Hello! I know its been awhile (we bought a house, gutted it, and are still putting it back together), but here I am on another crazy trip and had some time to share. Like old times!
This exact trip in some ways I’ve been planning for 5 years. This was my next stop when I decided to ditch all future plans and go to Nepal is help earthquake relief efforts. I ended up meeting Ben (my fiance now), starting a non-profit (Casd USA), and changing my life because of that trip. BUT that doesn’t erase how much I’ve still wanted to get to Borneo and see the Orangutans!
As you may know, Orang Utans are one of the great apes that are distant relatives of ours. They historically lived in many jungles on many islands in what today is Malaysia and Indonesia, but they are now critically endangered due to habitat loss (palm oil plantations) and hunting. With only an estimated 50,000 left in the wild in Borneo, we still lose 2,000-3,000 every year. However there is a 46 square mile forest preserve in the Sabah region of Borneo that was established in 1964, where the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre provides care for injured and orphaned orangutans and transitions them back to the wild. None of the 40-60 orangutans there are kept in cages-they are free to roam the forest and come to the daily fruit feedings whenever they want to. The young orangutans typically stay in the nursery area of the center where there are ropes and platforms to climb on, and volunteers teach them to build leaf nests every night.
I’ve always been fascinated by them. Maybe it’s because they’re redheads like me, or maybe it’s just imagining what it would be like to look another intelligent creature in the eyes. Whatever the reason, I’ve been drawn here, and finally found the time, a travel buddy (the same friend I was traveling with 5 years ago!), and the cheap plane tickets to make it happen!
After a long 2 days of travel we made it to Sandakan and took a short taxi ride to our “jungle lodge” in Sepilok just in time for sunset. Dinner was a buffet of fried noodles, fish curry, fried chicken, and eggplant in soy sauce. We got up early yesterday for a quick breakfast and then took the 15 min walk to the Orang Utan center!
I was so anxious that we wouldn’t see any, but literally about 200 ft along the boardwalk we found a keeper trying to encourage a young male to move along the railing. We couldn’t believe our luck!
As we followed along at a distance, we saw two more little ones playing in a tree!
Seriously. Incredible. I was sooo happy. But it got better! After the keeper hurried us along we headed to the “nursery” area. There were about a dozen young orangutans just hanging out, eating and playing. You can watch them from a big viewing room with a glass wall without disturbing them.
When we were heading down to the main feeding platform in the forest outside we were abruptly turned around – there was a momma trying to come up the walkway!
Funny enough the feeding outside is supposed to be the “big event” but I went to both the morning and afternoon feeding, feeling completely claustrophobic with maybe one hundred other tourists crowding around me on the viewing platform (they come for day tours and just go straight to the feeding platform and then leave), and none of the wild orangutans ever came! Which was totally fine since we got much better, intimate viewings just by wandering around at the right time. When I went back in the afternoon by myself, after leaving the empty feeding platform I walked up on this hilarious little orangutan just showing off. It was just me and a keeper for awhile watching his antics from 10 ft away, then a couple german women wandered up too. I hung out and watched this little guy (he was 7 years old) for probably a half hour and never stopped grinning. I still cant believe my luck and how happy it made me.
As wild as I am about the orangutans, we also saw some macaques wandering through.
And across the street is a wonderful Sun Bear Conservation Center. They rescue sun bears that are in captivity and either raise them to be released far away from civilization or keep them in safe enclosures here. Seeing the fences was a shock after the wide open orangutan center, but they ARE bears that shouldn’t be wandering around and mixing with people. Especially since they’re so cute! I can understand why people want to try to keep them as pets.
They’re actually vegetarians – we happened to get there right as they were tossing them carrots and bananas to forage for. It was so crazy to watch one hold a carrot between his paws and much away just like we do.
At night we went to the Rainforest Discovery Center a short walk in the other direction. The highlight was heading up the canopy walkway (probably 100 ft up) and getting to see a giant flying squirrel take off and fly! I didnt have my camera out but he really flew right at us before landing on a tree nearby and we could see they outline of his body backlight against his wings. A Discovery channel moment for sure. We also saw 3 slow loris which are really rare! Its incredible that the guides spotted them in the night just by the reflection of the flashlight in their eyes. I actually did a report on slow loris back in like 5th grade (before wikipedia when I probably had to go to the library and photocopy pages from encyclopedia brittanica) and I never imagined I would actually see one in the wild. (Pictures are too blurry but here you go anyway)
All that in one day!!
Tomorrow we’re starting a 2 day trek up Mount Kinabalu and then we recover with a day at a hot springs and then I head home. Super quick trip but it’s already worth it!!