The Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary was set up in 1964 in the 4,300 hectare Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve which is looked after by the Wildlife Department of Sabah. The main reason for this center is to rehabilitate orphaned baby orangutans who have been either captured as pets or found without their mothers. Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary also has a reception center, information center, and animal clinic, a quarantine area, a nursery and an enclosure for various endangered animals which are found in Sabah.
As we arrived at the main entrance of the center, our tickets were purchased from the ticket window at the main building and we then proceeded to the start of the visit where a wooden platform walkway was built over the rainforest mangrove leading to the main feeding area here in Sepilok. Our well experienced guide named Ben lead us on this unforgettable journey to see orangutans in their natural surroundings.
After a good five minute walk through the lush rainforest via the wooden walkways, we approached the main feeding area for the Orang Utans. A park assistant greeted us with a bright red and white sign that said 'Silence Please' and immediately you could only hear the sounds of the forest. We got in quite early so there were only about twenty people around the viewing platform.
Without hesitation, I walked around looking for a great spot to see these orphaned orangutans in the wild. Ben - our guide, had already given us a brief on what to expect here so we were on our own to witness this incredible experience. As the natural jungle sounds became clearer and louder, a ruffle was heard in the bushes not too far from the platform. Heads turned around....
......and I saw some bushes move but nothing appeared. I turned around to my surprise and suddenly, there were about a hundred visitors crowding the area with only one focal point - the feeding platform area. Note - The place does get crowded on weekends.
Video of Orangutan coming out from bushes for food
After about 5 minutes of bush ruffling, a juvenile orang utan appeared climbing the rope towards the feeding platform. Cameras started to click and whispers began to dominate the natural sounds of the rainforest. There were even a few flashes going on which is not recommended. So please do not use your flash when you visit Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary.
As I was perched right at the end of the platform, I saw all kinds of cameras being used to capture this magical moment. Many had not seen an orangutan in the wild while most were too busy trying to get that perfect shot. I must have snapped at least a hundred pictures while here.
But one chap had it all figured out while sticking out like a sore thumb in the crowd. He came well equipped with a camera and a zoom lens that cost an arm and a leg. But seriously, if you plan to visit Sepilok and want some nice pictures, invest in a good camera and a good lens. A compact camera with 20x zoom would work while for DSLR users, a zoom to 200mm would be just nice. Mind you that the lens I used was only a 18mm-105mm for my pictures so no close up shots here.
As the orangutans start to come out, they play freely on the suspended wires which are secured from tree to tree around the platform area. Some of them would climb up the trees while most of them would just hang around the wires.
While visitors are confined to the viewing platform which is about 20-30 feet away, an occasional orangutan may come up to the viewing platform. You are not allowed to touch them as orang utans may contract human flu or other types of bacteria. The best is to stand back from these lovely creatures. There have been many cases where children and adults will try to touch them or even pose for a picture so please refrain from doing so when you are there.
After about 15 minutes of watching these playful orangutans swinging and climbing the trees, two park attendants climb up the main feeding platform with buckets of food. One of them holds a sign that says 'Silence Please' while he takes his seat.
The playful orangutans then know it is feeding time and slowly make their way to the platform one by one. Surprisingly the attendants do not feed them by hand which I thought was very good. The Orangutans make their way to the buckets and help themselves. Remember, these orangutans are not trained to perform but are let to live freely in the sanctuary. They will automatically make their way there when it is feeding time as most of the orangutans are still in the juvenile stages.
After about ten minutes, the attendants leave the platform and this is when the other monkeys will try to make their way for the food. Long-Tail Macaques are seen hanging around at a distance and eventually hurry to the buckets of food in small groups.
After the feeding, we noticed that a mother and her young baby orangutan emerged out of the trees and made her way to the bucket. With her baby orangutan clinging on to her, she grabbed some food and made off on the wires. The visitors were ecstatic when they saw the baby clinging on to the mother as she casually climbed away on the ropes.
Finally after an hour of observing these amazing creatures, we made our way back via the wooden walkway. Our personal guide Ben then stopped to show us an Orangutan Nest high up on one of the rainforest trees. I never knew that orangutans slept in nests so this was something new to me. The Orangutan nest actually looked like an extremely large birds nest. Ben also explained that the orangutans would sleep with their stomach facing the sky in these nests and that if you saw an orangutan nest, it meant that the orang utan would be in the surrounding area.
As we exited the main walkway, we were directed back to the main building. A souvenir shop is available for those who want memories and mementos of this incredible place. Various T-Shirt designs are available for reasonable prices while stuffed Orangutan toys line the shelves in the shop.
Looking around the souvenir shop, there were also books, postcards and photos of Orang Utans for sale. I grabbed a few postcards for my collection and headed for the next building where a video show was about to start.
The adjoining building has two sections, an exhibition area focusing on endangered wildlife of Sabah and Borneo is on the left while an audio video room is on the right. It is here that you will watch a presentation on the Orang Utan and also learn about the Orangutan Adoption Programme by Orangutan Appeal UK.
The presentation and video took about 20 minutes with a brief introduction by Sarah who heads the Orangutan Appeal UK counter. She highlighted that anyone can participate in the Orangutan Adoption Programme or you can also opt for buying milk and food for the baby Orangutans. A short film then explains in detail the philosophy of the rehabilitation, and the importance of the work of the rangers of Sepilok. I would recommend that you go for this video presentation as it is very educational and interesting.
Orangutan Appeal UK has a counter in the main building. It is located by the entrance to the sanctuary and is managed by Sarah. It s here that you can help the Orangutans by either adoption one (no, you cannot take them home) or you can help by purchasing milk and food for the orangutans.
For the second option of milk and food, it is broken into three choices:
- RM30 (US$10) for one weeks supply of milk for two baby orphaned orangutans.
- RM50 (US$16.50) for one months supply of bananas for the junior orangutans.
- RM70 (US$23) for one weeks supply of vitamins for the baby orangutans.
Finally as we left the main building and walked out, there was a basic cafe offering snacks and drinks. A smoking section inside divides the premises while you can get mineral water, sodas and light snacks here. A public toilet is not too far from the cafe. With a quick local coffee, we headed out to our next destination which was the RDC (Rainforest Discovery Center).
My conclusion: A must visit for everyone who enjoys nature, flora & fauna, and especially those with children. Fantastic educational experience that cannot be found elsewhere in the world. A day trip here would be sufficient so you need not stay over unless you plan to explore the area where the RDC is also located nearby. Once again, a big thank you goes out to Sabah Tourism for making this trip possible.
How to go to Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary:
- Located just out of Sandakan town, Sepilok is about 23 kilometers from town. Getting to Sepilok is fairly simple as it takes about 30-40 minutes by car or van. (Self drive or tour company)
- There is a public bus service from Labuk Bus Company that departs from the Sandakan Town Council at RM2.10 (US$0.60) one way but the bus stops at the junction of the main road. You then need to walk in about 1.5km.
- Taxi service from Sandakan is available with a return trip costing about RM100.00 (US$29). Do negotiate with your taxi about the prices.
- Getting to Sepilok from Kota Kinabalu (KK) is also possible. A bus ride would take about 7-8 hours from KK to Sandakan and would cost around RM30-50 (US$9-$15) one way. Visit this site for Kota Kinabalu-Sandakan bus fares and tickets.
- Better option is to fly to Sandakan as there are direct flights from Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching. Airasia offers some cheap tickets if you book early. Malaysia Airlines also has some decent ticket prices if you want to compare.
- MyKad Holders (Malaysians) - RM5.00
- Others (Foreigners) - RM30.00 (US$8.80)
- Camera Charges - RM10.00 (US$2.95)
- Security Gate: Daily from 8.00am till 5.00pm
- Reception & Ticketing Counter: Daily from 9.00am till 11.00am and 2.00pm till 3.30pm
- Exhibition Hall: Daily (except Fridays) from 9.00am till 4.30pm
- Main Center: Daily from 9.00am till 12.00pm and 2.00pm till 4.00pm Fridays 9.00am till 11.00am, 2.00pm till 4.00pm
Bring mosquito or insect repellent, a poncho or umbrella in case it rains. But you should try to leave all these things at the reception center as the other little monkeys can get up to no good and grab your bag with these things. If you want to bring your mobile phone, please keep it on silent mode. Binoculars are great here if you want a close up look at the Orang Utans.
* Remember to practice Responsible Tourism wherever you are.
What NOT to do
- You are advised not to wear loud colours (bright colours) when visiting Sepilok as it distracts the Orang Utans there.
- In the event an Orang Utan comes to the platform, keep back as they may grab your items such as camera or bag.
- Do not touch or hold the Orangutans at any time.
- If you bring children, please ask them to keep silent.
Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center,
Batu 14, Jalan Labuk Sandakan Sabah,
Telephone: 6 089 531180
Fax: 6 089 531189
Website for Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary
Website for Sepilok by Sabah Tourism
Website for Orang Utan Appeal UK
View Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilition Center in a larger map