Orphaned apes stars of orangutan refuge

SANDAKAN, Malaysia -- Borneo is home to the orangutan, an ape that can weigh as much as 165 pounds. Tourists are welcome at Sabah's Sepolik Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, located in 11,115 acres of virgin jungle about a 30-minute drive from here.

The center rescues youngsters orphaned due to logging, illegal hunting and other circumstances, and prepares them for release into the wild.

Tourists visit at feeding times for the best viewing and, most likely, a bit of orangutan hijinks.

Our guide said the young apes sometimes work in teams to snatch goods from visitors; he recalled the scamp who grabbed a handbag, climbed to the top of a tree and emptied the bag one item at a time.

We flew to Sandakan (45 minutes from K.K.) for our rendezvous with the ornery orphans.

Meanwhile, Shangri-La's Rasa Ria resort (see Room Key, below) operates a 64-acre nature preserve and provides care for a few of the youngest orangutans, after which the animals are moved to Sepolik.

We watched three of them eat. When they were finished, they put the reserve's ground rules (don't touch) to a severe test as they reached for camera straps, clutched ankles or, in my case, grabbed a shirttail and pulled down for dear life.

Only Rasa Ria guests and local students can reserve time slots to view the resort's animals. -- N.G.

Room Key: Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort
Pantai Dalit, 89208 Tuaran, Sabah, Malaysia
Telephone: (011) 60-88 792-888
Fax: (011) 60-88 792-777
E-mail:[email protected]
Manager: Reto Klauser
Head concierge: Ahmad Rajali
Number of units: 330, including 10 suites; all debuted in 1996.
Rates: From $133 per room, single, or $155 per room, double.
Room amenities: Iron and ironing board; hair dryer; refrigerator but no minibar; detergent; mosquito coil; TV with satellite news; room service.
Facilities: Seven restaurants; banquet and conference facilities; range of activities.
Noteworthy: Great chance to observe orangutans up close -- more than just noteworthy; the upscale and creative Coast restaurant, which no guest should pass up.
Not worthy: Frayed cord on iron (replaced fast); postcards in gift shop limited to cards featuring the hotel.

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