Orang utan Rehab….Sepilok, Borneo, Malaysia

Sepilok is a small town located close to Sandakan (so many S-towns in Sabah) and on our way back to Kota Kinabalu in East Malaysia/Borneo. Sepilok is home to a couple rehabilitation centers and sanctuaries. The most popular is for orang utans, but there is also one for Proboscis monkeys and sun bears, as well as a rainforest center.  It is also surrounded by palm oil plantations, like most of Sabah.

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Palm oil trees

Upon our arrival in Sepilok, we ate lunch at our B&B and then napped while we waited for the heat to dissipate. That afternoon we headed to the Rainforest Discovery Center to do some short treks and a canopy walk. We were a bit disappointed by the lack of wildlife, birds included, but maybe it was still too hot for anything to be out. The center is really nice though – the canopy walkway has great views and the Pitta Path takes you up on a ridge so you can see the tops of the trees. On our way out, we stopped at the garden and while admiring a strange red fruit with giant black seeds, we spotted a pygmy squirrel hiding in plain sight. Otherwise, we spotted a few common brown birds and some ants.

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Pygmy squirrel – about the size of a tangerine (without the tail)
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Large black squirrel – watermelon size
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Heliconia

The second day was for the orang utans. The rehab center has two feeding times, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. We planned to do both, as we heard the morning can be crowded with groups and spottings can be sporadic at both times. There is also an outdoor nursery for young orang utans, which can be viewed from inside an air-conditioned building. We started here and watched the young ones eat fruit and play on the ropes and platforms. It was very different than seeing them in the wild, but cool to see them interact so close.

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Adolescent orang utan
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Young orang utans at the nursery get in trouble for walking on the ground, so the staff comes out and drags them away to “timeout”
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Young orang utan at the nursery
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Showing off
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Fighting a bit

We waited patiently at the outdoor viewing platform for the morning feeding of the adult orang utans. These guys live in the reserve and unlike the adolescents, have little to no human contact. They may have been raised here, but they are supposed to fend for themselves, except for the twice daily snack provided for the benefit of the tourists. But our luck had run out, and the only one who showed up after half an hour was promptly scared off by some aggressive pig-tailed macaques who were gorging themselves on the provided bananas and papayas. No worries, we had all day.

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Staff and macaque monkey waiting patiently for an orang utan to show up
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Facing off
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Mean pig-tailed macaque

We went back to our B&B for lunch and a rest. A heavy rain shower threatened our afternoon trip back to the sanctuary, but it tapered off in time to leave us traipsing back in the stifling heat and humidity. Maybe that’s what the orang utans like though, as we were treated to two mothers with tiny babies and another orang utan feasting at the outdoor viewing platform. One of the babies was so young that the mother was pre-chewing some of the food for it before spitting it into its mouth (not as gross as it sounds – it looked like they were kissing). And the pig-tailed macaques kept their distance for the most part this time.

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Getting along with a long tailed macaque
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Mom & baby orang utan
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Still too young to let go of mom

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Mother on the left is pre-chewing food for her baby

It was a great way to end the wildlife portion of our trip (for now). I have been looking forward to Borneo ever since we decided to come here, which was only a few weeks ago. The big cities, like KL and Singapore were cool, but it was nice to get out into nature and see some green (and blow through some green too – its not as cheap over here).

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Giant praying mantis
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“Ginger” snoozing
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“Ginger” – 2 seconds later

Next stop – one day back in Kota Kinabalu to pick up our stored bag before heading to Brunei to spend Riki’s thirtieth birthday.

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