Traveling to Borneo to see the orangutans was a dream that had topped my ‘bucket list’ for years. When we were preparing to move abroad back in 2007 and I was busy dreaming of all-things-travel, I discovered programs that allowed you to stay for extended stretches to volunteer with the orangutans. From that moment on I was determined we’d make it to Borneo. While long-term volunteering wasn’t feasible for this particular trip, we were still able to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre; an organization that has been doing wonderful things for the great red apes since 1964. The goal of the centre is to care for injured and orphaned orangutans, with the goal of releasing them back into the wild. As the centre receives much of its funding through tourism, educating the public about the plight of these incredible apes has become an additional focus.
The orangutans are free to roam the grounds of the reserve at their leisure, so it is possible to see them just about anywhere. Feeding platforms were constructed among the trees, and twice a day visitors congregate on nearby viewing paths to see if any of the orangutans, enticed by a free meal, will emerge from the surrounding jungle. We stayed at the nearby Sepilok Jungle Resort, and arrived at the orangutan rehabilitation centre just before the first feeding. Eager tourists were everywhere, but we were still able to secure a spot with a pretty good view. Three young orangutans showed up, and entertained us for a solid half hour, dangling from ropes and bickering over bits of fresh fruit. These playful, inquisitive and agile creatures were absolutely fascinating to watch! We decided to stay at the rehabilitation centre until the second feeding, which turned out to be an excellent decision as most of the tourists from the morning feeding had long-since clambered back into their mini-buses to explore other highlights around Sepilok, and we were among just a handful of viewers in the afternoon. Again, several spirited juvenile orangutans made their way to the feeding platforms, as well as one adult female- what a treat!
We were really pleased to find an organization that is so dedicated to the care and preservation of the orangutans. Ethical animal tourism options can be hard to find, and we appreciated the efforts the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre took to ensure the orangutans remained safe and undisturbed, all while providing us with incredible viewing opportunities.
A few helpful tips for families visiting the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre:
- Arrive early (at least 30 minutes prior to the feeding times- even earlier in the morning) if you’d like to secure a prime viewing spot.
- There are far more tourists at the morning feeding, so visit in the afternoon if possible.
- The grounds (jungle platforms, picnic areas) and facilities (restrooms, cafeteria) are very well kept and easy to navigate with a stroller. While the restroom was in excellent condition, as of our visit in February 2016, there were no changing tables.
- You are only allowed to carry your camera with you to the feeding platforms, so plan accordingly. It’s usually hot, so drink plenty of water before heading down to the feeding platforms. Lockers are provided for the rest of your belongings.
- For those carrying SLR cameras, you will need a significant zoom lens for taking photos (we just had our 100mm with us).
- Cold drinks, snacks, ice cream and lunch options are available at the cafeteria, and are reasonably priced.
During the hours between the morning and afternoon feedings, we enjoyed a yummy lunch at the cafeteria and Isla kept herself entertained by collecting and organizing tamarind pods.
This cheeky little fellow wandered onto a roof so that he could get a better view of all the people.
Baby Girl, all worn out from the excitement of our day. Love how she can sleep just about anywhere!