With their ability to learn sign language and even to make tools, orangutans are considered one of the world's smartest primates. Orangutans in Borneo even begin to craft umbrellas from leaves when they know rain is coming!
Sadly, the orangutans in Borneo are struggling to survive in the wake of massive deforestation. Even an illegal pet trade threatens the species. Visiting rehabilitation centers not only offer a memorable encounter, but your visit also helps to support conservation efforts to protect one of Earth's smartest residents.
Learn more about the endangered orangutans, then read about where to find them in Borneo.
Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre
The Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, just 12 miles from Kuching, is the best place to find orangutans in Sarawak. Unlike zoos which simply leverage orangutans as attractions, the primary mission of Semenggoh is to reintroduce orangutans back into the wild. The animals are not kept in cages; instead, they are allowed to roam freely within a large area.
Visitors to the Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre can join a group and hire a ranger for a forest tour in hope of finding wild orangutans in the trees. Alternatively, two daily feeding times nearly guarantee a spotting of the shy primates.
Kubah National Park
The Kubah National Park in Sarawak is located 13 miles west of Kuching. The Matang Wildlife Centre, nestled within the interior of the national park, is home to several resident orangutans. Visitors must hike three to four hours along the Ulu Raya trail through the national park to reach the wildlife center.
Sleeping in the Kubah National Park increases your chances of spotting orangutans; book the simple dorm-style accommodation through the Forestry Office in Kuching.
Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
Perhaps the most famous place to see orangutans in Borneo, the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is a popular draw in East Sabah. Visitors can climb tall platforms to observe orangutans in the trees, although sightings are never guaranteed.
Fruit is placed on feeding platforms twice daily; shy orangutans brave a barrage of tourists' cameras to take the offering before retreating back into the forest.
Lok Kawi Wildlife Park
A great option for people without much time in Sabah, the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park is only 30 minutes away from the capital of Kota Kinabalu. The 280-acre wildlife center is home to several tigers, elephants, orangutans, and other protected animals.
While the animals are kept in large enclosures, every effort is given to make the setting as close to the natural habitats as possible.
To reach Lok Kawai Wildlife Park, take southbound bus #17 to the town of Lok Kawi, then hail a taxi to the park.
The Kinabatangan River
For a wilder approach to seeing orangutans in rehabilitation centers, make your way from Sandakan in East Sabah to the tiny village of Sukau. Boat cruises along the Kinabatangan River offer a chance to see a variety of wildlife including orangutans, proboscis monkeys, and even elephants.
Several small lodges along the Kinabatangan River offer accommodation and book boat tours. Boats are typically small speedboats run by knowledgeable guides who know where to look for orangutans. Lucky travelers get to see the primates along the riverbanks in a completely natural habitat!