Borneo: Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary

Asia Day 7

For a long time it has sat amongst the hierarchy as one of the top 5 things on my bucket-list…Trekking with the Orangutans of Borneo- the only natural habitat of the primate aptly translated as ‘human of the forest.’

Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre

Sepilok is considered as one of the world’s best animal rehabilitation facilities and is the foremost place to see Orangutans in the wild. It is home to about 30 orphaned Orangutans and another 70-100 that have been released into the wilderness or were indeed born in the 40km of forest around Sepilok.
We took the 5RM bus from central Sandakan at 9am, (bus number 14) which, after a 50 minute ride, arrived in perfect timing for the daily morning feed at 10am. In keeping with the crazy, kooky Malaysian culture, the bus was retrofitted with Rolling Stones, Beatles and other Great British memorabilia and the bus driver sang songs and jumped in and out of his seat at every stop- these people are crazy and its awesome!

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After paying the 30RM entrance fee and an extra 10RM for bringing in a camera we made our way to the feeding station, which was by now heaving with tourists- all readied with fancy cameras.

2 4At 10am sharp one of the workers bought with him a feast of fruit to the platform which was swiftly followed by a vigorous waving of trees from all angles- picture the scene when the T-Rex is smashing its way through the jungles of Jurassic Park.
We were told that we would be lucky to maybe see 2-3 Orangutans; We got lucky with 7 coming down to the platform to feast- all forming a disorganized ruckus with the largest pushing the smaller ones out of the way for the fruit. Amazing!

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After about 20 minutes of feeding one of the Orangutans decided to climb and swing effortlessly on the ropes directly above us, proceeding to hang above our heads for about 30 seconds before making its way to a nest in the nearest tree to the platform.

8 4He managed to wake up one of his monkey mates and they both descended from the tree onto the walkway platform and emerged right next to my shoulder!

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Both primates guided a now frantic crowd, myself included, on a short tour around the Sepilok grounds…

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We followed the two primates for about ten minutes, where they proceeded to swing on the gates and roll around on the platforms, before reaching the end of the route and vanished into the forest. Amazing!

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I turned back to return to feeding platform where a secondary march was led by a smaller Orangutan who was now coming directly towards our small group. As it came closer it literally stood on my shoes, before petting down the woman next to me for food and then sucking on the person who was stood next to her in search of more food and reaching out for the guy’s hand and holding it! Amazing! Just surreal! Here’s the quick video of that moment…https://youtu.be/s2wBXrZ7hIQ 

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A few minutes later and the monkeys had disappeared into the jungle- it took us some what longer to replay and comprehend what had just happened- to plan for so long to do something like this, watching so many videos, reading so many blogs, reviews of people- many of which were filled with disappointment at not seeing any of the primates- to have everything come together like it did was just perfect! What a buzz!

Bird and Cascades Trails through Sepilok

With the feeding session finished the centre closes off for tourists, reopening for the evening feed at 2pm.
During this time we decided to hike along some of the nature walks, taking us through the Sepilok wilderness.
We took the Bird Trail route, which guided us through a mud-trail of dense thick rain-forest.

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Despite being deafened by primates and birds in the higher reaches of the canopy, we only really saw millipedes, marching ants and leeches- which got more frequent the deeper we delved. It was however a pretty awesome hour long hike, taking us through real rain-forest and to some bird lookouts before descending down to the cascades.

Sepilok Visitor Centre

We made it back to the Sepilok Visitor Centre for lunch. By now most of the tourists had departed and we sat with a small group of people eating our 10RM chicken and rice meal. The intention was to head over to the Sun-Bear sanctuary just opposite the Orangutans, however, a cluster of photographers brought our attention to two shapes in the canopy skyline- a larger and smaller Orangutan eating in the overhanging trees side by side.

15 14 7We watched as the larger of the two swang seamlessly between the trees, eating the leaves and the smaller one seemed to just hide out of the way.

Half an hour later the larger primate came down from the trees, walking within 5m of myself before maneuvering himself across the main grounds of the Sepilok centre. The smaller Orangutan quickly followed, but was told off by one of the rangers as he licked one of the gates that had been painted no more than 10 minutes beforehand- embarrassed he darted into the bush.

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There were about 50-60 people at the morning feed, but only a handful of those had stayed around and, like us, were now able to observe these cheeky chappies up close- just hanging around the centre and being patient pays off!

Evening Feed

At 2pm the centre re-opened and a new wave of tourists came flooding in to the centre- although not quite as many as the morning session. We watched the 25 minute video that explained the benefits and efforts of the Rehab centre and its impact on the lives of the Orangutan before heading to the feeding station for the 3pm evening routine.
This time however only 2 Orangutans showed; First up, a mother and, cradled tightly to her, a small infant. After she made her way to the canopy a smaller Orangutan swang his way to the station. He proceeded to feast on the remaining fruits and let out a large sneeze that seemed to baffle him for a good 5 minutes. Quite amusing.

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There was of course time for a monkey selfie- Jay looks thrilled!- just before the last of the primates swung back into the canopy, bringing a close to an enthralling day!
What a day, what an experience! Bucket-list is thinning!

Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre: 40RM (incl. Camera)/ $10: *****
Local Bus Return (no.14): 5RM/ $1

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4 thoughts on “Borneo: Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary

  1. I’m off to Sabah at the end of next month and very excited about the Sepolik sanctuary! Would you recommend staying there the whole day or is a morning okay? Did you make it to the sun bear sanctuary?

    1. We stayed the whole day….we wouldn’t have seen the orangutans up close if we only spent a half day….but the sun bear sanctuary is right next door and also worth a quick visit….but I’d spend as long as I can at the orangutan sanctuary and do it properly …it gets a lot quieter between feeds and there are less people so sometimes the orangutans tend to come down from the trees…have a great time

      1. We went in April so were told there was no need for anti- malarials and we never had a problem…no mozzies…there are however plenty of leeches in the deeper jungle which was pretty annoying and required special socks or spray to remove.

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