Regional Setting & People
near Tabin Wildlife Reserve


Tabin Wildlife Reserve lies in the middle of the Dent peninsula in Eastern Sabah, to the south-east of Kota Kinabatangan and to the north-east of the town of Lahad Datu (see Map right). The southern two-thirds of the reserve falls within Lahad Datu District and the northern third is under the Kinabatangan District.

Lahad Datu District is located in the south-east of Sabah facing the Celebes Sea and Darvel Bay. The name “Lahad Datu" is derived from Bajau words that mean “a place of noblemen”. The name was taken from noblemen led by Datu Baginda Puteh who came to Sabah from the Sulu Archipelago prior to 1879. Lahad Datu also the first district in Sabah where tobacco was planted during colonial times and was an important port where a brisk trade was carried on in Copra with the neighbouring Sulu Islands and the Philippines.

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Kinabatangan District is characterised by forested hills and mountain ranges in its upper regions. Lower regions to the east are characterised by lowlands with swamps, sandstone hills and limestone outcrops dotting the landscape. It is believed that the name “Kinabatangan” is derived from the early Chinese settlement on the river. “Kina" thus refers to China, while "batang" means large river. In the1950's the Kinabatangan region was important economically as a result of timber production from selective logging of natural forests. The commercial collection of birds' nests was first started within the region. Today both the Lahad Datu and Kinabatangan Regions are occupied by plantations that have replaced dense forests. The main product from these plantations is palm oil but there is also some copra and cocoa production and there are prawn farms in coastal areas.


Tabin Wildlife Reserve as such has never been the site of significant human settlements. Lahad Datu District has a population of about 120,000 people and the rate of increase is about 3.5% per annum, mainly through immigration. The population comprises 70% of locals and 30% foreigners.

The local population consists largely of Idahan, Bajau, Chinese, Bagahak, Segama, Suluk (Tausug), Bugis and Jokos. Among the people who have traditionally hunted and gathered forest produce in the region are two closely-related groups of people known as the Muslim Idahan and the Bagahak (Dusun) who live around the coast of Darvel Bay and in the Tunku area which was a major trading point in the 18-19th centuries.

One group of people who originally came from Indonesia is the Tidung people who live along the coast and lower Segama river to the north and north-west of the Dent peninsula near Tabin. Bajau and Suluk populations originated in the Sulu Archipelago in the Southern Philippines. They generally live along the eastern and southern coasts of the Dent peninsula and on Pulau Tambisan to the north-east. They are mainly fisherman.

The prominent Chinese population lives generally within Lahad Datu town where they dominate trade, commercial and agricultural development.

Since the early 1970's immigrants from the Philippines and Indonesia have come to eastern Sabah. Lahad Datu District has an immigrant population estimated at 35,000 people. Most work in plantations estates and in building construction. Some work as hawkers, fisherman and small business people.

Kinabatangan District has an area of about 1,760,000 ha and has a population of about 60,000 people. The majority are known as Orang Sungai and they appear to be of mixed ancestry, including true natives (such as Tambanua, Idahan or Dusun) as well as Suluk, Bugis, Brunei and Chinese.

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