Visiting the Orangutans of Sepilok, Borneo

One thing I was most excited about being in Borneo was getting to see the Orang-Utans. Those cute faced, orange haired apes that I had, until now only seen in the zoo. Orang-utans mainly hang out In Malaysian Borneo and Indonesia, with many areas that you can trek to, to see them in the wild

However, if you don’t want to trek in the wild, don’t have time, and just want to be guaranteed to see an Orang-utans, then your best bet is to head to a rehabilitation centre, like I did.

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Often slammed by wildlife lovers, who believe that these centres and so called ‘rehabilitation’ are more of a tourism industry than anything else, and feel that once released to the wild, they have no hope of surviving, as they had been raised by humans. I think there is possibly some truth there, but nevertheless, whilst in Borneo, I paid a visit to the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation centre.

Sepilok is Also connected to a registered UK charity and you have the opportunity of sponsoring one of the Orang-utans when you’re there.

Getting to Sepilok

Sepilok is 15 miles or 26km out of the town of Sandakan. Many tour operators will offer packages to the centre, as well as the typical taxi touts on the street. However, it is much cheaper to go yourself. Head down to the mini bus station in Sandakan, and jump on bus number 14. The best bus to get leaves at 9am. This will get you there in time for the first feeding time at 10am. This is quite tour group heavy though, and I’ve heard that the 3pm feeding is quieter. The bus costs 5RM each way. There are 4 buses there and back daily.

How much does it cost to get in?

30RM entry fee plus another 10RM if you want to use your camera (which I assume you do!) 40RM is approx. $14

My experience

I arrived, as stated above just in time for the first feeding time. So after paying my 40 Ringgit and hiding my day pack in a locker, as the Orang-utans, like the monkeys in Bali, are quite mischievous and can come after your belongings. I set off through the forest area, which felt like quite a real and natural environment.

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One thing that struck me about Borneo, was the destruction if the rainforests, to make room for Palm trees, for Palm oil. Hence the need for rehab centres (more on that issue later).

 

The walk to the feeding area takes a few short minutes, you won’t get lost, follow the sounds of the many people and clicking cameras. As I walked, all I could think of were songs from the Jungle Book movie.

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At the feeding area, you are about 20 metres away from the orange furry friends. A guide sits in the corner, disturbing bananas, to the already arrived Orang-utans. I stood there, just watching for 5 minutes, at their behaviour and routine. Some grabbed a few bananas, and ran up to a higher hideout area. Others sat and grazed happily for a good 30 minutes. Getting a photo of the Orang-utans can be tricky, as they tend to move quickly. Swinging on trees and climbing up ropes.

You can also choose to walk through the forest area a little more. An Australian Traveller did and captured the most amazing video of an Orang-utan, which he later shared with us.

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Is it touristy?

Perhaps yes, a little. But the Orang-utans are super cute, and the experience was worth it. Much better than seeing them in a zoo or cage. Here they had room to move and be. It was pretty awesome.

Tips for your visit

  • You’ll sweat your face off, as its really very hot. Wear light clothing and plenty of sun bloc/sunscreen.
  • Don’t bring any food in to the park area, unless you want to be jumped on.
  • Wear plenty of insect repellent- you’re in a jungle area after all
  • Get the public bus there, its loads cheaper
  • If you’ve got time left before the next bus, head over to see the Sun Bears across the road.  
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