Monday, May 11, 2015

See Orangutans at Shangri-la’s Rasa Ria Nature Reserve

Wildlife was certain to feature prominently on our Kota Kinabalu itinerary and it was my goal to balance seeing Borneo’s diverse flora and fauna with my 8-year-old’s tolerances and a limited time frame. For us, a visit to the Nature Reserve at Shangri-la’s Rasa Ria Resort and Spa (our hosts) was a perfect solution because we could view orangutans, learn about this 140 million-year-old rainforest from experts and enjoy the luxury resort’s facilities for the day.

About Shangri-la’s Rasa Ria Nature Reserve

The Rasa Ria Nature Reserve was established by the resort in partnership with the State Wildlife Department of Sabah. (Sabah is one of the two Malaysian states on the north side of the island of Borneo. Brunei is also on the north of the island with Indonesia at the south end.)

When in Borneo, you must see one of their iconic orangutans. It’s so easy to become enthralled by their whimsical and cheeky moves yet a good reminder that their habit is shrinking and responsible choices made worldwide (such as sustainable palm oil) can help prevent them and other rainforest animals from becoming extinct.

The 64-acre reserve provides a home for rescued endangered and endemic animals. For the orangutans, it’s a place to heal before heading to the famous Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre — located deeper in the rainforest—where they’ll be taught critical survival skills and before being released back into the wild.

Despite a location adjacent to a spectacular five-star resort full of fabulous leisure activities, the Rasa Ria Nature Reserve takes conservation seriously (visitors are kept a safe distance from orangutans) and that became obvious immediately after our arrival. And, once you step into the reserve and are shielded by a massive canopy of green, it’s easy to forget the beach is just steps away.

The Ranger Experience and Orangutan Viewing

A wide range of educational programming is on offer including bird watching, nocturnal animal watching, jungle walks, orangutan viewing and ranger experiences. In advance of our arrival, I enrolled my daughter in the Ranger Experience which happens in combination with an orangutan viewing.

First, she underwent a brief physical examination by a resort nurse to determine whether she was healthy enough to participate in the Ranger Experience. After approval, we walked over to the Rasa Ria Nature Reserve entrance, a less than 5-minute walk from the main lobby.

Parents do not accompany kids on their ranger duties so I remained back at the Nature Interpretation Centre to watch an incredibly interesting video about Borneo and the work the Rasa Ria Nature Reserve does in partnership with Sepilok to rehabilitate and release orangutans. Kids are given special t-shirts to wear during the experience that they get to keep as a souvenir so off she went to change. I imagine that it helps the rangers keep track of who is participating.

I couldn’t see exactly what she was learning, but she told me that the kids chopped up vegetables and fruit (using plastic cutlery) for the orangutans while the keepers explained the basics of their care. I would say they were busy behind the scenes for about 30 minutes.

When the kids were finished, they met up with the rest of the group to walk up to the orangutan viewing platform. The somewhat rugged walk took about 5-10 minutes on a dirt path, passing beautiful foliage and even a snake along the way. It felt like stepping into the jungle.