Ratings: ***** One of the best places in the world to see orang utans
Lost Ratings: ** Can be crowded, but not to be missed all the same.
The renowned Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre has long been one of the top attractions for wildlife enthusiasts from all over the world. Located about 20 km from Sandakan in the Sepilok-Kabili forest reserve, this wildlife sanctuary is one of the few places on earth where the orang utan can be seen in its natural environment.
The oldest and largest orang utan sanctuary in the world, SOURC was established in 1964 in a 43 km² forest reserve to rehabilitate young orphaned orang utans and return them to the wild. Being cute can be a curse as the orang utan has found out to its detriment. In the past, babies have been taken from the wild and sold as pets in countries as far away as Taiwan. What the buyers do not know is that an orang utan can grow up to be many times stronger than humans and can be quite a nuisance inside the house. Returning it to the jungle when it has been living in man’s world since it was a baby is like putting you and me in the jungle. It won’t survive. Although the limbs of an orang utan are more adapted for living in the jungle than ours are, a young orang utan learns all about life in the jungle from its mother who stays with her young until they are about 7 years of age. Deprived of its mother, these orang utans need someone to teach them how to survive on their own. These, and other orphaned or injured baby orang utans found in logging sites and plantations, are the orang utans that you see in Sepilok.
The rehabilitation process
When an orang utan first arrives at the centre, it is given a general health examination, and quarantined for 3 to 6 months. This is to prevent the possibility of the newly-arrived orang utan from passing diseases to those already living in the centre. The check-up includes tests for TB and malaria, urine analysis, bacteriology and chest X-ray.
Healthy young orang utans then go to the nursery stage where wildlife rangers play the role of their mother and encourage the orang utans to find food, build nests and climb properly. The orang utans mostly learn by observing other orang utans. They are also slowly re-introduced to the jungle. Watch the touching video at the centre where two young orang utans hug each other for comfort when they are left out in the big frightening jungle at night for the first time.
After graduating from nursery school, the orang utans are then ready for a period of at Outward Bound School. This is when the orang utan’s dependence on the food and emotional support is gradually reduced. It is not just the orang utans who find it hard to say goodbye, as the rangers also get attached to the orang utans that they have been looking after. However, the orang utans are not totally left to fend for themselves as they are given food twice a day at Platform A. It is here that the visitor to Sepilok goes to see the orang utans.
The last stage is known as survival training. When an orang utan has totally adjusted itself in the forest and shows signs of independence, it is moved even further away from the centre. Here, even less food is offered at Platform B. At some point, the orang utan eventually achieves total independence and the centre has successfully managed to return another orang utan to the wild.
A visit to Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre
The Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre is NOT a zoo. The orang utans here are semi-wild and live in the forest. It is entirely up to them whether they want to come to the feeding platform or not. In fact, the orang utans are given the same banana and milk diet almost every day to encourage them to search for more delicious fruits on their own. There is the possibility that one might not be able to see any orang utans at all. It is terrible to come all the way here and not see an orang utan, but that is a very rare occurrence. On average, 5 to 10 orang utans appear at the platform each time. If you just want to see orang utans, there are many zoos around the world where overweight and lethargic orang utans can be seen. But if you want to catch sight of an orang utan swinging in from the forest, Sepilok is the place to go. Before seeing the orang utans, it is better to go to the information centre to learn more about the orang utan and also watch the video show. With a better understanding of the purpose of the centre, your visit will be much more enjoyable.
After the video show, take a 10 minute walk on the boardwalk through the jungle to reach platform A. You might be able to see a snake if you are lucky. Look out for the orang utan nests on the canopy of the forest. If you are lucky, you might even encounter an orang utan walking on the boardwalk. The orang utan is normally not aggressive, but it is very curious, so look after your bags and cameras. Do not touch the orang utan to avoid spreading germs to it and vice versa. Feeding time is at 10am and 3pm. Long-tail and pig-tail macaques will sometimes come to steal the orang utan’s food. Stay away from the pig-tail macaques as they can be very aggressive.
Famous orang utans at Sepilok
The rangers and the tour guides at Sandakan know the orang utans by name. Each orang utan has its own distinctive features and characteristics which are used to identify them. Some of the more famous and infamous orang utans are listed here.
Raja – This very cheeky male has become infamous for something it did to a couple many years ago. Ask your guide for the full story. He has since been transferred to another forest.
Jessica – A female orang utan who developed a mental problem after her babies died.
Mariko – The successful mother
Mr G – the stud
Daily 10am and 3pm.
A morning visit is better as it is not so humid. The ticket can also be used twice in a day, so if none appeared in the morning, you can go again in the afternoon.
Foreigner (Adult) : RM 30
Foreigner (Child < 18 years): RM 15
Malaysian (Adult) : RM 5
Malaysian (Child) : RM 2
The excellent The Natural History of Orang-Utan by Elizabeth L. Bennett is an easy to understand and interesting book about orang utans.
TheRehabilitation of Orangutans at Sepilok by the Wildlife Department is sold at Sepilok and gives an explanation of what happens to the orang utans at Sepilok.
Orang utan related website: http://www.orangutan-appeal.org.uk/
Also in Sepilok
Rainforest Discovery Centre:
Sepilok Forest Edge Resort