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Ape expectations

A journey to the wilder side of Borneo

all seasons in one day 30 °C
View Just a big holiday on ClareAndTom's travel map.

We had an informal rule while on the trip not to eat Western food. However, this rule didn’t apply at airports.

Tom took full advantage of the “airport rule” to enjoy a four burger “Mega Mac”. Rightly, he felt quite ill after this

We had an overnight stop in Kota Kinabalu before catching a short flight to Sandakan the following day.

On the way to Sandakan, flying over rainforest of the sort that we were about to visit

In Sandakan we were staying out from the town, in a rainforest retreat. We spent the afternoon relaxing looking out across the jungle.

Paganakan Dii, our rainforest abode, had a nice relaxed feel

It was time to visit our second orang-utan sanctuary, the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre. We arrived for the 10am feeding, and walked through the rainforest to the viewing area.


We waited for a few minutes before we saw one of the ropes leading to the feeding platform start to move. An orang-utan made its way to the feeding area, and as it got closer we saw a tiny baby clinging to her!


Mother and baby on the feeding platform

An older orang-utan then arrived

There was an incredible look of love and compassion between the baby and the older orang-utan, which felt so human. We think she might have been the grandmother, although orang-utans are solitary creatures


While the two adults turned their backs on us and concentrated on eating, the baby faced us and kept us entertained. He was very cute



When feeding time was over we went back to the park HQ and watched a video on the rehabilitation process. The animals are often rescued from being kept as pets or from performing in shows. The centre allows them to live as they would in the wild – they live in the jungle and are free to roam a large area. The rescued orang-utans often lack the skills they need to live in the wild and are rehabilitated, being taught how to find food and move through the trees.

After lunch we went on our next adventure, to try to spot more wildlife on the Kinabatangan river – we were hopeful of seeing some genuinely wild orang-utans and maybe even pygmy elephants. We drove for a couple of hours through palm oil plantations, which have unfortunately replaced much of the rainforest.

We came to this unfinished bridge, where we crossed on foot before getting into another van on the other side

The final part of the journey was to cross the river to reach our lodge on the other side. Dark clouds were looming and burst spectacularly after we arrived, just in time for our 4pm boat trip.


After waiting for the rain to subside a little, we set out to spot some animals. Tom got his best spotting face on

We saw various things at the side of the river, including macaques, proboscis monkeys, birds of prey and a wild pig. Just as we turned around to head back to the lodge, our guide spotted a wild orang-utan in the trees! It was a fleeting, far-away glimpse, in which we saw the ape climb down a tree into thicker jungle and out of sight. But we still saw one in the wild, which was lucky.

In case you can’t tell, the orang-utan is in the middle

Mist hanging over the jungle in the early evening light

After a beer and dinner we donned wellies and headtorches for our night walk. As we waded through muddy puddles in leaky boots it seemed that there wasn’t much wildlife around, not even a spider or a snake.


We carried on, a bit disheartened, when one of our guides called out urgently. We ran through the undergrowth and came to a tarsier!

The tarsier, one of only two nocturnal primates, is a weird looking thing: huge bug eyes and suction pads on its fingers. It moved incredibly fast too – seemingly teleporting from one tree to another

We saw this brightly coloured kingfisher asleep in the tree

We didn’t fancy our chances of seeing anything the next morning on our 6am boat ride

However, the fog soon cleared and we spotted lots of proboscis monkeys, sitting in the trees eating their breakfast leaves. This is the alpha male of the group

The lodge had a lot of its own wildlife, like this enormous insect

The plan had been to undertake a three hour walk to some lakes. However, some tourists had recently been killed by elephants nearby, and so our walk was confined to an area closer to the lodge.

We’d not gone far before our guide turned around to show us five big tiger leeches on his trousers. Luckily, being in front, he was taking a lot of the little vampires before they could latch onto us

Tiger leech up close

As on the night walk, there was lots of water

There was lots of rain again that afternoon. We holed up on the veranda, writing diary and reading books

An afternoon snack of mangosteen, a fruit we were really fond of – it tastes a bit artificial, like pear drops

The following morning was much clearer

Proboscis monkey in the early morning sunshine

Speeding up the river to spot wildlife

An oriental pied hornbill. The hornbills were really magnificent and graceful in the wild, particularly when they flew overhead

After our morning cruise we returned to Sandakan, getting back in time for lunch. That afternoon we paid another visit to the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre: look out for more orang-utan pictures in the next post!

Posted by ClareAndTom 13:43 Archived in Malaysia

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