There are very few things that a certain someone and I would get up at 430am for, but the chance to get up close and personal with some orangutan definitely made the cut. Rightfully so too; these majestic creatures were once found all over South East Asia but in recent years their population has dwindled as a result of illegal logging, deforestation, and poaching. The species is now critically endangered, with as few as 104,700 Bornean orangutan and 14,613 Sumatran orangutan left. Up bright and early that morning, we headed to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre where they have been working tirelessly since 1964 to care for orphaned, injured or displaced orangutan. Sepilok is set on a large chunk of protected land at the edge of the Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve; when we arrived just as the doors were opening to the public, it was calm and serene… if I were an orangutan, I certainly wouldn’t mind hanging out there!
Spotting Orangutan at Sepilok
When you visit Sepilok, you will have two opportunities to potentially see an orangutan or two; the first is at the recently opened outdoor nursery and the second is at the outdoor feeding platform. However, it always pays to remember that there is absolutely no guarantee that you will see any, after all, this is a rehabilitation centre and sanctuary, not a zoo. The centre’s main focus is to provide medical treatment and help young orangutan develop the basic skills they need before being released into the surrounding forest area. They are not there to parade the animals in front of visitors. That being said, you should have a very good chance of seeing them at the outdoor nursery where the young or recently arrived orangutan are likely to be playing, practising their climbing, learning some necessary skills for their future life in the forest, or eating.
We were lucky enough to see about three or four orangutan in the nursery and another couple in the lush forest in the distance, especially since they were nowhere to be seen at the feeding platform later on. These cheeky things were an absolute joy to watch – they were so expressive in their faces, so speedy and strong in their climbing and swinging, and so human-like in their interactions with each other and the handlers. We watched them from an enclosed viewing platform which may give it a ‘zoo-life’ feel, but the reason is mainly to protect the orangutan from any germs and lurgies that the visitors may be carrying (they can catch everything we can), and not to distract them from going about their daily business. This section was created with help from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate, who happened to swing by during their honeymoon and wanted to lend a helping hand to the centre!
Visiting the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre
After giving up hope on any orangutan visiting the feeding platform (it was raining the day we visited and according to our guide, they tend to just relax up in the trees when it’s wet) we moved on to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre which is also within the Sepilok complex. This centre is currently home to 44 sun bears, the world’s smallest bears, who have been rescued from captivity. From each of the two platforms, we were able to spot about three or four of the centre’s residents – they were seen climbing, foraging or just having a rest in the trees. Just like the orangutan, they were a joy to watch and we felt so privileged being able to see them in a natural environment. The team have named each of the sun bears and through their close work with them have got to know their personalities and traits; I loved reading the profiles they had on each of them and speaking to the staff about the ones that we happened to see during our visit!
How Can You Get Involved?
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is managed by the Sabah Wildlife Department, however does rely quite a bit on external assistance from charity partners and of course, visitors. Admission fees play a huge part in keeping the centre open so go visit – the centre is open every day, entry costs MYR30 (£6) for foreign visitors with an additional MYR10 (£2) charge for using your camera. The entry fee for the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is about the same, and both are such interesting and worthwhile experiences. If you want to get involved even more, you can make a donation, ‘adopt’ a young orangutan or sunbear, or volunteer at either of the centres. Sepilok has a long history of volunteering where enthusiasts can spend several months working with these magnificent creatures and the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre has got their volunteering programme up and running too!
So Make A Move to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre…
- Getting there – if you are coming from Kota Kinabalu, the easiest and speediest way to get to Sepilok is to take a 45 minute flight to Sandakan, then a 30 minute drive from the airport to the centre. Some visitors spend a night in Sandakan and also take a tour of the city, but as we were just there for the day, we left Kota Kinabalu at 7am and arrived back around 4pm.
- Visiting Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre – we visited as part of a tour with Tropical Gateway Tours which we found really worthwhile as our guide Paul was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the animals and the development of the centre.
- Entry Fees – foreign visitors should expect to pay around MYR30 for adults at each of the centres.
- Feeding times – these are at 10am and 3pm for Sepilok.
Have you been to Sepilok and were you lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the majestic orangutan?
We travelled as guests of the Sabah Tourism Board, Amazing Borneo, and Tropical Gateway Tours, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!
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