When people think of Borneo the first thing that comes to mind is orangutans. If this didn’t come to mind then let me tell you Borneo and Sumatra, neighbouring islands, are the only places in the world with wild indigenous orangutans. The orangutan is most likely our closest cousin and is in fact 97% the same as human beings. Borneo is the home to our beautiful relative and today its home and existence is under threat due to the major environmental destruction from palm oil.
So you’re in Borneo or thinking about going to Borneo and you want to see orangutans of course. Where is the best place to see orangutans in Borneo?
In Sarawak, you can definitely see an orangutan at the Semenggoh Orangutan Wildlife Centre. It is nearly a 100% chance. And it’s so easy to get to! These are semi-wild orangutans that have been rescued as orphans and rehabilitated into the wild. The orangutans are wooed for a daily feeding hour and visitors are invited to come by to watch the orangutans crack open coconuts and munch on bananas. If you’re going to Borneo you most definitely need to come to the gateway city of Kuching to visit Bako National Park, and while you’re there Semenggoh Orangutan Wildlife Centre is just a couple kilometres out of town.
Semenggoh Orangutan Wildlife Centre
How to get here
From Kuching, take the red local bus (just ask your hotel)
$10 RM for non local
$5 RM for local
(This is around $3 USD)
When to Visit
Orangutans come at 9-10am feeding (higher chance of seeing an orangutan in the morning) and 3-4pm feeding
What are Semi Wild Orangutans?
These are semi-wild orangutans at Semenggoh Orangutan Wildlife Centre. They have been rescued as orphans and undergone a rehabilitation program. They are taught to hunt for food, open coconuts, and altogether not to be too dependent on human care.
The sanctuary is an open natural forest orangutan habitat. When you come into the park you can take a trek on one of the trails, spotting orangutan nests high in the trees.
The Show and The Experience
You will hear the park rangers make the call of the orangutan around feeding time to welcome the orangutans to the park center for some fruits and coconuts. The orangutans have the choice of coming back to feeding or fending for their own. There are around 27 orangutan rehabilitation graduates roaming the forest around the center. A couple and maybe even none will come to the feeding sessions. If it’s fruiting season in the trees, you can forget about it. Still you have very high chances of seeing an orangutan here.
The park ranger announces the chances are slim of seeing an orangutan today. Standing amongst over a hundred other tourists, we wait anxiously looking for movement in the trees, or flashes of orange. The park ranger takes a message on his walkie talkie. He tells us “One orangutan has come to another part of the park”. The whole lot of us, scramble from the viewing platform, down a trail and back to the park center. There, a young juvenile orangutan hangs from a tree vine. The orangutan swings from vine to vine, climbs in his nest, always taking a good look at all of us down below. He swings on a rope and then just hangs there from one limb. He is showing off, he has come to be the star of the show. He continues to display his abilities and slowly make his way to the feeding area. The orangutan knows he is the star and turns to us in different poses and even stays in position long enough for us to take some great shots.
It was kind of like being at the zoo or circus. However, the orangutans are free in the forest and choose to come back for the big feeding show. The park rangers are really kind locals and it is good to come and support their hard work. If you are in the area, it’s worth the stop by for the definite orangutan experience. If you have the means and patience, it will be a much more valuable experience to spot one of these in the wild, for they have a different nature in the wild and you can observe them in their true habitat. Think about including Batang Ai National Park in your itinerary if you are planning to see wild orangutans in Borneo.
Other notes for best place to see Orangutans in Borneo:
Best place to spot wild Orangutans in Borneo – Batang Ai National Park
Best place to see semi-wild Orangutans in Sabah – Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center
Best Place to spot wild Orangutans in Sabah – The Kinabatangan River
For more recommendations on where to see orangutans in Borneo here is a good list