Orangutan Conservation in Borneo

Orangutan Conservation in Borneo

 

Known for their distinctive red fur, orangutans are the world’s largest arboreal mammal - the name orangutan means ‘man of the forest’ in the Malay language. Living in the lowland tropical rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo in southeast Asia, they spend most of their time up in the trees, feasting on wild fruits such as lychees, mangosteens and figs and making nests of vegetation to sleep at night and rest during the day. 

According to the World Wildlife Fund, the Bornean orangutan is now classed as an endangered species, with the population estimated at around 104,700. Poaching and deforestation, which leaves the primates isolated and vulnerable, pose the biggest threats so conservation programmes are vital. One of the most renowned of these is The Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre (SOURC).

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The Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre

SOURC was established in 1964 with a mission to rehabilitate and provide a safe haven for orphaned and injured orangutans. Located in Borneo’s Sepilok-Kabili Forest Reserve, the centre stretches over an area of 43 sq km and includes a clinic, treatment ward and nurseries.

Owned and run by the Sabah Wildlife Department, it is home to a population of more than 100 orangutans. This includes between 60 and 80 apes who live independently in the rainforest reserve and approximately 25 orphaned orangutans which are cared for in the nurseries. 

Rehabilitation is a slow process and it begins with rescue. Once the orangutans reach the safety of Sepilok, they given a thorough health check and then spend a period in quarantine to avoid illnesses spreading through the centre.

They are then moved to one of the two nurseries. The indoor nursery houses the youngest orangutans - especially those who’ve been orphaned or have serious health concerns. As well as being nursed back to health, these young mammals are encouraged to learn natural behaviour such as climbing trees, building nests and foraging for food.

Older, more advanced orangutans go to the outdoor nursery where they have free range of the forest, which they can explore using ropes. This system has been developed – very successfully – to introduce them to a more independent lifestyle as a step to release.

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Sepilok & the public

Education is an important part of Sepilok’s work so some areas of the centre are open to the public. The indoor nursery is off limits because of the vulnerability of the young orangutans, but the rainforest reserve is accessible via walkways and a purpose-built observation centre. From here visitors can witness the successfully rehabilitated orangutans living wild in the reserve coming for a free feed of fruit and sugar cane. It's an incredible experience, as the trees begin to shake, and a flash of orange appears. However, sightings are not guaranteed. The food on offer from the ranger is deliberately monotonous to encourage the apes to forage for themselves rather than depend on a conditioned environment. A no-show is, in fact, a sign of success.

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You can come and experience this vital conservation project in action on our Captivating Holiday to Singapore & Gaya Island in Borneo, Malaysia.