Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary Sabah Malaysia

With a name which literally translates as `man of the forest’ the orang utan is native to the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. As the largest tree dwelling great ape the differ from the larger African gorilla in that orang utans do live and move through the trees rather than dwell on the ground as do their larger cousins.

They are among the most intelligent of the primates, and often use sophisticated tools in their pursuit for food. Orang utan are also an endangered species, and in the Malaysian state of Sabah, on the northern section of Borneo, active efforts are being made to preserve orang utans and to help them to flourish within their rainforest home.

The Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre was set up in 1964 to rehabilitate orphaned baby orang utan. Set in the lush 4,300-hectare Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, the Centre under the administration of the Wildlife Department of Sabah attracts tourists and researchers alike, giving them the opportunity to watch the orang utan up close in their natural habitat. A boardwalk leads you to a viewing gallery and feeding platform where the apes are fed milk and bananas twice a day at 10.00am and 3.00pm by rangers. Feeding time also attracts long-tailed macaques to the area.

While orang utan rehabilitation is still the primary goal at Sepilok, it also focuses on public education on conservation, research and assistance on other endangered species such as the rhinoceros.

Visitors are restricted to walkways. Some orang utan have become familiar with people but touching them is strongly discouraged, and while the apes are naturally shy and gentle, the more mischievous ones may try to grab your camera or hat, in which case you should call for a ranger as trying to wrestle the 200 pound apes may not be a good idea.

Women should be especially careful as there are cases of male orang utan displaying a sexual attraction for human females; one incident famously included the actress Julia Roberts who had to fend off an admiring male whilst on a film shoot.

Whilst most visitors to Sepilok, which is near the city of Sandakan, confine their visit to the Rehabilitation Centre, it is also possible to see orang utan outside the centre too.

For the more adventurous, there is trekking through mangrove forest. As this is under the Forestry Department, you will have to get a permit from them before trekking the 5km trail which runs through Sepilok Laut. You can also arrange for a boat return or accommodation in chalets in the forest.

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