Time is running out for the orangutan. And the Borneo rainforest is one of the few places left in the world where orangutans live in the wild. At the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, travellers can meet these astonishing cousins of ours in an ethical way. [Hosted by the Sabah Tourist Board]
He loiters. He lurches. Legs bent squat and arms stretched wide, far so, ever so, ridiculously wide...he swings, then swivels, swings, then swivels. Front, back, front, back, lurch, linger, lurch linger like a twisted yoyo on a horizontal jaunt through the leaves.
He's competent but not yet confident, an adolescent in terms of tree swinging and indeed at everything else. He's what the locals call the man of the forest (the literal translation of the words orang utan) and he's a curious man to watch indeed.
Orangutans are endangered apes. They swing through the canopy but they lack, like humans, a tail.
Like their longer-legged human counterparts, they need years of patient encouragement and instruction before they can take care of themselves and that's where the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre comes in.
The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre takes in orphans, sometimes via the nursery at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria at Kota Kinabalu, and trains them up to full swing.
To start with, it's sweet milk and smiles and before too long it's rope courses and daily top ups of fruit. After approximately 10 years (I know, gadzooks! Ten years?!) they're ready to swing free. The staff work 24 hours a day to combat the damage done by illegal and excessive deforestation or the use of orangutans as pets.
It's a curious viewing experience at both the rehab centre in Sepilok and the nursery at the Shangri-La. Both feeding platforms live high in the canopy of legitimate Borneo rainforest. In both places, orangutans are free to roam and return as they please. And in both places, other creatures of the jungle sneak out, swing high, swing low and scurry around to make the most of the free food on offer.
At the same time, though, it's a half way wilderness experience. There's a schedule and a programme and, of course, a big crowd. It's an adventure but it's not hiking in seclusion through the rainforest and meeting the king by accident.
For a wilder experience, hop on a boat and try a Borneo night safari.
However...There are plus sides. Most obviously, the rehab centre lives right next to the Sepilok Nature Resort.
So, instead of spending the afternoon swatting mosquitos and sweltering in search of flashes of orange fur, you can soak up orangutan goodness in the morning and grab a hammock after lunch.
And in this way (oh, indulge me, dear reader) you can become your own king of the swingers. Especially if it's already your name ;-)
And on that note, I'm off for a swing...
It can be hard to track down orangutans on account of their endangered status. I'd highly recommend a visit to the Sepilok Nature Reserve detailed above and, if you're lucky, you can find them at the nursery at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria in Kota Kinabalu, the main airport on Borneo Malaysia.
Note - if you buy anything through these links, I may earn a small commission at no cost to you.
To see orangutans, two hotels live right next door to Borneo orangutan sanctuaries: the Sepilok Nature Reserve and Shangri-La Rasa Ria in Kota Kinabalu. However, there are many other beautiful places to stay in Sabah so check out the handpicked recommendations over here.
As well as watching orangutans and heading on safari, you can play golf among the crocodiles and take cooking lessons to learn some authentic Malaysian cuisine.
Fly to Kota Kinabalu via Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia or Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei. From there, take a domestic flight up to Sandakan.
The centre is located 23km from Sandakan. You can reach the centre by bus or by taxi. There is a visitors reception centre which provides walking guides that illustrate the trails and points of interest.
Disclosure - I visited the Borneo Rainforest as part of a project with iAmbassador, Sabah Tourism and Royal Brunei. As ever, as always, all words and thoughts and dreams and bad jokes my own. Otherwise, there's just no point.
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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