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A visit to the Orangutan Sanctuary Sepilok

The Orangutan Sanctuary Sepilok is one of three rehabilitation centers for orangutans in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Young orangutans, orphaned because of logging activities or poachers are raised here to be released into the jungle again. Apart from the rehabilitation center, the sanctuary also includes a large area of protected virgin rainforest, in which many more endangered species live.

male orangutan in Sepilok

Palm oil plantations

The busses in Malaysia are great compared to those in Indonesia. They are a bit more expensive, but we get airco, leg space, and especially good roads in return. The view is less, though, we only see palm oil plantations. Hundreds of kilometres the same trees, all lined up nicely. It is a bit depressing to think this once was all jungle.

The bus drops us off at the crossroad of the main highway with the road to Orangutan sanctuary Sepilok. There is a man waiting here, who offers us cheap lodging at a resort near the sanctuary, and we decide to go with him.

The resort is in one word great. Beautiful gardens with huge ponds over which walking decks are created. And it is located at walking distance to the sanctuary, where we take a look in the afternoon.

Information Center

Admission to the information center at the Orangutan Sanctuary Sepilok is free, and we learn a lot about the sanctuary and the orangutans here. When we have seen almost everything we are asked to view a video. The video shows us how the take care of the orangutans, and especially three young animals. Two of them constantly cling together, and reject the third one. We see how they are learned to eat, to swing in the trees, and to be alone in the jungle. Eventually, they will have to return there.

When we leave the information center, all of a sudden we see a large orangutan sitting in the bush. She (the park ranger tells us she is called Jessica) is quietly eating leaves and ignores us. It is a semi-wild ape, raised in the sanctuary but released in the jungle. One of the drawbacks is that she has lost her fear for humans, and that shows.

Feeding platform in the jungle

The following morning we visit the actual sanctuary. At 10.00 AM it is feeding time on a platform in the jungle. This is supplementary to what the released apes can find in the jungle themselves. When we arrive at the platform at 9.30, there are already a number of tourists, and some orangutans. A few of them are sitting on the walking decks for tourists, and we recognise the ones from the video: two who are clinging together and a third who wants to join but is rejected. It is a funny sight, but a little sad as well. It is another drawback of bringing together these orphans at a young age.

At 10, the food is brought to the platform. In the meanwhile, 6 orangutans have shown up, and they all enjoy the milk and bananas. Some are eating them directly, others take a bunch to a quiet place to eat them. It's a great thing to watch.

Jungle walk

We decide to make a walk through the jungle near the sanctuary. The path leads us to a bird watch tower, but that is a bit disappointing: no birds show up. The walk itself is nice, though. We see a nice lizard with a ridge on his back, and we hear the rustle of something big nearby. We think it's an orangutan, but don't see it. When we come back, we have to remove a few leeches on our legs.

In the afternoon, we visit the feeding again. This time, we are early and there is nobody else yet. As we sit quietly, the first orangutan comes swinging along, which is a fantastic sight. Others come along, different ones from those we saw in the morning. There are two mothers with chid, extra nice of course. When the feeding starts, more tourists arrive, but a shower scares them away quickly. We like that, it gives us a chance to observe the eating and playing orangutans quietly.

Orangutan sanctuary Sepilok is the most touristy one of the three orangutan rehabilitation centers we visited in Indonesia and Malaysia. The information center is great, and the walking decks offer an easy way for all tourists to see the animals. The sanctuary also features a virgin rainforest reserve, including some walking trails through the jungle. The nearby resorts are a great place to stay for a few days when you are visiting the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo.

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