Friday, August 11, 2006

Sepilok and the Man of the Forest

Sandakan itself is not the greatest place to be, but it is the gateway to a number of nearby attractions. Chief among these is the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilition Centre about 25km away. In the morning we checked out of the New Sabah and hopped in one of the taxis that cluster outside. We could have gotten a cheaper bus to the centre but didn't get out of bed in time and we wanted to make it for the first feeding time. Gemma had phoned ahead the previous evening and booked us into the centre's rest house, right next to the gate, so we checked in and went straight into the centre.

The first feeding was actually at 10:00 rather than 09:00 like we thought, so we were able to get down to the feeding platform early. For this feeding this was a good idea as the tour buses from Kota Kinabalu all come for the morning feed so the place gets packed. And it is hot, swelteringly so. The walk to the platform is quite cool, but the platform area itself is like standing in an oven. We were kept amused by the antics of a cheeky group of Macaques and the Orangutans that started arriving. A group of people at the front of our platform were engrossed by the Orangutans on the feeding platform and only Gemma and I saw a large Orangutan pull itself up and look right at us. It then made its way under the platform and pulled itself up to the feeding area. More and more Orangutans came to the platform as did a ranger bearing milk and a bucket of bananas. The supplementary feedings that are given are deliberately monotonous to encourage the Orangutans back into the wild to feed. I think the funniest thing was watching the young Macaques being cheeky to the Orangutans. Again, conditions were not conducive to good photographs.

After looking at the mercifully small exhibition centre we chilled out until the next feed at the rest house, sitting on our balcony and reading. The PM feed was a more chilled out affair as there were a good few less people and less Orangutans present. We sat for quite a while watching an Orangutan vomit up his banana and then eat it again. This was fascinating for some reason which I can't quite explain.

In the evening we took a ranger guided walk back into the centre, basically following the trail to the feeding platform and back out looking for creatures. As well as the ever present Macaques we saw a flying squirrel (gliding in truth), a snake, a tiny bird hiding under a leaf, spiders, a stick insect and a massive great scorpion. The guide apologised for us not seeing so much, but I was happy. Just being in the forest and hearing all the noises get gradually louder as it got darker was good in itself. Some of the noises were as loud as car alarms, despite the noisemakers being insects no larger than a thumb.

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