Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Orangutans, Proboscis Monkeys and Sun Bears

During the Eid holidays in July, LvH and I made a weekend trip to Sandakan. Our mission: To visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary and the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.

From Kuala Lumpur, we flew to Sandakan in the state of Sarawak and stayed at Four Points by Sheraton because the company that LvH works for has a corporate rate there.

This is a lovely hotel with sea frontage. While having breakfast on our last morning there, we saw navy ships and air force fighter jets patrolling the area. It was something I've never seen before. I didn't snap any photos because I was enjoying the moment. 

For a traveller, taking a taxi seems to be the most convenient way to move around in Sandakan.

I didn't even bother to find out how to get around by bus because it seems like buses were non existent or extremely infrequent in Sandakan. I think that's why almost every local has their own mode of transportation to get around.

There are taxis waiting outside the hotel and the drivers follow these fares religiously: 

For convenience sake, we booked a taxi for the whole day to take us from the hotel to the 3 places, i.e. (in choronological order) Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary and The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (located beside the Sepilok Orang Utan Centre).

According to the driver, we need to visit those places during the feeding times because that's when we'll be able to see the animals. 

So the best itinerary would be to head to Sepilok first thing in the morning to catch the 10.00am feeding time. After that drive to Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary for the 11.30am feeding and then back to Sepilok to visit The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (no specific feeding time).

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

We reached the centre at approximately 9.30am just in time for the 10.00am feeding time.

Before entering the centre, all visitors must keep their bags in the lockers provided (maybe it's to prevent any crazy visitors from kidnapping any baby orangutans!).

These are the entrance fees to the centre:

I let LvH bring his camera into the centre and I kept mine in the locker. The only camera I had on me was my mobile phone.

Feeding times are at 10,00am and 3.00pm daily. It's important to take note because you'll need to arrange your visit according to the feeding times.

As you can see from the photo just above this text, visitors gather at the feeding platform to view the primates partaking in their food. 

The crowd was considerably large that day. Maybe because it was the long Eid holidays.

When the caretaker started dishing out the food on the feeding platform, it took some time for these shy primates to make their appearance. But soon the orangutans started emerging from the forest one by one. Some of them looked hesitant and unsure at first. But soon they started partaking in the spread of fruits, vegetables and milk.

I was rather disappointed that only a handful of them came to the feeding platform that day. Later the taxi driver informed us that not many orangutans could be seen during that time (July) because it's the dry season when flowers are abundant in the forest which translates to an adundance of fruits too. So these orangutans have a wide variety of fruits to choose from in the jungle. 

It is only when food is scarce in the jungle that the orangutans come to the centre regularly for their meals. And this is usually during the rainy season at the end of the year. So take note if you want to see orangutans appear by the dozens at the feeding platform.

This brochure contains all the essential information like getting to the sanctuary, entrance fee, viewing time, etc. 

Entrance fee to the sanctuary is relatively high, especially for non-residents. Someone told us that the high prices is because the sanctuary is owned and managed by a private company and therefore there are no subsidies like in a government organisation.

I was telling LvH that with these entrance fees, the sanctuary better be serving the monkeys food equivalent to the standards of caviar, truffle and wagyu beef - the three most expensive food in the world.

From Sepilok, it took us approximately 40 minutes to get to Labuk Bay by car. We made it for the 11.30am feeding time on Platform B. There are 2 feeding platforms hosting different feeding times. 

During the feeding, the keeper brought fruits and vegetables to the platform where the monkeys stomp down the wooden platforms for their meals.

These monkeys come in all shapes and sizes. Some of the female come carrying their babies around their bellies. The bigger ones are usually the male. Some of them end up fighting with each other over the food.

What makes these monkeys fascinating is that their large noses make them look like humans, including their ...

The sanctuary is not only home to proboscis monkeys but other animals as well:

We were lucky to see a trio of hornbills in the trees. Reminded me of the movie animation, Rio, except that these birds didn't do the samba :-)

After watching the proboscis monkeys at Labuk Bay, the driver took us to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) which is located opposite the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.

Opening hours and entrance fees can be obtained here. There are no specific feeding times so you can just walk in and view the bears in their habitat. According to the BSBCC website, there are about 35 sun bears at the centre. 

I've always had a fascination for sun bears after watching a bunch of these cute fellas dancing in their pen (don't know whether that's the right word) at the Air Keroh Zoo in Malacca many years ago. 

"No, I'm not having a hangover. I'm just hanging out."

According to the BSBCC website, the main threats of the sun bear are deforestation, commercial hunting and pet trade. These bears are often found in appallaing conditions, without a home, a mother, or left to rot in tiny cages. Reading about all these makes me sad.

After visiting the orang utans and sun bears, LvH and I were talking about adopting either an orang utan or a sun bear. LvH said we should name it Lima which is a combination of both our family names. I thought that was a brilliant name!

Day Trip

It's possible to visit these 3 centres in a day trip from Kuala Lumpur. Take the first flight in the morning to Sandakan. Upon arrival head straight to Sepilok, followed by Labuk Bay and BSBCC. In the evening, take your flight back to Kuala Lumpur.

The only thing about this method is that you'll need to make prior arrangements for a car to wait for you at the airport. A day trip may be tiring but you would save on lodging costs and time.

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