Home to one of the world's most recongnisable animals, the Orang Utan, Sabah is a nature lover's paradise.
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From its humble roots as a far flung British colony, Sabah has become famous for the beautiful islands just off its coast which are home to some of the world's most famous dive sites. It is a land of adventure, filled with tropical rainforests untouched by man, and offers a variety of adrenaline fueled pursuits, from mountain climbing to white water rafting. Its vast jungles are home to a variety of unique wildlife, including one of the world's most recognisable animals, the orang utan.
The capital city of Kota Kinabalu lies just at the foot of Mount Kinabalu, one of the tallest mountains in Southeast Asia. The mountain and its surrounding areas, which have some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, are one of the state's most consistent tourist attraction, thanks to its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors also flock to other parts of Sabah, especially Sepilok for a encounter with the famous orang utans of Borneo as well as the island of Selingan to catch a glimpse of majestic sea turtles during their nesting season. The state's wildlife is certainly a boon and conservation efforts within the state often welcome visitors to their centres to experience and understand more about these beautiful creatures.
Sabah is also famous for one of the most brutal incidents in World War II, the Sandakan-Ranau Death March, which claimed the lives of many brave Allied prisoners of war. A commemoration event is held yearly to honour their sacrifices and to ensure that such incidents are never forgotten.
The region that is present day Sabah has had a rather unassuming history and was located at the fringes of the Brunei Sultanate. As a result, it was not viewed as an important part of the Sultanate and ended up as a gift to the Sultanate of Sulu in the mid 17th century after the Sulu Sultan intervened in a civil war in 1658. It was not deemed to have any strategic importance by the foreign powers at that time, and foreign interest was limited to private business and trading ventures, most of which failed.
Sabah's origins can be traced to a ten year lease over North Borneo from the Sultan of Brunei secured in 1856 by an American Consul of Brunei. The ownership of the lease changed hands until it reached an Englishman named Alfred Dent, who formed the North Borneo Chartered Company in May 1882 to administer the region. The company oversaw the settlement of region, and managed to secure sovereign and territorial rights from the Brunei Sultanate. By the end of the 19th century, the company had expanded North Borneo and established a solid foundation for a variety of economic activities, including timber, rubber and tobacco.
Control and administration remained in the hands of the Company until the Japanese conquered North Borneo during World War II. North Borneo suffered extensively during the Japanese occupation and there were several famous resistance groups that operated within the region. North Borneo is also the site of one of the worst atrocities of the war, the Sandakan-Ranau Death March. Over four thousand prisoners of war held by the Japanese in Sandakan were forced to march over 260 kilometres to Ranau after intense bombardment by Allied forces nearly leveled Sandakan. Only six of the prisoners who escaped survived the ordeal.
After Japan surrendered in 1945, North Borneo became a British Crown Colony a year later. Jesselton, now known as Kota Kinabalu, was appointed as the new capital, replacing Sandakan. The Crown continued to rule North Borneo for nearly two decades until it joined Malaya, Sarawak and Singapore to form the Federation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963.