Borneo was always going to be a highlight – with its mountains, jungle, seas and wildlife – ever since we started planning our trip. It is the world’s third largest island and contains bits of three different countries. The bit we’re in, Sabah, is one of the two Malaysian states and plays host to the number one Borneo attraction: Mount Kinabalu. Here’s a map for anyone (like me) who needs help visualising:
The mountain (well, the trails around its base) was one of our first stops but the weather didn’t want to cooperate. This is becoming a theme with the must-sees of the world: four days trekking lead to a Macchu Pichu shrouded in mist and most of our jungle treks in India, Sri Lanka and the one in Thailand were thoroughly rained upon! True to form, we didn’t actually see Mount Kinabalu due to the immense fog but we did valiantly attempt a rainy, slippery, steep 6km descent in a race against the setting sun!
Our next stop, Sepilok, although rainy, was altogether much more successful! We stayed in an amazing wooden chalet in a resort on the edge of the jungle where crickets and frogs chorus continually. We splashed out courtesy of Harry and Ting’s Christmas gift, and it was definitely a good decision. The grounds were beautiful with a lily pond, forest trails, ducks, chickens, three cows, five goats, at least one turtle and a trio of very shy deer.
But it wasn’t all idyllic jungle life: I kept finding gecko poo on my bed and we also had massive ants and a cockroach in the room! The breakfast was the best we’ve had yet (this is how I did all my previous travel journals!):
The reason for coming to Sepilok was to visit the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre which was set up in 1964, funded by the Sabah Government, with the aim of returning ‘orphaned, injured and displaced orangutans back into the wild’. Common causes are loss of habitat due deforestation to make room for palm oil plantations plus people’s desire to have a furry orange pet.
When an orangutan is rescued, they undergo rigorous health checks and spend time in quarantine before moving into the nursery. Here humans teach them all the jungle skills – like foraging, nest building and climbing – they would have learnt from their mothers who they would have stayed with for the first 7 or so years.
Next they move to the great outdoors, giving them more freedom and less dependence on humans. They are able to roam the forest, often following a more experienced ape. Twice a day, at 10 and 3, the Centre provides food for the orangutans and this is where visitors have the chance to view them relatively close up. However, sightings are never guaranteed because they intentionally supply the same, uninteresting food every day in order to encourage the orphans to fend for themselves. A good move in terms of rehabilitation but not so good for the unlucky tourists.
Eventually most of the orangutans achieve complete independence and integrate with the rest of the population in the 4,294 hectare Kanili-Sepilok Forest.
We were fortunate enough to see three orangutans in the morning and five plus a baby in the afternoon. Although wild animals, they are comfortable enough with humans to ignore the on-looking visitors so it’s really exhilerating to watch them minding their own business and just being orangutans! It’s plain to see how they got their name – meaning man of the wild or jungle man – because they are incredibly human-like, until they start swinging through the trees of course!
I’m really glad we visited because it was good to contribute to the much-needed conservation of such amazing creatures, but also it was a privilege to see them at such close proximity. Thanks to Anthea, Bill, William, Charlie, Rob and Dougie Graham for their wedding presents that enabled us to visit.
Later in the week it’s possible we will see their fully-wild relations which, if we’re lucky enough to find any, are likely to be far too high up to see so clearly.
Here are a few more of my favourite pictures. Clenan and her baby:
A few orangutan facts:
☆They are the largest tree-dwelling animals.
☆They are the only one of the 4 kinds of great ape that live outside Africa (the others being chimpanzee, gorilla and bonobo).
☆They build new nests every day.
☆They generally live alone.
☆They are four times stronger than a man.
☆It used to be said an orangutan could swing through the trees from one side of Borneo to the other but deforestation means that’s no longer possible.
☆Females only have one child at a time and only 2 or 3 during their lives.
☆They don’t like swimming.
☆Borneo’s indigenous people used to worship orangutan skulls.
☆An adult’s arm span can reach 8 feet across.
☆It’s estimated there are only about 15000 orangutans left in the wild and they’re all in Borneo and Sumatra (Indonesia).
Between feeding times we visited the plant section of the Rainforest Discovery Centre. I’ll leave you with a few snaps. It was the first time I’d ever seen pitcher plants (carniverous) hence the final collage devoted to them!