SANDAKAN: THE WILDLIFE CAPITAL OF BORNEO
Next stop on our Borneo adventure saw us touch down in Sandakan Airport – the location of the infamous Sandakan Death Marches during the Japanese occupation of Borneo in WW2. Known as the ‘Wildlife Capital’ of Borneo, we were keen to go and check out some of the furry jungle dwellers running free in this special corner of Asia.
WHERE WE STAYED
We stayed at the Bilit Rainforest Lodge throughout our time in Sandakan. These guys are VERY hospitable and personable and take pride in making you feel right at home, even if you are in the middle of the Borneo jungle. The spread they put on is great considering you are a fair distance from the next Kentucky Fried Chicken or convenience store, and cater well for vegetarians too.
The rooms at Bilit are very spacious, in good nick and have a genuine wooden jungle feel to them. If you are lucky enough (like we were), wild monkeys will come to your door at night, have a bit of a rowdy party, throw some poo and food around and leave a friendly mess for you to dodge the next morning! Good times!
Bilit Rainforest lodge is every bit wild jungle as you would expect. There are wild turkeys, pigs, monkeys, cats and birds fleeting in and around at all times of the day and night. A walk along the boardwalk at night, dodging angry wild pigs snorting and stamping their hooves at you is something everyone NEEDS to put on their bucket list. Kinda serious. Kinda not.
Check out Bilit Rainforests website at: http://www.bilitrainforestlodge.com/
WHAT WE DID
We took a couple of really cool cruises along the Kinabatangan river during the late afternoon, when the wildlife is at its most active in this region.
On our cruises we were lucky enough to witness wild proboscis monkeys, crocodiles, stalks and kingfisher birds, as well as many other forms of awesome wildlife, which I cannot name because I am neither a vet, an encyclopedia nor a bird-watching enthusiast.
In our time in Sandakan, we were privileged enough to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. This is a rehab centre for Borneo’s endangered orangutans who are brought into the centre from highly vulnerable situations in the wild and these are quite often baby orangutans who have been separated from their mothers.
After years of care, the orangutans that are rehabilitated in this volunteer-run centre are eventually released out into the open spaces surrounding the centre. At Sepilok there are no fences or wires, simply just expanses of dense jungle where the orangutans are free to come and go as they please. When they are released, some come back regularly for food, comfort and socialisation, whilst others leave never to return, which is the overall end goal for this amazing place.
We visited the centre at feeding time which was an awesome sight to see. The orangutans are amazing creatures… they are so human like (they share 96% of our DNA) in their movements and quite often in their personalities.
When feeding time had finished, we took a stroll along the boardwalk towards the orangutan playground and were confronted by a cheeky orangutan, rocking up and down the 1.5m wide boardwalk himself. Whilst I do say ‘cheeky’, it is important to remember that these are indeed wild animals and are unpredictable and very, very strong. It is for this reason why we did not get too close and this cheeky orangutan (soon after he passed us) cornered a woman up against the boardwalk and apparently was about to ‘have some fun’ with her… so to speak. Cheeky little bugger.
Upon leaving the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre, we decided we would adopt a young orangutan named Beryl for our friend Fi back home, as it was her birthday coming up and she is one of those cool people who loves to support good causes like this.
Whilst our time in the Sandakan jungle was only short, it was an amazing privilege to experience up close the genuinely WILD wildlife that many people only see behind cages at a metropolitan zoo. The people of Sandakan were friendly, the weather was hot and humid but most of all, the animals came out to play for us. This was a truly amazing experience.