Sightseeing and orangutans in Sandakan

Trip Start Jan 12, 2005
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Friday, May 6, 2005

Rob and Anjali now hail a bus from the side of the road at the Pine Resort and travel four hours to Sandakan on the east coast of Sabah.

The sights of the city
The city of Sandakan is the jumping off point to see the wilds of the Borneo rainforest - most of the relatively untouched forest area resides close to this city. But Sandakan is also where the Sandakan death marches took place during the Second World War. More than 2400 Australian and British prisoners of war were marched through the dense jungle from Sandakan to Ranau, just close Mt. Kinabalu. Of the 2400, only six escapees survived. The city is home to an Australian War Memorial remembering those who died during the marches.

The wild men of Boreno
The highlight of our trip to Sandakan was a visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. This research centre was set up in 1964 to rehabilitate captured or orphaned orangutans back to the wild. Anjali has always wanted to see these great apes, and since we couldn't travel to Kalimantan in Indonesia to see Canadian Birute Galidikas' research centre, this was the closest we were going to get to the orangutans!

In a nutshell, Sepilok focuses primarily on rehabilitation of the orangutans by teaching them the skills needed to survive in the wild and giving them supplementary feedings while they are slowly reintroduced into the jungle. Read more about the program here (http://www.orangutan-appeal.org.uk/sepliok.php)

Tourists are allowed to view the feedings at the first station in the jungle - which is where the large group of us headed first thing in the morning. But before we even started into the jungle on the wooden walkways, we could see some juvenile orangutans coming down from the trees for the feeding. As we walked to the station, you could hear trees crashing and more sounds coming from the orangutans as they made their way to the platforms. We also saw quite a few of our favourite monkeys - the macaques as well.

Once we got to the platform area we realized it was chock full of tourists like us. In fact, Rob and I felt a bit sorry for the orangutangs - one large male came out of the jungle only to be surrounded by crazy camera snapping tourists. Standing upright at it's full height it was easy to see why the tribes in Malaysia called the orangutan the "Wild men of Borneo." They look incredibly human!

More monkeying around...
But the really amazing part was watching these large apes swing into the feeding area through the trees and along the ropeways. There were two mothers with tiny infants clinging to their backs - the babies looked so cute with their wrinkled faces and tiny tufts of orange hair. In all more than 12 orangutans came to the feeding that morning - and everyone watched in awe as they all clambered onto the platform for their breakfast of bananas and milk. The younger juveniles (age eight and nine) were the funniest - clowning around and getting into the large banana baskets or slurping up the milk with their hands.

The centre staff kept handing them bananas while fending off the pesky macaque monkeys that were trying to get in on the feeding as well. Our guide said that in 2005 they had released 22 into the wild - and the fewer they see come back to the feeding station, the better because that means they are able to cope with feeding by themselves.

At the end of the feeding most of the orangutans grabbed a banana and swung off back into the jungle. It was a fun experience and who knew we would actually see a wild one later in the day!
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