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Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary in Sabah

Sabah Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary

The Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary is a must-visit place in Sabah, Borneo, especially if this is your first time travelling to Sabah.

Over the years of travelling here, I have had the pleasure of visiting the largest and oldest Orangutan Sanctuary and Rehabilitation in the world, located just outside of Sandakan town on the east coast of 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 hectares Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, which is looked after by the Wildlife Department of Sabah.

Many do not know, but the main reason for this centre is to rehabilitate orphaned baby orangutans who have been captured as pets or found without their mothers.

Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary also comes with a reception centre, an information centre, and animal clinic, a quarantine area, a nursery and an enclosure for various endangered animals found in Sabah.

Wooden walkway

As we arrived at the main entrance of the centre, 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 led 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 says 'Silence Please', and immediately you will only hear the natural sounds of the forest.

As I got in quite early, only about twenty people were 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 looked 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 more apparent and louder, a ruffle was heard in the bushes far from the platform. Heads turned around...

Large crowd at the viewing platform

......and I saw some bushes move, but nothing appeared. I turned around to my surprise, and suddenly, about a hundred visitors crowded 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 orangutan 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 visiting 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 lens.

A compact camera with 20x zoom would work, while a 200mm up to 500mm lens for DSLR users would be perfect.

Mind you, the lens I used was only 18mm-105mm for my pictures, so there were 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 emerge, they play freely on the suspended wires secured from tree to tree around the platform area. Some would climb up the trees, while most would just hang around the cables.

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 swing and climb the trees, two park attendants climb up the main feeding platform with food buckets.

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

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 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 hurrying 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 their way to the bucket.

With her baby orangutan clinging to her, she grabbed some food and made off on the wires. The visitors were ecstatic when they saw the baby clinging 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 centre's main entrance.

Our personal guide, Ben, 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 looks like a giant bird's nest, which I thought was a hornbill nest.

Ben also explained that the Orangutan would sleep with their stomach facing the sky in these nests and that if you saw an orangutan nest, it meant that the Orangutan would be in the surrounding area.

Souvenir Shop Sepilok Orang Utan SanctuarySepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary Souvenir shop

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Souvenir Shop

Exiting the main walkway, we were directed back to the main building. A souvenir shop is available for those who want memories and mementoes 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, whether small or large, here.

Stuffed Orangutan Toy Stuffed Orangutan toys for sale

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

I grabbed a few postcards for my collection and headed for the following 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 the endangered wildlife of Sabah and Borneo is on the left, while an audio-video room is on the right.

Here, you will watch a presentation on the Orang Utan and learn about the Orangutan Adoption Programme by Orangutan Appeal UK.

Presentation by Orangutan Appeal UKMs Sarah from Orangutan Appeal UK gave 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 to buy milk and food for the baby Orangutans.

 A short film then explains in detail the philosophy of rehabilitation and the importance of the work of the rangers of Sepilok.

I recommend that you go for this video presentation as it is very educational, exciting, and 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 adopting one (no, you cannot take them home), or you can support them 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 week's supply of milk for two baby orphaned orangutans.
  • RM50 (US$16.50) for one month's supply of bananas for junior orangutans.
  • RM70 (US$23) for one week's supply of vitamins for baby orangutans.
We bought an RM30 supply of milk for the baby orangutans from Sarah, as even a small contribution makes a difference for these amazing creatures.

I hope 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, a basic cafe offered 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, the RDC (Rainforest Discovery Center).

How to go to Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary
  • Sepilok is located just out of Sandakan town and is about 23 kilometres from the city. Getting to Sepilok is pretty simple as it takes about 30 to 40 minutes by car or van.
  • The public bus service from Labuk Bus Company 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 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 cost around RM30-50 (US$9-$15). 
  • A 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 an umbrella if 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 centre 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 silent. 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.
  • If an Orangutan comes to the platform, keep back as they may grab your items, such as a 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 staring 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
Website for Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center

Map to Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary in Sabah

Conclusion 

The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center is a must-visit for everyone who enjoys nature, flora, and fauna, especially those with children. You can consider this a fantastic educational experience that cannot be found elsewhere.

A day trip here would be sufficient, so you need not stay over unless you plan to explore the area near the Rainforest Discovery Center.

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 in Bukit Merah Lake Town.

Some of them are private conservation, while a number of them are found in Peninsular Malaysia and Indonesia.

Among all, one of the best places to fully experience this would look at the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary in Sabah.

Post a Comment

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...
Malaysia Asia 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 =)
Malaysia Asia 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
Malaysia Asia 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.
Malaysia Asia 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
Malaysia Asia 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
Malaysia Asia 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.
Malaysia Asia said…
Rain - Glad you know about this and it's high time that other people start to understand situations like these.