Sun bears and flying lizards
Okay, let’s do orangutans first as you’ve still got to see these awesome primates in the flesh if you visit Borneo. A 40-minute flight from Kota Kinabalu is Sandakan. Just outside the town, at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (Sabah Wildlife Department, Sandakan), adult orangutans live semi-wild, emerging from the forest for two daily feeding sessions while the infants play in a nursery. Just $55 gets you in for the whole day, with a $20 fee for taking a camera in. The 9am feeding session is extremely popular. You’re likely to see the beasts out in the open but they’re vastly outnumbered by the human visitors. We recommend staying for the centre’s 2pm feeding session instead, where we’re treated to a beautifully intimate up-close-and-personal encounter with these fantastic animals.
There’s a lot more to see around Sepilok, though, than just the orangutans. Opposite the rehab centre is the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (PPM 219, Elopura, Sandakan; bsbcc.org.my). Sun bears, the smallest species of bear in the world, are threatened by deforestation and the demand for their bile, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine. While the orangutan rehab centre closes between 11am and 2pm each day, the sun bears can be seen at that time gamboling and eating lunch. Entry is just $30. A bargain for this captivating bear necessity.
Nearby is the Rainforest Discovery Centre (90715 Sandakan; forest.sabah.gov.my), a much quieter attraction which offers opportunities to walk well-marked forest trails and climb a spectacular forest canopy walkway. It’s also just $30 admission and, for this, we see flying lizards, both graceful and dramatic in flight, plus Borneo’s giant squirrel. The day is spent exploring and meeting countless critters. Tip: come back here on different days to see as many weird and wonderful creatures as you can handle.