Giant Apes and Rainforests and Bears… (oh my)

We have arrived safely in Sandakan.

We have learned that our waterproof camera is full of water.

We have bought a new camera.

It’s time to take some pictures.

We had three options for going to Sepilok.  We could go with a tour that would include The Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Center, The Sun Bear Sanctuary, and the Rainforest Discovery Center for around 300rm each.  We could hire a taxi for 200rm for 8 hours to get us to all these places and pay entrance fees. We chose door #3 to take the local minibus at 9am for 6rm each and pay the entrance fees.

Armed with our new camera, we arrive safely at Sepilok to learn that the orang-utans and the sun bears are about 50m apart.  Check two off the list easy.  It’s 9:50am as we enter the rehabilitation center.  It cost us 30rm each plus an extra 10rm camera fee.  I didn’t know what to expect but this wasn’t it.  It’s a big boardwalk through the jungle.  I learned later that their goal is to give the orang-utans as much freedom as possible with two set feeding times in the day.  Turns out that if you don’t show up for a feeding time, you’re certainly not guaranteed to see anything.

We arrive at the feeding platform and it is busy.  But you look out and there’s a bunch of orang-utans patiently waiting for food to arrive.  A few moments later a guy with a big basket of fruit shows up and the feeding begins.  I watch for a little bit as more orang-utans show up, elegantly swinging on the ropes to the feeding platform.  Kristi has the camera though so I slip off to the side where there is a big information board about the orang-utans.  I learn that they feed them the same thing everyday because like humans, they will get bored off the food and it will encourage them to find their own.  On this note, one of the orang-utans was noticeably selective about what he was eating.   At one point, he looked around, found what he wanted and took it from a smaller orang-utans hands.  The smaller ape was unphased and just picked up another piece of fruit and went back to eating.

PSX_20140911_075606 The best part is, we managed to get this employee in all of the platform pics looking depressed and bored as shit.  Lighten up buddy.  Your job consists of feeding orang-utans and having your picture taken.  At least pretend to enjoy yourself.  If that was me I would be like “OH MY GOD! I’M FEEDING MONKEYS! THIS IS THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE!”  That would be everyday.  That guy’s life is awesome and he doesn’t even know it.

Today was our lucky day.  We happened to be relaxing near the big information board when we had a little orang-utan come by and hang out on the ledge nice and close to us.  So close that we could have reached out and touched her… but you’re not allowed to do that because we can transfer diseases between each other and these guys already have fragile immune systems which is why they are here and not chilling in a banana tree.  When we entered, they make everyone sanitize their hands.


We walked around a bit then came back as the crowd dispersed and caught a few more photos of this guy hanging out.  there are a few trails and walkways here but all but one were closed.  We walked 5 minutes down that trail to run into a massive pool of mud, so we turned back.  A few of the orang-utans were on their way by us swinging in the trees.  One ugly little guy even ran right by Kristi on the walkway.  She had to get out of the way and in turn missed her photo opportunity.  But she got this one before hand


Orang-utan in local tongue translates to: Man of the forest
Orang-utans share 98% of the same DNA as humans.
They are our closest ancestor.
They are one of the four “great apes” in the world and only found in southeast Asia.
Currently an endangered species, this is one of a few centers that is helping them
Unlike most monkeys, Orang-utans cannot swim because their hair is too heavy
In turn, they also don’t like the rain.  They will find a large leaf and use it as an umbrella when it rains
They also prefer to build nests under large leaves to protect them from rain while sleeping.
The babies stay under their parents care until ages 6-7 which is longer than any other animal in the world.

What a fascinating animal.  One day I would love to find the time to work with these gentle guys.

We ate lunch and walked across to the Sun Bear rescue.  The price was the same as the orang-utans, 30rm each but no camera fee.  You basically walk up a large platform to a viewing point where there are two large “cages” separating the bears with five in one and six in the other.  They have been separated by age and personality.  One had a bunch of younger, more social bears and the other was filled with larger, older and shy bears.  This was just alright until a random employee walked up to us and started explaining the bears with generic and personal facts about the bears including their ages, names and curiosity levels.

PSX_20140911_081716 The Boreo sunbear is the smallest of the entire bear family.

They are great climbers. They have long claws to help them with this.
They climb trees to hang out and to find honey
Winnie the pooh was obviously a sun bear
Their diet is mostly shrubs, berries and honey
They have unusually long tongues
Often when they are young, they are often mistaken as dogs
Because they are so small, people try to keep them as pets
Then they become too big to control and they are kept in cages too small which stunts growth and is obviously not good for the bears.
This place rescues the bears and rehabilitates them in hopes of being able to release them into the wild.

When we showed up we found out that they had already been fed.  This was a bit disappointing to us but we were told that they don’t have a set feeding time because the bears know and then become reliant on these feeding times rather than using their time to dig and find shrubs on their own.  Watching them roam around, you realize that they are very curious guys.  It was a great way to spend an hour.

A special thank you to the staff member that took the time to go out of her way and approach us and educate us on these guys.  We don’t expect that kind of service here and it was very uplifting and made things much more worthwhile to have all this information shared in person and I didn’t have to read the wikipedia page to recite facts.

A 1.8km walk down the road was the Rainforest  Discovery Center.  As we arrived, it was 15rm each to enter.  Here they have a few different activities.  Most of it is nature walks with a handful of paths and look out towers.  The main thing spotted here is various birds.  We didn’t see much.  Most of their information signs are gone because pig-tailed macaques destroy them.  So they put these signs up instead.

PSX_20140911_142423 We spent a couple hours walking around here.  On one of the towers, we were able to see a family of orang-utans in the distance moving through the trees.  I know we just came from the sanctuary but this was still cool to see.  Despite being tired and sore from walking in the heat all day, we decided we had to go through the botanical garden.  Why?  They have pitcher plants! A 20 minute walkthrough and we finally came across them.


Coooooooooooollll.  Our lives are complete.  We catch the 4pm bus back to Sandakan, have dinner and turn in early.  Tomorrow we are being picked up at 11:30am to go to the Kinabatangan River where we will spend two nights.  Our friends were there a month ago and saw elephants! I hope we can be so lucky.

One thought on “Giant Apes and Rainforests and Bears… (oh my)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s