Sandakan Sabah’s second city

If you have an interest in ecotourism and like to enjoy nature in its original state then Sandakan, in the Malaysian State of Sabah has plenty to keep you occupied.

Sabah is in East Malaysia, on the island of Borneo.  Much of this gigantic island is still undeveloped, although logging, both legal and illegal, is beginning to have a detrimental effect on the ecology of the island.

Once the administrative centre of British North Borneo, Sandakan, during the 1930s, was the world’s largest exporter of tropical hardwoods.  Despite its relatively remote location Sandakan, at that time, had world’s largest concentration of millionaires.

Today, the government of Sabah is more interested in preserving the natural beauty and the ecology of Borneo than they are in exploiting it, and close to Sandakan are several excellent habitat projects.

One of Sabah’s most popular tourist attractions is the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre is just 25 kilometres from Sandakan.  Orangutans are an Asian species of the great ape and their name is the Malay word for “forest man”, because they do resemble humans in many ways.

Sepilok opened in 1964 with the purpose of rescuing orangutans that were orphaned due to the effects of logging and illegal hunting, and those that were kept as pets were also rescued too.  The sanctuary is huge and is mostly virgin rainforest.  The idea is to prepare orangutans and ready them to return them to the natural rainforest outside the sanctuary. The number of orangutans kept in the sanctuary varies from between 60 and 80 animals.    

Another type of primate being preserved near Sandakan is the proboscis monkey.  The remarkable males sport big dangling noses, reddish flat-top hairstyles, white tails and markings, and pot bellies. The females on the other hand, are much smaller and have up-turned noses.  The privately-owned Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary located within an oil palm estate gives you the chance to observe these animals up close and personal. You can also participate in a night tour for a chance to see wild boars, flying squirrels, fireflies and crocodiles.

Also close to Sandakan is Turtle Islands National Park, and consists of three islands where both green turtles and hawksbill turtles go to lay their eggs.

There are chalets on the island of Selingan where you can stay overnight – and this is the only way that you can observe the turtles laying.  The Turtle Islands are a little unusual in that here turtles do come ashore nightly, so you have a very good chance of seeing the turtles lay.  You can improve you chances of watching this remarkable sight during October, which is peak season for turtle laying, when you’ll get up to 50 turtles per night come ashore to lay.

Close to the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre is the Rainforest Discovery Centre.  The Discovery centre shows the great diversification of the Borneo rainforests, and is a testament to both the importance of rainforest and the variety of plants within the rainforest.

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