Sepilok's Orangutans and Sun Bears

Picture of Sepilok orangutan.

Orangutan hammock.

The night I returned to Kota Kinabalu, Katie and our friends Courtney and John flew down to start their New Year holiday. The four of us took a bus through Sabah’s interior, at one point climbing several thousand feet and passing in front of Mount Kinabalu, the tallest peak in Borneo. The giant granite mountain left us in awe, but we had already chosen to check it out in more detail on our way back.

We reached the town of Sepilok in the afternoon and stayed at a lodge with a great view over the jungle.

Picture of Courtney, John, Katie.

Having a snack and a drink on our first night in Sepilok.

Picture of jungle from hotel room.

Our room’s entire wall opened to reveal this view of the jungle.

The next day was one of the highlights of our entire trip. We headed to the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, which was a full- or part-time home to dozens of the orange primates. Before we had even reached the official feeding area, we got our first glimpse at a mother leading her child along the handrail. We share 97 percent of our DNA with orangutans, so it wasn’t surprising that I felt an immediate connection with them. They looked a lot like humans, except their feet acted as a second set of hands, allowing them to swing through the trees with ease.

Picture of mother and baby orangutan.

Before we even got to the observation area, we saw this mother leading her baby along the guardrails. It was a truly amazing sight, right before our eyes.

Once inside the main building, we sat down to watch the babies play. Most of these infants and adolescents don’t have mothers, so the park’s human volunteers teach them the necessary skills to live in the jungle. Eventually, most of them are able to survive on their own.

Picture of orangutan swinging on rope.

This juvenile loved to hang on the rope. Occasionally a volunteer would come by and swing the rope back and forth, much to the little guy’s delight.

Picture of two juvenile orangutans hanging from a rope and playing.

Just playing.

Picture of long-tailed black squirrel.

A long-tailed black squirrel. Its claws can eviscerate bark, or whatever gets in its way.

Then came the feeding time. We headed outside to the platform where the volunteers left a bunch of bananas and walked away. Some of the orangutans and many macaques come to this place every day to eat, but the alpha male is typically able to get plenty of fruit in the forest so he steers clear of humans. But not today. There he was, munching on a sugar cane. He was huge! I could hardly believe how much bigger than the females he was. Once he’d had his fill, he swung on a rope back into the forest.

Picture of alpha male orangutan.

The alpha male enjoys his lunch.

Then we got a rather heavy rain shower. All of the primates did what they could to stay dry.

Picture of orangutan attempting to stay out of the rain.

Orangutans hate rain. Don’t believe me? Watch the video:

Picture of orangutan bearing its teeth.

Smiling isn’t necessarily an indication that it likes what you’re saying.

Picture of orangutan hanging from rope.

The volunteers encourage the orangutans to stay off the ground, where predators lurk.

Afterward, we had our own feeding time, except we had to pay. Then we walked to the Bornean Sun Bear Rehabilitation Centre, home to 43 sun bears. These bears are the smallest in the world, growing to only about half the size of an American black bear. We walked along the boardwalks and quickly found four of the bears digging into a tree stump in search of ants.

Picture of licking sun bear.

The orangutans aren’t the only show in town. This sun bear loved to show off his long tongue.

We also found out why they’re called “sun bears”.

Picture of sun bear relaxing on its back.

Ah, that’s the spot!

Picture of tree stump with sun bear on it.

The bears were busy dismantling this tree stump with their claws.

Later in the day we returned to the orangutan sanctuary for another feeding. Once again, the alpha male came down to eat, along with several females.

Picture of mother and baby orangutan.

Back at the orangutan center, this mother and baby come down for a meal.

Then came to the macaques. They’re smaller than orangutans, but they’re quite viscous, with long fangs and an appetite for blood. They did their best to steal the bananas, and the big guy responded with an amazing display of aggression.

The big guy is none too happy with those pesky macaques.

Picture of angry alpha male orangutan.

Back off!

Picture of orangutan and macaques eating.

After the alpha male had eaten his first few bananas, he let the macaques join.

Picture of macaques eating.

Macaque family meal.

Picture of orangutans.

Looking up.

Picture of peeing alpha male orangutan.

After finishing his meal, the alpha male gets some relief.

We ended up watching the orangutans and sun bears for several hours. I could’ve spent many more hours there, the animals were so entertaining. But the parks closed and we had to return to our jungle hideout. And the next day we already had planned to embark on another wildlife expedition.

More photos from the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
More photos from the Bornean Sun Bear Rehabilitation Centre

Share with your friends

More share buttons