The orangutans of Sepilok. Borneo, Malaysia.

The orangutans of Sepilok

  Malaysia: Peninsula and Borneo - July 2006

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text: 

Here I am in Sandakan, in the north-east of Borneo (Malaysia), to see "in real" orangutans at the Sepilok Center. These great apes with red hair, victims of poaching and deforestation, are gradually being reintroduced to the wild, in a natural reserve in the middle of the jungle.

A "managed" jungle for tourists

July 18, 2006. I arrived in the morning, my bags are put down. At the beginning of the afternoon, about one hour before the meal of the orangutans announced at 3 pm, I go to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre of Sandakan...located right next to my hotel.

It is both a protected nature reserve and a veterinary center, whose primary mission is to rehabilitate orphaned or injured orangutans and reintroduce them into the jungle. Often young orangutans are abandoned or separated from their parents, victims of poaching and deforestation.

The Sepilok Center also strives to educate visitors about the plight of orangutans. This animal has become the symbol of deforestation in Malaysia (and its neighbor Indonesia), particularly in Borneo. Entire areas of jungle are being replaced by huge palm oil plantations.

Orang utan literally means "man of the forest" in Malay. To learn more about this great ape and the threats to the species, considered "critically endangered". by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), I refer you to the page Orangutan of the WWF website.

Before that day, I had never seen orangutans "in real life". I only knew them from documentaries.

The orangutans of Sepilok. Borneo, Malaysia.
At mealtime, the orangutans come out of the jungle. They have huge arms, red hair and terribly human expressions...

When I arrive at the Sepilok Centre, there are a few tourists, but the place is not crowded. I buy my ticket, watch the small eco-educational film projected in an air-conditioned room, before taking a long wooden footbridge which leads, through the jungle, to the platform where the monkeys are fed.

I am rather pleasantly surprised. Whatever one may think of this center (I was initially afraid of a vulgar tourist trap), we are not at the zoo or the circus.

A part of the jungle has been "fitted out", to allow visitors of all ages to observe the monkeys, from a large wooden platform. So we don't wade in the wet leaves full of greedy leeches, phew!

Nevertheless, it is quite humid under the canopy of the gigantic trees, I drip. We tip our heads back to see the top. It is dizzying.

The orangutans of Sepilok. Borneo, Malaysia.
The platform of the monkeys ...
The orangutans of Sepilok. Borneo, Malaysia.
...and the human platform!

Some orangutans are already installed on their own platform, hung on a big tree, itself connected to other trunks by big ropes.

The caretakers arrive soon after, with buckets of bananas. They sit down quietly, without any sudden gesture, in the middle of the monkeys, and begin the distribution, without ostentation.

The Sepilok orangutan meal: the video

The atmosphere is peaceful, quiet, in the forest. The people around me are commenting half-heartedly on the terribly human attitudes of the orangutans, and on the arrival of new monkeys that are swinging flexibly, with their huge arms, along the ropes. The spectacle is fascinating.

I'm coming back from this little "junglesque" escapade. Tomorrow, we will head for Semporna for the ultimate goal of this diving trip in Malaysia: the mythical island of Sipadan !

Updated 2018. The orangutan has really become the emblematic animal of wildlife victim of deforestation. Illustration with the video below, where we see an orangutan of Borneo facing a bulldozer. Diffused by the organization International Animal RescueIt went viral on Twitter in early June 2018 (but the video is actually from 2013). 

  Malaysia: Peninsula and Borneo - July 2006