Although the ‘wild man of Borneo’ no longer roams freely, visitors can still encounter the ginger-haired being inside and outside its jungle home.
In the jungle:
For those with the will to experience the orangutan’s habitat – not to mention less-enticing creatures like leeches − Malaysian Sabah has several jungle hubs (all require overnight stays).
1. Kinabatangan River basin is most popular with tourists. This region contains endangered animals like pygmy elephants and orangutans (and freshwater sharks in the river!) Accommodation includes an award-winning eco resort and several home-stay options. Night tours are definitely recommended!
Baby croc swims in the Kinabatangan River
2. Danum Valley Conservation area is a protected area in a remote location with limited accommodation options (though less tourists).
3. Tabin Wildlife Reserve, located nearer Kinabatangan and run by the Forestry and Wildlife Department, has privately-owned visitor facilities and lots of wildlife.
Outside the jungle:
4. Sepilok Rehabilitation Center is more accessible than the reserves but still requires a flight from the capital Kota Kinabalu (KK) to the city of Sandakan. The Sepilok Center rehabilitates around 60-80 orphaned orangutans who swing from ropes above the visitor platforms during feeding times. The antics of these playful juveniles are a dream for photographers.
7. Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. While the majority of orangutan ‘sights’ are in Sabah, Borneo’s other Malaysian state, Sarawak, has a low-key rehabilitation center 45 minutes drive from the capital, Kuching. It lacks the facilities of Sabah’s center but is still pleasant and easy to access.
6. Nature Reserve at the Shangri La Rasa Ria Resort. It seems strange I know but this initiative between the Shangri La hotel group and Sabah State Wildlife Department offers visitors with less time an opportunity to experience orangutans in their own environment. Affiliated with the Sepilok Rehabilitation Center and set up in a similar way − at feeding times the orphans swing on ropes above visitors platforms and there is an education center on site. Outside visitors welcome by arrangement.
5. Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, 30 minutes drive from KK (Sabah’s main tourist hub), contains an orangutan enclosure as well as other native Borneo animals. If you’re worried about tiny cages you might be relieved, like I was, to find the animals adequately cared for.
Borneo pygmy elephants at Lok Kawi Wildlife Park KK