Imagine a baby orangutan loses its mother due to deforestation and illegal poaching. This orphaned orangutan is traumatized and in distress. Without help, its chance of survival is slim. The population of Bornean orangutan has been dwindling by 50% in the past 60 years. Currently, only 45,000-50,000 orangutans left on Borneo and 6,000 on Sumatra. In Sabah, there are about 10,000 orangutans in the wild.
The name “Orangutan” was derived from the Malay word Orang Hutan, which means the “Man of the Forest”. Orangutan is the only ape of Asia and found only in Sumatra and Borneo. Though orangutans won’t give you an eye-roll if you mistakenly call them monkey, people would laugh at you as apes have no tail. I won’t object if you say orangutan is my “cousin” because orangutan is the most human-like primate and its DNA is 97% similar to ours. And orangutans know what is love.
Orangutan is endangered and a fully protected wildlife in Malaysia. Harming orangutan or keeping it as pet is against the law, offender will face a mandatory prison sentence of six months to five years and/or fine up to RM50,000.
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center
However, law protection isn’t enough, we need a long-term conservation project, so Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center was established in 1964 to train orphaned orangutans to become self-reliant in the rainforest when they grow up. The Center is also the first orangutan sanctuary in the world to dedicate itself to the rehabilitation of orangutans.
For over 50 years, 758 orphaned baby orangutans, who are the victims of logging, plantations and illegal pet trade, are rescued and brought to this Center. About 81.6% of them are successfully rehabilitated and 66% of these orangutans were released to protected forest reserves such as Tabin. (The released orangutan will be monitored for week, to ensure it can survive on its own.)
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center is Not a zoo, the orangutans here aren’t treated as pet either, so expect no animal show and touching of orangutan. The Center is located within the protected Kabili-Sepilok Virgin Forest Reserve, which covers an area of 4,294 Hectares (43 KM²) and serves as a natural classroom for orangutans.
A baby orangutan stays with its mother for 7 to 10 years. During these vital stage, the mother will teach her young everything it needs to know to survive. Young orangutans, which are not parented, don’t have the ability to find food, build nest and climb. The Center takes the role as their mother to turn them into wild orangutans.
The best time to see orangutans is during the feeding time at 10am and 3pm every day. The food is meant to be “supplement” to orangutans, before they can live fully independent in the forest.
Visitors are not allowed to carry their bag, food / drink and insect repellent (poisonous to orangutan if they get ahold of it) to the forest. Orangutans and monkey are highly curious and won’t hesitate to rob any object they find alluring. Visitors can store and lock their bags (for free) in locker of visitor building. Still, you must remain vigilant because your smartphone or shiny jewellery could be a target.
After ticket checkpoint, visitors need to walk about 200 Meters on a raised wooden boardwalk that leads to the orangutan feeding platform. The walk takes about 10 minutes, so you better move earlier to be on time for the feeding (at 10am or 3pm). Along the way, you will see many towering tropical trees, the perfect habitat for orangutans.
Don’t get excited if you see wild orangutan or macaque on the boardwalk. Never look into the eyes of macaque, as this is perceived as a challenge and provokes them. Whatever the tourism posters show you, adult orangutan is not cute. They can grow up to 1.4 Meter tall and weight up to 100 Kg. You really shouldn’t upset this beast which is 3 times stronger than human. Usually these fellows will leave you alone, otherwise you can turn back calmly and ask for help from rangers who station nearby.
Orangutans make nests for bedtime every day by breaking and folding branches in the treetops. Just look up and I’m sure you will see some orangutan nests near the boardwalk. Sometimes you would see hornbill and eagle flying over the tree canopy.
The Center is visited by an average of about 80,000 tourists annually. You will see hundred of orangutan fans waiting eagerly to see orangutan the first time at the viewing platform. It’s important to keep quiet to avoid scaring the orangutan away. Normally, you will see 4 or more orangutans come for the free food. However, during fruiting season, you would possibly see none. This might disappoint you, but you should feel happy that they can find enough food on their own.
Sometimes it’s the naughty pig-tailed macaque that does the opening. The big red buttock of female macaque would stir up the crowd, “OMG, look at her butt!” “Ew.. That’s gross.” In fact, the swollen hip is a sign of ready to mate. To male monkey, she is as hot as Nicki Minaj LOL.
Orangutan is very good climber but clumsy in walking. There are a few long ropes that are used by orangutans to approach the feeding platform about 15 Meters away from tourists. At some points, someone would notice the movement of swaying ropes and blurts out “it’s on the way!”
One by one, these beautiful reddish-brown creatures swing along the ropes and land on the feeding platform. Most of them are juvenile above 5 years old. If you are lucky, you would see mother orangutan carrying her baby for extra diet there.
They are given bananas and milk most of the time, sometimes sugar-cane, watermelon, vegetables, etc. The Center deliberately repeats the similar menu every day, a tactic to make orangutans bored of the monotonous food and more motivated to forage for other fruits in the jungle.
Orangutan is a solitary and quiet animal. Most of them focus on eating, and occasionally playing or arguing with their mates. One or two greedy orangutans would stuff 4 or 5 bananas in their mouth, grab another bunch in their feet then go away.
Every orangutan there has a name, for example, Mimi, Mariko, Kam Chung and Rosa, and they all have unique faces and personalities. Some are introvert, some are hyperactive and some are bully. Orangutans reach maturity at 7 – 10 years of age and can live up to 40 years old.
The crowd is so awed by the playful and adorable orangutans. One orangutan couple even practiced mating after meal. You can watch the following video for the hilarious moments:
By the age of 10, orangutans will learn to identify more than 200 different food plants. They keep a memory map of location of different fruit trees and their fruiting time, and they would not visit feeding platform anymore. The rehabilitation costs about RM8,000 (≈USD$2,200) per orangutan per year (include toy)!
The feeding usually ends after 30 minutes. After all orangutans left, the pig-tailed macaques would have a family picnic at the platform to finish the leftover.
After the orangutan feeding, you can proceed to the Outdoor Nursery, or turn back to watch a 30-min video (in English) on orangutan conservation, which is played at 8:30am, 11am, 12pm, and 3:30pm in the Visitor Information Center.
Ticket (Conservation Fee)
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center is open to public every day (include weekends and holiday), so any visitor can walk in and buy a ticket to enter. No prior booking or application is required. The ticketing counter is open at 9am-11am and 2pm-3:30pm. The following are the ticket fees, which they call Conservation Fees (prices in RM, as of Aug 2015):
|Adult (above 17 years old)||5||30 (≈USD$8.50)|
|17 & below||2||15 (≈USD$4)|
|Camera & Video Cam||Personal: RM10 per unit (≈USD$2.80)|
|Commercial: Professional Filming / Photography (with 400mm lens and above). RM1,000-RM10,000 (ask the Center)|
The ticket is valid for the whole day, and you can use it for entering feeding area and Outdoor Nursery. If you are crazy about orangutan, you can go at two feeding times with the same ticket on the same day.
Open in Oct 2014, the new Outdoor Nursery Building is an excellent addition to the Center. It is connected to feeding platform with 300-Meter boardwalk. Just follow the crowd and signage after the orangutan feeding and you will reach the building, it’s quite a long way though.
You don’t need to buy another ticket to enter Outdoor Nursery, a double-value to your tour. In the past, to avoid human contact and stressing the orphaned orangutans, Outdoor Nursery was a no-entry zone to tourists. Now visitors could sit comfortably in a hall to watch baby orangutans in action. We love them but we don’t want them to be so attached and used to human.
Outdoor Nursery is a play school for baby orangutans 5 to 7 years old to learn to climb. Orangutan is arboreal animal that spends most of its time on trees searching for food and building nest, so climbing skill is crucial for its survival. The Center won’t stop (actually they encourage this) young ape from exploring the forest on its own.
Same as juvenile orangutans, baby orangutans are also naughty and playful. Everyone laughed when they saw the orangutans fooled around with their trainers. In the video below, you will see a mischievous orangutan grabbed and pulled the hair of a volunteer:
The Outdoor Nursery has large indoor halls with about 100 seats. Visitors can overlook the play area through the large window, but the orangutans outside can’t see us. They still can hear us if we are too noisy.
The baby orangutans are so cute, but each of them has a sad story. Most of them were admitted to the Center in malnourished, traumatized or injured condition, after they lost their mother. Under good care for some time, they will be paired up with an older orangutan to help them to develop the survival skills. This buddy system is used to replace a mother’s teaching and it works quite well.
You can be part of the conservation effort to prevent this charismatic ape from extinction. You may Adopt an Orangutan, which starts from a contribution of RM200 (USD$70) per year. They will send you the update and photos of your adopted “cousin” every 6 months. You also can work as a volunteer at the Center for an once-in-a-lifetime experience with orangutan.
How to get there
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center is located 25 KM to the west of Sandakan City (see Location Map). Public transport to Sepilok is available readily and the journey takes about 45 to 50 minutes one way.
The following is the departure time of regular shuttle between Sandakan and Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. The bus fare costs RM4 (≈USD$1) per person one way:
Sandakan City → Sepilok: 9am, 11:30am, 2pm, 5pm
Sepilok → Sandakan City: 6:30am, 10:30am, 12:30pm, 4pm
Tel: +60 12-8067067, +60 17-8632684
Or you can take the mini-bus (route: Batu 14) near to the bus terminal of Nak Hotel in Sandakan.
You can hire a taxi for a return trip for about RM100 per car (≈USD$28)(negotiable). There is also a taxi stand in car park of Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center.
Overall, the Center has adequate amenities for tourists as it is one of the most developed destinations in Sabah.
The public toilet of Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center is probably the best in Sabah. It’s air-conditioned and handicapped-friendly. Visitors don’t need to pay any entry fee.
In the Center, there is a Sepilok Cafeteria where you can buy food (e.g. sandwiches, fried rice, noodle, omelettes), snacks and drink. It’s convenient but the place is quite crowded, you can expect a long queue to cashier counter during busy hours.
There are many other things you can explore and do at Sepilok, for example, Rainforest Discovery Center, Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center, bird-watching, jungle trekking, so you may like to spend a few days there. Below are a few accommodations that are only a 10 or 15 minutes walk away from Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center:
1. Sepilok Jungle Resort
I stayed there before. The accommodation is quite affordable and very popular among tourists. This resort has 45 air-conditioned rooms and 15 fan rooms ranging from dormitory, standard, family to deluxe room with balcony. Though the rooms and facilities are a bit old, the nice swimming pool, lake and garden make it up.
Rates: RM38 per person – 190.80 per room (≈USD$10-50) (Online Booking available)
Tel: +60 89-533031, +60 89-533051
GPS Coordinate: 5.866024, 117.951640 (see Location Map)
2. Sepilok Forest Edge Resort
It’s about 700 Meters away from Sepilok Oran Utan Rehabilitation Center. The resort comprises of stylish Malay design chalets around green surrounding and hills with nice view. It has long house accommodation for budget travellers, as well as standard, family and superior chalets.
Rates: RM40 per bed – RM590 per chalet (≈USD$11-168) (Online Booking available)
Tel: +60 89-533190, +60 89-533245, +60 13-8859890
GPS Coordinate: 5.867155, 117.950294 (see Location Map)
3. Sepilok Nature Resort
Sepilok Nature Resort has fully air-conditioned twin bed chalets feature beautiful lake or jungle view verandah and private bathrooms with hot water. The accommodation fees for Double / Twin Room start from RM265 (≈USD$75)
Photos taken in Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo
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Mount Trus Madi (or Mt. Trusmadi) is the second highest mountain (2,642 Meters or 8,668 ft) of Malaysia. Albeit 1,453 Meters lower than Mount Kinabalu (4,095 Meters), climbing Mt. Trusmadi is more challenging, so it offers a thrilling experience for adventure seekers. Many tourists who have conquered Mt. Kinabalu are also keen to give it a try. If you are physically fit and exercise regularly, you would find Mt. Trus Madi is very climbable even though the trail is less tourist-friendly.
The facilities of Trusmadi have improved tremendously in past few years (especially the Tambunan side), so it has become a hot destination. Mt. Trus Madi is located in Trus Madi Forest Reserve (Code: FMU-10 = Forest Management Unit No.10), so you need to apply entry permit from Sabah Forestry Department for the climb. This article provides the most complete and updated information to help you planning the climb.
Overview of 3 Summit Trails to Mt. Trus Madi
Climbing Mt. Trus Madi can be done in 2 to 4 days, depends on the trail you pick. There are three summit trails that lead to the highest peak of Mt. Trus Madi, i.e.:
- Kaingaran Trail in Tambunan
- Mannan Trail in Keningau
- Mastan Trail in Sook
These trails have different climbing distance, starting point, road accessibility, level of difficulty and facilities on the mountain. Picking the trail is your first step to plan the climb. Kaingaran Trail (Tambunan) is the most popular choice because its climbing distance is shorter (4.9 KM) and the facilities are the most developed. Mannan Trail (Keningau) is the second best choice. Though the climb takes 4 days, the view along the trail is more beautiful and you don’t need a 4-Wheel Drive.
The following table is a comparison of three trails (can click to enlarge):
Since these three summit trails are connected to one another on the summit, you also can choose to ascend and descend to different points for more fun. For example, you can climb up the mountain via Kaingaran Trail from Tambunan, but climb down via Mannan Trail to Keningau, if you are able to arrange your return transport waits at other end.
Below are more detail reviews of three summit trails to Mt. Trusmadi:
1. Kaingaran Trail
Kaingaran Trail is the oldest and most developed trail. I climbed Mt. Trus Madi via this trail in year 2010. However, the climb is much more enjoyable and easier nowadays because of upgraded trail and accommodation.
Climbing Distance: 4.9 KM (require 2 day 1 night)
Location: Tambunan District
Starting Point: 27 Km (2.5 hours drive) from Tambunan Town (mainly gravel road. The last 6 KM road trip needs 4-Wheel Drive)
Accommodation: Mirad Irad Base Camp (foothill), Rest House (at 2.9 KM of mountain trail)
You can spend one extra night at Mirad Irad Base Camp of Mt. Trus Madi (7 KM before starting point (20 min drive) and 900 Meters above sea level), if you want to start your climb very early in next morning. The accommodation at Base Camp can accommodate 24 people, and camping (Fee: RM10) is allowed. The room rate is RM20 per night per person. Please note you MUST book 1 month in advance.
If you start your climb on day 1 from Kota Kinabalu City (KK), you need to drive about 4 hours from KK to starting point in Tambunan, very likely you will start your climb around noon, which is kind of late. That’s why some climbers prefer to stay an extra night in Mirad Irad Base camp or hotel in Tambunan.
The first 3 KM of Kaingaran Trail is boardwalk. It’s leech-free and makes climbing more like hiking.
Mt. Trus Madi Rest House (only available for Kaingaran Trail)
There is only one accommodation on Mt. Trus Madi and about 2.9 KM away from the summit. The Rest House has 5 rooms, each with 4 bunk beds, and able to host 20 people at a time. The fee per person is RM20-RM100 per night per bed. The amenities are quite basic, water supply and lighting are available.
The following video gives a good overview of Kaingaran Trail, with a lot of aerial views of Mirad Irad Base Camp, Mt. Trusmadi Rest House and the summit:
The next two trails are relatively new and located in Keningau District (Sook is a sub-district of Keningau).
There is no accommodation in Mastan and Mannan Trails, so you will need to bring your own camping and cooking gears. This means you need to carry more weight, making the climb tougher. You can hire porters to share your burden. The camping fees are RM3 and RM5 for Malaysian and foreigner respectively.
2. Mannan Trail
Though Mannan Trail takes the longest time (4 day 3 night), many adventurers love its scenic view and pristine route. Another advantage is – you don’t need a 4-wheel drive to travel to the starting point.
Climbing Distance: 11.6 KM (require 4 day 3 night)
Location: Sinua Village (Kampung Sinua), Sook (Keningau District)
Starting Point: 103 KM of paved road (3 hours drive) from Keningau Town. Good road condition. No need 4-Wheel Drive.
Accommodation: Camping and Resting Platform only
The GoPro video below gives you a good idea of trail condition in Mannan Trail:
3. Mastan Trail
Mastan Trail is very “raw” and the least developed. I have very little information about this trail. Judging from the map, Mastan Trail is the shortest (4.3 KM) but the steepest. You see, Mastan Trail is only 600 Meters shorter than Kaingaran Trail (Tambunan), which has far better trail and facilities, of course most climbers will go for the more relaxing option.
Climbing Distance: 4.3 KM (require 2 day 1 night)
Location: Apin-Apin, Keningau District
Starting Point: 76 KM (4 hours drive) from Keningau Town. Bad road, accessible only by 4-Wheel Drive.
Some village folks there have been doing day climb via this trail. Anyway, if you have only 2 days and want to see the most of Mt. Trus Madi, you may ascend via Kaingaran Trail on day 1 and descend via Mastan Trail on day 2.
The flora of Trusmadi is very diverse and fascinating, where almost 600 species of 160 families of plants have been recorded here. Remember to get your certificate if you make it to the top (RM10 fee applies).
Nepenthes trusmadiensis is the natural hybrid between Nepenthes lowii and Nepenthes macrophylla, you would see it when you are close to the summit.
When you reach the summit of Mount Trusmadi at dawn, if the weather is good, you will be mesmerized by a breath-taking view of Mount Kinabalu, which lies about 40 KM to the north.
How much does the climbing trip cost?
The total fee varies greatly, depending on the trail and services that you select. Below is a list of basic fees (in Malaysian Ringgit (MYR)).
|Accommodation (1 night)*||100||100|
|Forestry Guide (2 days)||100||200|
|TOTAL:||335 (≈USD$95)||495 (≈USD$140)|
*For Rest House only. Replace this with camping fee if you don’t use Tambunan trail
The final cost can range from RM400 to RM800 per person, after you include other variable and optional fees such as rental of 4-Wheel Drive (RM800/day per car), insurance, transport (gasoline), food & personal supplies, porter, certificate (RM10), etc. You can save more money by going in group, so you can split the cost on transportation and guide fee.
If you have more questions, you may contact the Forestry Officers listed below:
Contact Person: Mr. Saleh Intang, District Forestry Officer (“DFO”) of Tambunan
Address: Pejabat Perhutanan Daerah Tambunan, Peti Surat No 64, 89657, Tambunan, Sabah, Malaysia
Tel: +60 88-899589
Fax: +60 88-899588
2. Keningau / Sook
Contact Person: Mr. Azman Said, District Forestry Officer (“DFO”) of Keningau
Address: Pejabat Perhutanan Daerah Keningau, Peti Surat No 88, 89007, Keningau, Sabah, Malaysia
Tel: +60 87-331203
Fax: +60 87-338721
If your budget permits, you should consider hiring a tour operator to arrange the climbing trip for you. The cost will be higher, but they will save you the problems on paperwork (permit), 4-wheel drive transport, camping, cooking, etc. I strongly recommend the following tour operators, who are experienced in adventure trips:
1. TYK Adventure Tours
2. Mount Trusmadi Travel & Tour Tambunan
By the way, currently Sabah Forestry Department only has 16 mountain guides. During peak season, they may not have enough manpower to guide the climbers. They would disapprove your climb in that case. Therefore, I advise you to register a few months before the climb, to secure the limited capacity.
Most of the information here is extracted from the following slides by Sabah Tourism Board and Sabah Forestry Department. You may download them for further reading. Also special thanks to Mr. Tham Yau Kong and Mike Miki from TYK Adventure Tours for contributing the photos. (Note: some info is inconsistent in different slides. I’ll correct them once I confirm the details).
Overview of Mt. Trusmadi, e.g. photos of road condition, starting points, accommodations, facilities, itineraries.
Useful info for planning the tour, e.g. booking and reservation procedures, various fees (permit, entrance, forestry guides), application forms and checklist of Things to Bring.
This slide contains some latest photos of the trails.
Please feel free to leave your question in comment section below, I’ll try my best to answer.
Photos taken in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo
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