Sepilok Orangutan Centre & Borneo Sun Bear Conservation centre
If you came to Borneo to do just one thing, the Sepilok Orangutan Centre and Sun Bear Conservation Centre would be worth it. Of course you aim to see these beautiful creatures in the wild, by taking a river cruise or jungle walk but you have to be very lucky to spot them this way. Visiting the sanctuaries at Sepilok you have an excellent chance of seeing them. And your ticket price is supporting important conservation work.
Our Borneo trip was split over the two states of Borneo, Sarawak and Sabah. You can read about our time in Sarawak here.
Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary
In Sabah we first stayed in the Sepilok area for easy access to the Orangutan Sanctuary and other popular attractions. The Orangutan Sanctuary is similar to the one in Sarawak, with a feeding platform you visit at set times in the hope of seeing Orangutan come to feed. However the Sepilok Centre also has a nursery. Here young, usually orphaned, Orangutan stay and learn how to fend for themselves in the wild.
This Centre was established in 1964 by an English Woman. It cares for young Orangutan that are orphaned due to illegal logging and deforestation, and those that have been illegally caught and used as pets. It takes up to seven years to rehabilitate them back into the wild.
Orangutan Nursery at Sepilok
We headed first to the feeding platform but unfortunately that day no adults came to feed. Many tour groups seemed to miss the nursery where the observation area is open for around an hour each morning and afternoon while the babies and adolescents are outside playing. This turned out to be a highlight of our time in Borneo and a bit of a secret as it wasn’t too busy.
If you go to Sepilok and are lucky enough to see adult Orangutan feeding you still should not miss a visit to the nursery. We stayed for almost an hour, watching up to 6 little ones playing and interacting with each other. Here the older ones are free to roam the forest and return for food, while the littlest ones are kept in the sanctuary. The little ones therefore learn from the teenagers and slowly they gain more independence.
We could have stayed and watched them feed and play all day. They were very funny as they swung and played, showing off to each other. They looked just like little kids in a playground.
When playtime was almost over a mother Orangutan arrived with her baby. They swung around and spent some time feeding. The little one stayed closed to Mum, now and then reaching out for food, and then snuggling back in for a cuddle.
The Orangutan nursery is viewed through a glass screen so photography is a bit more challenging. You won’t tire of watching these little ones play but you will be kicked out at 11am. Then it is time to head just across the road to the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre. Read more about the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre on their website. Entry is 30 MYR.
Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre
The Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre is a rescue and rehabilitation centre in Sabah, Borneo, for Malayan Sun Bears, found only in South East Asia. All the bears here have been rescued after being kept as pets or for tourism. Sun bears are hunted for bear parts, their gall bladder is used in traditional medicine, and their paws are considered a delicacy. Young bears are poached for the pet trade, mothers and killed and the orphaned cub is removed from the wild. Habitat loss is also a threat to the Sun Bear.
Sun Bears are the smallest bears in the world and the 2nd rarest bear species after the Giant Panda. They are also the least studied. These very cute little bears don’t receive as much conservation attention as other species. This centre in Borneo is the only Sun Bear conservation centre in the world. Currently 44 ex-captive Sun Bears live at the centre. Their mission is to release ex-captive bears back into the forest but so far they have only managed to rehabilitate two bears. They also aim to raise awareness of the plight of these adorable bears.
Visiting the Sun Bear Conservation Centre
The centre began in 2008, but only opened to the public in 2014. It is much smaller and less touristy than the Orangutan Centres, but no less of an experience. Guides are on hand with telescopes to help you spot the bears and see them close up, they were fantastic with the kids.
We stayed over an hour and viewed at least half a dozen bears both high up in trees and on the ground below us. Information boards told us how each bear was found and where they came from. These were informative and moving and a real eye opener for the L&S. Here is the story of one Sun Bear we spotted.
Photographing a Sun Bear takes a lot of patience, they spend a lot of time sleeping, high up in trees, usually with their face turned away from the camera. But our patience was rewarded.
You can find out more about the BSBCC here. Kids under 12 were free, adults 32 MYR, just over $10 NZ each.