Sandakan @ Sabah, Malaysia: Our Travel Journal (Part 4) Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center

Written by @Lan & Edited by @joehairie
(Photos by team members unless stated otherwise)
Special Mention: Borneo Sandakan Tours, Four Points by Sheraton Sandakan, BIG Air Asia & Official Website of Sabah Wildlife Department


Located about 25 Kilometers west of Sandakan in Sabah, Malaysia, Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center is one good spot for the tourists and researches. It is a place where people are given the opportunity to watch the Orangutan up close in their natural habitat. There is a boardwalk that leads to a viewing gallery and feeding platform where the Orangutan are fed milk and bananas twice a day at 10 am and 3 pm by the rangers. According to the Sabah Wildlife Department official website, Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center is funded by the Sabah Government. The reserve is named after the two rivers flowing into the Sandakan Bay. The aim of Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center is to return orphaned, injured or displaced orangutans back to the wild.

About the Center

The Center Main Entrance

The center opened in 1964 as the first official Orangutan rehabilitation project for rescued orphaned baby orangutans from logging sites, plantations, illegal hunting or kept as pets. The orphaned orangutans are trained to survive again in the wild and are released as soon as they are ready. The sanctuary is located within the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve which covers an area of 4,294 ha (10,610 acres), much of which is virgin rainforest. Today around 60 to 80 orangutans are living free in the reserve. 

Indoor viewing gallery at the Nursery Area

It has become one of Sabah’s tourist attractions. In October 2014 the center opened a new section where visitors can view the nursery area where the younger Orangutans first learn to be outside and play on a large climbing frame. This consists of 2 large indoor seating areas (one with air conditioning and one with fans only) with a large window that overlooks the play area. There is no additional charge to enter this part of the center.

Feeding Time

The rehabilitation process starts as soon as the orangutan is admitted to the center with a thorough health examination, followed by a quarantine period to eliminate diseases being transmitted. Young orangutans spend their time in the ‘Nursery’ learning skills essential to jungle life, for example finding food, building nest and climbing.

@ The Nursery

Once ready, they will move to the ‘Outdoor Nursery’ where freedom is increased and dependence on food and emotional support is decreased. Last but not the least, most animals achieve total independence and become integrated into the Sepilok wild orangutan population. Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre opens daily from 9 am to 12 pm, 2 pm to 4 pm, 9 am to 11 am and 2 pm to 4 pm on Fridays.

About Orang Utan


Orangutans are currently found in only the rainforests of Borneo Island and Sumatra. In 1996, they have been divided into two species: the Borneon Orangutan (P. pygmaeus) and the Sumatran Orangutan (P. abelii). The Bornean species is divided into three subspecies.The two extant orangutan species evidently diverged around 400,000 years ago. The orangutans are also the only surviving species of the subfamily Ponginae, which also included several other species, such as the three extinct species of the genus Gigantopithecus including the largest known primate Gigantopithecus blacki. The ancestors of the Ponginae subfamily split from the main ape line in Africa 16 to 19 million years ago and spread into Asia.

Orangutans are the most arboreal of the great apes and spend most of their time in trees. Their hair is typically reddish-brown, instead of the brown or black hair typical of chimpanzees and gorillas. Males and females differ in size and appearance. Dominant adult males have distinctive cheek pads and produce long calls that attract females and intimidate rivals. Younger males do not have these characteristics and resemble adult females. Orangutans are the most solitary of the great apes, with social bonds occurring primarily between mothers and their dependent offspring, who stay together for the first two years. Fruit is the most important component of an orangutan’s diet; however, the apes will also eat vegetation, bark, honey, insects and even bird eggs. They can live over 30 years in both the wild and captivity.

Orangutans are among the most intelligent primates; they use a variety of sophisticated tools and construct elaborate sleeping nests each night from branches and foliage. The apes have been extensively studied for their learning abilities. There may even be distinctive cultures within populations.  Both orangutan species are considered to be endangered, with the Sumatran orangutan being critically endangered. Human activities have caused severe declines in the populations and ranges of both species. Threats to wild orangutan populations include poaching, habitat destruction, and the illegal pet trade. Several conservation and rehabilitation organisations are dedicated to the survival of orangutans in the wild.

Our Experience

To those who have never been to the Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, this section will give you some ideas on what’s going on around this place.


The signboard where visitors normally will take pictures.


Time to go to get the tickets!


This is the main building where visitors buy the tickets and pay for the camera fees (if any).

Visitors are required to store their belongings here. It is free of charge.


At the entrance, there will be a map on a signboard indicating the walkway stops and stations.

..and the walk begins…

…keep walking…..either to the Feeding Platform or to the Outdoor Nursery building. If it’s still long time to go for the feeding time, head to the Nursery first and get back to the feeding platform later. (Feeding time 10 am and 3 pm)

Outdoor Nursery Building

The indoor and much cooler viewing platform at the nursery


From the indoor viewing platform at the nursery, visitors will be able to see some orangutans playing with their mates.


…and the swinging begins…


..more swinging…


..and swinging…


…the curious orang utan!…

The Feeding Platform

When feeding time comes, visitors will flock to the feeding platform area and anxiously waiting for the orangutan to come. There is no guarantee that there will be any orangutan coming for the fruits. At times there will be some, or one orangutan or none at all. The numbers of orangutans which come to the feedings differs on a daily basis and as they are wild and free to travel in the reserve it can never be guaranteed that any will come for the feed at all, especially during the fruiting season when naturally growing food is in abundance. Although this can be disappointing for those hoping to see the orangutans, the truth is if no orangutans come, then it is a positive thing – it means they are not reliant upon the feeding and to survive and are living a free and natural existence in the reserve


The visitors patiently waiting for the orangutan to come! Below is the video showing the signs of orangutan coming to the feeding platform…


..preparing the food for the orangutan..this time only one orangutan decided to come down to the feeding platform.


…getting that food out of the basket…

img_5371 happy orangutan!


…and the feast begins…

Contact & Links

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center
Batu 14, Jalan Labuk Sandakan, Sabah
Phone : + 60 89 531 180
Fax: + 60 89 531 189
Website: Click HERE

Entrance Fees
Above 17 years old: Malaysian RM5, Non-Malaysian RM30
17 years old and below: Malaysian RM2, Non-Malaysian RM15
Use of Cameras, camcorders, camera phones etc will be charged RM10.00.

The tour to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center is made possible by:


Borneo Sandakan Tours
Block HS-05, Lot 54, 1st Floor
Sandakan Harbour Square
90000 Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia
Phone: + 60 89 215 754
Fax: + 60 89 232 754
24/7 Line: + 60 13 888 7623 (Jon) / + 60 14 654 2818 (Gary)
Twitter: @borneosandakan
Facebook: Borneo Sandakan Tours (Click HERE)
Website: (Click HERE)

References/Reading list

Ancrenaz M, Calaque R, Lackman-Ancrenaz I (2004) Orang-utan nesting behavior in disturbed forest of Sabah, Malaysia: Implications for nest census. Int J Primatol 25: 983–1000

Cribb, Robert, Helen Gilbert and Helen Tiffin (2014). Wild Man from Borneo: a cultural history of the orangutan. University of Hawai’i Press.

Kuncoro P, Sudaryanto, & Yuni LE (2004). Perilaku dan Jenis Pakan Orangutan Kalimantan (Pongo pygmaeus Linnaeus, 1760) di Kalimantan. Jurnal Biologi. 11 (2) : 64-69.

Morrogh-Bernard H, Husson S & McLardy C (2002). Orangutan Data Collection Standardisation. In Orang-Utan Cultural Workshop, San Anselmo, CA

Payne J (1988) Orang-utan conservation in Sabah. Kuala Lumpur: WWFMalaysia International, Report 3759. 137

Sabah Wildlife Department (2016). Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center. Referred and retrieved on September 19. 2016 from

Schürmann, CL; Hooff, JARAM (1986). “Reproductive strategies of the orangutan: new data and a reconsideration of existing sociosexual models”. Int J Primatol. 7 (3): 265–87.

Singleton I & van Schaik C (2000). Orangutan Home Range Size and Its Determinants in a Sumatran Swamp Forest. International Journal of Primatology, 22.

Van Schaik CP, Azwar, & Priatna D (1995). Population Estimates and Habitat Preferences of Orangutan Based on Line Transects of Nests. The Neglected Ape. Plenum Press, New York.


The facilities at this center

Parking area for tour  bus/van  or private vehicles
A place for you to take some cool editor did..
Place to relax while waiting for your next activity


at the main signboard again…but this time it’s me @Lan
Another good place for photos…

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