One of the joys of traveling is that you never know who you’ll meet. Lifelong friendships have been forged while cruising French canals, taking cooking classes in Thailand or striking up poolside conversations in Palm Springs.
However, checking in to Sepilok Nature Resort, a tranquil jungle escape next to the world-famous Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre near Sandakan, Borneo and you could find yourself coming face-to-face with a creature who shares 96.4% of your DNA – it’s all relative!
We’ve been coming to Sepilok Nature Resort for more than a decade and its fish-filled forest green lake, misty mornings and sultry nights punctuated by the soft glow of lamp lights along the boardwalk always provides a warm welcome. The verandah restaurant that once offered a simple buffet dinner has now stepped-up with a modest a la carte offering but their fresh pineapple juices served in tall iced glasses are still as refreshing as our first sweet memory of them. Guests from all points of the compass stay here to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and other attractions and occasionally they’re fortunate enough to encounter one wandering into the resort.
Retaining their original rustic charm the modest timber chalets have recently been sensitively refurbished with large, walk-in showers, twin basins and a fresh decor. Staff keen to practice their English skills are attentive to guests’ needs keeping the fruit juices coming as they relax by the lake.
I once asked the management whether they’d consider installing a swimming pool – Sepilok is hot and sultry year-round. “We’ve thought about it but it would be too hard getting the ‘neighbours’ out of the pool so the guests could swim,” came the laughing reply. As it is, there’s no shortage of orangutan stories from a blouse removed from a chalet’s verandah (he loved the smell of the perfume on it) to dismantling a chalet’s water pipes. That morning, the occupant had out-stared and offended the creature who then returned and took out his revenge on the plumbing!
“They’re great mimics. One knocked on a chalet door and as the guest opened it, then orangutan ducked under his arm, grabbed a bottle of water and ran out before he could believe his eyes,” said a staffer. More recently, one mischievous adolescent had been eying a couple enjoying breakfast on the resort terrace. Leaving their watermelon on the table to make toast and coffee, he nipped onto their seat and helped himself to one of his favourite fruits.
Food is the orangutans’ consuming passion and staying at the resort provides an opportunity to observe morning and afternoon feeding at the rehabilitation centre. Four times stronger than man, the world’s second largest apes gracefully swing onto the feeding platform taking hand-fulls of fruit before face-planting in a pale of milk attracting more photographic action than a celebrity sighting.
At the outdoor nursery, three cheeky orphaned infants rough and tumble on a jungle gym of rubber tyres and climbing ropes, somersaulting and hugging each other. When the nursery was constructed last year, workers on a lunch break left the keys in the excavator. On returning, they saw the keys were missing and after much searching, discovered them in a tin of grease. Obviously, someone wasn’t happy with the disruption!
Sepilok is the final frontier for Sabah’s rescued orangutan population before rehabilitation back into the wild that in many parts of Borneo is being consumed by palm oil plantations. Now with three major wildlife attractions within walking distance including the chance to ‘paws’ at the Bornean Sun Bears Conservation Centre to see saved Winnie-the-Pooh bears, take the the Rainforest Discovery Centre’s canopy walk plus the chance of an encounter with a solitary ape, there are plenty of reasons to visit Sepilok and take a walk on the wild side……
NEED TO KNOW
Sepilok Nature Resort, Sandakan. www.sepilok.com
Sepilok Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre covers 43 sq kms of rainforest. Entry Fee for adults around AUD10, children to 17 around AUD5. Cameras around AUD3.50. Mobile phones, tablets free. Feeding times 10am and 3pm daily. www.sabahtourism.com/sepilok-orangutan-rehabilitation-centre
To adopt an orang-utan go to www.orangutan-appeal.org.uk
General Travel Information: www.sabahtourism.com
Tags: Bornean Sun Bears Conservation Centre, Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, BOS, orang utan rehabilitation, orangutan, palm oil plantations, rescued orangutan population, Sabah, Sabah Tourism, Sandakan, Sepilok Nature Resort, Sepilok Orang utan Rehabilitation Centre Sabah Borneo, www.orangutan-appeal.org.uk, www.orangutan.or.id, www.orangutans.com.au, www.sepilok.com, www.zoo.org.au, Zoos Victoria