Category Archives: Wildlife

Orangutan of Borneo (Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center)

Baby orangutan

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.

Cute expression of orangutans

Being more intelligent than chimpanzee, orangutan has emotion and feeling like human too.

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.

Entrance to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center of Borneo

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.

Photo booth at the entrance

Orangutan photo booth at the entrance

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.)

Viewing platform for orangutan feeding

Viewing platform to see orangutan feeding in Sepilok

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.

Orangutans coming to feeding platform

Most Bornean orangutans in Sepilok are Pongo pygmaeus morio species

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.

Orangutan Feeding

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.

Layout map of Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center

Layout map of Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center

Visitors keeping their bags in lockers

Visitors leaving their bags in the lockers

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.

Boardwalk to feeding platform

Boardwalk to orangutan feeding platform

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.

Rangers keep aggressive macaques at bay

Rangers keep aggressive macaques at bay

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.

Orangutan nests on the tree

Orangutan “apartment” on the tree. How many nests do you spot?

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.

Tourists waiting for orangutan

Tourists waiting for orangutan

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.

Female macaque with sexy butt

Female macaque with sexy buttock

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.

Baby orangutan coming for free food

Baby orangutan coming for feeding

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!”

The feeding time is at 10am and 3pm every day

The feeding time is at 10am and 3pm every day

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.

This orangutan seems content

This orangutan seems content

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.

Orangutans enjoying food

Orangutans enjoying food

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.

Young orangutan wouldn't come back to feeding platform once they can live independently in the forest

Orangutans wouldn’t come back to feeding platform once they are totally independent in the forest

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.

Orangutan always acts funny at feeding platform

Orangutan always acts funny at feeding platform

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)!

Cheeky macaques wait for their share

Cheeky macaques wait for their share

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):

Malaysian Foreigner
Adult (above 17 years old) RM5 RM30 (≈USD$8.50)
17 & below RM2 RM15 (≈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.

Outdoor Nursery

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.

Entrance of Outdoor Nursery Building

Entrance of Outdoor Nursery Building. There are left (air-conditioned) and right halls (fan only).

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 in Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center

Outdoor Nursery in Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center

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.

Training baby orangutans in Outdoor Nursery

Training baby orangutans in Outdoor Nursery

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:

Close-up with orangutan at Outdoor Nursery

The glass works like an one-way mirror. Orangutans can’t see the people behind.

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.

Orangutans gather at Outdoor Nursery

Orangutans gather at Outdoor Nursery

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.

Baby orangutans undergo training in Outdoor Nursery before coming back to the wild

Baby orangutans undergo training in Outdoor Nursery

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.

By Bus

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.

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center

By Taxi

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.

Facilities

Overall, the Center has adequate amenities for tourists as it is one of the most developed destinations in Sabah.

Toilet

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.

Toilets in Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center

Toilets in Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center

Cafeteria

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.

Sepilok Cafeteria

Sepilok Cafeteria

If you want great food and not in a hurry, I strongly recommend Lindung, which is only a 5 minutes walk away from the Center (see Location Map). They have nice restaurant, art gallery and exhibition.

There is also a small souvenir shop (in front of ticketing counter) in visitor building. The Center is managed by Sabah Wildlife Department. You can call them at +60 89-531180 for more information.

Accommodations

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)
Website: www.sepilokjungleresort.com
Facebook: fb.com/SepilokJungleResort
E-mail: info@sepilokjungleresort.com
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
Website: www.sepilokforestedgeresort.com
E-mail: sepilokforestedge@gmail.com
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)

Website: sepilok.com
E-mail: mail@sepilok.com
Tel: +60 89-673999, +60 89-674999
GPS Coordinate: 5.867229, 117.949029 (see Location Map)

Photos taken in Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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Tree and Coral Planting in Sabah

tree planting

Even children know trees provide oxygen and mitigate global warming. Saving the World is a noble goal but it sounds so ambitious to us. Don’t worry. I’m not going to ask you to be the Captain Planet. You only plant tree for yourself and your family. For example, having two mature trees next to your house can provide enough oxygen for a family of four. Plant one more tree and the shade of three trees, if strategically positioned, can reduce the need of air-conditioning by up to 50%. Good deal huh?

Misty rainforest of Borneo

Misty rainforest of Borneo. “Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Parents always set aside of their personal desires and give the best to their kids. They accumulate wealth for their offspring so they will enjoy a better living. But how many parents will invest in better environment for future generations, so they can enjoy fresh air and clean water in future? Even fishes need clean water and watergrass in their aquarium to live happily. Ton of money in bank account won’t guarantee our children to have a quality life in an environment without clean air and water.

Imagine if trees gave off Wifi signals, we would be planting so many trees and we'd probably save the planet too. Too bad they only produce the oxygen we breathe.

Malaysians have been taking clean air and water for granted. But these things can go away and it’s happening. The crystal clear stream, where I used to fish during childhood, turns into a smelly drain. I see less and less tree shades around my neighborhood, and people complain about the heat almost every day.

Tree planting by local community

Tree planting by local community. “If every individual should plant a tree in their life time, the world will be full of trees.” ― Lailah Gifty Akita

Mother Nature lets us choose between hell or heaven, depending on how we treat her. Tree always appears in the drawing of your kids about dream home. Let’s materialize it.

Logging truck

“Each generation takes the earth as trustees. We ought to bequeath to posterity as many forests and orchards as we have exhausted and consumed.” -Julius Sterling Morton

59% of Sabah is covered by forest, so Sabahans overseas always miss the greenery here, especially those staying in big cities such as Kuala Lumpur, where the car population is far more than trees. World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that bad air is a leading environmental cause of cancer, and 1/8 of total global deaths is directly linked to air pollution.

Need money for my family in the rainforest

The following are the tree planting programs that individual, company, and organization can participate in Sabah, to increase the quality of our environment. Not all trees are the same, every tree type has its roles for upkeep of a healthy nature.

1. Rainforest

Plant rainforest tree for fresh air, clean water and starry night. Rainforest is also a Disney Land for birds and wildlife. Every tree you plant will produce approximately 260 pounds of oxygen annually and absorb about one ton of Carbon Dioxide in its lifetime.

Tree planting in homestay

“The Best Time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The Second Best Time is NOW.”

By shading our houses and streets, tree can lower the temperature of city and shield us from excessive exposure to harmful UV. This makes our places safer for outdoor activities. That’s why forested park such as Tun Fuad Stephens Park is a favorite place for joggers.

Jungle lodge in the forest

Jungle lodge in the forest

Tree also absorbs pollutant gases (e.g. sulfur dioxide, ozone) and filter particulates out of the air by trapping them on their leaves and bark. Your home will be filled with cleaner air and less dust. The more trees you have, the more stars you can see at night.

Forest on riparian of Kinabatangan River

Forest on riparian of Kinabatangan River. “A people without children would face a hopeless future; a country without trees is almost as helpless.” – Theodore Roosevelt

During rain storm, trees act like big umbrella, slowing down the runoff and prevent flash flood. Large area of trees can form a wall to block hazardous strong wind. Sabah is experiencing more flood and stronger wind nowadays, as a consequence of deforestation.

Orangutan feeding on the tree

Orangutan feeding on the tree. “Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife, are in fact plans to protect man.” ― Stewart L. Udall

A forested riparian is a good “braking carpet” to reduce large quantity of soil and pollutants being washed into the river by rain, thereby maintaining a clean supply of water to reservoir.

Rhinocerous hornbill flys over a fig tree

Rhinocerous hornbill flies over a fig tree

Wildlife will be benefited too. Besides providing shelter to animals such as orangutan and hornbill, fruit trees are important food source for them.

Where to join?

Most homestay in Sabah, especially those located near Kinabatangan River, have tree planting program. Just to list a few, Kampung Bilit, Kampung Abai, Bukit Garam, Tambunan.

Tree nursery in Abai Village of Kinabatangan River

Tree nursery in Abai Village of Kinabatangan River. “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” – Nelson Henderson

Don’t hesitate to ask your travel agent for info on tree planting, most of them are very supportive of this initiative.

2. Mangrove

Plant mangrove for seafood and protection against natural disasters. Mangrove was thought to be useless until a super Tsunami took thousands of lives in 2005. There was no death reported in the areas which had mangrove forest! Mangrove is a buffer between the land and the sea, so it can be a cushion that minimize the impact of tidal waves.

Mangrove forest

Mangrove forest of Sabah

Green belt of mangrove forest is excellent in countering water-related disasters. For example, coastal area with mangrove forest is less vulnerable to typhoon. The mangrove tree also helps to stabilize the coastline by preventing erosion by sea waves.

Crabs as food

Crabs and shrimps grow fast and fat in brackish water of mangrove

During heavy rain, mangrove forest can act like a sponge to retain the water, a feature that mitigates flood. When filthy rivers flow through mangrove, the forest will filter the sediment and harmful heavy metals in the water, before discharging it into the sea.

Fish landing at a port

50% of the seafood landing in Malaysia is associated with mangrove.

Sabah is famous for abundance of seafood but very few people know the secret. Mangrove forest is breeding and nursery grounds for variety of seafood such as fish, crab, shrimp, and clams. 59% of mangrove of Malaysia is located in Sabah. Needless to say, mangrove is also an excellent spot for fishing and aquaculture.

Proboscis monkey on the tree

Most proboscis monkey lives in mangrove forest

The mangroves in Klias and Weston, the habitat of proboscis monkey and firefly, are well-protected. Now throng of tourists go there every day for firefly tour. Nature always repays us generously if we take care of her.

Where to join?

You can join mangrove replanting at Kota Kinabalu Wetlands. The local schools have been sending thousands of student to plant mangrove trees there.

Nursery for mangrove tree seedlings

Nursery for mangrove tree seedlings

If you want to get dirty and do something more than just a symbolic gesture, you can join their mangrove replanting project at Sulaiman.

Mangrove tree planting

Mangrove tree planting. “He who plants a tree, plants a hope.” ― Lucy Larcom

3. Coral

Plant coral for tourism. If you have visited Sipadan Island, you will never forget the diving experience with schools of barracuda and dozens of turtles and sharks, which are drawn by the thriving corals there.

Coral reefs in Sabah

Coral reefs in Sabah

Coral is the home of fishes, and fishes mean food to big marine creatures. If our older generations had protected the corals well, we don’t even need to travel far and spend a lot of money to see these. Hope you see the point of leaving a great nature is better than leaving a lot of cash to our future generations. They will have to pay high price to enjoy what was used to be common. Seafood is also getting more expensive now.

Corals are home to reef fishes, a.k.a. seafood

Corals are home to reef fishes, a.k.a. seafood

As coral reefs are under threat globally, very few high quality coral gardens will remain intact. On the positive side, this is a magnet to tourists. In fact, tourism is the most important industry of Sabah after oil palm. A blooming tourism will create more jobs and income.

Fresh seafood

Fresh seafood

Same as mangrove, conservation of corals is vital in maintaining a sustainable supply of seafood.

Where to join?

You can take part in coral planting at Gaya Island Eco Resort off Kota Kinabalu City. Technically, coral is animal and not a plant, so you will be “planting animal” lol.

Coral planting

Coral planting

Usually coral fragments are used for the planting program. It has slimy secretion coming out of the pores.

Coral plates placed in stabilization tank

Coral plates placed in stabilization tank

All you need to do is just fix that fragment on a cement plate and place it in a stabilization tank. It’ll be released into the sea by the divers.

Besides planting tree and coral, you also can donate fund to environmental organizations like WWF for restoration of forest. Let’s think of the donation as an investment. The $100 cash deposited in our bank today would depreciate to $90 next year due to inflation. But for every $1 we invest in conservation, the return can be tremendous, because trees can grow and multiply.

Photos taken in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo

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