There has been a rehabilitation center for Orangutans here in Sepilok since 1964, and it’s what has put this part of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo on the map for many people. This wildlife refuge, just 30 minutes from Sandakan cares for orphaned orangutans and those that have been caught and kept as illegal pets. The process of trying to rehabilitate an Orangutan to live fully in the wild again can take up to 7 years. Some may never live truly wild again. Here’s our guide to visiting the Rehab Center for Orangutans in Sepilok. It includes how to get to the Orangutan Center in Sepilok and what to expect when you get here.
THIS POST MAY CONTAIN COMPENSATED AND AFFILIATE LINKS MORE INFORMATION IN OUR DISCLAIMER
We have three main reasons for being here in Sabah. The first two are animals. Orangutans and Sun Bears. The final one is to explore the history of World War II – and Sandakan was an important place then, I wrote about it here. After World War II Sandakan became a premier port for the export of timber, some of which was used in building the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. Now the exports are primarily palm oil from the plantations that now cover this landscape. Palm oil plantations were planted at the cost of the rainforest. Economics won over ecology.
And it’s this, that’s caused the need for the area’s biggest attraction – the Sepilok Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre.
About the Orangutan Sepilok Rehab Center
The Centre was established in 1964 and works to rehabilitate Orang-Utans that have been orphaned or displaced by logging, clearing forests for plantations, and general human intervention. The center was set up by Barbara Harrison, an Englishwoman, and was the first in the world to be dedicated to looking after and rehabilitating orphaned orangutans.
Sabah had become an independent state of Malaysia the year prior, in 1963, and a department was set up in the Government to look at the conservation of wild animals, leading to 43 square kilometers (16.6 square miles) of land being protected at the edge of the Kabili Sepilok Forest. This was turned into the rehab site and it’s where the Orangutan Sepilok Rehab Center is still located.
About the Orangutan in Sepilok
Orang means man, Utan means forest in Bahasia Malay.
Today there are 25 orphaned orangutans living in the nurseries here, and another 60 – 80 orangutans that live independently on the reserve.
The Centre cares for young orangutans orphaned as a result of illegal logging and deforestation and those who have been illegally caught and kept as pets. The rehabilitation of Orangutans can take up to seven years. The center also provides medical care for other animals – including sun bears, gibbons, and Sumatran rhinos.
Orangutan Sepilok Rehab Center Review
We arrived, the only tourists on the first bus of the day, at 09:40. There was time enough to buy a ticket (quickly) and walk (quickly) to the platform in time for the first feeding of the day. Clearly, we’re not the only people at the center. Lots of folks take this as part of a wider tour and arrive in large and small buses and cars. And there are also people here who are staying locally in Sepilok.
Be sure to explore the Video & Exhibition
There’s an excellent video screening room with comfy seats and freezing air conditioning while you watch a 15-minute video. There’s also a somewhat dated exhibition display area that describes Orang Utans and also the Sumatran Rhinoceros.
Feeding Times at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center
The main attraction here at Sepilok is the feeding platform. There are feeding times twice a day. And most tours come in the morning, so there were many more volunteers around, pointing out the “silence” signs. That’s because the Orangutans are unlikely to show up in numbers if there’s a hugely noisy group of humans standing around clicking their noisy cameras at them.
At just before 10, two rangers come out carrying buckets and baskets. They lay out fruit and we all wait, just a few moments, and the Orangs start to arrive. It’s glorious.
As tickets here are valid all day we held onto our ticket and returned after lunch and seeing the sun bears. The afternoon feeding session was much quieter, with a lot fewer humans!
Visit the Outdoor Orangutan Nursery at Sepilok
A great treat for us human visitors at the Sepilok Center is the outdoor nursery. It’s a 7 minute walk further on from the feeding platform. Here you go into a nicely air-conditioned building and watch from behind glass as the juveniles play on their playground.
Recently rehabilitated individuals have their diet supplemented by daily feedings of milk and bananas. The additional food supplied by the center is purposefully designed to be monotonous and boring, to encourage the apes to start to forage for themselves.
Juveniles are taught to climb and forage and fend for themselves – the skills normally taught by their mother, with whom they usually stay for up to six years. At Sepilok a buddy system is used to replace the mother’s teaching – as younger orangutans are paired with older ones.
It’s much more absorbing than the feeding platform as you watch them try to knot and unknot ropes, play fight with each other and make their escape attempts.
The outdoor playground is open until 11:00 and from 14:30 until 16:00 We were trailed by a family of long-tailed macaques (who scare the hell out of me in a Planet of the Apes type way) on our way to and from the playground (including mother and very small clinging baby).
If you’re visiting Kuching in Sarawak, then we also recommend visiting the Semenggoh Orangutan Rehab Center from there, it’s a very different, but equally rewarding experience.
Opening Times of the Orangutan Rehab Center in Sepilok
The Orangutan Center in Sepilok opens at 08:30 each day and there is a short informational talk and video at 09:00 and 14:00.
Ticket counter openings times at Sepilok Orangutan Center are
09:00 – 11:00
14:00 – 15:30
The feeding platform and Outdoor Nursery Opening Hours at the Sepilok Orangutan Center are:
09:00 – 12:00 (On Fridays they close at 11:00)
14:00 – 16:00
All tickets are valid for the full day.
Entrance Prices for the Orangutan Rehab Center in Sepilok
A ticket here (30 RM for non-Malaysians plus 10 RM for a camera) is valid all day.
If you have a camera with a lens that is bigger than 600mm, then you’ll have to pay a fee of 1000 RM.
What to see at the Orangutan Sepilok Rehab Center
You should watch the video and listen to the informational talk, and then head to the feeding platform. Do not miss the outdoor nursery it is fabulous.
How long to spend at Sepilok’s Orangutan Rehab Center
If you’re here on a tour you’ll get to spend about 2.5 hours here, which is long enough to attend one feeding session and then go to the outdoor nursery as well as take in the video and informational talk.
We spent the whole day in Sepilok, arriving at 09:40, and taking the last bus back to Sandakan at 16:00. We also visited the sun bear conservation center on our trip to Sepilok. My guide to visiting the sun bear conservation center is here.
How to Get to the Orangutan Center in Sepilok
The Orangutan Center in Sepilok is 30 minutes from Sandakan. You can get there in several ways.
- Take a tour from Sandakan to see the Orangutan
- Go from Sandakan to Sepilok by Grab
- Take a taxi from Sandakan to Sepilok
- Take the local bus from Sandakan to Sepilok. There are four buses a day in each direction.
You can read more about getting to Sepilok from Sandakan in our guide here.
Also to see in Sepilok
While you’re in Sepilok seeing the Orangutans it’s a good idea to plan to see some other areas around here. The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center is just across from the Orangutan Rehab Center and it’s a worth visit (I wrote about it here). And then while you’re in the area, there are several other wildlife-focused places to visit. The glorious Kinabatangan River and the Proboscis Monkey Center too.
If you’re pushed for time, then it’s easy to combine a small group tour from Sandakan and see the Orang Utans and the sun bears as well as staying overnight at the Sepilok Jungle Resort. You can also come and stay in Sepilok and spend more time here, or you can take the local bus from Sandakan to Sepilok and do this all independently.
Malaysia Travel Tips
- Considering travel insurance for your trip? World Nomads offers coverage for more than 150 adventure activities as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation, and more.
- Arriving by air? Book your airport transfer with Welcome Pickups.
- Download and install a VPN BEFORE you travel to Malaysia > discount coupon here
- Book the best Malaysia tours and guides on Klook
- Save money in Malaysia with a Wise debit card
- Book Buses in Malaysia with 12goAsia
- Book accommodation in Malaysia with Booking
Final Words on Visiting the Orangutan Rehab Center in Sepilok
There’s little doubt that seeing an Orangutan while you are in Borneo is likely to be at the very top of everyone’s bucket list. And they do not disappoint, a visit to the orangutans in Sepilok is truly fabulous, and if you can, spend as long as you can here. It’s a truly stunning place to visit and extremely rewarding.
We receive a fee when you get a quote from World Nomads using our affiliate links. We do not represent World Nomads. This is not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.
ASocialNomad is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, and amazon.ca. Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.