Sandakan, Borneo – Orangutans and monkeys in the jungle

If you want to see Orangutans and muppet-like monkeys, then a trip to Sandakan is a must. We had been looking forward to this part of our trip and we weren’t let down. The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre takes in injured, orphaned and abandoned-pet orangutans and rehabilitates them so they can one day return to the wild. It’s set in the jungle with a few long walkways leading to  viewing platforms in the feeding area and nursery.

Not long after we entered the sanctuary, the trees above us started to shake. About 10 m from us we saw our first orangutan, swinging through the trees. It was thrilling!

Juvenile Orangutan
Juvenile Orangutan

At the feeding area, we saw some moms with their babies. They arrived swinging from branch to branch and along vines with their babies clutching to their sides. Development timelines are similar to humans. The 2 year old could barely walk or climb and the 4 year old was more daring with his climbing, but still never far from mom. Walking around the site we saw a few more juvenile males trying to exert their status, but we didn’t see any mature males as they stay far away, deep in the jungle.

Orangutan
Orangutan
Baby Orangutan
Baby Orangutan
Orangutan
Orangutan

Orangutans (translates to ‘man of the forest’) are really quick and nimble, and their fingers are able to grasp, and manipulate. At lunch one of the tourists had his camera stolen by a sneaky female orangutan. She grabbed it and climbed up a tree with it where she was able to take off the lens as we would. But then she proceeded to dismantle it into pieces!

The nursery is a laugh a minute. Here, they teach orphaned orangutans how to climb, fight and find food so eventually they can take care of themselves. The young orangutans were so fun to watch as they were climbing, swinging, somersaulting and wrestling. They really are not that dissimilar from us!

Next to the Orangutan centre is the Sun Bear Conservation Centre. Just bigger than a teddy bear, the Sun Bear is the world’s smallest bear. Their distinguishing feature is a cream coloured ring under their neck, giving them the name sun bear. The bears are at risk because in China their gall bladder bile is believed to have medicinal properties, making poaching a big problem. The sun bears have long claws that make them great tree climbers. We saw quite a few of them high up in the trees at the centre. They’re cute, but still bears so I wouldn’t want to run into one in the jungle.

Sun Bear
Sun Bear
Sun Bear

The next day we spent at the Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary. Much of the jungle in this area has been stripped and replaced by palm tree plantations. This left many animals including the proboscis monkey with only a small jungle to survive. The sanctuary is a privately owned complex which provides a safe jungle for these monkeys to live. The monkeys are fed 4 times a day since there’s not enough food left in their small jungle complex.

Theses monkeys are the funniest looking things we’ve ever seen. The males’ noses are so large they look like Muppets!

Adult male Proboscis

The females choose their male by the size of his nose, so the one with the largest nose has a harem of females and other, less fortunate males form bachelor troops. The females and juvenile males have smaller, but still big turned up noses. On top of that they all have big pot bellies and the males are constantly aroused! We were able to see so many of these monkeys at the centre, each more hilarious than the next!

Adult male Proboscis
Adult male Proboscis
Husband and one of his wives
Husband and one of his wives
Mother and young infant Proboscis
Mother and young infant Proboscis
Male Proboscis
Male Proboscis
Mother and baby Proboscis
Mother and baby Proboscis

The Kinabatangan River is a wild, jungle river teeming with wildlife. We were excited to take a wildlife viewing cruise on the river. We’re using the term ‘cruise’ very loosely as it was a small local fishing boat. The boat slowly meandered up a tributary of the river. It was very narrow with many overhanging branches and water lilies filling in the shores. It was the perfect setting to see animals and birds.

Kinabatangan River tributary
Kinabatangan River tributary

Not far in we started to see troops of Pig Tailed Macaque monkeys. They were easy to spot as they jumped from branch to branch with dramatic landings on the branches below. One troop was pulling full water lily plants out of the river and eating the roots. They used all of their might to pull these plants up, balancing on their hind legs on a narrow branch. There was also a group of Silver Leaf monkeys, but they are really aggressive so we mostly kept our distance.

We saw 3 of the beautiful, bright blue Stork Billed Kingfishers. They have bright blue wings and a bright gold chest with a long red beak. Their beak is almost as long as they are tall! We also spotted a Malay Fish Owl and a few hornbills, but all were very far away.

Stork Billed Kingfisher
Stork Billed Kingfisher
Stork Billed Kingfisher
Stork Billed Kingfisher
Malay Fish Owl
Malay Fish Owl

Finally, we were excited to see a few troops of proboscis monkeys but they stayed high in the trees so we were glad we saw them close up at the Sanctuary the day before.

For more pics from our blogs go to Gallery at monkeystale.ca

For more stories from our travels go to Destinations

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