Walk on the Wild Side
Adjacent to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is the world-renowned Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (sabahtourism.com/sepilokorangutan-rehabilitation-centre). It has been shining a light on saving and rehabilitating the “wild men of Borneo” for more than 40 years – and thanks to its efforts, dwindling numbers have been arrested. At its outdoor nursery, we watch three cheeky orphaned infants rough-and-tumble on rubber tyres, trampolines and climbing ropes. Just like humans (after all, they share around 96% of our DNA) the others are affectionate; hugging each other and adorning themselves with flower-stalk necklaces as they play on a jungle gym designed to prepare them for the real thing.
Walking further into the reserve, Sepilok’s familiar heat and humidity cast a sultry haze across the rainforest backdrop where small crowds gather to witness the twice-daily orangutan feedings. Camera shutters click at a furious rate to capture these poster creatures for a threatened species.
Silence falls as a ranger sits quietly on the feeding platform and five orangutans delicately pick at bananas and watermelon scattered around. Showing off his agility, Churria, the resident “bad boy” adolescent, uses a rope to hover, trapeze-style, over the platform, lazily swinging by three limbs as the fourth scoops up handfuls of fruit. Another orangutan shimmies down a rope like a pole dancer. Sepilok is the final frontier for Sabah’s rescued orangutans before they’re rehabilitated back into the wild – areas that, in many parts of Borneo, are being rapidly consumed by palm-oil plantations.
Tales of orangutans’ human-like behaviour are fascinating – just ask the rangers.