WILDLIFE SANCTUARY

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Published on January 04, 2020 with No Comments

At Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, displaced young orangutans are trained to survive in the wild while tourists get a glimpse of these endangered animals.

Words SK NG
Images SABAH TOURISM

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The biggest threats to wildlife in the jungle are deforestation and illegal poaching. For a baby orangutan, to have these threats happen to you means losing your natural habitat as well as your mother. The orphaned orangutan is in distress; without help, its chance of survival is extremely slim. Because like a human baby, the orphaned young orangutan would normally live with its mother for five to six years, being taught how to cope in the wild by the mother. Unfortunately, the population of Bornean orangutan has dwindled by 50 percent in the past 60 years and there are less than 50,000 orangutans living in Borneo. If this continues, who knows what the future lies for these endangered species.

The Orangutans
Asia’s only great ape, the orangutan (man of the forest) is found only on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. These rust-coloured animals live up in trees where they also build their own nest for sleeping. Orangutans are not territorial and are solitary except when mating. They are omnivorous, eating both plants and animals but mainly feed on fruits, young leaves, bark and insects. Unfortunately, due to the destruction of natural forests and unreliable food sources, the orangutans are facing threats of being endangered. Most of the remaining orangutans are found in protected forests.

Which is where the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre comes in. Established in 1964 in Sabah’s Sandakan, this world-famous centre, which is also the world’s first to dedicate itself to the orangutan cause, helps rehabilitate orangutans that have been orphaned or displaced due to these threats to cope in the wild while its health is carefully monitored before returning them to forest life. Many orphaned orangutans have successfully been rehabilitated and released into the Kabili-Sepilok Forest, a virgin jungle rich in tropical rainforest and mangrove swamp, and have thrived due to the centre’s rehabilitation process that starts as soon as the orangutan is admitted to the centre.

Fun Fact
BEST TIME TO VISIT: October to February is the green season in Borneo where there is more rainfall but higher river levels to allow for close encounters with wildlife.

STAY HERE: For quick access to the rehabilitation centre, consider staying at the Sepilok Nature Resort situated right at the Sepilok Forest Reserve entrance.

Here, young orangutans spend their time in the nursery, learning skills that are important to jungle life such as finding food, building a nest and climbing. Then, these orangutans are moved to the outdoor nursery for a more realistic habitat to acclimatise them to the living conditions they will be in later on. At the outdoor nursery is where these orangutans really pick up essential skills, their dependence on the rehab centre’s staff is decreased so that they gain more confidence to prepare themselves for the wild. For example, they are trained to no longer depend on staff to find food to eat, as they would in the jungle. The final as well as most essential part of the rehabilitation is to ensure that these orangutans achieve total independence and become integrated into the Sepilok wild orangutan population before they are released to the jungle.

Heart of Borneo
Borneo accounts for just one percent of the world’s land yet holds approximately six percent of biodiversity in its tropical forests with species ranging from the orangutans to the Rafflesia flower. However this diversity is under threat as Borneo has lost over half of its forests. To address this, the governments of Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia initiated a joint Declaration in 2007 called the Heart of Borneo (HoB), where the aim is to conserve the biodiversity of HoB for the benefit of the people who rely upon it.

HoB refers to the main part of Borneo where forests remain intact, and it extends into the territory of the countries that are part of the initiative. Half a million indigenous people still rely on this rainforest, as well as countless species that are unique to the area. Through the initiative, the three nations share the responsibility for protecting the area and sustainably managing it. You too can help protect the rainforests of Borneo. To find out how, go to www.heartofborneo.org.

The centre is also focused on creating awareness among the public on the threats that these endangered species are facing. Its work has reached many, making Sepilok one of Sabah’s most popular tourist destinations, with many travelling to this small town for the rare opportunity of seeing the orangutan live and in action. But take note that this is not a zoo; there’s no show or petting whatsoever, instead it is a learning centre for the public on the unique lives of these animals as well as to understand the dangers that they are currently going through.

GETTING TO SEPILOK AND THE CENTRE
To get to Sepilok town, you will first need to make your way to Sandakan. Through its latest initiative RB Link, Royal Brunei Airlines makes it easy for you to get here along with other selected destinations in Borneo. You’ll first have to fly to Bandar Seri Begawan before making the easy transit to Sandakan. From there, there are public buses that go directly to Sepilok or you can arrange for a taxi to take you there.

Its visitors centre is open to the public daily from 8:45am. To get access to the centre, you will need to purchase a ticket. Visitors can access the feeding platform and outdoor nursery to view the orangutans as well as to learn more about the centre’s efforts at rehabilitating these animals. Take note though there are certain opening hours for both the platform and outdoor nursery, where feeding times are at 10am and 3pm. Because the orangutans are living wild in the centre, there is no guarantee that you will spot them at the feeding platform. This is especially during the fruiting seasons where the orangutan is most likely to eat in the forest itself. Which is a positive thing as it means that the animal is no longer reliant on the centre’s staff for feeding.

You will have the opportunity to observe the animals through specialised protected facilities as they go through their final stage of rehabilitation training on the ropes and trees. Remember – no touching the orangutans; they are highly susceptible and vulnerable to human diseases. After all at the centre, it is all about the orangutan’s safety.

For more information on Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, go to www.sabahtourism.com.

 


Royal Brunei Airlines flies Sandakan 6x weekly for easy connections to Sepilok. Discover things to do in Sepilok in www.muhibah.com.bn

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