Thursday, 5 July 2018

Sepilok; an oasis in the oil palms #3

Over the past two postings I've introduced the lovely and forested enclave of Sepilok in eastern Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo. You can find the first one here. Today I finish by visiting the side-by-side Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and Sun Bear Conservation Centre which perform valuable conservation and animal welfare roles, but which also contain a wealth of wildlife in the forests that encompass them.
Feeding platform in the forest; the ranger does not directly interact with the animals,
which are being encouraged to leave the rehab centre for the forest.
Every year many young Orangutans are orphaned – through accidents or through the illegal pet trade. The role of the rehabilitation centre (which has been operating for 50 years) is not only to save them from a lonely unpleasant life, but to teach them how to be wild Orangs again, in order to return them to the wild. Visitors can see the stages of this, including now-adult ‘rescue Orangs’ coming back in from the forest for an occasional free feed, sometimes bringing wild-born young. The food supplied, mostly bananas, is designed to offer emergency support, but is too bland and limited to encourage dependency. Indeed the feeding stations are intended to lead animals to the reserve, not out of it. The Nature Reserve within which the centre is located has only 4,000 of primary rainforest but it supports a healthy Orangutan population. Males, which need big territories, are released at more distant sites, as there are already wild males in the area.
Outside exercise area for young orphan orangs, as part of their rehabilitation.
Female Bornean Orangutan with baby. She was well away from the centre,
though doubtless visits the feeding platforms from time to time.
All such babies are fathered by wild males.
The name orangutan (also written as two words, or hyphenated) means ‘forest man’ in Malay; it probably originated from a south Kalimantan dialect. We now know that the Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) is a separate species from the Sumatran Orangutan (P. abelii), which makes the conservation of orangs on both islands even more critical. (And as of 2017 a third species, Tapanuli orangutan P. tapanuliensis, was recognised, from southern Sumatra.) They are the most arboreal of the great apes, seldom coming to the ground – though Bornean orangs, where there are no tigers, do so more than the Sumatran species. They are also the most solitary, living alone except while youngsters are still with their mother; they will however feed amiably in the same fruiting tree while food is abundant. They are essentially fruit-eaters, though they will supplement their diet with other vegetable matter on occasions. Orangutans are essential vectors of the fruit of various forest plant species.
Young free-living orangutan using the forest boardwalk railings as a route through the forest.
Males hold a large territory, within which are the territories of several females. Males don’t mature reproductively until they are at least 15 years old, though that may be delayed even further if there is a dominant resident male in the area. When they do mature it happens quickly, with the development of cheek pads and throat pouches. Females also do not begin breeding until they are 14 or 15 years old, and remarkably, tend to wait some eight years between births. Babies are entirely helpless for the first two years of their life, needing to be carried and fed. After that they begin to climb but don’t wean until they are four. 

Bornean Orangutans are listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List (Sumatran and Tapanuli Orangutans are Critically Endangered). Loss and fragmentation of forests (by logging, clearing for agriculture, especially oil palms, mass burning and road building) are important causes of decline, along with illegal hunting, for bush meat, crop protection, traditional medicine and the pet trade.

The Sun Bear Conservation Centre is a rehabilitation and research centre, only opened to the public in 2014 though founded earlier, for young bears rescued from illegal captivity. They live in a very large fenced-off area of rainforest, where they learn to forage and interact – it can be quite uplifting to see them playing and generally being real bears. The first release, which was successful, took place in 2015; local release is not possible as they require a large foraging range – up to 15 square kilometres for a male.

Young Sun Bears playing in their forest enclosure.
Sun Bears Helarctos malayanus are small bears (a big male weighs no more than 80kg), living in rainforests of south-east Asia from Bangladesh to Sumatra and Borneo, though their range is now much fragmented. They climb well and often, seeking insects (especially termites, ants and beetle larvae), and honey, which they extract from hollows with powerful jaws and a long tongue, and a lot of fruit. Young bears stay with their mothers, suckling, for 18 months. They are threatened by deforestation and widespread illegal hunting, including for the pet trade. The Sepilok centre is an important hub of Sun Bear research.

We were told that this was the first time this young bear had climbed this big stump,
a significant accomplishment.
A covered shelter looks out over the enclosure, and continues as a raised boardwalk, providing views of other wildlife as well as bears.
A tough old male Long-tailed Macaque Macaca fascicularis, who was in no doubt as to who owned the railings!
Another much more demure occupant of the railing was also very special.
Paradise Tree Snake Chrysopelea paradisi; just after this photo was taken I was astonished when the little snake
launched itself into the air and glided elegantly to the ground. These 'flying' snakes glide on flattened
rib cages, covering up to 100 metres from high in the canopy.
Little Spiderhunter Arachnothera longirostra. This remarkably long-billed member of the sunbird family
does hunt spiders, but it is probably more reliant on nectar.
The best wildlife watching however is along the kilometres of walking tracks in the forest at the rehabilitation centre.
Charlotte's Bulbul Iole charlottae; this is a Bornean endemic, split from the more widespread
Buff-vented Bulbul I. crypta.
Raffles's Malkoa Rhinortha chlorophaea male; pity about his modesty with regard to the leaf!
The malkohas are a group of large non-parasitic tropical cuckoos.
Bushy-crested Hornbills Anorrhinus galeritus. A slightly odd hornbill, with no close relations,
highly sociable and very noisy!
Rufous Woodpecker Micropternus brachyurus, another single-species genus.
An ant-eating specialist, it is widespread in southern Asia.
Prevost's Squirrel Callosciurus prevostii; this north-eastern Borneo black form
lacks the striking white sides seen elsewhere in its range.
Plain Pygmy Squirrel Exilisciurus exilis, a Bornean endemic and one of the world's smallest squirrels,
with a combined head and body length of some 12cm. This little delight foraged through the
undergrowth just off the track for some time.

Striped Tree Skink Dasia vittata, another Borneo special.

Wagler's Pit Viper Tropidolaemus wagleri, an entirely arboreal mostly nocturnal species which is highly
variable in colour. Even when hunting however they are sit-and-wait predators of birds, mice and lizards.
Probably a butterfly of the family Nymphalidae - thanks Susan!

Borneo Birdwing Troides andromache; this magnificent big butterfly is restricted to Borneo.
If you go to Sandarkan for instance, you'll probably go to Sepilok and the rehabilitation centres; don't forget to stroll further along the tracks though, you're bound to be surprised and rewarded.

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Susan said...

Your moth looks more like some sort of Nymphalidae butterfly to me.

Ian Fraser said...

Thanks Susan - sorry I missed this earlier!