Where to see orangutans

Best places to see orangutans on Borneo and Sumatra

The only places you can see the orangutan in its natural habitat are on their native islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Seeing wild orangutans means embarking on a guided jungle trek, but there are several sanctuaries and rehabilitation centres which offer a more accessible way to see orangutans feeding and swinging through the trees. While many of these centres do invaluable work protecting and conserving these magnificent creatures, it’s well worth making the extra effort to try to see them in their natural habitat if you can.

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There are four places you can see orangutans — the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sumatra, Indonesia’s Kalimantan, and Sarawak, which spans both countries. Perhaps the most easily accessible is Sabah, with Kalimantan the least westernised region. Choosing where to see orangutans depends on the type of experience you want. Here are the options.

Best places to see orangutans in the wild

Kinabatangan Wildlife Reserve, Sabah
The Kinabatangan River is Sabah’s largest waterway and is the most popular destination for those looking to glimpse an orangutan in the wild. Most visitors choose to cruise down the river, taking the occasional jungle trek and overnight camping stay. As well as orangutans, you can also spot pygmy elephants, macaques, crocodiles and other wildlife.

Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah
This is real jungle. Thick with trees and lush tropical plants, the Danum Valley is an isolated, wild area where orangutans, proboscis monkeys and many bird species can be spotted. For a proper jungle experience, try a nocturnal guided trek, when the forest comes alive with the sound of wildlife.

Maliau Basin Conservation Area, Sabah
This pristine rainforest was unreachable for decades. Then, in the 1980s, scientists and primate researchers began to cautiously explore the area. Now open to a limited amount of tourism, this is a great place to see truly wild orangutans. A word of warning — trekking here is arduous, so you’ll need to be physically fit.

Batang Ai, Sarawak
The only place to see wild orangutans in Sarawak, Batang Ai National Park is most famous for the contributions of the indigenous Iban tribe, who conserve the rainforest and conduct surveys into the orangutans. Make sure you take time to engage with Iban culture if you choose to look for orangutans in Batang Ai.

Gunung Leuser National Park, Sumatra
Home to the Sumatran orangutan, UNESCO-listed Gunung Leuser National Park offers the opportunity to see proboscis monkeys, gibbons and hornbills. If you’re lucky, you may even spot the incredibly rare Sumatran tiger or rhino.

Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan
Home to the world’s largest population of wild orangutans, Indonesia’s Tanjung Puting National Park is also the base for several conservation centres. Most visitors take a traditional klotok boat upriver, looking for sun bears, proboscis monkeys, civets and gibbons. Visitors to this park normally spend a few days cruising upriver.

Where to see orangutans in rehabilitation centres

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Sabah
The largest orangutan rehabilitation centre in the world, Sepilok cares for orphaned orangutans who buddy up with older apes to learn how to survive in the wild. Visiting revolves around feeding times at the centre, but Sepilok also offers volunteer placements.

Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, Sarawak
A couple of hours from Kuching, Semenggoh is a rehabilitation centre for orphaned and injured orangutans. Here, they learn the survival skills needed for re-entry into the forest. Visitors get to see orangutans feeding in the morning and afternoon, where they can practice their swinging and nest building skills.

Matang Wildlife Centre, Sarawak
This unique wildlife centre offers refuge to injured an orphaned orangutans, as well as other wildlife such as sun bears and civet cats. Visitors can watch the animals feeding, or for the more adventurous, volunteer on placements.

Camp Leakey, Kalimantan
Perhaps the world’s most famous orangutan centre, Camp Leakey is named for the legendary primatologist Louis Leakey and is run by Dr Birute Galdikas. Come for feeding time and the world-class information centre.

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