Sadly, there are only two places in the world to see wild orangutans: Borneo and Sumatera. Rehabilitation centres adopt and train the orphaned and young so they can return to the jungle. Here’s where to see the orangutans in Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo.
Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah
For a jungle experience and the chance to see wild orangutans in Malaysia, head to Danum Valley. The vast forest became a protected area before deforestation and human-induced destruction. As such, the reserve has changed little in millennia. In the heart of the rainforest approximately two hours from Lahad Datu in East Sabah, the centre is full of scientists, guides with a range of wildlife on the doorstep. Occasionally, this includes wild orangutans. Stay at least at night or two in the onsite hostel or bungalows. Danum Valley is one our top places to see orangutans in Malaysia and Borneo.
The Kinabatangan River, Malaysia’s second longest river in Sabah, features several types of ecological habitats and houses numerous types of wildlife. The river itself is full of saltwater crocodiles, the ones that wouldn’t think twice about eating humans, as well as a relatively large population of wild proboscis monkeys. River cruises, both during daylight hours and at night, take visitors on wildlife safaris. Lucky passengers might catch a glimpse of an orangutan among the mangrove trees.
Sepilok Rehabilitation, located approximately 26 kilometres (16.2 miles) west of Sandakan in East Sabah is probably the number one place to see orangutans in Malaysia. The reserve was opened in 1964 by Barbara Harrison, a British woman, and became the world’s first centre dedicated to orphaned orangutans. Today, it houses between 60 and 80 of which approximately 25 are babies living in the nursery. Feeding takes place at both 10:00am and 3:00pm every day. Tourists watch as the primates come out of the reserve and swing to the platform to grab the fruit.
Several species of endemic wildlife including proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants and orangutans are inside the zoological part of Lok Kawi. While the primates aren’t in their natural habitat, the wildlife park is within 30 minutes of Sabah’s capital Kota Kinabalu. Visitors who have limited time in Malaysian Borneo will be able to see orangutans without travelling deep into the jungle.
Semenggoh has been an active rehabilitation centre for more than 20 years. Young or orphaned primates who are either rescued or brought to the centre are taken care of until they learn jungle survival skills. For those in Kuching, Semenggoh is just 28 kilometres (17.4 miles) south of the capital. Primates inside the nature reserve roam around at their own will and catching a glimpse isn’t a guarantee. But visit during feeding between 9:00am and 10:00am and again from 3:00pm to 4:00pm, and visitors will likely see them.
Sarawak’s Kubah National Park sits just 21 kilometres (13 miles) west of Kuching. On the western side of Kubah lies the Matang Wildlife Centre which houses a variety of animals, including orphaned orangutans. The centre adopts rescued primates and teaches survival skills in the same way as a rehabilitation centre. Visitors can stay overnight in the national park and experience the jungle after dark, or spend time hiking along trails to waterfalls.
Taiping Zoo, established in 1961, is Malaysia’s oldest zoo, housing more than 1,300 animals of 180 different species. The zoo in Perak State to the north of Kuala Lumpur boasts an impressive selection of primates, mammals, amphibians and birds. A small group of orangutans live inside an enclosure, where onlookers can observe their characteristics and behaviour while snapping photographs. While these aren’t wild, it does give tourists a chance to see orangutans in Malaysia.