The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre near Sandakan is one of only four places in the world set up to preserve and protect orangutans. Established in a corner of the Kabili-Sepilok rainforest reserve in 1964, the center has expanded in recent years as the number of orphaned and abandoned orangutans has grown due to ongoing destruction of their habitat. The center cares for these endangered animals until they are strong or old enough to return to the Borneo jungle, offering daily feedings of milk and bananas to supplement their diets while encouraging them to start foraging for themselves. Other animals treated at the center include gibbons, sun bears, elephants, and Sumatran rhinos.
A raised wooden walkway takes you to a feeding platform, where orangutans living wild in the reserve emerge from the rainforest to free feed if they wish. While not all the orangutans make an appearance at feeding time (there’s no guarantee any will show up at any given feeding), this is the best opportunity to see them in their natural habitats. Visitors can also observe adolescent orangutans in their final stages of rehabilitation in a protected outdoor nursery facility.
The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is 15.5 miles (25 km) north of Sandakan, on the edge of the Kabili forest reserve. It is open every day from 9am to 4pm, and can be reached by public bus in 45 minutes (4RM per person) from the city. Most guided tours to the center include hotel pickup and drop-off from Sandakan. Admission to the center costs 30RM, and the ticket allows you to attend both feedings that day. There is also a camera fee of RM10 if you want to take photos during the feedings.
The center purposely keeps supplemental feedings bland and boring to help encourage the apes to forage on their own. During the fruiting season when naturally growing food is abundant, it’s possible that few or no orangutans show up at feeding time. Whether at the nursery or the feeding platform, touching of the orangutans is not permitted, both for the safety of the apes and the visitors.