Spotting Orangutans in Borneo
For more than 20 years, the wardens in Semenggoh Wildlife Centre have been taking care and training orangutans in the forests of Sarawak. Semenggoh is a rehabilitation centre for orphaned orangutans, or orangutans rescued from captivity – showing them how to survive in the wild. Read below about the work they do, some facts about orangutans, and the threats they face and how YOU can help the orangutans.
The island of Borneo
Borneo is politically divided by three countries – Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei. Indonesia makes up roughly 73% of the island, Malaysia 26%, and Brunei makes up the final 1%, which sits on the Malaysian side of the island. It is the third-largest island in the world (the largest in Asia), behind New Guinea and Greenland.
Borneo’s dense rainforest is said to be over 140 million years old, making it one of the oldest in the world! These forests are one of the few remaining natural habitats for the Borneon orangutan.
The island sits along the equator, meaning it has two very distinct weather seasons—heavy monsoons between October and March, with dryer conditions the rest of the year. You’ll find it hot and humid all year round.
Some facts about Orangutans
Here are some facts about orangutans that you may not have known.
An orangutan is an orange/brown, tree-dwelling ape. They feed, sleep, and breed in the forest canopy – sometimes up to 120 feet high! It spends most of its time roaming the forest in search of bark, leaves, flowers, insects, and fruits.
The orangutan is one of the smartest apes on the planet – their methods of making nests are unique to other ape species. They sleep in nests constructed out of leaves and branches and will usually build 2-3 nests in a day.
Males and females differ quite a lot in size and appearance. To point out, males have a rounder face with very distinctive cheek pads that are flat. As well as facial features, males are twice as heavy as females, and because of this, they roam on the ground more. Comparatively, females spend most of their time in the trees. Similarly to humans, orangutans carry their offspring for around nine months before giving birth.
An orangutan’s lifespan is about 35-40 years in the wild and can sometimes live up to 50 years when in captivity. Unfortunately, they are one of the most critically endangered from the big primates, due to poaching and deforestation. While exact population counts are difficult, the Orangutan Conservancy believes only around 50,000-65,000 orangutans remain in Borneo and Sumatra.
The work of Semenggoh Wildlife Centre
Semeggoh is a government-backed wildlife centre which looks after many species of animals. Mainly, the orangutan of Sarawak – also known as the Borneon Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus). They are the only species of orangutan that roam the surrounding forest. Semenggoh Wildlife Centre is 20 km south of Kuching, the capital of Sarawak – one of two provinces in the Malaysian side of the island of Borneo. The facility gets the name from the Semenggoh River, which runs through the reserve.
The orangutans spend most of their time roaming the forest but frequently come back to the centre for a free meal. They have two feeding times, where the wardens feed them with sweet potatoes, bananas, coconut, papayas, oranges, sugar canes, pineapples, as well as hard-boiled eggs. The two feeding times are:
Morning: 9 am – 10 am
Afternoon: 3 pm – 4 pm
The centre is open an hour before feeding times, where you can roam around and maybe spot a wandering primate.
The entrance fee is RM10 for an adult and RM5 for a child.
After the fruiting season (November to March), the wardens give the primates deworming pills to take with milk.
One thing to note is that you are NOT guaranteed to see orangutans if you visit.
I visited in June 2018, and I was lucky enough to spot three orangutans; a male (separate) and a female with its newborn. During the fruiting season, the apes don’t appear as much, as they have a considerable choice of wild forest fruits.
Being the oldest nature reserve, Semenggoh plays a significant role in flora and fauna conservation. Orangutans are not the only thing they look after. After the establishment of the research plot in the complex, a Forest Training School was established to train the Forestry’s staff on botany.
Getting to Semenggoh Wildlife Centre
From Kuching: I would generally recommend a local form of transport, but the bus which could take you directly from Kuching has now stopped running. The best way to reach Semenggoh would be to catch a Grab Taxi. From what I’ve read, it should cost you around RM22 each way.
Threats to Orangutans
Destruction of Habitat
The island of Borneo historically had extensive rainforest cover, but the area was reduced massively due to heavy logging. In fact, by 2005, 50% of their forests were replaced by Palm Oil plantations. The Indonesian and Malaysian wood industry, along with the enormous demands of raw materials from industrial countries, have contributed to the loss of the Borneo rainforest.
Other threats include:
- Hunted for meat
- Illegal pet trade
- Forest conversions
Ways you can help the Borneon Orangutans.
- Volunteering with OrangUtan Conservation
- Adopt an orangutan
- Donate to the Orangutan Foundation with Born Free
- Stop using Palm Oil Products – check out this palm oil-free list
Read more about Palm Oil and its impacts through these links: