Where to see orangutans in Borneo

A Journey into the Wild

Borneo, the world’s third-largest island, is a lush paradise teeming with biodiversity and unique wildlife. Among its most iconic inhabitants are the orangutans, the great apes whose name translates to “person of the forest.” These fascinating creatures, with their expressive faces and remarkable intelligence, draw wildlife enthusiasts from all corners of the globe. If you’re dreaming of an unforgettable adventure where you can see orangutans in their natural habitat, Borneo should be at the top of your list. Here’s your ultimate guide to the best places to see orangutans in Borneo.

1. Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre: A Heartwarming Haven

Why Visit?

The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, located near Sandakan in the Malaysian state of Sabah, is one of the most famous orangutan sanctuaries in the world. Established in 1964, Sepilok’s mission is to rehabilitate orphaned and injured orangutans and prepare them for a return to the wild.

What to Expect

  • Feeding Sessions: Visitors can watch the twice-daily feeding sessions from a viewing platform. These sessions provide a unique opportunity to see orangutans up close as they swing through the trees and come to the feeding area.
  • Education Centre: Learn about the conservation efforts and the challenges faced by orangutans in the wild. The centre offers insightful exhibits and documentaries.
  • Nature Trails: Explore the lush rainforest through well-maintained trails that offer the chance to see other wildlife, such as macaques and tropical birds.

Tips for Visiting

  • Arrive Early: To secure a good spot for the feeding sessions, it’s best to arrive early.
  • Respect Wildlife: Follow the centre’s guidelines and maintain a respectful distance from the animals.
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2. Kinabatangan River: A Wildlife Safari

Why Visit?

The Kinabatangan River, also in Sabah, is renowned for its incredible biodiversity and dense rainforests. This 560-kilometer-long river is one of the best places to see wildlife in Borneo, including orangutans, pygmy elephants, and proboscis monkeys.

What to Expect

  • River Cruises: The best way to explore the Kinabatangan is by boat. Guided river cruises offer a serene way to spot orangutans and other wildlife along the riverbanks.
  • Night Safaris: For a different perspective, join a night safari to see nocturnal animals in action.
  • Lodges and Homestays: Stay in one of the eco-lodges or homestays along the river for an immersive experience.

Tips for Visiting

  • Binoculars and Cameras: Bring binoculars and a good camera with a zoom lens to capture the wildlife.
  • Stay Silent: Keep noise to a minimum during the cruises to avoid scaring off the animals.

3. Danum Valley Conservation Area: Untouched Wilderness

Why Visit?

The Danum Valley Conservation Area is a pristine, protected rainforest in Sabah, covering over 438 square kilometers. It’s one of the most significant conservation areas in Borneo, known for its untouched wilderness and rich biodiversity.

What to Expect

  • Guided Treks: Explore the dense jungle with experienced guides who can help you spot orangutans, gibbons, and other wildlife.
  • Canopy Walkway: Experience the rainforest from above on a canopy walkway, offering a unique vantage point for bird watching and spotting primates.
  • Research Center: Visit the Danum Valley Field Centre, where scientists conduct important research on the rainforest ecosystem.

Tips for Visiting

  • Book in Advance: Due to its remote location and limited accommodations, it’s essential to book your visit in advance.
  • Physical Fitness: Be prepared for physical activity, as trekking through the dense jungle can be challenging.
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4. Tanjung Puting National Park: A Conservation Success Story

Why Visit?

Located in the Indonesian province of Central Kalimantan, Tanjung Puting National Park is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and one of the most famous places to see orangutans in the wild. The park is home to the Camp Leakey research center, founded by renowned primatologist Dr. Biruté Galdikas.

What to Expect

  • Houseboat Tours: The best way to explore Tanjung Puting is by traditional houseboat, known as a klotok. These multi-day tours provide an intimate experience of the park’s rivers and rainforests.
  • Camp Leakey: Visit the legendary Camp Leakey, where you can learn about ongoing research and witness the rehabilitation efforts firsthand.
  • Wildlife Sightings: Besides orangutans, you can also see proboscis monkeys, macaques, and various bird species.

Tips for Visiting

  • Houseboat Comfort: Ensure your houseboat tour includes comfortable sleeping arrangements and good meals.
  • Environmental Respect: Follow the park’s guidelines to minimize your impact on the fragile ecosystem.

5. Batang Ai National Park: A Remote Adventure

Why Visit?

Batang Ai National Park, located in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, offers a more remote and off-the-beaten-path experience for those looking to see orangutans. The park is part of a larger conservation area that includes the Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary and Betung Kerihun National Park in Indonesia.

What to Expect

  • Iban Longhouses: Experience the unique culture of the Iban people by staying in traditional longhouses. The Iban are skilled guides and can take you deep into the forest to spot orangutans.
  • Jungle Treks: Embark on challenging jungle treks to see orangutans and other wildlife in their natural habitat.
  • Lake Adventures: Explore the scenic Batang Ai Lake by boat, surrounded by lush rainforest and mountainous terrain.
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Tips for Visiting

  • Local Guides: Hiring a local Iban guide is essential for navigating the dense jungle and increasing your chances of spotting orangutans.
  • Pack Light: Bring only essential items, as the treks can be strenuous.

Borneo is a paradise for wildlife enthusiasts, offering numerous opportunities to see orangutans in their natural habitat. From the renowned Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre to the remote jungles of Batang Ai, each destination provides a unique and unforgettable experience. By respecting the environment and following the guidelines of these conservation areas, you can enjoy a remarkable journey while contributing to the preservation of these incredible creatures.