Primates on parade
There were several animals on my ‘‘ tick-off list’’ and three sites close to Sandakan satisfied my needs as an armchair naturalist. Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, Labuk Bay and the Rainforest Discovery Centre became the focus for my two-day visit.
Sandakan’s most famous natural asset is Sepilok, just 30 minutes’ drive from the downtown harbour foreshore. Sepilok’s main function is wildlife research and to educate orphaned young orang-utans on the skills they need to survive when they are released into the wilds of Borneo.
While it’s easily accessible, Sepilok is not a zoo, but there are set times for twice-daily feedings (10am and 3pm), where the rangers impart survival skills to the animals. This is done in front of a well-established observation area so it’s possible even for children to get close to these semi-wild but playful primates.
Birds in the bush
Close by, the Rainforest Discovery Centre is another destination that’s attracting visitors, especially with the recent opening of a rainforest canopy walkway. While eagle-eyed visitors may spot the occasional monkey, shrew or squirrel, it’s the birdlife that’s the highlight. Binoculars, patience and luck make the experience more rewarding when animals are sighted.
Birdwatchers, or twitchers, focus their binoculars on Borneo, as it’s home to more than 620 bird species, of which 54 are only found on the island. Birders get all twitchy at the mere mention of species such as the Bornean bristlehead, bare-headed laughingthrush and dulit frogmouth among others. The third Borneo Bird Festival will be held in Sandakan this October (www.borneobirdfestival.com/ main.php).
While palm-oil plantations have made their impact on primary rainforest in many parts of Borneo, one