The Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary
The Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary is located near the town of Sandakan on the east coast of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, and was established in 1964 as a refuge for orphaned orang utans. Orang utans are primates which live only on the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Their DNA is 96.4% similar to that of humans, making them one of our closest ‘relatives’. Orang utans are an endangered species as a direct consequence of the growth of human activities (logging, hunting and the clearing of forests for plantations are the biggest culprits). Many baby orang utans were also taken by villagers as pets. The sanctuary was created to rehabilitate the orphaned orang utans and return them to their natural habitat, as well as educate the public.
A visit to the Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary begins with a video that chronicles the plight of the orang utans and the centre’s rehabilitation efforts. It’s a brilliant, heartwarming video. The scenes of traumatised baby orang utans being kept as pets are heartbreaking but the huge effort that is made to rescue and rehabilitate them commands deep respect. To me, the video was the start of a new love affair… with the orang utans of Sabah.
A series of boardwalks leads visitors from the Sepilok Visitor Centre into the primary forest where the orang utans live. It’s a beautiful walk through the virgin rainforest with its towering trees and dense undergrowth – we stopped every once in a while to hear the sounds of the jungle. We were lucky to hear the squawks of hornbills and see a group of macaques high up in the trees. We were warned to guard our cameras, bags and sunglasses as the macaques are notorious snatchers.
We soon reached the feeding platforms. Each day, the park rangers make their way to these platforms with buckets of fruit and milk. The orang utans which are being rehabilitated (and are not fully accustomed to foraging in the forest for their food) come to these platforms twice a day for their grub. At about 10am, the first orang utan appeared – a pregnant female. She lazed around on the platform for a bit, then disappeared back into the jungle.
Later, two youngsters came out of the brush, hand-in-hand. Our guide, Joel, from Borneo Passages, told us that young orang utans often have a buddy and they help and guide one another until they’re confident enough to venture out alone. Until that time, they often cling to one another.
They stopped for some bananas before heading back into the trees, wowing the crowd with their playful antics. It was a gorgeous sight. These two charming and adorable creatures stole everyone’s hearts in an instant – that was evident from the “ooohs” and “aaahs”.
It certainly was a wondrous and educational morning at Sepilok. We often hear or read about the plight of these lovely creatures but it’s not until you’re here that you begin to realise how precarious the situation is. I’m very glad I got the chance to visit the sanctuary and I can absolutely recommend it to any visitor to Sabah. At the Visitor Centre, there’s a small booth where you can sign-up to adopt an orang utan for about USD 60. Please consider it as our contributions really go a long way in helping our friends in the forest. For more information, please visit the Sepilok Orang Utan Appeal.
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Note: my trip to Sabah is sponsored by Sabah Tourism and Borneo Passages. Borneo Passages specialises in Event Management and Incentive services for corporate visitors to Sabah as well as customised tours for groups and individuals.