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Located some 25 kilometres west of the town of Sandakan, on the northeast coast of Sabah, Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre was founded in 1964 with the aim of rehabilitating orphaned and confiscated orangutans.

Today somewhere between 60 and 80 wild orangutans live in the reserve, and around 25 young orphaned orangutans are housed in the centre’s nurseries, cared for by highly trained and motivated staff. The centre occasionally provides treatment for other animals, including sun bear, gibbon, Sumatran rhino and the odd elephant.

Sepilok consists of 43 square kilometres on the edge of Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve. During a visit you will learn about the programme of re-adjustment to the wild and see a daily feeding session. The centre supplements the diet of recently rehabilitated orangutans with milk and bananas. This additional food is deliberately designed to be monotonous in order to encourage the animals to forage for themselves. Although the education of both local people and visitors is one of the centre’s key objectives, this is never allowed to interfere with the rehabilitation process, so visitors are restricted to walkways and are not allowed to approach or handle the apes. However, on occasion the orangutans themselves are seemingly either unaware of this rule, or reluctant to obey it!

In the wild, infant orangutans remain with their mothers for up to six years while learning the skills necessary to survive in the forest – the most important of which is climbing. The centre uses a buddy system – in which a young animal is paired with an older one – to replace a mother’s teaching and help pass on the requisite skills.

The creation of reserves such as Kabili-Sepilok reduces the impact of deforestation on orangutans, and as a result fewer young apes fall victim to the now-illegal trade in pets. Young animals are frequently caught while logging or forest clearance is taking place, or captured by poachers who may even slaughter the adults to get them. In captivity young orangutans often fall sick or suffer neglect, or even cruelty. Some individuals raised as pets can never return to the wild, however others can benefit from the costly process of rehabilitation, which may take as long as seven years. The Malaysian Government has outlawed the practice of illegal trading in orangutans, and imposes stiff prison sentences on anyone who is caught keeping an orangutan as a pet.

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Key info

  • Ideal for viewing: Bornean pygmy elephant, mouse deer, orangutan, slow loris, western tarsier
  • Where: Sabah State, Borneo

Wildlife trips

This wildlife location is featured in the following itineraries:

Borneo’s Rare Mammals

A dedicated small group mammal watching holiday to Borneo’s rainforests in pursuit of the region's rarest mammal species, including the iconic Bornean orangutan, Asian elephant, the secretive Malay sun bear and the majestic Sunda clouded leopard, alongside a fabulous variety of reptiles, amphibians and birds.

  • When to go: Apr-Oct
  • Duration inc. flights: 14 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £3,195 pp
  • Trip type: Group tour

Sabah & Sarawak Adventure

Search for the wildlife of the interiors amongst the dense jungle and remote rivers of Sabah & Sarawak. Designed to introduce you to the area's top eco-destinations, highlights include a visit to a headhunter tribe, watching orangutans in Sepilok, and Tabin Reserve, home to some of Borneo’s unique species.

  • When to go: Jan-Dec
  • Duration inc. flights: 15 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £3,195 pp
  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea

Sabah Wildlife Special

Travel to Borneo on a two-week trip that visits the best places to see Sabah’s wildlife. Enjoy boat trips to discover the extraordinary wildlife of Kinabatangan, including proboscis monkey, orangutan, Asian elephant and Sumatran rhino, and four nights at one of our favourite lodges in the Danum Valley.

  • When to go: Jan-Dec
  • Duration inc. flights: 14 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £3,975 pp
  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea
Suggested accommodation is shown below. Please contact us for further recommendations.

Sepilok Nature Resort

This simple lodge, situated close to the Sepilok Forest Reserve entrance, is extremely comfortable and convenient for visiting the nearby Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary. It offers spacious accommodation in air-conditioned chalets, set in beautiful tropical gardens and connected by boardwalks to the main building.