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Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre

By marksams, 08/05/2010 - 04:56

Orang Utan - lit: 'Man of the Forest' or 'Forest People'

Most people spend a morning (or afternoon) there, but we settled in for the day, taking things at our own pace. As mentioned before, we had been travelling for 3 days to get here, and I wasn't about to leave after the 10am feeding session finished in 45 minutes! Luckily the centre does (only just) cater for day trippers, with a nature trail (only one of many was open) through the rain forest, a low-quality cafe and a 20 minute promotional video. We took our time on the nature trail, letting the crowds pass and found it was all ours on the return leg with much more wildlife (mostly lizards, birds, butterflies and a snake) around us. We also saw a few monkeys up in the forest canopy, which we managed to locate by following the sounds of their urine smacking against the leaves around us!

The Orang Utans are the star of the show at Sepilok, and the 10am feeding was entertaining with 3 or 4 young Orang Utans turning up for bananas and milk. It was a bit of a strange setup, with the implication that the Orang Utans had wandered in freely from the surrounding forest, rather than being released from their 'home' backstage. As the video told us, part of the rehabilitation is learning to navigate the ropes between trees to get to the feeding platform.

Most Orang Utans taken into the centre are young orphans whose mothers abandoned them, or were killed - probably by humans. They need to be taught the skills for survival, and are normally released back into the wild 6-10 years later. One reason for abandonment is lack of food as their natural habitat (the rainforest) is destroyed for capitalist gain by the Palm oil corporations. This was self-evident on our journeys between Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan, and between Sandakan and Sukau. There are seemingly endless Palm oil plantations rolling over the hills for as far and wide as the eye can see, occasionally with a relatively small patch of forest separating them.

The afternoon feeding session was a slightly more sober affair, as only a very shy (or unwilling) mother carried her baby very slowly to the platform, and took a few sips of milk whilst keeping her back to the crowd at all times. The highlight of the day was around 2.30pm, en route to the feeding area, when 3 young Orang Utans were freely strolling around in the grounds and interacting with the tourists. It proved a close encounter and I managed to snap a decent picture, with fond memories.