Taman Negara is spread over 1,677 wooded square miles (4,343 km2) bisected by mountains, with tigers, elephants, and most of the region’s outstanding wildlife which, like its ancient rain forest, has been virtually undisturbed for millions of years. It ranges from dense moist wooded lowlands to cloud and montane habitat with “elfin” trees stunted by life at high altitudes.
Clouded leopards—named for free-form cloud-like markings on their fur—live mostly in trees, crossing from bough to bough, preying on monkeys, squirrels, and birds. Primates swing through the canopy around them—white-handed gibbons whooping loudly and plaintively. Quieter banded and owlish-looking spectacled or dusky leaf monkeys are disclosed most often by long tailsdrooping through foliage. Pig-tailed macaques forage on the ground along with leopard cats not much bigger than domestic varieties.
Some of the most spectacular forest birds in the world are among 250 avian species—great argus pheasants, males up to 5.5 feet (1.7 m) long including shimmering tails vibrating to bedazzle mates; shy Malaysian peacock pheasants with orange facial patches, blue-green crests, and green eye-spots on wings; crested firebacks with orange bellies and off-white tail plumes; hornbills delicately plucking tiny berries with giant-size bills; brilliant trogons and ground-feedingred, yellow, and blue pittas; green pigeons feeding on fruiting trees; and soaring overhead, changeable hawk eagles and crested serpent eagles.
Not all this is easy to see in forest so dense that up to 240 tree species can be found in a single hectare (2.5 acres)—where visibility is sometimes just a few feet (though most visitors have no trouble seeing and believing there are three million insect species). But the park has a good system of trails with six “hides” or blinds and small huts on stilts with simple sleeping and sanitary facilities near waterholes, salt licks, and grassy clearings. An overnight stay at one of these is not the Ritz but it can be truly memorable—ones farthest from headquarters are best—especially on moonlit nights filled with jungle sounds, luminous fungi and insects, and, aidedby strong flashlight or torch, the possibility of glimpsing any of the park’s 200 mammal species, including rare Sumatran rhinos (and perhaps a personal visit from a curious palm civet if food isn’t securely stashed).
Park maps describe jungle treks of varying lengths, from a few hours to nine days, including one to the summit of Gunung Tahan, at 7,175 feet (2,187 m) Peninsular Malaysia’s highest peak. (Visitors must take guides on long treks.) Another, just 50 yards (50 m) north of headquarters-area lodges, visits a beautiful waterfall and rushing stream, often with gray-headed fish-eagles, bright bulbuls and kingfishers and, camouflaged on the rocks, monitor lizards up to 6.5 feet (2 m) long.
A cave shelters fruit and insect-eating bats as well as huge toads, long white racer snakes, and enormous spiders and cockroaches.
Another way to look around is by water, in a small sampan with paddles or quiet engine. Boat transport can be rented or hired with guide.
There is also a swaying 197-foot-long (60-m) aluminum-and-rope canopy walkway from which the jungle can be viewed from 115 feet (35 m) up.
To get to Taman Negara from Kuala Lumpur by bus, go first to Jerantut—where it can be convenient to stay overnight—thence to Tembeling jetty for a river trip to Kuala Tahan park headquarters, a trip which usually brings sightings of kingfishers and crested tree-swifts, bluebearded bee-eaters, possibly otters and monkeys.
Trains also go to Jerantut but at least until recently, schedules were inconvenient. Or by air, thrice-weekly flights go to Sungei Tiang airstrip, 30 minutes from the park by motorized sampan.
The park offers an array of accommodations at and around headquarters, and there’s a private lodge just over a mile (2 km) northeast on Sungei Tembeling (for all these, book well ahead).
Headquarters itself can be alive with birds—pied and sometimes rhinoceros hornbills, brown throated sunbirds, various bright bulbuls and green pigeons, especially if trees are fruiting.
Creation of Taman Negara was largely the work of one man, Theodore Hubback, chief game warden of the then-Federated Malay States, who pressed the colonial government relentlessly for 15 years until it was set aside in 1938. Threats continue, particularly hunting for large animals such as rhinos, tigers, and elephants. Tourism in wet season can erode trails, and dams proposed for hydroelectric projects would drastically alter habitat.
Most comfortable times are drier March–September. Take sun lotion, insect repellent, hats, long-sleeved clothing.
Malaysia also includes two states on the northern coast of Borneo—Sabah and Sarawak. (The southern portion of Borneo belongs to Indonesia.)
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