Pardon Me – Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre – Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Mission accomplished! One of our main objectives in Borneo was to see an orangutan. Actually, as many orangutans as possible. On our first day here, we headed to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre. The center was established in 1964 to help rehabilitate orphaned orangutans rescued from logging sites, plantations, and illegal hunting. Some were even kept illegally as pets. Here, the orphaned orangutans are trained to survive again in the wild, then are released back to their natural habitat when they’re ready. There are between 60 and 80 orangutans currently living at the center, which is comprised of over 10,000 acres of untouched rainforest.

The main attractions at the center are an outdoor nursery and daily feedings in the wild. The nursery is an outdoor playground where young orangutans are under 24 hour watch while learning to climb, play, and socialize. The feedings are twice a day events where fruit is dumped onto a platform for the orangutans that are living in the wild to come and eat.

We woke up early and drove out to the center so we could be there right when it opened, before all of the tour groups arrived. It wasn’t time for the morning feeding, so we headed over to the nursery. Kevin initially wasn’t as excited about our orangutan adventure as Christine was, but when he saw the young orangutans playing on the playground, things quickly changed. Watching them was simply amazing and fascinating. It was like watching little kids play…hairy little kids. They would swing from rope to rope, chasing each other, and then run away from each other. They would run on the ground, then just start doing somersaults over and over again. They would steal each other’s food, give each other kisses and reach underneath the nets and poke each other in the butt. One liked to sit on top of a pole and play with the rope that had shredded – he would put the shreds on his head like a wig. We could have spent hours there watching them, getting to know each of their personalities. But it was almost feeding time, so we made our way out of the nursery and started to walk back to the feeding platform.

A few feet into our walk, something completely unexpected happened.  We looked ahead and saw an orangutan lumbering towards us on the hand rail.  We stopped in awe and just looked at each other, thinking, what do we do? We stood in silence, with huge smiles on our faces as he passed right by us, not even a foot away. He gave us both a quick look as he passed by, acknowledging us, but otherwise not really caring that we were there. It was surreal…we figured we’d get to see some orangutans from afar, but would never have expected a close encounter. And as if that wasn’t amazing enough, a few minutes later down the trail, it happened again with another orangutan!

We eventually made our way to the feeding platform, where as soon as the fruit was out, a few orangutans swung down from the trees to eat. The first few to show up fought over some of the fruit, then when what appeared to be the dominant male started to make his way to the platform, the rest of them climbed away into the trees. We stood there and watched them all for a while, admiring these beautiful creatures from afar while thinking about how close we just came to one. Humans share 97% of our DNA with these cheeky guys. The 3% makes a huge difference, but watching some of their mannerisms is like looking into a mirror!