Seeing orangutans was one of our main goals in our Malaysia trip. We weren’t able to do it in the wild, at Kinabatangan, but the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center offered a semi-wild setting with guaranteed sightings. The reserve is a large area of protected forest, where 60-80 orangutans live free, and also contains a nursery for 20-30 orphan orangutans. It’s a great initiative to protect these extraordinary animals, which are under huge pressure due to deforestation and trafficking.
We arrived at Sepilok mid-morning and weren’t planning on staying overnight, so we put our backpacks in the lockers by the entrance. We paid the entrance and camera fees (MYR 30 / person + MYR 10) and started walking on the designated walkways, surrounded by lush vegetation. We passed the feeding platform, where twice a day the keepers provide supplementary bananas for recently rehabilitated orangutans, as they start to forage for themselves. We had just missed the 10am feeding, but there would be another one at 3pm. As we wandered around, we suddenly ran into our first orangutan… it was so exciting being so close to this big orange ape!
Every once in a while, we would hear sounds in the trees, look around and catch a glimpse of an orangutan jumping through the branches. Other times, it would be much easier, and we would stumble upon them sitting on the railings or crossing the walkways. We also spent some time in the nursery, observing the youngest apes eat and play… they were adorable 🙂 The reserve actually closed for a couple of hours in the middle of the day, so we grabbed a bite at a cafe right there, and popped by the sun bear center across the road. We came back in for a final experience: the feeding. It wasn’t 3pm yet, when we saw a mother with her baby coming through the foliage. A keeper eventually walked on the platform and put a bunch of bananas out. The mother dropped on the platform and start gobbling. Then a few other young apes showed up, swung in, grabbed a banana and swung out.
We were fascinated. But there were also quite a few people in the viewing area (and we’ve heard mornings are even busier), and we agreed that we enjoyed our morning exploration better. To continue our journey, we were supposed to take a taxi to Sandakan and then a bus from that terminal, but it looked like backtracking, since we wanted to go west to Mt. Kinabalu. Instead, we walked to the main road and waited for the bus, which we were told would leave Sandakan at around 5pm, to drive through. It sounded like a great idea until it was 6:30pm, getting dark, we were in the middle of nowhere, and there was still no sign of the bus… it eventually appeared and we hailed it and jumped in, but I’m not sure I would recommend our strategy.