Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Monkeying Around in Malaysian Borneo

Post Singapore, we continued heading east, flying across the South China Sea from Johor Bahru in Peninsular Malaysia to Kota Kinabalu in East Malaysia. Since it’s the north section of the island of Borneo shared with Indonesia (and Brunei), it’s often referred to as Malaysian Borneo (and often what the rest the world is referring to when they talk about “Borneo”).

Malaysian Borneo is split into the states Sarawak, Sabah, and the federal territory of Labuan. We focused on the more tourist-friendly Sabah, with bases in Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan.

Renowned for its natural resources, we came to Malaysian Borneo for its wildlife and natural scenery. Mount Kinabalu in Kinabalu Park is the highest peak in Malaysia and normally offers great hiking options. However, a 6.0 magnitude earthquake in Sabah in June closed trekking up to Mount Kinabalu until early September, not within our time frame.

Sipadan Island has some of the best diving spots in the world, but it was outside of our budget and possibly outside our diving expertise as well. Having said that, we still found plenty else to do in Malaysian Borneo.

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center

We may have missed the orangutans in Indonesia (northern Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo), but we made up for it here in Malaysian Borneo. An endangered species, wild orangutans have been threatened by poaching and loss of habitat. From Sandakan, we caught the local bus to drive us out to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. For more than 50 years, Sepilok has focused on rehabilitating orphaned young orangutans, teaching them how to survive before releasing them back into the wild.

Visitors are encouraged to come and learn more about orangutans and Sepilok has since become one of Sabah’s biggest tourist attractions. However, the priority is still on the orangutans, so visitors are limited to walkways and what they can bring into the forest.

Our first stop was at a cute outdoor nursery, complete with jungle gym! Sepilok staff soon brought out young orangutans, holding hands and walking them to the jungle gym. All the visitors crowded around the windows for our first glimpses of these hairy primates.

As we watched them swing around on the ropes, one particularly mischievous and smart orangutan attempted an escape. Checking that the park staff had left the area, this orangutan quickly sprinted around the corner of the building and out of sight.

A few seconds later, we all watched as a park staff chased after the runaway orangutan around the same corner. Intrigued by the surprisingly turn of events, we all waited with bated breath, staring where both orangutan and park staff disappeared. In another few seconds, the orangutan rolled back into view, as if reluctantly pushed back. A wave of laughter broke out in the viewing room. What a sneaky little orangutan! It’s unexpectedly joyous moments like these that I will remember forever.

We soon left the nursery behind for the main event of the day: the afternoon feeding. Park staff brought a large basket of food to the feeding platforms, with everything from papaya slices and small bananas, to string beans and sugarcane. Orangutan attendance at feedings is generally lower during summer months than in the winter, as there is more food available in the forests for the orangutans to find themselves. Nonetheless, we had our fair share of orangutans come for the feeding that day.

Continue reading (Incl. Pics) at: Monkeying Around in Malaysian Borneo