The town of Sepilok, 25km west of Sandakan, is best known for its Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre. That’s not the only attraction, though, as the Rainforest Discovery Centre is worth visiting for its canopy walkway. There are also plans to open a conservation centre for Malayan sun bears, the world’s smallest bear species. See wsunbears.wildlifedirect.org for the latest news.
Set up in 1964 and occupying a 43-square-kilometre patch of lowland rainforest, the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre is one of only a few such sanctuaries. It’s also among Sabah’s most popular tourist sites, with over two hundred people crowding onto the viewing platform during feeding hours on most days. In general it’s best to go for the afternoon session, as most tour buses come in the morning.
Leave valuables in the free lockers, along with food, drink and insect repellent (which can be harmful to the orang-utans if they ingest it). There’s little shade on the viewing platform, so bring a hat. You’ll find a café near the information centre.
The feeding station is a ten-minute walk from the entrance, so arrive with plenty of time. There are usually at least a couple of orang-utans waiting for their meal, often the very young ones, and they immediately cluster round the warden as he sets out the fruit. Others may soon come along, swinging, shimmying and strolling towards their breakfast or lunch, jealously watched by gangs of macaques that loiter around for scraps.
If you have time, stick around after feeding time and take one of several trails through the forest; you’ll need to register at reception. Besides the pleasure of the walk, there’s a chance you may see one or more orang-utans.
Orang-utans at Sepilok
Orang-utans at Sepilok
Orang-utans – tail-less, red-haired apes (their name means “man of the forest” in Malay) – can reach a height of around 1.65m, and can live to over thirty years old. Solitary but not aggressively territorial, these primates live a largely arboreal existence, eating fruit, leaves, bark and the occasional insect.
Most of the orang-utans at the Sepilok centre are victims of forest clearance; many have been orphaned, injured and traumatized in the process. Some have also been kept as pets, something now prohibited by law, which means that their survival instincts remain undeveloped. Orang-utans are trained at Sepilok to fend for themselves in the wild. Although not always successful, the training process has seen many animals reintroduced to their natural habitat.