We landed at Sandakan and met the humidity and heat of Borneo. We were thrilled that Charly had come out from England to join us exploring the Sabah region for a couple of weeks. After an afternoon relaxing, for our first jaunt we hopped on a local bus that constantly played very loud dance and rock music. It was adorned with heavy metal posters, including one of a teenage Slash. The conductor, driver and their entourage (who I guess were there just for the ride) were all dressed like 70's Afro-American Rockers crossed with the YMCA boys.
We timed our visit to Sepilok just right, as soon as we entered the rehabilitation centre forest walk a large orang-utan swung above our heads and down to the feeding platform. A few were already gathered to munch the provided bananas. Their mannerisms were very familiar, which is not surprising as they share 96% of our DNA. When a shaft of intense sunlight caught their body they were a deep orange auburn, whereas in the shade of dense foliage they blended in seamlessly. The very young apes we saw later (as there was two feedings per day) behaved like children you see everywhere, one minute timid, thoughtful and then bounding with inquisitiveness and energy.
We were informed that these were the orang-utans that were living semi-wild, having been rescued, given medical treatment and rehabilitated. So the fewer orang-utans that came to be fed the better, as this meant they were independently sourcing their own food. Most of the apes which came to the centre were rescued at a young age having been stolen from their mothers (which involved killing the mother) for the illegal pet trade, orphaned due to deforestation or destined for kitchens and Chinese medicine shops in China.
We withered to the Sun Bear Centre next-door. I remember us watching a television programme about rescuing sun bears in India from a life of torture, dancing for people’s entertainment. It was amazing to actually see these bears in the flesh, one of the eight species of bear in the world. To me with their short black fur they looked like Paddington Bear, albeit a naked one without marmalade sandwiches (although they do eat honey). They frolicked and rolled about in their large enclosures, happy to be in their natural habitat. The bears, which are fully protected as an endangered species, have been rescued from the illegal pet trade or as a commodity for Chinese medicine. Each bear has a sun shaped halo on its breast, apparently each pattern is unique.
The ultimate aim of both programmes is to return the animals to the Tabin wildlife reserve in Sabah, where, hopefully, they will be given some protection from poachers and be inclined to breed.
On board the party bus with Guns 'n Roses for company
Within minutes of walking into the Sepilok Orang-utan Reserve we were in luck
We were amazed by the dexterity and confidence of the Orangs, up can be down it doesn't matter!
This little fella raced in for his bananas
Staff were very proud of this young mother who had been one of the orang-utans rescued early on in the programme. Seeing her now with a young infant of her own showed what progress has been made
Even the pig-tailed macaques get stuck in to the free food!
It was all too much for some spectators, including this Giant Malaysian Squirrel
Nothing fusses a Sun Bear, afternoon is the perfect time for a siesta
And this Crested Serpent Eagle kept looking for the Rat Snake, but we didn't say a word!
So human-like, Chris looks like this first thing!
Louis (king of the swingers). His ID number is tattooed clearly on the inside of this thigh
Puzzling about the meaning of life…..and all that!
Just hangin' (easy when your arms are nearly twice the length of your legs)!