The Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary is located near the town of Sandakan (map) on the east coast of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, and was established in 1964 as a refuge for orphaned orang utans. Orangutans 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’.

Orangutans 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 orangutans were also taken by villagers as pets. The sanctuary was created to rehabilitate the orphaned orangutans of Sabah and return them to their natural habitat, as well as educate the public.

sepilok orangutan sanctuary sabah malaysia photo
The entrance to the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary.

The Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary

A visit to the Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary begins with a video that chronicles the plight of the orangutans and the centre’s rehabilitation efforts. It’s a brilliant, heartwarming video. The scenes of traumatised baby orangutans 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 orangutans of Sabah.

Visitors are shown a video at the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary.

Search for hotels in Sandakan

A series of boardwalks leads visitors from the Sepilok Visitor Centre into the primary forest where the orangutans 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 walked through the dense rainforest.

We soon reached the feeding platforms. Each day, the park rangers make their way to these platforms with buckets of fruit and milk. The orangutans which are being rehabilitated (and are not fully accustomed to foraging in the forest for food) come to these platforms twice a day for their grub. At about 10am, the first orangutan appeared – a pregnant female. She lazed around on the platform for a bit, then disappeared back into the jungle.

A baby orangutan waiting for lunch.

Later, two youngsters came out of the brush, hand-in-hand. Our guide, Joel, from Borneo Passages, told us that young orangutans 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.

One of the two juveniles.

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”.

The juveniles wowed the crowd with their acrobatic stunts.
As we returned to the park HQ, we bumped into this fella!

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 orangutan for a small amount. 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.

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.

23 Responses

  • Hi Keith, Orangutans are amazing creatures. We visited Sepilok nearly 15 years ago and still to this day it’s one of our most memorable animal encounters

  • Hi D&D,
    Thanks for your comment. The Semenggoh reserve in Sarawak is definitely a different experience compared to Sepilok. They’re doing an awesome job at Sepilok for sure!


  • I just loved our trip to Sepilok. I think that this sanctuary is doing an amazing thing. I love how they are rehabilitating them to go back into the wild. They don’t have to come back to feed, once they feel confident on their own, they make their way back into the wild. Amazing. We visited Semingoh in Sarawak as well. A completely different experience.

  • […] media gem that, I’ll coyly admit, turned me on to Borneo, was the BBC’s Orangutan Diary. Having overcome my preoccupation with Michaela Strachan’s mysterious failure to age […]

  • That’s a brilliant way to look at it – it’ll be like visiting family. 🙂
    Thanks Melanie.


  • This is a new one on my life list! I love the idea of adopting an orangutan — that way, when I finally get to Sabah someday, it’ll be like having a friend to visit. 🙂

  • Hi Keith, so u met them, those men in orange, I wonder if they’re dutch or catholics scotts? beautifull…. it’s still the same story like 18 years ago, i visited Sumatra, there’s also (or was at least) this ‘rehab’ for People of the Bush (Orang Utang).. still I am excited by your stories (I finally got back on your blog). see you soon 😉

  • Orangutan Appeal UK is a UK based charity raising funds and awareness for Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, if you would like to support the work at Sepilok then please make a donation! Or you can adopt one of the beautiful Orangutan babies who have sadly found themselves without a mother, and are being cared for and rehabilitated at the centre.
    Click on the link to help: http://www.orangutan-appeal.org.uk
    Thank you for your support.

  • Thanks for your comments Andy & Jenna!

    Jenna: travelling to Bali and/or Sabah with a small child is not difficult I think. I’ve seen many tourists with small kids in both these places. At the orangutan sanctuary, there were various families with small children – seeing the orangutans must’ve made a great and lasting impression on the kids. They were certainly excited! 🙂


  • Hi Keith,
    It looks like you are having a simply wonderful trip and that the orangutan sanctuary is an unforgettable experience. I mentioned before that my father lives on Bali, and he has this place on his to-do list but is waiting for us to visit again to do it. The only caveat is that we have a small child. I know he would love it, but I have to make sure that the trip there would not be too hard with a small child.
    Thanks for the inspiration! I hope the rest of your trip is fantastic!

  • What a wonderful experience! So great to see them at such close quarters. I would love to take this trip too. Great to hear about the good work that’s taking place there too. Thanks for sharing Keith!

  • What an experience! I will add this to my “to do” list as well. 🙂
    Just next to the gorillas in Rwanda.

  • Thank you Lillian and Lifecruiser for your lovely comments. I really enjoyed my visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary. It’s so cool to see the orangutans in their natural habitat and they’re soooo adorable. 🙂 If you visit Sabah, do make an effort to head to the Sanctuary. It’s really worth the effort.

    Best regards,

  • Oh! Awwww… So wonderful! Orangutans are my absolute favorites and also the reason why we almost got there one year when we planned a trip!!! I’m totally adoring them even if I haven’t seen one in real life, only in videos or on TV.

    What a fantastic visit!!!! I’m green of envy….

  • Wow! A really up close and personal experience. Will attempt to visit Sepilok when I visit Sabah the next time =)

  • Wow, they look simply as stunning as when I visited them a few months back. I kind miss these guys too and thanks for sharing about the Orangutan Appeal. Great work Keith!


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