Sepilok isn’t just the best place in North Borneo to see orangutans – it's one of the island’s premier conservation destinations, with exemplary projects doing fantastic work to rehabilitate wildlife and raise awareness of rainforest protection.
Welcoming wildlife-lovers, tree-huggers and Earth-friends of all stripes since the 1960s, we like to think of Sepilok as Malaysian Borneo’s conservation command HQ. About 25 km from the nondescript town of Sandakan, Sepilok isn’t a town as much as a cluster of ecolodges, resorts, and conservation centres.
Best-known is the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, which gives visitors the opportunity to see these flame-haired “men of the forest” in their natural environment. Nearby, there's also the excellent Sun Bear Conservation Centre and a Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary – both of which do incredible work to rescue and rehabilitate endangered animals from the illegal wildlife trade. Then there’s the Rainforest Discovery Centre, where you can learn about habitat preservation and spot birds and monkeys from a 25-metre-high canopy walk.
Though it’s technically possible to spot any or all of these endangered mammals in the wild in Borneo, in most cases it’s far from likely – which means that projects like these are the only way to observe them up close. At the Orangutan Centre, you can see babies being fed on milk and bananas in the nursery and spot adults swinging through the trees as you walk through the reserve on wooden boardwalks. At the Sun Bear Centre, you can get a tour from the centre’s founder, and watch as the world’s smallest bear goes about its business.
As the Orangutans and Sun Bears settle in for the night, head out on a night safari at the Rainforest Discovery Centre, where you can spot flying squirrels, mouse deer, civets, slow loris and tarsier as they emerge for their nocturnal ramblings. Basically, if you’ve even the slightest interest in wildlife or its future, Sepilok is where you need to be.