Native to Indonesia and Malaysia, there are two species of orangu-tans and they are only found in the Borneo and Sumatran rainforests. Both endangered species, the Sumatran orangu-tan is classified as ‘critically endangered.’
3 top areas to see orangu-tans
There are a few national parks and areas in Kalimantan and Sabah that are part of Indonesian Borneo where you can see orange-tans. Broadly located in either central, eastern or western Indonesian Borneo, here are the five top places where you will have a very high chance to see these primates.
1) Central Kalimantan
In central Kalimantan you will find Tanjung Puting National Park, where you find the first and foremost in the field of research. Camp Leakey started in 1971 and there are now four such research centres in the park studying and rehabilitating orangu-tans and other primates. Dr. Biruté Galdikas started her career studying the behaviour of orange-tans that had been rescued and orphaned and then reintroduced into the wild. The founder of Orang-utan Foundation International in 1986, she’s reckoned to be one of the world’s leading experts on their behaviour and leads tours that raise money for the Foundation. Other organisations like the UK charity Orang-utan Survival Foundation does the same sort of work and works with the local community to protect their habitat. This is the most likely place for sightings, though you need three to four days to reach Camp Leakey by boat. Taking a simple Indonesian houseboat or klotok, you stop at designated feeding sites where you can spot orang-utans, gibbons and proboscis monkeys.
Made famous by BBC documentary Orangutan Diary and Orangutan Island, hundreds of captive orang-utans are being rehabilitated for release into the jungle by the Nyaru Menteng Rehabilitation Centre. You can observe the orange-tans being trained and then take a tour of the forest along wooden boardwalks to catch sightings if birds, monkeys and butterflies. Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Foundation is the Indonesian non-profit NGO operating here and manages orange-tan rescue, rehabilitation and re-introduction programmes in East and Central Kalimantan. With almost 1000 orang-utans in its care and employing between six hundred and a thousand people at a hundred sites BOS is the biggest primate conservation NGO in the world.
2) East Kalimantan
Sepilok Nature Centre in Sabah was founded in 1964 where orange-tans are rehabilitated for future release. One of only four orange-tan sanctuaries in the world, the Sepilok Nature Reserve provides a unique day out. You can walk through the thick Borneo jungle along wooden walkways while orange-tans swing from the trees for their twice meal times. Large viewing platforms give you a close up views of the red-haired apes. You also can see other wild animals such as hornbills, snakes, lizards, tortoises, spiders, and many interesting bugs and there are jungle trails that enable you to explore into the jungle. Don’t miss the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary that is nearby.
Also in this eastern region are the Kinabatangan wetlands. Here you can visit the Kinabatangan Orangu-tan Conservation Project that was formed in 1998 when French HUTAN, a non-profit organisation joined with the Sabah Wildlife Department to build a small conservation centre in the village of Sukau in the Kinabatangan wetlands. First conducting studies to identify the threats faced by the orang-utans, the findings were used by the Sabah Wildlife Department to develop and implement a conservation strategy for the Lower Kinabatangan region and Sabah.
A few hours’ drive from the eastern capital of Samarinda, Kutai National Park is also home to orangu-tans. In the coastal areas nearby you can see other primates like the slow loris, proboscis and leaf monkey.
3) Western Kalimantan
Betung Kerihun National Park shares a border with Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. Maybe the hardest to get to, this will appeal to adventurous types who will love the treks run by the locals from Nanga Potan, a small town near the forest which is only accessible by longboat. Spend a couple of days following wild orang-utans through the jungle, after which you can make your own raft and paddle back to the village, braving the river rapids. This will definitely be an adventure of a lifetime.
Whether you go it alone or join a tour, there are many ways to see these beautiful primates in perhaps one of the least visited corners in the world. Nature-lovers, visitors with a sense of adventure and those wishing to go off the beaten track, this is the place to come for an adventure you will never forget.