Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre and Sun Bear Conservation Centre

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October 24th 2015
Published: October 26th 2015
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A visit to Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre was one of the reasons I decided to visit Borneo so I was very excited about today! We set off from the hotel and after a 5 minute drive we arrived at the centre, put all our things in a locker, paid my fee for taking in a camera and I was on my way. With my guide, we walked down the board walks to the nursery area and one of the workers was walking along holding hands with 2 adolescent orang-utans, taking them to another area of the centre, one of them was completely bald and looked so odd. They walked straight past me and I could hardly believe I was so close to such an amazing animal.

At the centre they work with orphaned baby orang-utans and those that may have been kept as pets and school them to the point they are able to be released into the wild. The schooling is done in stages and when it's deemed they're ready they move to the next until the day comes when they can be released in to the wild. The training takes a number of years as in the wild a baby will stay with it's mother for a number of years learning everything it needs to survive in the wild and these skills need to be mimicked in the centre so it takes a lot of time and patience. Penalties for anyone keeping one as pet are really harsh and carry a severe prison sentence and a large fine - and rightly so.

I initially went into the nursery area, this is and area where the smaller orang-utans learn to use the ropes and find food on a feeding platform. As they don't want them having too much human contact so they're not used to humans and therefore potentially vulnerable if they're released there is one way glass around an enclosure. There were 3 young orang-utans in the enclosure playing on the ropes and play fighting. It was so wonderful to see them, although it did feel a bit zoo-like I totally understand the reason it's done in that way.

After taking a few photos and speaking to one of the staff members at the centre I went to the feeding platform for breakfast time! The feeding platform is there for those orang-utans who are either close to release and spend a few nights a week out in the rainforest alone and a some of them who have already been released, but, have come back for some easy food! They deliberately keep the food boring to encourage them to go out in the wild and forage for themselves so they're less reliant on the centre.

The feeding platform is out in the open and at 10am a man went to sit on the platform with a basket full of food for any that may turn up. For quite a while there were only a handful of cheeky macaques hoping for a free feed and then we saw the ropes start to move and the trees shaking and in came the first orang-utan. He was around 14 years old and warily came to the platform keeping an eye on the macaques all the time and took some food from the basket. He stuck around for a little while and then off he went into the forest. It was hard to get my head round how human like they actually are.

I remained at the platform for about 10 minutes waiting to see if any more would arrive for breakfast, just when I was starting to think I wouldn't see any more, another one came swinging in from the forest it was a mother and a baby of around 18 months. She went straight to the platform and her baby stayed with her mother clinging on. After a few minutes, the baby started to gingerly move away and play on a nearby rope. The baby spent a while taking food from it's mother and swinging about. It was so cute! When they both had a full belly they went back off into the forest and that was feeding time all finished. I was totally amazed by the orang-utans and felt very privileged to see them so closely and couldn't believe I'd seen wild ones (although still a little reliant on humans) there at the centre.

Once feeding time was over we took a short walk over the the Sun Bear Conservation Centre. The centre opened in October 2014 to help protect the dwindling numbers of sun bears. Sun bears are only found in Borneo and although it is known numbers are dropping, it's not currently known how many there are living in the wild. Sun bears have historically been poached so their bladders can be used in Chinese medicine. They have also found some kept as pets in different areas of the country, again, penalties are severe for poaching or keeping them as pets. Sun bears are the smallest bear in the world and in some ways resemble a sloth in terms of their claws, but, don't move so slowly and are much cuter! They are black with a tell-tale golden ring on their chest. They are quite shy and pretty hard to spot in the trees. I was quite lucky when I was there as they decided to feed them so a couple came down toward the viewing platform for some food.

When feeding time was over, they disappeared back into the trees and I headed out of the centre for the journey to the jetty to take me to the Abai Jungle Lodge on the Kinabatangan River


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