Breakfast with orangutans in Borneo: a travel highlight
Our close cousins swung from branches and ropes above our heads. We had got here early, keen to avoid the crowds, and now we were being rewarded.
We had been unlucky on our trip on the Kinabantangan River, not seeing any orangutans in the wild proper. Borneo remains one of the few places in the world that you can see orangutans in their natural habitat, and so we chose to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre as our next best option.
Set in 43 square kilometres of preserved rainforest, Sepilok has been in operation since 1964 and cares for orangutans that have lost their homes as a result of deforestation or those that have been victims of the illegal pet trade. Orphaned little ones are treated just like human babies with 24-hour care and orangutans are only released back into the wild once they are fully self-sufficient; a process that usually takes around seven years. We learnt this from our guide, who was visibly very passionate about the orangutans and Sepilok's involvement in their rehabilitation.
The orangutans natural diet is supplement with fresh fruit. Although rare, some days orangutans don't turn up at the feeding platform as the food they foraged is enough to keep their bellies full. That said, the orangutans know they can rely on breakfast at 10.00am, so there often tends to be a small group as a minimum.
Excitement built about 15 minutes before feeding time as we started to spot flickers of orange hair between the green rainforest canopy. Slowly, some more boldly than others, the orangutans came swinging in from all directions. For about an hour after the food was laid out (a huge bunch of bananas if you're wondering) new faces came and went. Some babies clung to their mothers backs whilst some mischievous teens had saved their morning wee for a stop off right above the our heads.
Visiting Sepilok was a moving and fascinating experience. We felt like we had learnt so much about a species which we actually have a lot in common with, genetically speaking. The organisation does a lot of great work and we strongly urge you to visit or donate to help their cause.
We visited Sepilok as part of Uncle Tan's Wildlife Adventures as we also spent time in the jungle with them. Otherwise, getting to Sepilok is around 45 minutes drive from Sandakan; there are a number of buses that depart daily. Ask your accommodation for details on the cost and schedule - we found our guesthouses in Malaysia to be incredibly helpful.