January 19, 2011
After my week in Singapore my dad and I flew off to Borneo not knowing quite what to expect other than a lot of heat, a lot of bugs, and some adorable monkeys. We found all three of those things in Borneo, but the image of the scary jungle and complete wilderness was very different from what I found. When I decided to go to Borneo I honestly didn’t know much about it other than that it was home to orangutans. I didn’t even know where it was and had to look it up on a map. When I thought of the island of Borneo I pictured dangerous jungles and the ancient headhunters, what I found was a fair amount of infrastructure and thousands of palm oil plantations. Borneo used to be a jungle wilderness where the orangutan roamed free, but now because of severe deforestation to make way for the palm oil plantations there are only small patches of virgin jungle left. This is one of the main factors in why the amazing orange ape is going extinct. The orangutans need the jungle and cannot survive in the palm trees at the palm oil plantations. The word orangutan even means man of the jungle in malay and it is very important that we allow this very human-like ape stay in the jungle. Much like the pandas in China, the orangutans genes are getting muddled because they are being isolated in patches of jungle and don’t have the ability to reach each other to create more diverse genetic offspring. The orangutans are also hunted for illegal animal trade because many people on the island want them for pets. Many mothers and babies will be killed while trying to procure one baby to sell. It is illegal to have an orangutan as a pet as they are often mistreated and become sick. An orangutan kept as a pet may never be able to be fully rehabilitated to the wild. Luckily there is an amazing organization by the name of Orangutan Appeal UK that works in conjunction with the Malaysian government to run the Sepilok Rehabilitation Center just outside the northern city of Sandakan in Sabah, my first stop in Borneo.
The Sepilok Rehabilitation Center is about an hour out of the main city of Sandakan and is perched on the edge of a beautiful virgin rain forest. The center is the best place to go for an (almost) guaranteed sighting of an orangutan. The sanctuary is not a zoo and the orangutans are free roaming in the rain forest, but food is put out for them two times a day on a feeding platform that visitors can watch from and the orangutans will come eat at the platforms. Obviously they are wild animals and some days they decide to forage for their own food or they eat at other feeding platforms not open to the public, but usually at least one or two will come to the viewing platform. One day we saw a whole group of around six come to the platform and they even jumped down onto the walkway and walked right in front of us on our walk to the platform.
Sepilok is open all day and you can visit the platform for both the morning and afternoon feedings. There are also a few trails you can take with a guide. It was raining pretty badly the whole time we were there so we held off on those trails and decided to do some when we were further in the jungle on the Kinabatangan River. However we did decide to do a night walk at Sepilok, which was a ton of fun. We were staying at the Sepilok Jungle Resort right next store to the center, which offered a night tour, but our guide told us they overcharged and that he could set one up for us cheaper directly at the rehabilitation center. When we went to the center they were offering one for even cheaper than our guide said he could get us so we booked directly through the center. If you have never traveled in Asia before this is something I highly recommend doing. Almost everywhere you go someone will try and rip you off so always book directly whenever you can. Our guide was through the company Amazing Borneo and he was horrible. He was rude, uninformed and not the least bit helpful or pleasant to be around. I do not recommend booking with Amazing Borneo! I do highly recommend doing the night walk though and doing it at the rehabilitation center. You can do a one-hour one on the boardwalk or a two-hour one going into the jungle. I was still pretty sick at this point and we were a bit wimpy and did the boardwalk, but we still saw a ton of things and many of them were icky and made me happy I was on the platform! The night walk is a great time to see snakes, scorpions, spiders, land crabs, and many other weird insects. We got lucky and also saw a beautiful sleeping black backed kingfisher on a nearby branch that looked like it was posing perfectly for us.
The Sepilok Jungle Resort is a great place to stay if you are interested in seeing orangutans. It is literally a less than 5-minute walk from the rehabilitation center and sometimes the apes even come into the resort area. One morning we witnessed about 15 orangutans clamber over the trees right behind some of the cabins and pass right by us. The hotel itself is nice and clean, there are some bugs, but that comes with the territory. I never saw anything big or scary in the rooms and trust me I looked! The rooms are each individual cabins that surround a lagoon and there are many beautiful birds and bugs that fly around the resort. There is also a nice central area where meals are served and there is a hammock and lounge chairs, but I felt it was too hot to sit outside. The rooms have fans and air conditioning so I much preferred being in there when I wasn’t watching the wildlife.
If you are a nature lover and orangutan enthusiast this is a perfect destination for you. These amazing apes are extremely endangered and we must act now to ensure their existence in the future. For more information on the orangutan and to learn about how you can help please visit the WWF or the Orangutan Appeal UK. You can even adopt a beautiful orangutan baby and Orangutan Appeal UK will send you pictures and information about your orangutan. I adopted the adorable baby boy Sen who you can check out and adopt yourself here.