Fifteen miles from Sandakan, the Sepilok Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre was established in 1964 to return injured or orphaned apes back to the wild. Today it is one of the best places in the world to see the legendary ‘wild man of Borneo’ and support a project that is helping to prevent the extinction of these fascinating, gentle creatures.
Rescuing the ‘jungle men’
The Malay term orang utan means ‘man of the forest’, and these huge, copper-coloured primates are one of man’s closest, most remarkable cousins. Shy and solitary by nature, they are also one of the region’s most threatened species, thanks to logging, hunting and forest fires.
Rescued orang-utans usually need to be nursed back to health at the centre, before trained wardens teach them how to climb trees, find food and fend for themselves in the wild. They are then released into the surrounding forest reserve area, returning to the centre’s feeding platforms for supplementary food until the centre feels they have been fully rehabilitated and can be returned to the wild, deep in the forest or to one of the country’s national parks.
Trips to the Rehabilitation Centre can again be arranged at Sandakan. The best times to visit are around 10am or 2.30pm, when rangers lead visitors to one of the feeding platforms to witness the absorbing sight of the large primates feasting on milk and bananas, playing games with each other and gazing solemnly at their human counterparts with intelligent, mesmerising eyes.
Sightings vary in number, but it is very rare to leave the centre without seeing any primates. An interesting and educational documentary on the orang-utans is shown in the centre after each feeding time, while those wishing to investigate further can follow the Mangrove Forest Trail through the forest for a fascinating two to three hour ramble (one way).
If you feel inspired to take on a greater role in the conservation of the species, it is possible to take part in the project as a volunteer for a two-month period. You’ll learn all about orang-utans, the ins and outs of conservation work and take part in a variety of hands-on duties, from feeding baby primates to constructing feeding platforms.
Orang-Utan project – Travellers Worldwide
More information on the Sepilok Orang-utan Project, including details on volunteer work.