Semenggoh Orang-utan & Wildlife Centre
A responsible way to visit Orangutans in Borneo
There are countless reasons why someone would come to Kuching Borneo. The number one reason that attracted me the most was that it’s one of the two islands in the world which is home to one of our closest relatives; it’s home to my gentle, ginger bearded brothers of the forest – the Orang-utan (literally meaning “man of the forest”). The other island where our furry friends call home is the neighbouring island of Sumatra in Indonesia. Sadly, due to human interference, such as deforestation, poaching for Chinese medicines or even hunting for sport, their numbers have been drastically reduced to the endangered list.
There are several rehabilitation centres scattered within the Sabah and Sarawak Malaysian provinces of Borneo. Some of them have been set up to allow for volunteering opportunities. These intensive programs include training of the volunteers, accommodation and a very immersive and progressive integration with the animals. Sadly, for the budget-minded backpacker, unless if volunteering with an orang-utan was the primary reason for this visit, the cost may be slightly out of reach. These types of programs are set up to not only aid in the rehabilitation, food and medical supplies needed for the orphaned primates, but the money helps pay for the salaries of the permanent staff, the overhead of the centres, in addition to all costs incurred from the volunteer’s visit. It’s a wonderful experience with an essential cause.
For those looking for a slightly cheaper alternative, the Semenggoh Orang-utan and Wildlife rehabilitation centre is an excellent choice! Getting raving reviews, I thought I’d investigate for myself. This sanctuary is a place where orphaned or illegally incapacitated animals like the orangutan, sun bears, gibbons, even hornbills are brought to once having been confiscated from their owners/ customs or brought in by members of the public and rangers. The Orang-utan here is the main attraction, however.
You are never guaranteed that they will emerge for food, as they have begun foraging for themselves. You will greatly be disappointed if you arrive off the viewing times, as you will not be permitted to enter the park. There is, however, an arboretum along the road where you may be able to kill some time while you wait for the second viewing of the day. I wouldn’t exactly say it’s enough to spend 4 hours at though. Try to plan your arrival right around the start of the feeding times to maximize your viewing time.
Now, all this being said, even if you don’t see many of the Orang-utan population coming down from their nests (some of which are within viewing distance from the guest areas), there are organized guided hikes which you may be able to participate in, which increases your chances of a semi-close up encounter.
You can often see these majestic creatures swinging from branch to branch, and using vines, much as you’d expect to see Tarzan travelling across the jungle’s canopy.
During my visit, we saw approximately 3 adolescent orang-utans, one adult male, and a mother with a very young baby, who actually came down to the ground and walked through the crowd of people observing. Rangers were quick to keep people back at an appropriate distance to give them space without feeling threatened, but I’m sure this ended up being the highlight for anyone within eye-shot of the pair.
Don’t be too disappointed though if you do not get to see the orangutans. These are semi-wild ones. They are in the process of being reintroduced into their natural habitat and as is, the rangers prefer that they come and go when they wish to. There are in fact a few who have been completely rehabilitated and do not return to the centre for their daily feed unless during months when the jungle fruits are scarce. This is of course a VERY good sign for the prosperity of some of our closest relatives.
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
There are several ways you can get to the orang-utan sanctuary. When coming from Kuching, the cheapest is actually quite easy, if you’re comfortable with local transportation systems. You can either take the STC (Sarawak Transport Company) bus No 6, 6A, 6B, or 6C from opposite the Public Bank in town, on Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg. That costs about RM2 per person per way. Tell the bus driver you wish to be dropped off at the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre and the bus will stop you at the gates. Give yourself another 30 minutes for the stroll from the gates to the centre.
If short on time, (or if the bus doesn’t arrive.. which has been known to happen), you can always flag down a taxi for about 30 RM one way. If you’re lucky enough to see one of the white mini-vans, you may be able to negotiate a price as low as 4 RM, but make sure this is done prior to getting into the van! *Please note: These prices are indicative only and were valid at the time of publication of this article. They are, of course, subject to change.
Do – Activities & Attractions
Stay – Accommodation
Eat – Restaurants
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
The main time for visitors to see the Orang-utan population emerge is during the daily scheduled feeding times of 8:30-9:00 am and 3:00-3:30 pm. Guests of the park are permitted to stay and watch the gentle forest-dwelling creatures emerge for approximately 2 hours each, at which point the park closes to the public to minimize human exposure. Of course, these are wild and unpredictable animals.
Safety – Possible risks
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim to those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
There is a nominal entry fee for all National Parks and Nature Reserves in Sarawak. You’ll need to check with the National Parks Booking Office in Kuching for the latest fee structure. It really wasn’t much, and it goes to help preserve and maintain the National Parks in Malaysian Borneo!
Please note: The National Parks Booking Office is closed on weekends and public holidays!
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Reality Check – Be Aware
Though most of the Orang-utan are not fully rehabilitated into the wild yet, perhaps one of the greatest success stories I learned of is the fact that some have started breeding again! I think this is a vital visit for anyone planning on spending time in Sarawak, Borneo. It’s truly incredible getting a glimpse of what our life may have been like millions of years ago, and being able to be so close to such an important part of the animal kingdom.
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This sounds like quite the adventure, right? We thought so too! Though we realize it can be pretty intimidating to get out there into the world on your own, especially when travelling to some of these off-the-beaten-path locations. We love it when our readers give it a shot and try it for themselves! In fact, please leave us feedback if you do!! If trying something ‘this’ adventurous on your own is just a bit outside of your comfort zone, WSE Travel is here to help!
Follow this link for our ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Tours – packages that are highly personalized and tailored at your request.
What’s the closest wildlife encounter you’ve ever had? Have you been in close contact with an Orang-utan or any other primates before?
Please feel free to share your stories and thoughts in the comment section below!