Orangutans are native to only two places in the world — the island of Borneo and Indonesian Sumatra. However, the orangutan's natural habitat is shrinking at an alarming rate, forcing these gentle animals away from food sources and into conflict with humans.

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The problems are many. Illegal logging, forest fires, mining and particularly palm oil plantations are all fragmenting the orangutan’s natural habitat. According to the Orangutan Foundation, the current rate of forest degradation means that the orangutan will have lost 80% of its natural habitat by 2080.

This means that it is increasingly difficult to see orangutans in the wild. Most visitors to Borneo and Sumatra will choose to see orangutans in one of the rehabilitation centres. These places do good work, looking after orphaned and injured orangutans, nursing them back to health and teaching them the skills needed to reenter the wild. Regular feeding times attract semi-wild orangutans to feeding stations, making it easy for visitors to experience orangutans.

However, there is no substitute for seeing a fully-wild orangutan in the jungle. The orangutans you see at rehabilitation centres are used to seeing humans. They may interact differently and as the viewing times are so short, many centres are crowded with tourists. Seeing a wild orangutan might only involve a fleeting glimpse of orange fur in a tree, but it might be a moment you treasure for the rest of your life.

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How to spot wild orangutans

Put simply — to see wild orangutans, you need to journey further into the rainforest, away from the bigger tour groups. In locations like the Kinabatangan River, you’ll slowly journey up the water on a klotok, looking for sun bears, crocodiles and proboscis monkeys before docking and touring through the jungle, listening to birdsong and tracking orangutans. Here, you might not see another tour group at all. The experience is completely different from a rehab centre.

Your best chance of seeing a wild orangutan is in Sabah, purely due to numbers. There are approximately 11,000 wild orangutans in Sabah, compared with just 1,600 in Sarawak. Most will journey to the Kinabatangan River or Danum Valley in Sabah or Batang Ai in Sarawak for wild orangutan spotting.

Choosing your destination will depend on your level of fitness, the type of trip you want (hiking/boating) and what else you want to see on your trip. Expect to spend at least three to four days on a wild orangutan tour, staying either on a klotok boat or in rainforest lodges.

Your tour will take you to feeding stations in the rainforest, where you can watch orangutans feasting on fruit, vines, small insects and plants. Watch for the interactions between mothers and young children, or the presence of large males with throat pouches, beards and large cheeks.

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