Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary in Sabah

Sabah Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary
The Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary is one of the must-visit places when you are in Sabah, Borneo, especially if this is your first time traveling to Sabah.

Over the years of traveling here, I have had the pleasure of visiting the largest and oldest Orangutan Sanctuary and Rehabilitation in the world, which is located just outside of Sandakan town in east coast Sabah.

Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary

Entrance to Sepilok Orangutan SanctuaryThe main entrance area

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.

Many do not know, but 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 comes with 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.

Wooden walkway

As we arrived at the main entrance of the center, our tickets were purchased from the ticket window at the main building. This is compulsory for any visitors here.

You then proceeded to the start of the tour where a wooden platform walkway is built over the rainforest mangrove leading to the main feeding area here in Sepilok.

When I was here, I had a well experienced guide named Old Man Ben, who lead me on this unforgettable journey to see orangutans in their natural surroundings.

Silence Please!

After a good five minute walk through the lush rainforest via the wooden walkways, you will approach the main feeding area for the Orangutans.

A park assistant usually greets you with a bright red and white sign that said 'Silence Please', and immediately you will only hear the natural sounds of the forest.

As I got in quite early, there were only about twenty people around the viewing platform. Note that on peak times, there can be over 50 people here.

Early crowd at the viewing platform

Without hesitation, I walked around looking for a great spot to see these orphaned orangutans in the wild.

My guide Ben had already given me a brief on what to expect here so I was generally on my 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....

Large crowd at viewing platform

......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 extra crowded on weekends, so if you want to avoid crowds, I recommend you visit on a weekday.

Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary Video



Video of Orangutan coming out from bushes for food



Sepilok Orangutan Conservation SandakanOrangutan makes an appearance

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 you do not want to scare the primates here.

Video of Orangutan climbing and then posing at Sepilok



Visitors photographing the orangutans

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.

Photo of SepilokSepilok Viewing platform

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, and it was good enough.

Video of an Orangutan climbing down a tree to get to the platform



Sandakan OrangutanOrangutan monkeying around

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.

Video of Orangutan climbing at Sepilok



Photo Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation CenterA young orangutan hangs from the wires

Precautions At Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center

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 orangutans 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.

Orangutan Feeding Time Orangutan food is brought to the platform

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 the attendants holds a sign that says 'Silence Please' while he takes his seat, and this is where you

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center Feeding timeFeeding time at the platform

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.

Long-tail macaques look for food

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 often seen hanging around at a distance, and eventually hurry to the buckets of food in small groups.

Orangutan Rehabilitation Center Sepilok Sabah Mother, baby and another orangutan

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.

Nest of Orangutan in SabahOrangutan nest on top of a tree

Orangutan Nest 

Finally after an hour of observing these amazing creatures, we made our way back via the wooden walkway to the main entrance of the center.

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.

When you glance at it, the Orangutan nest actually looks like an extremely large birds nest, which I thought was a hornbill 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.

Souvenir Shop Sepilok Orang Utan SanctuarySepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary Souvenir shop

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Souvenir Shop

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.

This is the best place to get some authentic souvenirs that are related to the majestic Orangutan. You will probably be able to find something, no matter small or large here.

Stuffed Orangutan Toy Stuffed Orangutan toys for sale

Looking around the small but interesting souvenir shop, there were books, postcards and photos of Orangutans for sale.

I grabbed a few postcards for my collection and headed for the next building where a special video presentation was about to start.

Orangutan Adoption Programme

Information and AV room

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.

Presentation by Orangutan Appeal UKMs Sarah from Orangutan Appeal UK giving a brief

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, and is really detailed.

Sepilok Orangutan Appeal UKOrangutan Appeal UK information board

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.

Sandakan Orangutan Appeal UKOrangutan Appeal UK adoption form

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.
We bought a RM30 supply of milk for the baby orangutans from Sarah as even a small contribution makes a difference for these amazing creatures.

I hope that those who plan to visit Sepilok will also contribute to the best they can in making sure that these Orangutans get the best help and care they can.

Restaurant at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center Restaurant and Cafe

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).

How to go to Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary
  • Sepilok is located just out of Sandakan town,  and is about 23 kilometers from town. Getting to Sepilok is fairly simple as it takes about 30 to 40 minutes by car or van.

  • 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 directly to Sandakan as there are flights from Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching. Airlines include AirAsia, Malindo Air and Malaysia Airlines. 
Admission/Entrance Fees and Rates to Sepilok
  • MyKad Holders (Malaysians) - RM5.00
  • Others (Foreigners) - RM30.00 (US$8.80)
  • Camera Charges - RM10.00 (US$2.95)
Opening Hours
  • Security Gate: Daily from 8.00 am till 5.00 pm
  • Reception & Ticketing Counter: Daily from 9.00 am till 11.00 am and 2.00 pm till 3.30 pm
  • Exhibition Hall: Daily (except Fridays) from 9.00 am till 4.30 pm
  • Main Center: Daily from
    - 9.00 am till 12.00 pm and 2.00 pm till 4.00 pm
    Fridays from 9.00 am till 11.00 am and 2.00 pm till 4.00 pm
What to bring

Bring mosquito or insect repellent, a poncho or umbrella in case it rains. You never know the conditions of a rainforest, and if you perspire a lot, bring a hand fan.

But you should try to leave all your other 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 Orangutans.

* 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 Orangutans there.
  • In the event an Orangutan 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, or other visitors will start starring at you.
Sepilok Address in Sabah
Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center,
Batu 14, Jalan Labuk Sandakan Sabah,
WDT200, 9009
Sandakan,
Sabah
Telephone: 6 089 531180
Fax: 6 089 531189
Email: soutan@po.jaring.my

Website for Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center
Website for Orangutan Appeal UK



Map to Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary in Sabah

My Conclusion 

The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center is a must visit for everyone who enjoys nature, flora and fauna, and especially those with children.

You can consider this as a 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 Rainforest Discovery Center is also located nearby.

If you want to experience seeing orangutans in the wild, there are many places to do this around Southeast Asia. Check out this cute photo of a baby orangutan sleeping, taken in Bukit Merah Lake Town.

Some of them are private conservations while a number of them are found in Peninsular Malaysia and Indonesia.Among all, one of the best places to fully experience this would at the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary in Sabah.
Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary in Sabah Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary in Sabah Reviewed by David Jr on Monday, December 28, 2009 Rating: 5

10 comments:

IHSAN KHAIRIR said...

awh, should've packed the 70-200mm at least!

I went to sabah a year ago, but didn't get a chance to visit Sepilok...

David Jr said...

Thanks Ishan, should have packed? You mean, should have bought the 70-300? hehehe. Soon my friend, soon!

Regards,
David

Cayenne said...

this is very interesting. as a sabahan i never been to sandakan before. what a shame. i'll pay a visit there very soon =)

David Jr said...

Hello Cayenne, thanks. Well, it's not too late to visit Sandakan. Do follow me as I have about 5-6 more potings about Sandakan in the next few days.

Regards,
David

shloke said...

I've always wanted to go there and visit my 'long lost cousins' Your pictures and wonderful write-up makes me even more excited!

David, I've seen similar raised platform (wooden walkway) at Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve, Taiping. Love the up, close and personal experience.

That junior orang utan is CUTE!!! The long-tail macaques are fierce and frightening. I was nearly attacked by a huge alpha male at Malaysia Agriculture Park. Scary!!!

Thank you for including detailed info about the adoption program.

Cheers!
mylo

David Jr said...

Hi Mylo, thanks a lot. Most of the time I enjoy shooting nature and one of the best places to do this is in Sabah and Sarawak. Going there always makes me feel relaxed and the people of Sabah are so nice.

I've heard of Matang but never been there, probably next year when they open up the new resort.

Regards,
David

Ps. Now if only I could submit this for BlogForFT lol.

David Jr said...

Hello Shenandoah, thanks for the visit and comments. Well, on my trip there, I did not see any of the other animals mentioned. Probably, they are kept inside to be rehabilitated for release in future. Anyway, I am sure they know what they are doing to help these animals.

Regards,
David

David Jr said...

Gagaukon, thank you for the visit and I really enjoyed myself at Sepilok. It was a totally different experience here and I am sure you will one day make a trip there too.

Regards,
David

David Jr said...

This is for Graham whose comment did not appear for some strange reason. Here is the Cut & Paste of the comment -

Hi. This is a terrific blog.
We are planning a visit there very soon. The Viator website says that there is a RM1000 fee fo DSLR cameras with 300mm lenses (just what i have).
Are you able to comment/confirm?
Thanks
-----------------------------------

Graham, from my knowledge, there is no such fee. Unless you are going there to film or photograph them for commercial use. So, the standard camera fees should be applied. When you get there, just tell the guide you have a normal DSLR camera. I will be visiting Sepilok again in May and June so I will double confirm this myth.

David Jr said...

Rain - Glad you know about this and it's high time that other people start to understand situations like these.

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