Before I left for Asia, I listed a few goals that I wanted to achieve on the journey. One of them was seeing orangutans in Borneo, since Borneo is one of two places (the other one being Sumatra), where orangutans are native. When booking my flights to and from Borneo, I was very naive in thinking that I could explore the whole island, climb Mount Kinabalu AND see orangutans in just one week. What I later found out is that Borneo is the third-largest island in the world and it would require much more time, if I were to see it all.
Still, I did my best to cram as much in as possible.
When Josh and I returned to Kota Kinabalu after having climbed Mount Kinabalu (here and here), we decided to spend his last day there together, doing something that we both really wanted to do; seeing some orangutans!
We had debated whether or not to splurge and fly to Sandakan, where Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is located. Sepilok is one of the biggest rehabilitation centres in Borneo and is home to around 60 to 80 orangutans, who all live free in the reserve. In Sepilok, they rescue orphaned orangutans and train them to be able to survive in the wilds by themselves. And when they’re ready, they’ll be released into the jungle.
But flying to Sandakan would mean spending a ton of money on plane tickets, flying out in the morning and flying back the same evening, so Josh could catch his flight back to Australia. And all of that for just a few hours with the orangutans.
We were both really considering it – and I even think we might have done it -, but thankfully, we were told about Shangri-La Resort, which features a 64-acre nature reserve and is home to the Orangutan Care Project, which is in partnership with Sepilok. The care project also helps rehabilitate orphaned orangutans, but they only have the so-called “first phase of rehabilitation” there, before the orangutans are sent to Sepilok and then released into the jungle.
The Shangri-La Resort was only a short 40-minute taxi ride from Kota Kinabalu and the entrance ticket cost us just 73 ringgit, so it was much cheaper than the original plan. The first hour was spent watching a film about the care centre, following the life of a small female orangutan. It was really interesting to see how the caretakers work with the orangutans and especially seeing how intelligent and loving the orangutans are. It was obvious that the orangutans in the film loved their caretakers. Fun fact: Orangutans share 97 % of the same DNA as humans, so we are not that different from one another.
After the film, we went for a small uphill hike in the jungle (which nearly killed Josh and I… Our legs were still recovering from the mountain) and then we got to see the orangutans get fed, which lasted an hour. There were only two orangutans there, one 3-year-old and one 5-year-old. The young one immediately came down from the trees and started eating, but the other one wasn’t very hungry. They were so adorable that if it wasn’t for the unbearable humidity of the rainforest, I could’ve stayed there and watched them forever.
Unfortunately, the care project at Shangri-La Resort is closing down very soon. The orangutans will be transferred to Sepilok on March 31st (I just realized that it’s today!), and that means that there’ll no longer be an opportunity to see orangutans near Kota Kinabalu. Josh and I were really lucky, as it was our only logical option for seeing them this time around.
We both really wanted to go out into the jungle and spot them ourselves, but since this would take quite a few days to do, and neither of us had that many days to spare, this was the next best thing. I enjoyed watching the orangutans and I learned a lot from visiting the care project. If you ever find yourself in Borneo on a tight schedule, I can recommend going to Sepilok to see the orangutans get fed. They are doing an amazing thing for the orangutans and it felt great to help them do that with the little money that the entrance cost.