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.
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.
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.
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.
Then we got a rather heavy rain shower. All of the primates did what they could to stay dry.
Orangutans hate rain. Don’t believe me? Watch the video:
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.
We also found out why they’re called “sun bears”.
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.
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.
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.