Cape Fox (Vulpes chama)
Cape Fox (Vulpes chama)
Old Town Square, Warsaw
Old Town Square, Warsaw

Orangutans!

Asia, Malaysia Comments Off
Aug 162011
Central Sandakan's weekly market
Central Sandakan’s weekly market

Making our way from Kinabalu National Park over to Sandakan on Sabah’s northern coast was pretty easy.  We rose early and took a taxi from the lodge down to the highway and then waited for one of the KK-to-Sandakan buses to come down the highway.  The 4-hour ride came to 40 ringgit (about US$14) for a nice air-con bus with horrible movies blaring away.  Just as we were approaching Sandakan I caught sight of another fine example of Malaysia traffic circle ornamentation.  Behold:

Another fine example of Malaysian traffic circle decor.
Another fine example of Malaysian traffic circle decor.

The May Fair Inn in Sandakan was recommended by the Lonely Planet and we soon found out why.  It was located smack bang in the center of town and for RM50 (about US$17) we got a nice room complete with private bath, a very capable air con unit, a flat-screen TV, a DVD player as well as free reign over the proprietor’s absolutely massive collection of DVDs.  The owner even had the DVDs sorted into enticing categories such as “Stallone Movies”, “Van Damme Movies”, and “Giant Animals.”  We didn’t end up watching any while we were there but the room was spotless and had good lighting, loads of power outlets and a nice clothesline pre-strung in the bathroom for our laundry.

One of our best-value rooms to date.  May Fair Inn, Sandakan
One of our best-value rooms to date. May Fair Inn, Sandakan

Sandakan is a nice enough town but most people stay there in order to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre which is a dozen or so kilometers outside of town.  After a hearty breakfast at a vegetarian Chinese place in the center we hopped on one of the local buses bound for Sepilok in order to make the morning feeding.

The center takes in orangutans and trains them so that they can survive in the wild.  The incoming apes are a mix of ones that were being kept illegally as pets and of ones that were orphaned.  We learned that on average it takes the center about 10 years to rehabilitate one of the apes.  A very expensive endeavor!

When a new orangutan arrives at the center, the staff performs rigorous medical checks and nurses the animal back to health.  Many of the animals that have been in captivity since they were very young lack even the most basic skills needed to survive in the wild – being able to climb, for example.  Over time, they slowly learn these skills from other apes at the center and from the human trainers.

Eventually, the orangutans are allowed to explore the nearby jungle, however, their dependency on humans tends to keep them nearby.  The center has set up a number of feeding platforms that reach further and further into the jungle and they use these to draw the apes into the wilderness.  Many of the individuals go completely wild and others remain semi-dependent for the rest of their lives.

Long beans, sweet potatos and, most expectedly, bananas were on the menu.
Long beans, sweet potatos and, most expectedly, bananas were on the menu.

It was ridiculously hot when we went out for the morning feeding.  High temperatures, high humidity, still air and direct sunlight made it a rather sweaty experience but we got to see some giant apes!  Aside from their striking human similarities, I really enjoyed watching them multi-task.  Eating, carrying two handfuls (or is that footfuls?) of extra food all while hanging from a rope?  No problem if you are an orangutan!

Another highlight was that one of the apes showed up with its baby.  Apparently it is common for rehabilitated apes to return to the center for food once they have reared a child.

Items of note: bananas in left hand, sweet potato in mouth and right foot, more bananas in left foot, baby attached at waist.
Items of note: bananas in left hand, sweet potato in mouth and right foot, more bananas in left foot, baby attached at waist.

Orangutans aren’t the only primates that you get to see at the center.  During the feeding some of the local macaques like to come in and steal some food for themselves.  Surprisingly the orangutans don’t seem to care all that much.  I saw one of the younger males take a swat at a macaque but other than that they seemed to coexist.  The macaques certainly know to keep their distance though!

The bandits (macaques) raiding the food.
The bandits (macaques) raiding the food.

After the feeding we walked over to the Rainforest Discovery Center which is an independently run park.  I thought it would be a bit swamped with people who were waiting for the afternoon orangutan feeding but it was surprisingly quiet.  After a stroll through the botanical garden we headed out on one of the many trails that lead off into the preserve.

The highlight of the park are the observation towers that you can climb to get a better look at the forest canopy.  They also have a number of canopy walkways strung up between the trees to get from tower to tower.  We saw a few birds there, including our first hornbill, but midday really isn’t the best of times for bird watching so the pickings were a little slim.  Overall, I really enjoyed the Rainforest Discovery Center and I would like to go back sometime either early or late in the day to better enjoy the trails and bird life.  As always, there are plenty more pictures in the thumbnails below.

Orangutans
Another fine example of Malaysian traffic circle decor.
Another fine example of Malaysian traffic circle decor.
Central Sandakan's weekly market
Central Sandakan’s weekly market
One of our best-value rooms to date.  May Fair Inn, Sandakan
One of our best-value rooms to date. May Fair Inn, Sandakan
Enjoying the views over Sandakan
Enjoying the views over Sandakan
Starting the day with noodles and satay.
Starting the day with noodles and satay.
A pig-tailed macaque coming in to steal some food.
A pig-tailed macaque coming in to steal some food.
Long beans, sweet potatos and, most expectedly, bananas were on the menu.
Long beans, sweet potatos and, most expectedly, bananas were on the menu.
Items of note: bananas in left hand, sweet potato in mouth and right foot, more bananas in left foot, baby attached at waist.
Items of note: bananas in left hand, sweet potato in mouth and right foot, more bananas in left foot, baby attached at waist.
The bandits (macaques) raiding the food.
The bandits (macaques) raiding the food.
Eating on the run
Eating on the run
An adult male
An adult male
Pitcher plants
Pitcher plants
Hornbill, very far away
Hornbill, very far away
A well-camoflauged lizard
A well-camoflauged lizard
The view from one of the observation towers
The view from one of the observation towers
This is the girly drink I ended up with that evening.  Tasted like bubblegum with a bit of milk and tapioca pearls at the bottom.
This is the girly drink I ended up with that evening. Tasted like bubblegum with a bit of milk and tapioca pearls at the bottom.


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