There are few animals that are just so interesting you could grab a pew and watch for hours. Of course, unlikely you will do this in the middle of a paddock surrounded by cows, but hard not to in front of one of the world’s most intelligent and gentle creatures. If you’re an animal lover, Sabah is a must do.
Sabah is located in Borneo. Borneo is the world’s third largest island. It is made up of Malaysian Borneo and Indonesian Borneo. Brunei is tucked between Sabah and Sarawak (the two Malaysian provinces). Until last year, it was home to the world’s finest rainforests. Fire has recently ravaged the country and many of the parklands set aside for these beautiful creatures was destroyed.
We had spent several rough nights in the jungle and all the children on our tour had a heat stroke kind of sickness. We arrived at Sepilok in desperate need of air-conditioning and the resort pool. Sepilok Jungle Resort is a only a 5 minute walk to the Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre, the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) and not far from the Rainforest Discovery Centre. Perfect for us as we needed to cool the children off at regular intervals. A walk down to the Orang-utans several times throughout the day was beyond wonderful. Each and every visit was unique. Every part of the day had not only different Orang-utan’s but a different mood to the one’s around.
The Reserve has more than 40 sq km of Forest and they welcome both orphaned and injured Orang-utan’s of all ages. The reserve doesn’t actually know how many Orang-utan’s they have living there purely because the Orang-utans’ rehabilitation encourages them to go out in to the forest. The animals may not return for months. The centre is designed so that the Orang-utan’s are gently encouraged out into the forest with feeding platforms placed deeper and deeper into the forest. Having being built-in 1964, the centre has many success stories and through their experience are now able to apply their skills to more animals at risk of loosing their habitat from deforestation.
The feeding platforms have two feeding times per day. The morning feed is usually quiet busy as the tour groups tend to schedule the Orang-utan visit first before heading off elsewhere. I would greatly recommend going in the afternoon. Your ticket is valid for the day which enables you to come and go for the day. You can only take a camera into the park. Orang-utan’s are naturally curious creatures and if you are carrying anything else, they will want it. On the morning of our visit, there were some youngsters getting on the shaded roof at the feeding platform and stealing hats from tourists.
Abandoned toddlers are taught life skills to encourage them back into the wild at the nursery. Babies are kept behind scenes until they are old enough to graduate to the nursery. In the wild a baby Orang-utan may be with their mother until 9 years old. An Orang-utan will only have 3 offspring in her lifetime. The mother Orang-utan’s are extremely protective of their young. In the nursery, the youngsters are paired up with another animal with a differing skill set to their own. Some of them are so attached they literally climb, swing and feed holding each other. So, so very sweet.
See these two sitting on the feeding platform. The male is a wild orang-utan. The female is the oldest Orang-utan they have ever rehabilitated. She was 28 at the time of our visit. The male comes in daily to eat breakfast with her and she seems to be eating twice as much as she used to. The centre hope to confirm she is pregnant within weeks. I hope so. I love a good love story.
FACTS ABOUT ORANGUTANS
- An Orang-utan’s eyesight is so good it is like they have inbuilt binoculars.
- An Orang-utan has 7 x the strength of a human.
- An Orang-utan walks on all fours on the ground.
- Orang-utan’s are diurnal which means they are active during the day.
- An Orang-utan will make a nest to sleep in each night.
- An Orang-utan has about 12-15 different vocalisations. The loud kissing noise they make is actually a warning ‘step back and don’t come closer’.
- Baby orang-utan’s whimper when they are hurt.
- Baby orang-utan’s cry when they are hungry.
- Baby orang-utan’s smile at their mother’s.
The realities of dry season
It was heart breaking for me when I discovered the park had most of the walking trails closed. I went to Borneo in the dry season. This had advantages because we didn’t have endless rain, but the disadvantage of this time of year is that all refurbishing needs to be completed before the rains come again. They have 4km of trails through the park and we were only able to walk about 500 metres. When you have flown for 12 hours to see these beautiful animals, this is let down. Having said that, how lucky are we to have been able to experience Orang-utan’s in their natural habitat? How many people can say they have done that?
Other places you may see Orangutans
Perth zoo in Australia has the most wonderful Orang-utan area and when I visited I spent a long time just watching. They’re so human like. Their antics have a trance like effect on you and I always feel as though I should be having a conversation they are so human like. To watch them free in the wild is incredibly special and humbling. There are humans who have dedicated their life to helping these magnificent creatures. I’m sure it is an incredibly rewarding job but with that must also come huge heartache.
Kylie Bullo has a fabulous book about releasing a Perth Zoo organ utan into the wilds of Indonesia. She is a board member of TOP – The Orang-utan Project. Reaching for the Canopy is a great read before, during or post your trip.
Orangutan Appeal UK
The center is home to an organisation – Orangutan Appeal UK. We adopted a youngster in the nursery for my son’s class in Australia. He chose the Orang-utan named Gelison. He was named that because we was a true fighter and had the characteristics of a warrior to overcome the large number of hardships to survive. As it turns out he is nothing like a warrior and a lazy little guy now! This kind of humour appeals to my son.
The 20 minute education talk run at the center is worth attending. Heart strings will be pulled as they request donations and drum up support. They do a fabulous job in building your relationship with each of these little one’s in the nursery and you can’t help but fall in love. My son’s class get regular updates of their orang-utan and the mischief he gets into. The Facebook page is great at keeping you up to date with fabulous photos and giving you a souvenir that lasts beyond your visit.
Sun Bear Conservation Centre
Across the road from the Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre is the Sun Bear Conservation Centre. Once again the walkways through the centre were closed when we were there. Paying $20 to see bears from a viewing deck was somewhat of a scam, but animals that need help and the centre had wonderful air-conditioning and ice-creams (made from diary!) which was possibly worth the $20 in itself. I found the sweetest book for kids at the centre.
This is a well run centre and the commitment to the conservation is paramount. I would be interested to see how the centre grows and develops over the coming years. Their marketing is first rate – you could buy honey and a toy filled with sweets for the bears. I really like it when companies think of tangible ways for you to feel like you are making a difference. They too have a Facebook page that allows you to keep up to date with the arrival of new bears and what conservation activities they are doing at the time.
Rainforest Discovery Centre
The Rainforest Discovery Centre is down the road and worth a visit if you have a few days in the area. Personally I found it really difficult to pull myself away from more time with the Orang-utans but it is well worth the visit. The centre has a canopy walk and wonderful gardens. The centre was created purely to educate the locals in environmental education and has grown from there.
It’s very easy to be happy to give your money to the Orang-utans because they are so cute and create a warm fuzzy feeling but the truth is the education of maintaining the environment and conservation is paramount if we want the orang-utan’s to have a habitat to survive. This centre was only built in 2007 and still growing. I think your contribution (entry fee) is more valuable here than anywhere else. It is here that the vital message of conservation and taking care of their animals will be spread.
Would I go back?
With a whole world to see it seems kinda crazy to have a desire to return to Sabah and the orang-utans but I would absolutely return. I only took one son with me on this trip, so lucky me, I have the perfect excuse to return in taking my other son when he is older! #sabahtourism