Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center in the Malaysian Sabah District of North Borneo was established in 1964 to rehabilitate orphaned orangutans. The site is 43 square kilometers of protected land on the edge of the Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve. Today, about 60 to 80 orangutans live free of charge in the reserve.
When Sabah became an independent state in Malaysia in 1963, a Game Branch was established in the Department of Forestry for the Conservation of Wild Animals in the region.
As a result, 43 square kilometers of protected land on the edge of the Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve have been converted into a rehabilitation site for orangutans and a center for the treatment of apes.
Today, about 25 young orphaned orangutans are housed in nurseries, in addition to those free of charge in the reserve. The center provides veterinary treatment for orphaned and seized orangutans, as well as hundreds of other wildlife species.
Many of the other animals that have been handled at the center include sun bears, gibbons and elephants. Recently rehabilitated individuals have a diet that is complemented by daily food. The additional food provided by the center is deliberately designed to be monotonous and repetitive so as to allow the monkeys to start foraging themselves.
Sepilok is considered by the Wildlife Department to be a valuable educational resource for educating both locals and tourists, but it is clear that education must not interfere with the restoration process. Visitors are limited to walkways and are not permitted to touch or treat monkeys.
In the wild orangutan, children live with their mothers for up to six years, while they are taught the skills they need to survive in the jungle, the most important of which is climbing.
At Sepilok, a friend method is used to replace the instruction of a mother. A younger ape will be paired with an older ape to help them develop the skills they need.
The establishment of protected areas minimizes the effect of deforestation on orangutans and far fewer young monkeys are the victims of illicit pet trade as a result of these ‘sanctuaries.’ Babies are often captured during logging or forest clearing or captured by poachers who kill adult monkeys to reach them.
Youngsters kept in captivity sometimes become ill or endure abuse, which in some cases leads to cruelty. Although some of the orangutans raised as pets can never be returned to the wild, some can be rehabilitated; it is a lengthy and costly process, lasting up to seven years, but one such center as Sepilok can be rehabilitated without doubt.