Borneo Wild Orangutans

Borneo – Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Our visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and seeing Borneo’s Wild Orangutans was an experience of a lifetime.

We flew from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan in the Sabah region of Borneo and headed to The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre – the precious home of the last wild Orangutans of North Borneo.

The centre, in 43 square kilometres of virgin equatorial rainforest, was set up in 1964 by an English woman called Barbara Harrison.

It was the first centre in the world to dedicate itself to the rehabilitation of orphaned Orangutans, caught illegally, kept as pets, or displaced as a result of illegal logging and deforestation.

Medical care is also provided to those Orangutans who have been injured.

When we visited, around sixty to eighty Orangutans were living independently in the rainforest reserve and approximately twenty-five orphaned Orangutans were being housed and cared for in the nursery. 

Janice Horton at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. The Backpacking Housewife
Our visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and seeing Orangutans in the wild was an experience of a lifetime

Today, as well as caring for young orphaned Orangutans, the centre looks after dozens of other wildlife species too, including Sun Bears, Gibbons, Sumatran Rhinos, and Borneo Pygmy Elephants.

As well as caring for young orphaned Orangutans the centre looks after Sunbears too
The centre looks after Sun Bears and other wildlife.

Borneo’s Wild Orangutans

After our arrival at Sepilok, we bought our entrance tickets and watched an introductory video presentation.

The presentation explains the crucial work being done to rehabilitate orphaned Orangutans.

The video by the Orangutan Appeal UK presentation is highly emotional.

Then, walking through dense Borneo jungle, along managed trails and elevated wooden gantry pathways and bridges to keep us above ground level and safe from snakes and other dangers, we made our way to the feeding stations.

The Backpacking Housewife Borneo's Orangutan
We made our way through dense Borneo jungle along managed trails.

The Orangutans are provided with supplementary food which is given to them daily at 10am and 3pm.

But you should know that this additional food is purposefully designed to be bland and boring to encourage the young apes to forage for tastier food in the forest.

Along the way we managed to spot some pigmy elephants.

All around us the trees were so incredibly ancient and tall and it was a fabulous experience to see both young and older Orangutans swinging through the tree canopy above us towards the food station.

My pictures from the feeding station really didn’t do our experience here justice.

But being behind the camera wasn’t the point of being here, so for once, I didn’t take many photos.

I just stood in awe and wonder as these beautiful Orangutans sat and ate or swung on ropes or through the trees around me.

The Backpacking Housewife photos taken at the Orangutan feeding station
Sorry… my photos at the feeding station really didn’t do our experience justice!

The word Orang-Utan means ‘Man of the Forest’.

Sightings at the feeding station are not guaranteed but we were fortunate in seeing lots of Orangutans on that day.

Orangutans viewing platform sign

On the Sepilok Centre website it states: “The orangutans that come for this free feed are wild and therefore can be dangerous, so there are staff on hand to make sure interactions do not occur, for the safety of both visitor and orangutan.

Because they are wild, it can never be guaranteed that many will come for the feed, if any at all (especially during the fruiting season). This is where some people leave disappointed, but the truth is if no orangutans come, then it is a positive thing – it means they are not reliant upon the feeding to survive.”

The whole experience was amazing.

Afterwards, we went to visit the outdoor nursery to observe the juvenile orangutans eating and developing their confidence by playing on swing ropes.

In the outdoor area, they also have access to the forest in preparation for their final stage of rehabilitation before release, when they will join their friends and family living wild and independently.

Orangutans in the outdoor nursery sign
Orangutans in the jungle gym sign
Orangutans outdoor rehabilitation sign


Orangutan mother and baby
Orangutan mother and baby

There are only two species of Orangutan in the word: the Borneo Orangutan and the Sumatran Orangutan.

The Orangutan is the only great ape outside Africa.

97% of our DNA is identical to that of the Orangutan.

The Orangutan has the longest childhood dependence on the mother of any wild animal in the world.

The Orangutan is strictly arboreal – it lives exclusively in the trees – making it the largest tree living mammal in the world.

Established in 1964, Sepilok was the first centre in the world to dedicate itself to the rehabilitation of orangutans.

The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is owned and run by the Sabah Wildlife Department, from which it receives some funds.

The charity Orangutan Appeal UK funds projects at the centre including the renovation of enclosures and equipment, as well as funding five members of the care team, including a veterinary nurse.

Additional funding comes from the entrance fee charged to tourists and from Orangutan adoption.

It’s important to note that despite the success stories, the conservation status of Bornean orangutans is precarious, and managed ongoing efforts are essential to ensure their survival in the face of various threats.

Our visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and seeing wild Orangutans living in the rainforest and jungles of Northern Borneo was an experience of a lifetime and one I will always cherish.


In Sandakan, we stayed in a Standard Double Room with breakfast included at (affiliated link) Nature Lodge Sepilok for two nights and we booked with Booking Dotcom.

Have you ever experienced seeing Orangutans in the wild?

Is seeing Orangutans in Borneo on your travel wish list?

Let me know! I’d love to hear from you.



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