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How To Find Orangutans And Sun Bears In Sepilok, Malaysian Borneo


Modified: January 3, 2024

by Harlene Conners



Welcome to Sepilok, a paradise nestled in the heart of Malaysian Borneo. This enchanting destination is renowned for its stunning biodiversity and vibrant rainforests, making it a haven for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts alike. If you have ever dreamt of witnessing the incredible sight of orangutans swinging gracefully through the treetops or sun bears playfully frolicking in their natural habitat, then Sepilok is the place for you.


Sepilok, located within the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, is home to two world-famous conservation centers: the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and the Sepilok Sun Bear Conservation Centre. These two sanctuaries have played a crucial role in the conservation and rehabilitation of these magnificent creatures, offering visitors a unique opportunity to witness their incredible journey towards a better future.


But Sepilok offers more than just the chance to encounter orangutans and sun bears. The region is teeming with diverse flora and fauna, making it a hotspot for wildlife spotting and nature exploration. From vibrant bird species to elusive reptiles and captivating plant life, Sepilok offers a sensory overload of sights, sounds, and smells, sure to leave a lasting impression on every visitor.


Whether you are a wildlife enthusiast, an adventure seeker, or simply a nature lover, Sepilok has something for everyone. From guided jungle treks to boat rides along the Kinabatangan River, there are plenty of activities to immerse yourself in the beauty of this pristine ecosystem.


So, pack your bags, put on your trekking shoes, and get ready for an unforgettable journey into the heart of Borneo. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the details of how to get to Sepilok, the must-visit conservation centers, the best time to visit, planning your trip, accommodation options, other activities in the area, and essential tips for maximizing your wildlife encounters. Let’s embark on this extraordinary adventure together!


Getting to Sepilok, Malaysian Borneo

Sepilok is located in the state of Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo. Although it may seem remote, getting to Sepilok is relatively easy, with convenient transportation options available. Here are the main ways to reach this wildlife-rich destination:

  1. By Air: The easiest and most efficient way to reach Sepilok is by flying into Sandakan Airport. Sandakan is well-connected to major cities in Malaysia, including Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu. From the airport, Sepilok is just a short 30-minute taxi ride away.
  2. By Land: If you prefer land travel, you can reach Sepilok by bus or taxi. There are regular bus services from major towns in Sabah, such as Kota Kinabalu and Tawau, to Sandakan. From Sandakan, you can take a taxi to Sepilok, which is approximately 25 kilometers away.
  3. By Boat: For a more adventurous journey, you can also reach Sepilok by taking a boat along the Kinabatangan River. This option provides a unique and scenic experience, allowing you to soak in the beauty of the rainforest along the way. Various tour operators offer boat transfers from Sandakan to Sepilok, making it a memorable alternative for nature enthusiasts.

Once you have arrived in Sepilok, the two main conservation centers, the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and the Sepilok Sun Bear Conservation Centre, are conveniently located within close proximity to each other. You can easily navigate between the two centers on foot or by hiring a local taxi.


It is worth noting that Sepilok is a popular tourist destination, especially during peak seasons. Therefore, it is advisable to book your flights or bus tickets in advance to secure your preferred travel dates. Additionally, consider checking the weather forecast and planning your visit accordingly to ensure the best possible experience.


Now that you know how to get to Sepilok, it’s time to dive into the exciting world of orangutan and sun bear conservation. In the next sections, we will explore the wonders of the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and the Sepilok Sun Bear Conservation Centre, providing insights into their missions, activities, and the marvelous creatures they protect.


Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is a remarkable sanctuary dedicated to the rehabilitation and conservation of orangutans, one of the most iconic and endangered species in the world. Founded in 1964, the center serves as a crucial hub for the rescue, rehabilitation, and eventual release of orphaned and injured orangutans back into the wild.


Upon arrival at the center, you will have the opportunity to witness the feeding sessions, which take place on elevated feeding platforms. These sessions, held twice a day, provide a chance for visitors to observe orangutans up close as they swing through the trees and enjoy their meals of fresh fruits and vegetables. It is a truly mesmerizing experience to see these intelligent creatures in action.


In addition to the feeding sessions, Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre offers visitors the chance to learn about the orangutan’s rehabilitation process through informative exhibits and educational videos. You will gain valuable insights into the challenges orangutans face and the efforts being made to protect their fragile habitats.


If you want to delve deeper into the world of orangutan conservation, you can choose to participate in the Orangutan Adoption Program. By adopting an orangutan, you contribute directly to their care and conservation. As an adopter, you will receive regular updates on your orangutan’s progress and have the opportunity to visit them during your stay.


Remember to follow the rules and guidelines set by the center, which include maintaining a safe distance from the orangutans and not touching or feeding them. These guidelines are in place to ensure the well-being and natural behavior of the orangutans.


Visiting the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre will leave you with a deep appreciation for these magnificent creatures and the dedicated individuals working tirelessly to protect them. It is truly a humbling experience to witness their remarkable journey towards rehabilitation and release. Make sure to capture these precious moments on camera and cherish the memories for years to come.


Now that you’ve learned about the orangutans, let’s discover another incredible species at Sepilok – the sun bears – in the next section.


Sepilok Sun Bear Conservation Centre

The Sepilok Sun Bear Conservation Centre is a vital haven for the world’s smallest bears – the sun bears. Located adjacent to the orangutan rehabilitation center, this conservation center aims to rescue, rehabilitate, and protect sun bears, also known as honey bears, from a variety of threats, including illegal hunting and habitat destruction.


When you visit the Sepilok Sun Bear Conservation Centre, you will have the opportunity to observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The center features a boardwalk that winds through the lush rainforest, offering visitors the chance to witness the sun bears as they explore, climb trees, and forage for food. You will be captivated by their playful antics and unique behaviors.


The center provides informative exhibits and educational materials that shed light on the challenges facing sun bears and the importance of conserving their habitats. It highlights the vital role these bears play in the ecosystem and the efforts being made to secure their future. By supporting the center, you contribute to the conservation and protection of this vulnerable species.


At the Sepilok Sun Bear Conservation Centre, you will also have the opportunity to learn about the sun bear’s diet, behavior, and characteristics. From their distinctive crescent-shaped chest markings to their long tongues used for extracting honey from beehives, you will gain insight into the fascinating world of these shy and secretive creatures.


Similar to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, the Sepilok Sun Bear Conservation Centre follows guidelines to ensure the well-being of the bears and maintain their natural behavior. Visitors are advised to keep a safe distance, refrain from touching or feeding the bears, and follow the instructions of the center’s staff.


With its focus on sun bear conservation, the center plays a crucial role in raising awareness about these incredible bears and advocating for their protection. Your visit helps support their ongoing efforts and contributes to the conservation of this extraordinary species.


As you explore the Sepilok Sun Bear Conservation Centre, you will be inspired by the dedication and passion of the individuals working tirelessly to safeguard these bears. By witnessing these magnificent creatures firsthand, you will develop a newfound respect and appreciation for the fragile ecosystems they inhabit.


Now that you have explored the wonders of both the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and the Sepilok Sun Bear Conservation Centre, it’s time to delve into the best time to visit Sepilok and plan your trip accordingly.


Best Time to Visit

When planning a visit to Sepilok, it is important to consider the best time to maximize your wildlife encounters and enjoy the optimal weather conditions. While Sepilok can be visited year-round, there are certain periods that offer more favorable conditions for wildlife spotting and outdoor activities.


The dry season, which runs from March to October, is generally considered the best time to visit Sepilok. During these months, rain showers are less frequent, and the weather is typically sunny with lower humidity levels. The dry season provides ideal conditions for exploring the lush rainforests, trekking, and observing wildlife.


However, it is worth noting that Sepilok is a tropical rainforest, and rain can occur at any time of the year. It is always advisable to pack rain gear and be prepared for occasional showers, even during the dry season.


Another factor to consider is the fruiting season in the rainforest, which typically occurs from June to August. This period is particularly rewarding for wildlife enthusiasts, as the trees bear plentiful fruit, attracting various animals, including orangutans and other primates, along with vibrant bird species. Witnessing the animals feast on the abundant fruit adds a unique element to your wildlife encounters.


The months of May and June are also known as the mating season for orangutans, offering a rare opportunity to witness their courtship displays and potential interactions between males. This period can be particularly captivating for those interested in observing the social behavior of these incredible creatures.


On the other hand, if you prefer to avoid crowds and enjoy a more serene experience, you may consider visiting Sepilok during the shoulder seasons, which are the months of April and November. During these transitional periods, the weather is still pleasant, and visitor numbers are relatively lower, allowing for a more intimate and peaceful encounter with nature.


Overall, Sepilok offers unique experiences and wildlife sightings throughout the year. Whether you visit during the dry season for optimal weather or during the fruiting season and mating season for extraordinary wildlife encounters, each time of year has its own charm and opportunities.


Now that you have an idea of the best time to visit Sepilok, it’s time to start planning your trip to this extraordinary destination.


Planning Your Visit

Planning a visit to Sepilok requires careful consideration to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience. From organizing your itinerary to acquiring necessary permits, here are some essential tips to help you plan your trip to this wildlife-rich destination:


1. Research and Create an Itinerary: Start by researching the attractions and activities you wish to experience in Sepilok. Take note of the operating hours, feeding times at the rehabilitation centers, and any other events or programs you want to participate in. Create a flexible itinerary that allows for exploration and relaxation.


2. Obtain Necessary Permits: If you plan to engage in wildlife trekking or other activities within the protected areas surrounding Sepilok, you may need to obtain permits. Check with the respective authorities or tour operators to ensure compliance with any permit requirements.


3. Book Accommodation in Advance: Sepilok is a popular tourist destination, so it is advisable to book your accommodation in advance. The options range from budget guesthouses to luxury resorts, catering to various preferences and budgets. Staying nearby allows for convenient access to the conservation centers and other attractions.


4. Pack Appropriate Clothing and Gear: Sepilok’s climate is tropical, so pack lightweight and breathable clothing suitable for hot and humid conditions. Don’t forget essentials like sunscreen, insect repellent, a hat, and comfortable walking shoes for jungle exploration. Consider packing rain gear, as rain can occur even during the dry season.


5. Follow Responsible Tourism Practices: When visiting Sepilok’s rehabilitation centers and exploring the surrounding rainforest, it is crucial to adhere to responsible tourism practices. Respect the wildlife by keeping a safe distance, refraining from touching or feeding animals, and following the guidelines provided by the conservation centers.


6. Engage Local Guides or Join Tours: To enhance your experience and maximize wildlife sightings, consider hiring a local guide or joining organized tours. Local guides are familiar with the area and can provide valuable insights into the flora, fauna, and conservation efforts in Sepilok.


7. Support Conservation Efforts: Sepilok is centered around conservation, so consider supporting local initiatives by making donations, participating in adoption programs, or purchasing responsibly sourced souvenirs. Your contribution goes a long way in preserving the fragile ecosystem and protecting the wildlife.


8. Respect Local Culture and Customs: Malaysia has a rich cultural heritage, and it is important to respect local customs and traditions. Be mindful of attire, seek permission before photographing people, and avoid any behaviors that may be considered disrespectful or offensive.


By taking these factors into account when planning your visit, you can ensure a memorable and fulfilling experience in Sepilok. Now, let’s explore some of the accommodation options available in the area.


Accommodation Options

When visiting Sepilok, you’ll find a range of accommodation options to suit different budgets and preferences. From budget-friendly guesthouses to luxurious eco-resorts, here are some options to consider for your stay:


1. Guesthouses and Lodges: There are several budget-friendly guesthouses and lodges in the vicinity of Sepilok. These offer basic amenities and comfortable rooms at affordable prices. You’ll find shared dormitories, private rooms, and communal areas where you can socialize with fellow travelers.


2. Nature Resorts and Eco-Lodges: For a closer immersion into the natural surroundings, consider staying at one of the nature resorts or eco-lodges. These accommodations blend seamlessly with the environment and often offer chalets or cottages nestled within the rainforest. They provide a serene and tranquil setting, perfect for nature enthusiasts and those seeking a more eco-friendly experience.


3. Boutique Hotels and Resorts: If you prefer a touch of luxury, there are boutique hotels and resorts in the region that offer high-end amenities, elegant rooms, and personalized services. These properties provide a comfortable retreat after a day of exploring Sepilok and its surroundings.


4. Homestays and Farm Stays: For a unique cultural experience, consider staying at a homestay or farm stay in the nearby villages. This enables you to immerse yourself in the local way of life and interact with communities. You’ll have the opportunity to taste traditional cuisine, learn about local customs, and gain insights into the daily lives of the people in the area.


5. Jungle Camps: For the adventurous souls, there are jungle camps available in Sepilok that offer a truly immersive experience in nature. These camps provide tents or basic accommodations deep within the rainforest, allowing you to wake up to the sounds of wildlife and embark on jungle treks right from your doorstep.


When choosing accommodation, consider factors such as proximity to the Sepilok conservation centers, accessibility to dining options, and the overall atmosphere that aligns with your preferences. It’s advisable to book accommodation in advance, especially during peak travel seasons, to secure your preferred choice.


Regardless of your chosen accommodation, you’ll have the opportunity to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of city life and reconnect with nature in Sepilok. Each day, you’ll wake up to the symphony of birdsong and be greeted by the ethereal beauty of the rainforest.


Now that you have an idea of where to stay, it’s time to explore other exciting activities in Sepilok beyond the conservation centers.


Other Activities in Sepilok

While the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and the Sepilok Sun Bear Conservation Centre take center stage in Sepilok, there are plenty of other activities to keep you entertained during your visit. From jungle trekking to river cruises, here are some additional activities to consider:


1. Jungle Trekking: Lace up your hiking boots and embark on an adventure through the lush rainforests surrounding Sepilok. Guided jungle treks allow you to explore the biodiversity of the region, spot wildlife, and learn about the unique flora and fauna from experienced guides. Keep your eyes peeled for hornbills, macaques, and other elusive creatures along the trails.


2. Kinabatangan River Cruise: Explore the mighty Kinabatangan River, one of the longest rivers in Sabah, on a river cruise. This is a fantastic opportunity to spot a wide variety of wildlife, including proboscis monkeys, crocodiles, hornbills, and even wild elephants. The river cruise offers a different perspective of the rainforest and allows you to appreciate the interconnectedness of the ecosystem.


3. Canopy Walkway: Experience the rainforest from a different vantage point by taking a canopy walkway tour. Elevated above the forest floor, these walkways provide a unique perspective of the diverse ecosystem. Traverse the suspended bridges and marvel at the stunning panoramic views, and keep an eye out for wildlife moving through the treetops.


4. Rainforest Discovery Centre: Located within the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, the Rainforest Discovery Centre offers a range of educational exhibits and interactive displays that provide insight into the importance of rainforest conservation. Explore the botanical gardens, visit the bird tower for a chance to spot colorful avian species, and stroll along the forest trails to further immerse yourself in the beauty of nature.


5. Sepilok Orangutan Nursery: If you’re intrigued by the rehabilitation process of young orangutans, a visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Nursery is highly recommended. Here, you can observe the adorable juvenile orangutans as they learn essential survival skills under the guidance of dedicated staff members. It’s a heartwarming experience to witness their playful antics and witness the care given to these future ambassadors of their species.


6. Local Cultural Experiences: Take the opportunity to learn about the local culture and traditions by engaging in activities such as visits to nearby villages or participating in traditional handicraft workshops. Spend time with local communities and gain a deeper appreciation for the rich heritage of the region.


7. Birdwatching: Sepilok and its surroundings are home to a diverse array of bird species. Birdwatchers will delight in the abundance of feathered wonders that inhabit the area. Whether you explore the trails independently or join a guided birdwatching tour, keep your binoculars handy and prepare to spot vibrant species like the rhinoceros hornbill and the great argus pheasant.


These additional activities in Sepilok offer a well-rounded experience of the region’s natural and cultural wonders. From immersing yourself in the rainforest’s splendor to exploring the local traditions, there is something for everyone to enjoy in this magical part of Malaysian Borneo.


As your adventure in Sepilok comes to a close, let’s explore some essential tips to ensure successful wildlife encounters and a memorable trip.


Tips for Wildlife Watching

When visiting Sepilok and engaging in wildlife watching activities, it’s essential to follow a few guidelines to ensure a safe and respectful experience for both you and the animals. Here are some tips to enhance your wildlife encounters:


1. Stay Quiet and Respectful: Wildlife watching should be conducted in a non-intrusive manner. Keep noise to a minimum, avoid sudden movements, and maintain a respectful distance from the animals to avoid causing stress or disrupting their natural behavior.


2. Follow the Instructions of Guides or Park Staff: Whether you’re participating in guided tours or visiting conservation centers, always listen to the instructions and guidance provided by experienced guides or park staff. They have extensive knowledge of the wildlife and the best practices for observing them.


3. Use Binoculars and Cameras: Invest in a good pair of binoculars to view wildlife from a distance without disturbing them. Cameras with long lenses will also allow you to capture close-up shots without getting too close to the animals. Remember that flash photography may startle or disturb wildlife, so use natural lighting whenever possible.


4. Be Patient and Observant: Wildlife sightings are never guaranteed, so be patient and take the time to observe and appreciate the surrounding nature. Learn to recognize animal signs such as tracks, calls, and movements, which can help you spot elusive creatures and increase your chances of wildlife encounters.


5. Stay on Designated Trails: When exploring the rainforest or any protected areas, always stick to designated trails and paths. This helps protect fragile habitats and prevents disturbance to wildlife. Straying from the trails can not only be dangerous but may also disrupt animal habitats and vegetation.


6. Leave No Trace: Always respect the environment by following the principles of Leave No Trace. Take any trash or waste with you and dispose of it properly. Avoid littering and damaging the natural surroundings. Leave the habitat as you found it, preserving it for the animals and future visitors.


7. Be Mindful of Wildlife Feeding: While visiting the conservation centers, enjoy observing animals during scheduled feeding sessions but refrain from feeding the wildlife yourself. Feeding wildlife disrupts their natural foraging behaviors and can lead to dependency on humans. It’s best to let the experts handle their feeding regimes.


8. Respect Local Rules and Regulations: Follow any rules and regulations set by the conservation centers, parks, or local authorities. These guidelines are in place to ensure the safety of visitors and the well-being of the wildlife. Adhering to these rules plays a vital role in responsible wildlife tourism.


By following these tips, you can make the most of your wildlife watching experiences in Sepilok while protecting and respecting the natural habitat of the incredible wildlife that calls this region home.


As you conclude your adventure in Sepilok, you will carry with you the memories of orangutans swinging through the trees, sun bears exploring their natural habitat, and the vibrant sights and sounds of Borneo’s rainforest. It’s time to bid farewell to this captivating destination, leaving with a deep appreciation for the incredible biodiversity and the vital conservation efforts taking place in Sepilok.


Safe travels, and may your love for nature continue to grow!



Sepilok, Malaysian Borneo, is a true haven for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts alike. With its world-renowned conservation centers, lush rainforests, and abundant biodiversity, Sepilok offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience to witness the incredible journey of orangutans and sun bears towards rehabilitation and conservation.


From the captivating Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, where you can observe orangutans swinging through the treetops, to the endearing Sepilok Sun Bear Conservation Centre, where you can witness playful sun bears in their natural habitat, these sanctuaries provide a unique opportunity to engage with and learn about these remarkable creatures.


Beyond the conservation centers, Sepilok offers a range of activities for the adventurous spirit. Trek through the rainforest, take a cruise along the Kinabatangan River, explore the treetop canopy walkway, and immerse yourself in the local culture and traditions. Each experience contributes to a deeper understanding of the delicate balance of nature in Sepilok.


Whether you choose to visit during the dry season for optimal weather or during the fruiting season for remarkable wildlife encounters, every time of year in Sepilok has its own charm. The key is to plan in advance, be respectful of the wildlife and their habitats, and leave a minimal impact on the environment.


As you explore Sepilok, make sure to support the conservation efforts by adopting an orangutan, making a donation, or purchasing responsibly sourced souvenirs. By doing so, you contribute to the ongoing protection and preservation of these magnificent creatures and their habitats.


Sepilok leaves a lasting impression on every visitor, inspiring a deeper appreciation for the natural world and the importance of conservation. So, pack your bags, immerse yourself in the wonders of Sepilok, and embark on an unforgettable journey into the heart of Borneo.


Remember, as you leave Sepilok, carry the spirit of responsible tourism and continue to advocate for the protection of wildlife and their habitats. By doing so, we can ensure that future generations can also experience the awe-inspiring beauty and enchantment of this extraordinary destination.


Safe travels and may your love for nature and wildlife flourish!