|Friday, January 5, 2010
Sandakan is the second-largest city in Sabah, East Malaysia, on the north-eastern coast of Borneo. It is located on the east coast of the island, and was the former capital of British North Borneo. Sandakan is important for palm oil, tobacco, cocoa, coffee, and manila hemp. It once had a dominant lumber industry for the excellent trees that grow here. However, that is being discouraged to protect the environment. Whole forests were cleared to make way to raise palms for palm oil. I didn’t know that Palmolive Soap is derived from palm oil. The oil is also being used as biofuel, cooking oil, and many other products.
Today we’re at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center at 9:00 AM to get in a good position when the orangutans get fed at 10:00 AM. We were in the Rain Forest and it was very steamy. It wasn’t long before other groups began assembling behind us, so we were fortunate to come when we did.
The origin of the word is orang = man; utang = forest. Orangutans are closest to man, sharing 96% of our DNA. As a result they are susceptible to the same health problems. The orangutans that need rehabilitating are those that were abandoned by people keeping them as pets and tiring of them, injured, or orphans. The Rehabilitation Center began in 1961 and is the most successful center to train and send orangutans back into their natural habitat. Once an orangutan is admitted it is given a health examination, followed by a quarantine process to eliminate diseases being transmitted. Young orangutans spend time in the ’Nursery’ learning skills essential to jungle life such as the ability to find food, build nests and even climb, skills they would normally learn off their mother. Once ready they move to the ‘Outdoor Nursery’ where their freedom is increased and their dependence on food and emotional support is decreased. Eventually, most animals achieve total independence and become integrated into the Sepilok wild orangutan population. While orangutan rehabilitation is still the primary goal of Sepilok, it focuses on public education, research and assistance on other endangered species such as the rhinoceros, much as the sites for the preservation of turtles and the Komodo dragon that we visited previously.
We walked through the forest on a wooden path until we came to a gallery where we could stand and watch orangutans swing and frolic in front of us. There was enough clearing to afford a great view of animals of different ages going through some unbelievable stunts. We were supposed to be quiet, but that was pretty difficult for people to do, especially when one of the animals did something especially surprising. If everyone would have been really quiet, it would have been possible to listen to the many sounds of the Rain Forest. There were unusual bird calls, grunts by the orangutans, and other noises hard to identify.
At 10:00 AM some rangers came to the platform with food. I expected to see all the orangutans rushing to be fed. But no, they took their time getting what they wanted and swung off. A few long-tailed macaques were also in the group, (not being rehabilitated) and they got some food also. We heard rain behind us and were getting prepared for a downpour, because this is the rainy season. We felt a couple of drops, but hardly anything to speak of. As we left the area on the way to the bus, it was a nice walk through the forest, again on a wooden walk, and we saw long-tailed macaques closer to us than the orangutans. I enjoyed those even more because they were in their natural habitat and not controlled in any way.
Next we drove to a very ornately decorated Goddess of Mercy Chinese Temple with a beautiful view of the ocean.. Chinese make up a large percentage of the population in Sandakar. It had a Smiling Buddha at the entrance with three immense Buddhas.at the front. On each side of the Buddhas, was a column with very tiny lights surrounding it. Each light had a prayer inside. After a while a woman priest sang some prayers while she rang some soft gongs. She lit some incense outside and offered some food.
And speaking of food, that’s what we had to do next at the Sabah Hotel before heading to the ship.