The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Borneo

by Jan

If you are travelling in Borneo, a visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is a must.

 

With a passion for orangutans since I was a young child, the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre promised to be my ideal day out.   Even if you are not a fan of orangutans (why wouldn’t you be?) kids and adults alike will be captivated by the adorable “Man of the Forest”.

We visited Sepilok on our recent family adventure to Borneo  and it was so amazing we went back the next day.

Family at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Borneo

The Sabah Government established the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in 1964.  Sepilok lays in 4294 hectares of protected rain forest and its main aim is to care for abandoned orangutan orphans and help rehabilitate them so that they can return to the wild.

Sadly, the orangutan is a critically endangered animal and this is worsening with the increasing loss of rain forest to palm oil plantations.  The loss of habitat, alongside the problems of poaching, hunting and the illegal pet trade has led to rapidly declining numbers of orangutans.

Where is the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre?

Welcome to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Borneo

Sepilok Orangutan Centre is about 20 km from the town of Sandakan.  There are a number of organised tours, or you can get a bus or taxi from town (about 45 mins).  However, we found the best option is to stay at a local lodge (see below) and walk to Sepilok.

To find out what other things there are to do in Sandakan, read this post:-

Best things to do in Sandakan

When can you go to Sepilok?

Sepilok is open from 9 – 4pm, but the centre closes between 12 and 2 pm.  However, if you go in the morning, your ticket is still valid in the afternoon.  When we went to Sepilok it cost 30 RM for non-Malay visitors, but you will have to pay an additional 10 RM if you want to take your camera.

On arrival, you can watch a short film.  This outlines the history of Sepilok, the decline of the orangutan and the Sepilok’s conservation work.  You’ll also learn that the orangutan shares 97% of human DNA!

You have to lock your bags in the free lockers provided and remember to use the hand sanitizer, as apes are very susceptible to human disease.  Then, you are ready to go!

Once in, you need to keep your eyes and ears peeled.  Not only could you encounter an orangutan anywhere as, like us, they are free to roam, there are bugs and insects and interesting trees to observe too.  The noise of the jungle is overwhelming as you walk down the wooden boardwalks to the feeding platforms.

Mother and baby Orangutan climbing rope,

What can you do in Sepilok?

Be fascinated by Orangutans!

Join the orangutans' tea party

Two orangutans at feeding platform in Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre in Borneo
Orangutan at feeding platform in Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre in Borneo

The feeding times at Sepilok are at 10am and 3pm, so it is worth timing your visit to correspond.  Some of the older orangutans will come in from the surrounding forest for the food which is provided.  Alternatively, they just come to have a swing in the surrounding ropes.

Remember, there is no guarantee that you will see orangutans at the feeding tables, as they can come and go as they please.  We made 2 visits to Sepilok and saw far more on our 2nd day, than on our first.

See babies in the nursery

Once you’ve had your fill of the older apes, head back along the boardwalk to the outside nursery.  Here we watched the juniors monkeying around.  We had hoped to see our adopted orangutan, Archie.  Unfortunately,  he was in the indoor nursery with the babies.  They keep these little ones away from visitors, so that they don’t get contaminated.

Once at the nursery, visitors can sit in the glassed-in areas to watch the antics of the younger apes in the outdoor nursery.  These youngsters are too young to be fully in the wild.  They are still learning the basic skills of being an orangutan – climbing, playing, nest-building and eating.

It was absolutely mesmerising to sit in an air-conditioned gallery and watch them at play and we didn’t want to leave.

Sepilok really is an unmissable trip for anyone visiting Borneo, as you can get up close and personal and see the orangutans in a natural environment.

Young orangutan hanging at the nursery in Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre in Borneo
Junior orangutan playing in hammock at Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre in Borneo

Where can you stay in Sepilok?

There are several local lodges where you can stay in Sepilok, including The Sepilok Jungle Resort, the Nature Lodge Sepilok and the Sepilok Forest Edge Resort, where we stayed.  These are all within walking distance of Sepilok Orangutan Centre and the Sun Bear Centre.

We booked directly with the Forest Edge Resort, but you can get all of them through Booking.com.  By staying locally in Sepilok, you are free to organise your own visit times.  And even better, you can stay as long as you like to enjoy the orangutans.  This is a contrast to some of the organised tours from Sandakan, who will rush you in and out.

Map of Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary in Borneo and its local lodges and restaurants

Where can you eat at Sepilok?

There is a café at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.  The café is open even when the Sepilok centre shuts for lunch.  Alternatively, you can buy tasty European or Asian dishes at The Lake Bistro (on the Sepilok Nature Resort).  Here you can eat with a wonderful view over the lake.

Eating at the Nature Lodge at Sepilok in Borneo with great Lake views

If you want to go for more authentic Bornean cuisine, head for Mama Wati’s.  This was our favourite restaurant in Sepilok.  What more can you ask for than an abundance of home-cooked food at a very low price?  Don’t be put off by the look of the exterior.  Once inside Mama Wati she made us feel very welcome and the room is very homely.  Plus we were able to see her cook right in front of us.

Top Tip: Don’t forget to ask Mama Wati to cook you some of her banana fritters.

What else can you do at Sepilok?

Adore the smallest bear in the world

Directly opposite Sepilok is The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, which is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of the world’s smallest bear.  We’d not seen these bears before and it was great to observe them in their natural environment.

Borneo Sun bear

For more information on a visit to see the sun bears, read this post:-

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

Visit The Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC)

We had planned to go to the Rainforest Discovery Centre on our 2nd day in Sepilok, but changed out mind at the last minute and went back to the Orangutan Sanctuary for another visit instead.

The Rainforest Discovery Centre is a short distance away from Sepilok.  Here, you’ll find trails and a canopy walk where you can observe more wildlife and tropical flora and fauna.  They also offer night time hikes, which sound fun.

Are you planning a trip to Borneo?  Find more information in our

Borneo Travel Guide

Thank you for reading.

We hope that you enjoyed this post about Sepilok and the lovely pictures of orangutans?  If you have any questions, please comment below.

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