Kabili Forest Reserve - Sepilok
The Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre is Only Part of the Story!

by Herman, 2006

Little know to the wider public, the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre is situated on the fringes of a forest reserve with a well documented history, the Kabili Forest Reserve.

The Kabili Forest Reserve is a Class VI Virgin Jungle Reserve (VJR) with an area of approximately 5529 hectares (Kabili-Sepilok 4,294 ha and Sepilok 1235 ha.) The Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC) is on the northern edge of the VJR. In the north, adjacent to the VJR, is the Sepilok Arboretum and the Forest Research Centre. The Forest Research Centre (FRC) and the Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre are administered by the Sabah Forestry Department and the Sabah Wildlife Department respectively.

A trail, the Mangrove Trail, stretches about 5.5 km from SORC to the Sepilok-Laut Reception Centre, located in the Sepilok FR (Class VI). There are small bridges and bird-watching towers built by British volunteer groups brought in by the SORC management.

History & Management

In the days of the Chartered Company Mr. Pryer owned a coffee plantation on the lower Kabili River, in the southwest of the present VJR. This was abandoned in about 1910 following an outbreak of disease amongst the labourers and a slump in the coffee trade. There was another coffee plantation in the south-eastern portion. A graveyard is said to exist on the lower left bank of the Kabili River. Occasional coffee trees could still be seen in the area in the late 1960s. This, and probably other areas with timber fringing the rivers, was logged around 1890-1900, maybe on a highly selective basis and by hand. Two of the earliest known logging operations were in 1911 and 1929. Earlier records relating to exploitation and other activities are not available. During the Second World War, the Forest Department personnel stayed inside the VJR.

Low impact forest exploitation by means of hand logging and by tractor were conducted in the northeast and most of the southern part of the reserve from 1919 until it was discontinued in 1957. In 1948, several hundred hectares of forest in the northern part of the FR were silviculturally treated by removal of woody climbers and non-productive trees that hampered the regeneration of potentially commercial trees, such as Shorea johorensis, Parashorea tomentella and Eusideroxylon zwageri (Belian). The effect of this liberation treatment on the forest stand in this area is unknown. However, the treated forest is structurally comparable to the other old growth forest in the region. Since 1957, the primary functions of the Kabili-Sepilok VJR have been forestry research, and simultaneously, the preservation of some of the major forest types of Sabah.

In 1964, the Game Branch of the Department maintained a station in the north for the rehabilitation of orang-utans. The Branch has since been made into a department by itself, the Wildlife Department, and the station came to be known as the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre.

The Kabili-Sepilok VJR was gazetted in 3 phases: in 1931 some 2,334 ha were gazetted. This area encompassed much of the drainage of the Kabili, Sepilok Kecil and Sepilok Besar rivers.

In 1938, another 1,874 ha on the eastern side were gazetted and in 1965 a further 264 ha were added on the north and south-east.

The VJR is managed by the Sabah Forestry Department and no logging has been allowed since 1957. In 1984, the VJR was formally gazetted as a Class VI Forest Reserve.

Special Attributes

The various forest types, animals found and the extensive supporting research since the 1930ís, and nature educational facilities make this VJR very special indeed and due to its accessibility yield also good tourism potentials other than just the orang utan rehabilitation centre. It is with this in mind that the Sabah Forestry Department is developing the Sepilok Arboretum to provide another destination for visitors. The Rainforest Interpretation Centre, with its exhibition halls, gardens and surrounding forest, will be a major tourist destination in the near future.

All features are original scholarship works and copyrighted. Please contact us for the use of the material. 

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