Orangutans are endangered animals. The last wild orangutans live in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. Tourists can experience a close encounter with semi-wild orangutans at the Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Kuching in Sarawak and at the Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary in Sabah. There are various orangutan sanctuaries in Kalimantan, however, not all are accessible for tourists. Please go directly to the bottom of this page concerning options for volunteers.
This sanctuary was established in 1975 to care for wild animals, which cannot survive on their own. At the wildlife rehabilitation centre, orangutans that were rescued from captivity are trained to survive in the surrounding forest reserve. It is located about 24 km outside Kuching, Sarawak.
At the main entrance of the forest reserve visitors need to obtain a permit for a small fee. Tourist groups who arrive with a public or a tour bus need to walk for 25 minutes from the main entrance of the forest reserve to the rehabilitation centre. Tour operators from Kuching offer packages with transport directly to the rehabilitation centre. However, due to road conditions this is limited to vans and smaller vehicles.
Feeding times are from 09:00am to 10:00am and from 03:00pm to 3:30pm. Tourists should arrive at the rehabilitation centre on time in order not to miss the introduction given by the rangers. After the introduction, rangers guide visitors to the feeding area via a 200m long pathway through the jungle. Earlier already, the rangers prepared a meal for the orangutans. Tourists can gaze at the orangutans when they approach the feeding area by swinging from one tree to another. Pathway for tourists and feeding area are designed to keep a distance between visitors and animals. However, some orangutans are used to visitors and may get close.
Rangers avoid direct contact between humans and orangutans. Furthermore, tourists shall not touch or feed any animals in the sanctuary. Humans can transmit diseases, which are dangerous for orangutans. In order not to attract animals, food and drinks should remain in vehicles or invisible in bags.
As the purpose of the sanctuary is to train the orangutans to survive in the wild, rangers are happy if they do not show up for the prepared meal. However, this happens rarely. Occasionally, orangutans even visit the rehabilitation centre itself. This is a good opportunity for a photo. However, visitors need to remember that orangutans are wild animals and follow advice from rangers.
Today the training program for newly rescued orangutans is located at the Matang Wildlife Centre in Sarawak. The population in the sanctuary in Semenggoh remains intact as the graduated orangutans already breed in the wild.
It is not possible to stay in the forest reserve over lunchtime or overnight. Tourists who attend the feeding time in the morning may proceed to Kampong Benuk for a visit to a longhouse. Another attraction is Jong’s Crocodile Farm, which offers some action at feeding time for crocodiles (09:00am and 03:00pm).
Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary
Tourists visiting Sabah, East Malaysia find a similar experience in the Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary. This wildlife rehabilitation centre welcomes tourists regularly. It is much larger than Semenggoh and offers a wide range of attractions as well.
Orang Utans Centres in Kalimantan, Indonesia
In Kalimantan, tourists have several options for visiting orangutans. In Central Kalimantan, at Camp Leakey Rehabilitation Centre, which is in Tanjung Putting National Park orangutans are easily to spot as they are used to visitors.
In Kutai National Park in East Kalimantan however, orangutans live in their original habitat. Assistance of rangers is required to find them.
Orangutans also live in Tangiling Reserve. Visitors need to cruise up the Kahayan River from Palangkaraya City.
The Sungai Wain Reserve hosts orangutans and is easier accessible. It takes less than one hour drive from Balikpapan.
Further details regarding Kalimantan are available on the website of this tour operator.
Volunteer with Orangutans
In general, contact between tourists and orangutans undermines the rehabilitation process. The risk of transmitting diseases from humans to orangutans is significant. Therefore, visitors are not allowed to touch orangutans in sanctuaries. Additionally, to protect wild orangutans the rehabilitated individuals are not released into the same areas. Therefore, volunteer jobs with direct contact to orangutans are not common. However, the Great Orangutan Project announces such opportunities on their website.