Gunung Alab Substation: Where the wild orchids thrive in Sabah


The Gunung Alab Substation is gaining popularity among avid hikers and adventure seekers in Sabah. — BENEDICT BUSIN/Sabah Parks

Gunung Alab Substation, situated along the Kota Kinabalu-Tambunan road in Sabah, has become a popular spot for nature tourism, more so because it sits within the protected forest area of the Crocker Range Park.

The Crocker Range Park is home to thousands of tropical wild orchid species and was also the reason behind the setting up of a wild orchid garden at the substation.

Sabah Parks ranger Benedict Joseph Busin said the Gunung Alab Substation Wild Orchid Garden, which is managed by Sabah Parks, keeps more than 100 wild orchid species collected from the forest around the mountain.

Established in 2015, the garden was built among the trees with a 400m-long walking platform that surrounds the parks for the convenience of visitors.

“I was personally involved in collecting wild orchid plants in the deep forest within the vicinity of Gunung Alab and then replanting them in this garden for visitors to view them up close, ” he said.

Besides managing the Gunung Alab Substation, Busin is also very much involved in protecting wild orchid species that are found within the park, which he considers a flora heritage. One such plant was even named after him.

As a forest ranger, Busin was also aware that wild orchid plants are being sold at open markets, especially at the tamu or farmers’ markets in Tambunan and other places.

“I’m not saying that those orchid plants were taken from the Crocker Range Park but I’m definitely concerned because as far as I know, there are still many wild orchid species in the area that have not been identified.

“If they were indeed collected through encroachment into the Crocker Range Park, then it could pose a threat to the wild orchid plants.

“Bear in mind that these unique plant species are part of our natural flora. We need to protect them for our next generation to inherit, ” he said.

With an undisturbed forest area twice the size of Singapore, Crocker Range Park is Sabah’s largest terrestrial park and lies within eight districts in the West Coast and Interior of Sabah with the elevation ranging between 100m and 2, 050m at the peak of Gunung Alab.

Most of the parks are covered with forest and are perhaps the last remaining hills dipterocarp forest in the west coast of Sabah, besides being an important water catchment area.

Busin said that before the Gunung Alab Substation was opened in 2006, it was only a monitoring post managed by two Sabah Parks staff.

The construction of its accommodation facilities was started in 2010 and opened to public in 2014.

Now popularly known as one of Sabah’s best “natural therapy destinations” the substation, which has a couple of chalets and hostels, also provides jungle trekking services to interested tourists and visitors. These treks lead to several waterfalls; there is also a an eight-hour, 12km trail to the fascinating Mahua waterfall.

“Many locals and foreign tourists have trekked this trail to enjoy the fresh air and nature. There are camping grounds along the trails and some visitors opt to camp in the forest, ” he said, adding that he was assisted by five non-government employees.

The park ranger said before he was assigned to Gunung Alab Substation in 2010, he was attached to the botany unit at Kinabalu Parks and has also served at the Sipadan Island and Marine Park in Semporna.

He shared that the substation used to receive an average of 1, 000 visitors a year but the number has since dropped due to the Covid-19 pandemic and is now closed temporarily. – Bernama

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