Borneo has a number of iconic species, including the pygmy elephant, proboscis monkey and of course the incredible old man of the forest, or orangutan as you and I know them as. During my trip to Borneo I was lucky enough to see all 3 of these in the wild, however the focus of this post is on the orangutan (although the other 2 are also covered in the final location).
Seeing orangutans in Borneo isn’t all that hard due to the large number of rescue centers which have been established for them. This sheer number is a real shame as it is testament to the problems which we as a species cause, driving them out of their habitat through building works, replacing their habitat with palm plantations or capturing them as pets. However it is still possible to see them in the wild as well. You wont get as close to a wild one and the chances of an unobstructed photo will be lower, however the whole experience is far more magical and will stay with you for a long time!
The following locations are all based in Malaysian Borneo, and I will state after each one whether they are in Sabah or Sarawak as we visited both.
Semenggoh Nature Reserve
During our trip to Borneo we went to Semenggoh and Sepilok, and I must say that even though Sepilok is by far the more well known and seems to have a lot more funding pumped in to it, Semenggoh is certainly on par with them. There are a number of other attractions such as an orchid garden and nature walk here but because we went to the second feed and had only arrived in Kuching a couple of hours before hand we did not have time for these.
The viewing areas for the Orangutans are beautiful, especially if you get to go to the one slightly off the main track and more in the jungle. We saw one big male called Ritchie (see photo below) who was a great animal to see on our first day! We had a lot of time to photograph him (certainly at least 20 minutes or so).
The staff here are very friendly and did a great job of explaining the rules and preferred conduct at the center. There is also a gift shop where you can buy better quality photos, post cards and books.
Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary
Sepilok is a very clean place and they make every effort to keep it in this way, as well as keeping all the visitors and animals safe. You are not allowed to bring food and drink in to the center and there are lockers available for keeping such items and bags (if you go on a tour it is easier to leave your belongings on the coach).
When you first arrive there is an introductory video about Orangutans and the work of the center which is very interesting. However it is after this that you get to see what you came there for.
You walk along a board walk in to the rain forest to a feeding area where there is a lot of place for numerous visitors to all be able to take amazing photos. You get to be very close to them, and we had 3 females make their way along a rope just above the board walk.
I felt that you are able to get more than close enough to these amazing animals, and it is great to see them returned to a wild state. 2 of the females we saw had babies which shows the great work which goes on there. It would be great to be able to see the section where they work with the babies but it is understandable that this is not possible… So don’t go there expecting to see babies in wheel-barrows or forest schools like you see on tv… Seeing that is reserved for tv presenters!
There are numerous other animals to see along the board walk as well such as Long Tailed Macaques and Giant Squirrels. However with all this wildlife to be seen, make sure you bring plenty of batteries and sd cards for your camera. I sadly ran out about half way through my tour, having left my spare batteries on the coach. It is still an amazing experience, but I do love to have a camera handy!
We spent 3 days on the Kinabatangan river with overnight stays at one of the lodges, and the river cruises are one of the best ways to see the natural wonders of Sabah.
We traveled up river on the first day using a twin engine speed boat with a canopy (which was handy because of the sudden heavy downpour we had about half way up the river), which is the same boat which took us back to Sandakan at the end of our trip… If your tour operator gives you the option of going back by boat or road, please don’t miss this opportunity… On our trip home a few people chose to go by road, and we ended up seeing 3 wild Orangutans on the journey with one being very close to the river posing for some of the best photos I took the whole trip!
We took every opportunity available for a river safari including some in the morning (as the fog lifts on the river its a gorgeous experience), and some in the evening. Both times give you opportunities to see different types of animals so doing at least 1 of each is worth your time.
The river safaris are done on much smaller single engine boats with no canopy, which makes for much better viewing of the animals… and as luck would have it, we didn’t need to worry about how this would affect our trip in the rain as it stayed nice and dry the whole time… Saying this just in case we did always ensure we had a poncho or rain coat with us. Also remember that there is no canopy and especially on your way back from the morning trips you will be open to the sun so make sure you bring a hat, sunglasses (to combat the glare of the sun from the river when not looking for wildlife) and put on plenty of sun block!
Whilst this post is about seeing orangutans, we actually saw a massive amount of wildlife including:
Bat Eating Eagle (which put on an amazing show for us)
Storm Storks (such a treat for this rare animal)
Long Tailed Macaques
Asian Water Monitors
& SO MUCH MORE!!!
On one day we even stopped and had tea and biscuits on the boat at an oxbow lake. While stopped we got to see some of the amazing variety of fish which live in the river, and the main way we saw these fish was by tempting them to the boat with biscuits… luckily these fish LOVED the durian Fruit flavoured biscuits (something we did not have in common with them).
All in all I cannot fault the trip (or any of the wildlife viewing in Borneo for that matter) one bit, and I could have stayed on that river for many many more hours… if you want to know exactly how much wildlife there is to be spotted along this stretch of river the only way to do so is to see it yourself!