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Resource Centre
Sabah's Sepilok Forest Reserve & Orang Utan Sanctuary

The Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre was set up in 1964 to rehabilitate orphaned or injured Orang Utan. Over 250 individuals have been successfully rehabilitated and returned to the forest, some even breeding with established wild Orang Utans. Set in the lush 5,666-hectare Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, the Centre under the administration of the Wildlife Department of Sabah attracts tourists and researchers alike, giving them the opportunity to watch the orang utan up close in their natural habitat.

A boardwalk leads you to a viewing gallery and feeding platform where the apes are fed milk and bananas twice a day at 10.00am and 3.00pm by rangers. Feeding time also attracts long-tailed macaques to the area.

While orang utan rehabilitation is still the primary goal at Sepilok, it also focuses on public education on conservation, research and assistance on other endangered species such as the rhinoceros. Nicknamed the 'Wild Man of Borneo', the orang utans are returned to the forest when they can fend for themselves.

Aside from the orang utan, over 200 species of birds and a variety of wild plants can be found within the forest reserve.

Visitors are restricted to walkways. Some orang utan have become familiar with people but touching them is strongly discouraged, and while the apes are naturally shy and gentle, the more mischievous ones may try to grab your camera or hat, in which case you should call for a ranger as trying to wrestle the 200 pound apes may not be a good idea.

For the more adventurous, there is trekking through mangrove forest. As this is under the Forestry Department, you will have to get a permit from them before trekking the 5km trail which runs through Sepilok Laut. You can also arrange for a boat return or accommodation in chalets in the forest.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Orangutan illegal pet trading and habitat loss " Many young orangutans were the victims of the illegal pet trade throughout Asia. If they weren't caught during logging or forest clearance, they were captured by poachers who slaughtered the adult apes to get at them. The Malaysian Governmenthas clamped down on illegal trading; outlawing all such practice and imposing prison sentences on anyone caught keeping them as pets.

This gives the authorities a problem though: "What we do with confiscated animals? " And we are talking about a lot of animals. In Taiwan alone, in 1993 the wildlife authorities were looking after almost 300 orangutans which have been confiscated from the pet owners. The obvious answer is to find an area of the forest, and release orangutan back to it. But, unfortunately, this is not as easy as it appears:

  • The first problem is the risk of introducing disease to wild population, animals which have been in close contact to human can pick up parasites and disease which they pass on wild population, and can devastate them if they have no resistance.
  • The second hazard is introducing more animals than a forest can support. In the wild, the population of orangutan naturally increase until is limited by a resource such as available food or breeding sites. Introducing more animals will lead to a slow death through starvation of either the released or resident animals.
  • Another problem with high intelligent animals such as orangutan is that so much of their behaviour is learnt. Baby orangutans spend their first five years with their mother, learning the skills needed to survive in the forest. So animals which have spent most of their lives in capitivity do not know how to survive in the forest.

Orangutan Rehabillitation Centres are widely seen as the only option. "How the rehabilitation centre does it work? "

The rehabilitation process comprises four phase; admission, quarantine, nursery and platform.

Photo Credit: Borneo Orang Utan Survival  and Orang Utan Appeal

The rehabilitation process starts right after an orangutan has been admitted to the centre. The majority of animals arriving at Sepilok have been taken from keeping them in captivity, often after having taken them away from their mothers, while still babies, to become household pets. Others include adults that have sustained injury or sickness and require medical treatment before returned to the wild.

All animals are given a thorough general health examination shortly after arrival. This is followed by a quarantine period of 3 - 6 months to eliminate the possibility of them passing diseases to other orangutans. Through all phases of the rehabilitation process, the clinic offers assistance with any health problems that animals may encounter. The medical check-up comprises of tests for TB and Malaria, urine analysis, bacteriology and chest X-ray. After quarantine, the orangutan will be assessed as to whether it should undergo the whole programmes or deliberately start from the second or third stage.

Captive orangutans, deprived of their mothers, are unable to find food, build nests, or even climb properly. It is these skills which wildlife rangers encourage the rehabilitants to develop. The "NURSERY" phase is where young orangutans (1 - 3 years) undergo a period of "pre-school" training to give them skills essen-tial to livein the jungle, such as the ability to climb trees and explore the use of their limbs.

Platform A (Outward Bound School)
For those which are ready for it, there is then a period of "Outward Bound School" where their dependence on the food and emotional support given by the rehabilitation centre is gradually reduced. Here, orangutans are given increasing freedom and at the same time encouraged to learn to fend for themselves. At platform A, their natural forest diet is supplemented with milk, added minerals and vitamins, and fruits twice a day.

Platform B (Survival Training)
Finally, when an ornagutan has totally adjusted itself in the forest and shows signs of independence, it is gradually moved to the last phase of survival train-ing. Here, even less food is offered, fur-ther away from the Centre, at Platform B. Here most animals eventually achieve total independence and become inter-grated into Sepilok's wild orangutan population.

Release to the forest
Ultimately, the goal of rehabilitation centre is for former captive orangutans to return successfully to the wild, in a way which enhances protection for the species as a whole, not just the welfare of individual animals. Since the Centre was established more than 100 orangutans have been successfully released.

One big question mark remains: "Should these rehabilitation centres be open to the public?"

If there is any contact between the visitors and orangutans, it increases risks of introducing disease to the apes. On balance, the need for public awareness and support for the conservation means that some should be; centres are major attraction for local people and tourists and provide excellent opportunity of education. And people caring and understanding are, ultimately, the only hope for any species.

However we must never lose sight of the fact that the ultimate goal of conservation is to protect of the species in the wild.

The Natural History of Orang-Utan,  by Elizabeth L. Bennet, Natural History Publications (Borneo)         

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