I'm an animal stalker. I love going on treks. Long, hard adventures just to get a glimpse of an animal not in a cage. There is a special kind of magic to watch an animal in its natural habitat after you have just spent hours on foot with a tracker trying to find it. It might be from a distance with a pair of binoculars or surprising, right next to you. I've treked Gorillas, Rhinos, and Lemurs on foot. Followed Tigers, Cheetas, and Hyenas in Land Rovers all just to feel that magic. When I think back at what started these quests for me, it was the very first sanctuary I ever went to, The Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Kenya (now The David Sheldrick
Wildlife Trust). Watching those orphaned elephants be cared for and loved by people whos only goal was to rehabilitate them and eventually attempt to release them back into the wild, left an indelible mark in my mind. Since then, the majority of my travels have been about animals and nature. So, of course, when I thought about Borneo, I thought "This is where I'm going to see the Orangutans.'
Borneo is the third largest island in the world after Greenland and New Guinea. If you find yourself lucky enough to come here, you will find three incredible animal sanctuaries in the town of Sandakan in Sabah, Borneo.
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center,
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center
and Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary.
The last two I didn't even know existed before I came here.
"The aim of Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is to return orphaned, injured or displaced orangutans back to the wild."
There is an inclosed nursery and an outdoor feeding platform for the older Orangutans.
Just minutes from the Sun Bear and Orangutan Sanctuaries, this is a resort where "Nature" says everything you need to know about this tranquil oasis.
Sun Bears are the smallest bear species in the world
The tropical lowlands of South East Asia are home to the bears.
Sun bears don’t hibernate, they will build nests in trees to sleep in. This means that deforestation is a great threat to them and has drastically reduced the species. Things like illegal logging, conversion of forests to palm oil plantations and general plantation development all exacerbate this.
They are also hunted mercilessly for meat and medicine. Their gall bladders are particularly sought after because of the bear bile industry. It contains high levels of ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) known to be useful for treating liver and gall bladder conditions.
The extraction of bear bile from live bears causes unimaginable suffering and long term health problems for these physically and psychologically damaged animals.
Labuk, located less than an hour from Sandakan. Set among a palm oil plantation (Boo!) The reason sanctuaries are needed in the first place. But.....
A businessman from Kuala Lumpur bought 400 acres of mangrove forest and initially developed it into a palm oil plantation. But he had a change of heart when he saw proboscis monkeys scavenging for food on his estate. He learned how unique these monkeys were and stopped his plantation altogether. It’s very rare to hear land developers prioritizing conservation over commercial gain but this businessman did just that. Over the years, he focused his efforts on ensuring the proboscis monkeys do not lose their natural habitat.