(I) Physical CharacteristicsTawau Hills Park is located in south-eastern Sabah and is bounded by the Ulu Kalumpang Forest Reserve on the northern side and Mount Andrassy Forest Reserve on the south. The eastern and western sides are bordered by agricultural lands mainly cocoa and oil palm plantations. The terrain within the park is quite rugged and hilly with three main peaks in the form of extinct volcanoes namely; Gunung Magdalena (1,310 m asl), Gunung Lucia (1,189 m asl) and Gunung Maria (1,067 m asl). The mountains consist of Quaternary pyroclastics and lava flows of dacitic, andesitic and basaltic character (Tjia et al., 1995) with subordinate Early Neogene sedimentary rocks of the Kalumpang Formation (Sanudin Haji Tahir, 1995). Only about 8% of the park area lie above 915 m asl, while more than half of the park area is below 457 m asl. The southern perimeter contains some of the last remaining non-swampy land under primary forest in Sabah (Siraj Omar and Jamili Nais, 1995).Seven important rivers with water catchment areas are confined largely or entirely within the park boundary. They are Sungai Tawau and Sungai Kinabutan in the centre, Sungai Mantri and Sungai Balung in the east and Sungai Merotai Kanan, Sungai Merotai Kecil and Sungai Junap (a tributary of Sungai Merotai Besar) in the west. Sungai Tawau is the main river in the park (Lee, 1995; Siraj Omar and Jamili Nais, 1995).(II) Climatic ConditionsTawau Hills experiences the north-east monsoon between November and March and south-west monsoon during the months of May to September. There are also two successive inter-monsoons; April to May and September to October. The mean temperature is 27oC (1990-97) with a relative humidity of 85% (1990-95). About 146 mm of rain falls monthly (1990-97).
An estimated 180 species of birds are present in the park, which makes it an important site for lowland forest species in Sabah (Siraj Omar and Jamili Nais, 1995; Stuebing and Shukor Mohd Nor, 1995) especially for hornbills (six species) and pheasants. The Near Threatened Lesser Fish-eagle Ichthyophaga humilis has been recorded as well.
Habitat and land use
Almost half of the park is under primary lowland dipterocarp forests. A large portion was previously logged between 1965 and 1979. However, the central hills and ridges are intact. Tree from the Dipterocarpaceae family dominate the forest with well-known species of Shorea, Dipterocarpus and Eusideroxylon zwageri (Siraj Omar and Jamili Nais, 1995). Secondary vegetation exists side by side with the primary lowland dipterocarp forest, creating a complex forest dynamics as characterized by its flora and fauna.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Illegal hunting and encroachment may pose as a threat to the park.
The Tawau Hills area was gazetted as a State Park on 7th May 1979 under the National Parks Ordinance 1962 but now protected under the Parks Enactment 1984 with primary aim to protect the headwaters and catchment areas, especially Sungai Merotai, Sungai Tawau, Sungai Kinabutann, Sungai Mantri and Sungai Balung, for Tawau and the Semporna peninsula (Regis, 2001). Protection of the park ensured the preservation of areas of scenic beauty for amenity and recreational purposes and lowland forests as a wildlife sanctuary. Tawau Hills Park also functions as a 'biological corridor' as there as it is linked to other forest reserves, such as the Ulu Kalumpang Forest Reserve to the north, which opens to the Ulu Segama Forest Reserve and the vast forested areas in the interior of Sabah. The park has been classified as an IUCN Category II protected area.