Meeting the man of the forest in Borneo

After exploring the underwater world off the coast of Borneo for three days, we were ready to discover the natural wonders of the jungle.  Our first stop was the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre where orphaned Orangutans are rescued and then nurtured to maturity in a 23 sq km protected area at the edge of the Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve.  Each year many adult organ utans are killed because of illegal logging and deforestation activities, leaving their young offspring to die.  Others have been illegally caught and kept as pets.  Today, there are about 25 young orphaned oOrangutans living at the centre in addition to those living freely in the reserve. The centre is open to tourists who visit during the twice daily feeding times in order to catch a glimpse of these adorable creatures.

It was an easy 4.5 hour bus ride from Semporna to Sepilok Junction where the bus deposited us on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere. We had been told it was a 3 km walk to our hostel (Sepilok Jungle Resort) which was next to the Centre, but if we were lucky, a car might offer us a lift for a few ringgits.  Luck was definitely on our side that morning.  Not only did the torrential rain stop as soon as we were dropped off, but a car approached us within minutes to offer us a ride.

We had two nights booked at the Sepilok Jungle Resort which allowed us a full day to visit the Centre and the nearby Rainforest Discovery Centre.  After reading mixed reviews about this resort, we were pleasantly surprised with our very spacious, comfortable room tucked amidst a lovely, tropical garden setting.  It turns out we were staying at the more posh end of the resort with prices to match.  The other end offers up basic, hostel-like accommodations at more reasonable rates.  At $50 CAD per night for a large double room with ensuite, we were paying about double the rate of our other accommodations in Malaysia.  But it was worth every penny!  The hotel restaurant served up tasty, reasonably priced meals too.  There was a very inviting pool which unfortunately we didn’t have time to use.

By the time we arrived at the resort, I was feeling sick again.  My sore throat had returned with a vengeance and my energy was very low.  I pushed myself since we only had the one day to visit the Orangutans and I didn’t want to miss it because of a stupid cold.  The Centre cannot guarantee that visitors will see Orangutans because they really are living in the wild and may or may not choose to visit the feeding platform for some free bananas.  The day of our visit, they were out in full force, including a huge male who rarely comes to the platform.  Apparently, he’s looking for a mate, so he has been showing up about once a month lately.  In the afternoon, another male, much smaller than the one we saw in the morning, found himself a female to his liking, and mated her right there and then as we all watched in amazement.

Before the feedings began, I had a close encounter with a group of long tailed macaque monkeys.  After walking ahead beyond the feeding platform towards the exit, a dozen or so monkeys appeared on the railings about a hundred feet away from me.  I was alone and to my astonishment, they all started walking towards me, pausing and staring at me with as much curiosity towards me as I had for them.  I got a little nervous when a large male stopped beside me and glared with piercing eyes, baring his teeth like he meant business.  There was really nowhere for me to go because I was surrounded by them, so I carefully avoided eye contact and stood still to let him pass; after all, these monkeys are wild and have been known to be aggressive, especially if they feel threatened.  I got some great video footage which you can see at the end of this post.

In between feedings, we walked to the Rainforest Discovery Centre  about a kilometre away. While this environmental education centre is geared towards teachers and students, it is open to everyone. Their mission is to create public awareness and appreciation for the importance of conserving forests, as well as the sustainable use of forest resources. Arriving in the middle of the day, when it was stinking hot guaranteed we would see no animals.  They were all taking a siesta which we should have done too.  The only animal we saw was a long tailed squirrel, which looked exactly like a squirrel in Canada, except it had a long tail.  Even though we didn’t see any wildlife or birds or flowers for that matter, we did enjoy the 300 m long canopy walkway, which was 25 m above the forest floor, giving us a great perspective of the rainforest from above. There is a vast network of many kilometres of well kept trails throughout the rainforest too. The dense forest canopy kept us surprisingly dry when it poured rain a few times during our visit.

The highlight of our day were the Orangutans, which we saw again at the afternoon feeding back at the Rehabilitation Centre.  These endangered apes only live in Borneo and Sumatra so it was a real thrill to see them up close like we did.  Their numbers are declining because their habitat has decreased rapidly, mainly because of the conversion of large areas of the tropical forest to palm oil plantations.  Everywhere we went, we saw miles and miles of these plantations, visible reminders of the shrinking forest.  Sharing 96.4 % of our DNA, it’s not surprising that these apes act so human-like and are so endearing to us.  These gentle primates are highly intelligent and have the ability to reason and think.  In Malay, Orangutan means “man of the forest”, a fitting name, don’t you think?

Our next stop is at a jungle lodge on the Kinitabangan River where we will spend three days and 2 nights exploring the wildlife along the river banks and into the jungle interior.  We hope to see Orangutans in the wild as well as the funny looking proboscis monkeys. If we’re lucky, we might even spot a pygmy elephant.

Video:  The Man of the Jungle and a Troop of Macaques

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2 Responses
  1. Heather Guse says:

    Dear Chris and Chris….
    I don’t know of any couple that I have ever known who have lived the dream as you are doing…I am so happy for you. I went off of FB for four months…and come back to see that your adventures are continuing to inspire and delight. I am sorry that illness struck you guys…but glad that you were not held down long.
    I, too feel a real empathy and affinity with the monkeys, apes, and orangutans. We can look directly into their eyes, and they are looking back. Once, at the Toronto Zoo, I saw, with my own eyes, evidence that caging them far away from their natural environment is just wrong. It is, to me, like putting real humans into an artificial environment and allowing their privacy to be invaded without their permission. I will never forget it…and I never went back to the zoo. It is too painful to see them, nursing their young just as we do, cradled in their arms against their breasts..or throwing things against the window…to express their displeasure with the human eyes that stare. That you have the privilege of sharing their environment and allowing them to look back at you in a natural way, is precious. I am going to need to go back to the beginning of your journey together, and “catch up” on your adventures. Thank you so much for sharing, for allowing us to view on our screens, and share, the joy and adventure that you are living together.


  2. Bobbie+Denis says:

    Hi,hello the pictures are great.we miss you guys .we are at Julies for supper.Talklater.