King of swingers

Borneo and Sumatra provide perfect settings for ogling orangutans.

August 31, 2012
King of swingers

Borneo and Sumatra provide perfect settings for ogling orangutans.
High above the scrub of the Malaysian and Indonesian rainforests sit one of Southeast Asia’s most endearing and intriguing natives. Known for their ginger tinged mane and an insatiable curiosity, spotting the region’s great ape in its native habitat is a treat for the traveller seeking a kindred spirit.

Head to Borneo or Sumatra for orangutan spotting

One of man’s closest evolutionary relatives, the word ‘orangutan’ translates from the Malay language to ‘person of the jungle’ – a nod to the primate’s human-like intelligence. With less than 60,000 of the endangered species left in the wild, chances to see the animal in its natural surrounds are diminishing as fast as their jungle home, but opportunities remain thanks to the support of conservation programmes located on their native island homes of Sumatra and Borneo.
Sabah in Malaysian Borneo offers one of the most popular spots to see wild orangutans. Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, situated within the vast floodplain of the Kinabatangan River, is part of an important network of conservation areas in the lowlands of eastern Sabah. The narrow strip, wedged between palm oil plantations, is a haven for the Bornean orangutan as well as a range of other wildlife including crocodiles, monkeys and elephants. Most nature watching at the sanctuary is done by boat, making it a viable option for all family members wishing to see the primate in its natural environment.
For a more intrepid experience Danum Valley Conservation Area, also in Sabah, is home to an estimated 500 wild orangutan that share their protected surrounds with some of world’s other most endangered species in a section of Borneo’s virgin rainforest. While the apes are free to cruise the treetops searching for fruit, leaves and flowers, tourists are left to guide themselves along trails through the jungle landscape in search of wildlife.
Spotting the rarer Sumatran species, which accounts for approximately one-eighth of the orangutan population, is easy at Bukit Lawang, situated on the fringes of Gunung Leuser National Park. The original purpose of the site was to preserve the local population through the rehabilitation of orphaned and domesticated baby orangutans, with the aim of releasing the animals back into the wild, but failure to meet modern standards of species reintroduction put an end to the programme in the 1990s. Nowadays it serves as one of the more interactive sites in the region, with tourists allowed to join rangers on twice-daily excursions to a feeding platform where the apes are fed a diet of bananas and milk.
Including Asia’s great ape in a sightseeing itinerary isn’t hindered by lack of opportunity. Deciding whether to pursue a guaranteed encounter in a more controlled environment or take a chance off the beaten track to seek the animal living as nature intended is the key consideration when hoping to get close to these magnificent creatures.

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