By Ruben Sario
FROM afar, the forested hill adjacent to the ShangriLa Rasa Ria Resort at Tuaran, some 30km from the city, looks unremarkable.
But for the past nine years, the 25ha area has served as the first and only privately-run nature reserve in Sabah where 15 orphaned or abandoned orang utans have been rehabilitated to enable them to return to the wild.
The Rasa Ria nature reserve recently charted another milestone with the opening of its RM1mil nature interpretation centre as well as a veterinary clinic and a pantry where 'meals' are prepared for some of the area’s residents.
And there are a wide variety of them at the nature reserve. Apart from the six orang utans currently being rehabilitated there, the facility also has a menagerie of wildlife including bear cats, porcupines and long tailed macaque monkeys.
"There is also some mousedeer, ant eaters, pheasants, slow loris and turtles here while 60 species of birds and 30 types of butterflies have been spotted around the reserve," said coordinator Carolyn Justin.
The nature reserve is also home to a number of domesticated animals including turkeys, ducks, geese and a couple of goats.
Visitors can explore the nature reserve and view the various plants there including the renowned nepenthes or pitcher plant, fig trees and various types of ferns through the five trails that wind through the area, each spanning a distance of about 1km to 1.8km.
The Nature Trail for example would take trekkers through sightings of insects, a termite mound, medicinal plants, varieties of palm trees and a fig tree; while the Bird Watching trail would take visitors to a bird feeding station as well as the reserve’s observation tower.
Carolyn said those wanting to visit the reserve should make a reservation first since only a maximum of 100 visitors are allowed into the area daily.
She said the daily visiting sessions were at 10am and 2pm and coincided with the time when the orang utans are fed.
The Rasa Ria nature reserve was set up following a memorandum of understanding signed between the resort and the Sabah Wildlife Depart- ment in 1996.
Under the agreement, the department trained the nature reserve’s 13 employees in caring for the animals.
"The aim of the nature reserve has always been to enhance the conservation of the flora and fauna native to Sabah."
"The animals transferred to the reserve are often those that have been abandoned while young or those domesticated by villagers and then rescued by the Wildlife Depart- ment," said Rasa Ria general manager Alain Borgers.
He said apart from the conservation efforts, the nature reserve had also provided education experience for students from around the state capital.
Borgers said this was important as schools in the west coast of the state would not likely be able to send their students to the renowned Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre at Sepilok in Sandakan.
"We are proud to be able to play the role of satellite centre for the Wildlife Department by welcoming students," Borgers said in noting that for this year alone, some 800 students and teachers had visited Rasa Ria nature reserve.
Source: The Star