Where to go for a close encounter with some of Malaysia’s most vulnerable species
*Many attractions and venues in Malaysia have now reopened after the MCO, with new measures in place to ensure your safety. Do check each venue’s opening hours and requirements before visiting.
With its large swathes of pristine and ancient rainforests, Malaysia is home to an incredibly rich and rare biodiversity. Some of these include the Malayan sun bear, tapir, and of course, the orangutan, who are unfortunately under threat from illegal animal trade, poaching and deforestation. The good news is that there are plenty of incredible animal sanctuaries and conservation centers in Malaysia that have taken up the mantle in protecting these species. These have also become a tourist destination for anyone seeking an eye-opening – yet responsible way – to see these animals up close. We’ve outlined 5 of them that’s worth a visit.
For orangutans: Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center, Sabah
In operation since 1964, Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center was the first conservation center of its kind when it opened. Located 25km from Sandakan, it cares for orphaned, injured and displaced orangutans, with the aim of rehabilitating and eventually returning them to the wild. At the sanctuary, which is part of the 43000-hectare Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve, in-house keepers, veterinarians and caretakers work to teach them essential skills needed to survive. Visitors can stroll along boardwalks and hopefully catch sight of the primates roaming free.
For elephants: Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary, Pahang
The Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary is Malaysia’s first elephant sanctuary. Visitors can look forward to activities like watching a mahaout (guide) give these pachyderms a wash in the river or sitting in on sharing sessions with the sanctuary staff who are more than happy to explain more about their beautiful creatures and the conservation efforts at the center.
For Malayan tapirs: Sungai Dusun Wildlife Conservation Center, Selangor
Selangor’s Sungai Dusun Wildlife Conservation Center is home to some of Malaysia’s most critically endangered animals like the Malayan tapirs and gharial crocodiles. The center houses the Malay Tapir Conservation Center (MTCC), which is equipped with research facilities. To visit, you’ll have to obtain a permit from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.
For Malayan sun bears: Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center, Sabah
At the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center (located adjacent to the Sepilok Orangutan Center), rescued sun bears are rehabilitated by a team led by Dr. Wong Siew Te, the founder and wildlife conservationist behind the center. Believing that animals belong in the wild, the center works to eventually release these animals once they are fully rehabilitated. To date, over 40 sun bears have been released into the wild.
For birds: Kuala Gula Bird Sanctuary, Perak
Spot globally endangered species of waders, egrets and herons at the mangrove forest and mudflats of Perak’s Kuala Gula Bird Sanctuary. It’s certainly a bird-watching paradise: over 60 species of water birds including the threatened Milky Stork call the forest home, and you can easily spot the egrets in the area. Chalets are available for those who’d like to spend the night.