in
the area in the late 1960s. This, and probably other areas with timber fringing
the rivers, was logged around 1890-1900, maybe on a highly selective basis
This, and probably other areas with timber along the rivers, was
logged some 90 to 100 years ago probably on a highly selective basis. Two of the
earliest known logging operations were in 1911 and 1929. Earlier records
relating to exploitation and other activities are not available.
During the Second World War, the Forest Department personnel stayed inside the VJR.
Low impact forest exploitation by means of hand logging and by tractor were
conducted in the northeast and most of the southern part of the reserve from
1919 until it was discontinued in 1957. It is estimated that about 24,262 m3
of timber from 670 ha were extracted during that period. In 1948, several hundred hectares of
forest in the northern part of the FR were silviculturally treated by
removal of woody climbers and non-productive trees that hampered the
regeneration of potentially commercial trees, such as Shorea
johorensis, Parashorea tomentella and Eusideroxylon
zwageri. The effect of this liberation treatment on the
forest stand in this area is unknown. However, the treated forest is
structurally comparable to the other old growth forest in the region. Since
1957, the primary functions of the Kabili-Sepilok VJR have been forestry research, and
simultaneously, the preservation of some of the major forest types of Sabah.
1964, the Game Branch of the Department maintained a station in the north
(Compartment 4) for the rehabilitation of orang-utans. The Branch has since been
made into a department by itself, the Wildlife Department, and the station came
to be known as the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre.
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gazetted in 3 phases:
In 2/2/1931, some 2,334 ha was
gazetted under Notification No. 80/1931. This area
encompassed much of the drainage of the Kabili, Sepilok Kecil and Sepilok
In 1938, another 1,874 ha on the eastern side was
Notification no. 322/1938.
In 1965, a further 264 ha was added on the north and south-east under
Notification No. 617/1965.
In 1930, the main reserve was organised as a series of rectangular
compartments numbered 1 to 18. In 1956, compartments 19 to 21 were established
east of Sg. Sepilok Besar.
The VJR is managed by the Sabah Forestry Department and no logging has been
allowed since 1957. In 1984, the VJR was formally gazetted as a Class VI Forest Reserve in the
Forests (Amendment) Enactment, 1968 (No. 4/1984).
responsibility—Under Sandakan District Forestry Office. The SORC and its surrounding forest is managed by the Wildlife
Department. All matters of forest research is managed by the nearby Forest
A development plan for the Sepilok-Laut Reception Centre was prepared by Mr.
Martin Paul-Vogel and approved by the SFD. The plan is used to coordinate the
development of the centre into an area for nature recreation and education.
Funding for the 1st phase of the development was provided for by the Federal
Government under the 8th Malaysia Plan.
ecology and wildlife research, environmental education and nature tourism.
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& adjacent land-use
The VJR is
surrounded by poultry farms, fruit orchards and small-scale oil palm plantations in the north, by large oil palm estates in the
west and an industrial zone (known as the Seguntur Integrated Timber Complex) in
the east. The Sepilok
Arboretum, just north of the Kabili-Sepilok VJR, is being developed as a centre for environmental education,
nature recreation and tourism.
Sepilok, the road that leads into Sepilok and ends at the Sepilok Orang-utan
Rehabilitation Centre, are 3 B&Bs and two resorts.
Topography—The sandstone ridges give Sepilok its dominant characteristic. These rise
rapidly in some cases not far from the mangroves. The most hilly areas are in
Compartment 19 and 20 where the Sepilok Trig point (168 m) is located. The
south-west corner of the VJR is gently undulating country not exceeding 30
Sepilok VJR (mangrove), Sg. Arang, Sg. Sepilok Besar, Sg. Sepilok Kecil, Sg.
Cina, Sg. Pandan, Sg. Pakis, Sg. Suana, Sg. Kabili and Sg. Carib drain to the
sea in the south. Sg. Gum Gum drains to the northwest while Sg. Sibuga drains
to the northeast.
main soil associations are the
in the mangroves and a small patch of
For soil map, click here.
Geology—Most of the VJR has been mapped as Sandakan Formation. It consists of
mudstone, sandstone and some siltstone with rare thin coal seams. Its age is
Upper Miocene or younger. The Upper Miocene beds of this part of Sabah occurs in basins modified by
faulting. A cliff in the headwaters of the Sepilok River appears to be due to a
fault trending northwest, roughly parallel with two scarps on Berhala Island,
one of which is apparently due to faulting. Around the headwaters of Sepilok and
Gum Gum Rivers curving ridges show the presence of a pitching syncline or basin
that has apparently been cut off by a north-easterly fault.
Of the rock types, mudstone is the most abundant in the Sandakan Formation accounting for about
50%. Mudstone beds with thin lenses of siltstone may be as much as 150 m thick,
while thinner beds from a few cm to about 6 m thick are inter-bedded with
sandstone and siltstone. The mudstone is mostly grey to dark grey or greenish
grey in colour. (Mudstone generally gives rise to undulating low hills of small
Sandstone occupies about 40% of the Formation and forms prominent scarps and
ridges in Sepilok. The most prominent scarp is that to the southeast of
Compartment 26. The larges number of ridges in the ridges in the VJR suggest that
sandstone makes up more than 50% of the rock type in Sepilok. The sandstone is
soft, grey to bluish grey weathering yellow brown.
Siltstone occurs in thin beds within the sandstone and mudstone. These
beds are usually up to 60 cm thick, rarely larger than 3 m. It is grey to bluish
grey, mineralogically similar to the sandstone and weathers in the same way.
data—The nearest met station is at
Sandakan Airport, just a few kilometers east of the FR. In the period
1976–1995, Sandakan airport had a mean (± one SEM) annual rainfall of 2929 ± 134
mm and mean annual temperatures in the range 26.7–27.7°C. The rainfall is
generally influenced by the northeast monsoon, which normally occurs between
November and February in the region, and April is the driest month (mean 92 ± 20
Map of met. stations
vegetation map here
vegetation map here
The following is an
excerpt of Reuben Nilus's PhD thesis. The article stays fairly true to the
original with minor changes.
The forest is mainly Parashorea
/ Eusideroxylon zwageri type forest, classified as Type B
forest by JED Fox. Three major forest types have been identified at Kabili-Sepilok
VJR and their distributions co-vary with the distribution of the different soil
types and landforms. The lowland dipterocarp forests overlying the soils of the
Silabukan and Lokan associations are described here as alluvial
and sandstone hill forest, respectively. The forest that overlies the
soils of the Maliau association is heath or kerangas forest.
Fox (1973a) described the alluvial forest as dominated by large
dipterocarps reaching a canopy height of 37–45 m or more, and diameter at
breast height > 70 cm. In this forest, Parashorea tomentella
and Shorea johorensis (both Dipterocarpaceae) are the most
abundant canopy species with Eusideroxylon zwageri (Borneo
ironwood, Lauraceae) as a large and common lower canopy species. However,
these species are totally absent from the sandstone hill forest where
the dipterocarps Shorea multiflora, Dipterocarpus
acutangulus and Shorea beccariana are the most abundant
large trees. The canopy of the sandstone hill forest is about 34–40 m and
occasionally Dipterocarpus acutangulus emerges above canopy
The kerangas forest consists of two subtypes; Shorea multiflora/Tristaniopsis
merguensis (large crown) forest and T. merguensis/Garcinia miquelii
(small crown) forest. In the former subtype, elements of the sandstone hill
tree flora occur on many of the ridges where most of the abundant large
trees are Shorea multiflora and Ixonanthes
reticulata. In the lower stature kerangas forest, the area is almost
purely dominated by Tristaniopsis merguensis (Myrtaceae).
Read more about mangroves.
Read more about kerangas.
Being a protected forest and a tropical forest research site for a long time,
the VJR is a refuge for small mammals. Large animals have disappeared from the
VJR. (Reports show that elephants disrupted research in the 1930s when they
destroyed seedlings planted in the VJR.) Mammals such as orang-utan, gibbon,
macaques, mouse deer and squirrels (including pygmy squirrels) can be seen or
heard. Recent population estimates of orang-utans in the VJR is between 100 and
The VJR is also a very good site for bird-watching.
area in the northeast, Matalau River valley, was loged prior to 1919 by Kim Eng
Watt Bros. They used hand logging methods and hauled the timber from no further
than half a mile to the river. Chin Piang Syn logged the same area with
tractors during 1953-55. Sg. Arang in the southeast, was logged by Lai Fook Kim
in 1956 using hand handling to locomotives. An area adjoining Kg. Bambangan
Native Reserve in the southeast, along with Sg. Masbud and Sg. Lolong, was
logged by Ahmad Karim in 1955-56. Other recorded exploitation included
Compartments 13, 14 and 15 by North Borneo Trading Co. Ltd. in 1938-42. This was
on an area treated between 1935 and 1938 by regeneration improvement
silviculture. Some 400 acres were illegally logged in 1967 in the northeast.
on the forests of this VJR is extensive. Below are some information on
historical research activities.
1931, a valuation survey was conducted to determine the growing stock. It was a
disappointing figure of 452 cubic feet per acre.
1932, 58 seedlings of mora, Chlorophora tinctoria, from Trinidad were
planted in Compartments 15 and 18 on the left bank of the Kabili River. In
October, almost 2,000 seeds of belian were line-planted in Compartment 15. The
seeds were collected from Sg. Kretam Besar.
1934, Regeneration Improvement Felling was carried out in Compartment 15. The
southern half of Compartment 15 was cleared and planted with Liberian coffee in
1894. The mora seedlings planted in 1932 survived. About 500 penaga seeds were
1935, 3 sample plots were established in Compartment 4, 15 and 18. Regeneration
improvement felling was carried out in Compartment 14, 15 and 18. Merbau
seedlings were planted in Compartment 15. Seedlings of keruing (not specified
which), yemane and penaga were planted in Compartment 18. Rotan saga was planted
in both Compartment 15 and 18.
1936, Regeneration Improvement Felling was carried out in Compartments 16 and 18.
In Compartment 15, seedlings of belian, merbau, majau, penaga (along rivers),
kayu cina and kayu chendana were planted. In Compartment 18, tengkawang, rotan saga (from Banjarmasin, Indonesia) were planted. Limpaga was planted in
Compartment 4. Wild boars and elephants posed numerous problems to the planting
experiments. A linear (Dipterocarp) plot along the path in Compartment 14 was
1937, cendana, kayu cina, merbau and rotan saga were planted in Compartment 15.
Limpaga, pine, and merbau were planted in compartments 4, 7 and 18 respectively.
1938, Regeneration Improvement Felling (CG 2) were conducted in Compartment 14 and 18.
Logging was carried out by NB Trading Co. Ltd. from April to December.
Agathis alba (menghilan) and Dacrydium sp. (tempilas) from the
Sinsuron River were planted. Wild boars, buffalos, elephants and porcupines
posed problems to research activities, especially planting experiments.
1939, Regeneration Improvement Felling were conducted in Compartments 13, 16 and 18.
Harvesting was carried out in Compartment 14, 15.
1940, Regeneration Improvement Felling (CG2 & CG1) were conducted in Compartment 13.
Melaleuca leucadendron was planted.
1949, Selective Improvement Felling, for the benefit of the established young
stock, were carried out in Compartments 13, 14 and 15. This included climber
cutting, felling of Ficus-bound trees and removal of unwanted trees by poison
girdling. Small-scale planting of balsa (Ochroma lagopus) (seeds obtained
locally) and Melaleuca leucadendron (seeds from Hongkong). Only 79 out of
177 transplants of balsa survived, and 295 out of 584 transplants of
1950, plantings of Cola acuminata, the African cola nut, were conducted
on a small scale. Seedlings were seriuosly damaged. The seeds were obtained from
Sapong Estate from trees planted there since the early 1900s. Germination for
balsa was poor and transplants were damaged by deer.
Melaleuca leucadendron, planted in 1948, continued to flourish despite
trampling damage by tembadau. Average height after two years was 10 feet.
1955, a half acre plot of Dipterocarps, mainly Shorea argentifolia, along
the path in Compartment 15 was established.
10-acre (approximately 4 ha) plots were established by JED Fox in the Kabili-Sepilok
VJR in June 1968.
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of the Department's research records were lost during the Japanese Occupation
and the fire of 1961.
recent research work:
2000, a multi-disciplinary research project, Biotic Interactions in Tropical
Rain Forests (BITRF), began. It was headed by Aberdeen Univeristy, Scotland,
with other principal investigators from various universities in the United
Kingdom. One of the major sources of funding was from the British Ecological
Society. Reuben Nilus, Ecologist at the Forest Research Centre, was the
main local collaborator for this project. About five PhD student were involved.
Dr Collin Maycock supervised and coordinated field research work. He also
carried out studies on the dispersal of dipterocarp fruits. The main project ended in 2003 but
smaller studies continue to be carried out. Reuben Nilus' PhD research was on
the effect of edaphic variation on forest structure, dynamics, diversity and
regeneration in Kabili-Sepilok VJR.
Ecology Section of the Forest Research Centre has permanent sample plots within
the Kabili-Sepilok VJR over different soil types, i.e. alluvium, sandstone ridge
two-year doctoral research on the activity and habitat use of Lesser
Mouse-deer (Tragulus javanicus) was carried out in 1998-2001 by Hisashi Matsubayashi from Tokyo Institute of Technology. The muse-deer was
thought to be a nocturnal animal. However, this study showed that individuals
forage mainly during the day. Another finding suggests that mouse-deer use food
resources in forest gap areas.
Kabili-Sepilok FR was one of the sites for a 3-year doctoral research by
Carsten A. Bruhl, on the
effects of tropical rainforest fragmentation on the leaf litter ant community.
The other sites were Kebun Cina Forest Park (Sandakan) and Danum Valley Forest
risk of fires occurring near the western, northern and eastern boundaries are
high during long droughts. Fires are normally started by landowners clearing
their lands. During high fire risks periods, staff from the nearby Forest
Research Centre do daily monitoring of the boundaries to look out for fires and
to advice landowners against using fire to clear their lands.
two VJRs are relatively safe from illegal logging activities. However, there
were occasions of illegal logging in the southwest of the VJR in 2000 and 2001,
affecting research plots. Logs were presumably transported out of the VJR from
the mangroves. There are also evidences of hunting of small mammals within the
The various forest
types and the supporting research and nature educational facilities makes this VJR very special indeed.
The tourism potential is very good. The SORC collects more than RM 1 million
annually from ticket sales from about 80,000 visitors. It is with this in mind
that the Sabah Forestry Department is developing the Sepilok Arboretum to
provide another destination for visitors. The Rainforest Interpretation Centre,
with its exhibition halls, gardens and surrounding forest, will be a major
tourist destination in the near future.
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