Located in Malaysian Borneo, Sepilok is a small town outside of Sandakan. Sepilok is famously known for its Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Sun Bear Rehabilitation Centre and Rainforest Discovery Centre.
In 1963 when Sabah became an independent state within Malaysia 43 sq km of rainforest was protected at the edge of Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve which is where the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre is now located.
The combination of deforestation and the illegal animal trade have pushed Orangutans to critically endangered meaning the centre here in Sepilok is needed now more than ever.
What is the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre & why is it important for the Orangutans?
Established in 1964 it is the only facility in Malaysia that’s dedicated to rehabilitating wild Orangutans.
The Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre receives Orangutans that have been orphaned, injured, lost their habitat or are being kept as illegal pets.
The rehabilitation process can be lengthy and involves training young Orangutans in survival skills, so they can fend for themselves when they are released back to their natural habitat.
Orangutans of all ages arrive at Sepilok in various health conditions, most are dehydrated and malnourished while some are injured or sick. Almost all though suffer from stress and trauma.
All arrivals are given a thorough Veterinary check before going into a 90 day quarantine period to ensure they are disease free. They will then be placed into one of the suitable areas depending on their age and ability.
Orangutans mature very slowly, in the wild Orangutans often stay with their mother for up to six to seven years, in this time their mothers teach them how to find food, how to eat and how to build a sleeping nest.
Because of this long lasting bond proper rehabilitation is so important for the future of these Orangutans.
The Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre has 4 main areas where different care is provided for the Orangutans to ensure they learn everything needed, these are:
This is a small room inside the clinic for Orangutans less than a year old, they are bottle fed every 2-4 hours and are given proper health care round the clock.
Close to the clinic this nursery is used to train Orangutans from ages 1-4. Here they will be taught how to swing and climb, how to interact with each other and all essential skills needed for jungle life. Once they have passed all their skills tests at age 5 they can move to the next nursery.
Also known within the centre as courage training, here their dependance on the centre for food and emotional support is gradually reduced and the Orangutans are encouraged to learn to fend for themselves.
There are 4 stages to the outside nursery which the Oranguans will naturally move through as their confidence grows. The last platform is located approximately 1km into the jungle, once the Orangutans reach this they are considered fully rehabilitated and do not need to return to the centre for food anymore, they are usually happy to remain in the jungle.
One of the 4 stages in the outdoor nursery is platform A, this platform is open to the public giving visitors the rare opportunity to see Orangutans up close in their natural habitat. Here recently rehabilitated Orangutans are fed twice a day to ensure their dietary needs are met, rope systems have been installed to protect the surrounding trees. It is often common to see rehabilitated females returning to this platform to ‘show off’ their babies.
The Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre is an educational tool used for both visitors and locals, but the education process must not interfere with the rehabilitation process therefore visitors are restricted to walkways and are not allowed to approach or handle the Orangutans.
When can I visit Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre?
The centre is open daily between the hours of 9am – 11am and 2pm – 4pm.
Feeding time is the best time to visit to try and catch a glimpse of these magnificent creatures. Feeding times are daily at 10am and 3pm.
These Orangutans are living wild in the reserve and come back for free food every day therefore it is not guaranteed you will see them.
When you are walking through the jungle ensure you also keep an eye out for any other rainforest inhabitants, there are plenty of Macaques around and I also spotted some Toucans high up in the canopy.
Top tip: If you can only visit once then make sure it’s in the morning as feeding times tend to be a lot busier.
I recommend visiting at 9am or 2pm, this will give you enough time to purchase your tickets then watch the Orangutan Appeal UK presentation, located in the building opposite the ticket office.
Next door to the presentation is all the information about the centre, how it helps the Orangutans and the surrounding area and what you can do to support them. Make sure you check it out and have a read through as it’s all super important for the future of these apes.
Once you have seen the feeding and have followed the walkways through the jungle make sure you take a right towards the outdoor nursery, here feeding times are the same and you can see the younger Orangutans.
These aren’t quite ready to venture off into the jungle alone yet and prefer to stay close to the centre for support, here you can be lucky enough to witness as they learn important skills about interacting with each other, climbing and play.
Tickets for foreign visitors are 30 MYR (£6), this ticket is valid for the whole day and allows you to come back to see the afternoon feed.
If you are a keen photographer the centre charges a 10 MYR (£2) camera fee to take your camera into the feedings.
Top tip: You are not allowed to take any bags, food or drink into the reserve so either leave it back at your hotel or they have free lockers on site for you to rent.
Note that because we share such similar DNA with these beautiful animals they are also prone to human disease, therefore masks are to be worn at all times during your visit to ensure infection is kept to a minimum.
Where to stay in Sepilok?
Sepilok is often visited as a day trip, however, I recommend spending at least one night here to make the most out of what it has to offer.
The Sepilok Jungle Resort was the perfect choice for our time here.
Started in 1991 as the Wildlife Lodge by John & Judy. Together they have planted all the surrounding trees and flowers and over the years it has blossomed into the relaxing resort it is today.
With 60 rooms ranging from mixed dorms to deluxe air conditioned rooms with balconies Sepilok Jungle Resort has something here for every budget.
The Sepilok Jungle resort is right in the heart of the action with the Orangutan Rehabilitation centre only 5 minutes down the road and the Reinforest Discovery centre a 20 minute walk away.
Located within the resort is the Banana Cafe & Restaurant, this is the main cafe in Sepilok so it’s perfect to have on your doorstep, it also serves up some really good food! We recommend the chicken curry with rice and a side of mixed vegetables!
There is also a swimming pool here which is the perfect way to end your hot and humid day of exploring.
How to get to Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre?
Getting to Sepilok is very easy from its closest town Sandakan, it is just a 30 minute Grab ride.
Reaching Sandakan is also very simple, Sandakan has an international airport so you can choose to fly into here directly.
Alternatively if you have been in Kota Kinabula prior to your visit to Sepilok you can fly direct from there. The flight time is around 1.30 hours and you can find tickets as cheap at £20 if you book in advance.
Alternatively a cheaper way to travel is by bus from Kota Kinabula, this trip takes around 6 hours.
Seeing Orangutans in the wild has been something I’ve dreamt of doing ever since I was a little girl. But when you think of Orangutans you imagine them to be deep in the jungle and hear stories of trips costing thousands, so it was never something I thought was accessible especially on a backpackers budget.
Visiting Sepilok and the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre meant I was able to achieve that life long dream of seeing Orangutans in the wild. It is such a special experience to see them here in all their gigantic glory, they are such graceful and gentle creatures that we need to work to protect and visiting Sepilok to support the centre and educate yourself and your family is the first step.
Should you take this diversion from the traditional backpacker route to see the Orangutans at the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre? Yes, yes, yes! If you are an animal lover like me then just being in a real rainforest is such a special feeling. Pair that with seeing these gentle giants up close what more could you want.
Would you love to visit Sepilok to see the Orangutans? Let me know in the comments below!
With love, Izzy ✨💛
Looking for more things to do during your stay in South East Asia? Then you’ll want to check out these posts: