Rehab: Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Borneo

Borneo has no shortage of wildlife, but some creatures are a little more elusive and wary of humans than others. So, if you want to see Orangutans in trees rather than in cages, it’s worth taking a side trip to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.

The 40 sq. km preserve was established to provide a safe environment for orphaned orangutans. The babies who end up here were separated from their parents or orphaned thanks to poaching or the decimation of their forest homes. Illegal logging and the creation and expansion of palm oil plantations are big business in Borneo and that’s lead to the displacement of an enormous amount of wildlife.

The philosophy of the rehabilitation centre is for infants to learn the skills they need in the wild from the other orangutans. For this reason, human interaction with the animals is kept to a minimum and the volunteers and vets working with the babies even wear masks and gloves to avoid passing on any diseases to them.

Of course, much like children, the babies all mature and become independent at different rates and, for this reason, there is a twice a day feeding at both the nursery and at a platform deeper in the jungle for the older animals.

At 10am and 3pm you can sit in the air-conditioned nursery gallery and watch the trees in the distance bend and sway as the babies swing their way towards a feeding platform loaded with bananas, cabbages and other vegetarian treats.

(This photo was taken through glass, hence the poor quality)

Volunteers monitor the infants closely, ensuring they have their snack on the raised platform and not on the green grass below. In the wild an Orangutan on the forest floor is vulnerable to predators and poachers, so it’s imperative the babies learn that they belong up high and not on the ground.

When we visited the babies had enormous fun challenging the volunteers, by dropping down to roll on the grass when their backs were turned then quickly clambering back up onto the platform when shooed off the grass.

They have fun.

Away from the nursery, a large area of the sanctuary is accessible via a raised wooden walkway which takes you on a stroll through thick rainforest without having to worry about your footing or creepy crawlies.

You may be lucky like we were and see an Orangutan swinging around in the forest all by itself. Although be careful, they are still wild animals and they don’t like being crowded or gawked at.

The juvenile female we spotted in the trees above us became quite agitated when a crowd started gathering and pointing their phones at her.

She let out a guttural growl that my fear response read as “Okay, time to go.”

In happier times.

It didn’t have the same effect on the other visitors…so she peed on them.

That got them moving.

She was one of the few older animals we saw that day. The adult feeding platform, overrun by the opportunistic and ubiquitous, macaques, didn’t see a single adult orangutan.

Later, our guide explained that this was actually a good thing. It meant there was plenty of food in the surrounding jungle and the orangutans had the ability to find it themselves. They had become independent. Rehab had worked wonders.

What a pity they needed it though.

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