The Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Sanctuary

Sepilok Travel Blog

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It was to be yet another 5:30am start as that is the best time to catch the wildlife (before the Sandakan day-trippers make it over and the crowds frighten the shy primates off).  I found the early morning jungle sounds quite refreshing, and pleasingly our two boats were the only two in sight on the river. 


At first we saw very little; in fact just the one common kingfisher, but as we branched off and made our way down one of the tributaries, it wasn’t much of a longer wait until we saw a lot more of the jungle fauna.  Our guide pointed out a proboscis monkey with their characteristic thick red nose, and after that all four of us in the boat had our eyes peeled and were pointing out various animals and lizards.



We saw some rhinoceros hornbills; a lot of other pretty birds; and some monitor lizards, sat discretely on the branches over the river.  We got a great sighting of, I don’t know the correct terminology, a pack? a herd?  of proboscis monkeys fooling around and jumping branch to branch playfully with ease.  This gave me a timely reminder of the ‘Monkey Approach’ to relationships – Never let go of a branch until you have hold of another (or in a women’s eyes, being a bastard) hahaha.  Unfortunately/fortunately, it very rarely works out that way, but the theory exists.


I took a lot of films and photos of them playing and fighting in the trees and I was highly entertained.  Unfortunately we saw no Orang-utans on the tour, but that apparently is normally the case.

  The previous night, the groups got a very rare sighting of pigmy elephants quenching their thirst from the river, and they were very grateful for that.  For me, I had seen a lot to make the trip more than worth while, and I decided I would definitely be going to the Rehabilitation Sanctuary to see my orange cousins. 


I had seen long-tailed macaques, pig-tailed macaques, some red-leaf monkeys, and helmeted hornbills.  I was satisfied with that, but my favourite sighting of the day came from a dramatic dive out of no-where.  A heron was perched on a branch quite passively when all of a sudden it took off and dived at a right-angel into the river and was out of sight.  The bird reappeared someway further upstream a few minutes later empty beaked, but the guide told us they can dive to great depths and stay under water for maybe five minutes at a time fishing!  It was great to see.



Back at the hostel for breakfast I got lucky.  I didn’t have much of an idea of how I would be getting back to Sandakan, but two people of the group were heading to Sepilok and the Orang-utan Rehabilitation Sanctuary as part of their package.  I was allowed to join the jeep ride for just a few ringotts and that would sort out another problem for me; I would be seeing the Orang-utans that day!


The sanctuary is closed between 12pm and 2pm, and we arrived within those hours.  That was fine.  It gave us plenty of time to store the bags and get some lunch.

  We were to be amongst the first visitors of the afternoon to the sanctuary and so we could get a much better spot for when the feeding times came around. 


The sanctuary is an area of forest dedicated to rehabilitating orphaned Orang-utans and so they can fend for themselves in the wild.  They have access to wherever they wish to go, but are aware that there is a safe food supply for them here in Sepilok.  Many of them chose to fend for themselves and are not frequent visitors, whilst others are more nervous of the wild for now and slowly build up confidence whilst remaining well-fed and healthy within the sanctuary.  Sightings of slow loris and gibbons aren’t uncommon either, so as I was walking through, I had me head tilted upwards into the trees and actually spotted a gibbon high up in the canopy. 


When I made it to the feeding platform I saw two Orang-utans already there, but they quickly left as more and more visitors arrived.

  I continued on my route around the pathway, but saw nothing more interesting than a black squirrel.  I returned to the feeding platform viewing area and waited there instead.  I staked out a great position and I wasn’t long waiting before the two Orang-utans returned in anticipation of feeding time. 


The employees/volunteers of the sanctuary disappeared into the forest to clatter a stick against the trees to signal feeding time was about to start.  When the feeding time did begin, the two present enjoyed a fruitful lunch but were soon joined by opportunistic scavenging macaques.  It wasn’t long before Mim (the mother) and her son Rony joined the party and so I got to see a total of four of the loveable moon-faced primates. 


Once they had finished feeding, they disappeared back into the forest and I left to catch the last bus back to Sandakan. 

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photo by: pinqa