5 Places to See Orangutans in Borneo
A visit to Borneo is almost incomplete without trying and (hopefully) seeing a wild orangutan or two! If you’re reading this post, it’s probably because you are wondering where you can see wild orangutans on your trip to Malaysian Borneo. Depending on where you plan to spend your time, we have listed locations in each of Malaysia’s states in Borneo.
Although these aren’t the ONLY places you might see a wild orangutan, we’ve shared these based on our experiences. Our top two recommendations would be Semenggoh Wildlife Center near Kuching and Kinabatangan River near Sandakan.
So, where can you find wild orangutans in Malaysian Borneo?
Encounter Wild Orangutans in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo
1. Semenggoh Wildlife Center Orangutans
A fantastic experience to see rescued orangutans enjoying their lives in the wild in Malaysian Borneo!
We HIGHLY recommend visiting Kuching to see wild orangutans at the Semenggoh Nature Reserve. Located just 1 hour from Kuching, the Semenggoh Nature Reserve and Wildlife Center is home to over 30 semi-wild orangutans. The phrase “semi-wild” is used because many of the primates that call this reserve home were rescued or surrendered, then rehabilitated and released into the wild here.
Because they are not native to this jungle, the reserve offers two daily feedings to provide for the animals. However, it is 100% up to the orangutans if they want to come to eat or not. During fruit season in the jungle, it is extremely rare to see an orangutan at the feeding platforms. When the jungle provides, the orangutans don’t need the extra food. During the dry season, when there is not enough food in the forest, the orangutans will come out more during the feedings offered by the reserve.
We LOVED Semenggoh because of the dedicated staff, the information provided, and the overall experience. We felt that the staff cared for and put the animals first. There’s no guarantee of seeing orangutans because they live wild in the jungle.
Feeding times are 9 am and 3 pm. We recommend arriving at least 20-30 minutes in advance to purchase your ticket and make your way to the feeding area (a 20-minute walk from the counter).
Read more about Semenggoh Wildlife Center, how to plan your visit, and our experience in this post!
2. Matang Wildlife Centre
Little information is provided before and during a visit to Matang Wildlife Centre. According to our understanding, at this center, orangutans are rehabilitated for release into the jungle at reserves like Semenggoh. However, some are not released because they are considered not “fit for life on their own”.
The animals here are not wild. We note this because you may come across this when visiting Kuching, whether recommended by Google or a taxi driver. The animals here are in enclosures. Many were rescues unable to be released in the wild due to growing up in captivity. The reviews for Matang are mixed, from poorly kept enclosures to a good place for animals that cannot be released. Because of this, we recommend visiting Semenggoh Wildlife Center for all the reasons mentioned above.
Encounter Wild Orangutans in Sabah, Malaysia Borneo
3. Sepilok Orangutan Center
A well-known sanctuary, the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary and Rehabilitation Center, is worth the visit if you are in the northern state of Sabah. However, if you are visiting Kuching, we recommend Semenggoh over Sepilok.
At Sepilok, you can learn about the orangutans in the information center and through video presentations. You may not be told about these by the staff, so make sure not to miss them. In the information center and video, you can learn about the animals and how the rehabilitation process works. They are located separately near the ticket office.
When visiting the orangutans, there are two feeding times, similar to Semenggoh. You are allowed in the center at these times only. You may see the “semi-wild” orangutans at the feeding platforms and some of the orangutans being rehabilitated in the outdoor nursery.
Our Experience at Sepilok:
Compared to the informational and friendly staff at Semenggoh, we felt like the staff at Sepilok cared more about the money and less about the animals or visitors. We were not told any information by the staff and had to follow others without any guidance. Instead, we learned about the video presentation and information center ourselves. The staff did not inform us of the video or information center.
Near the feeding platforms, the visitors were very loud and were not told anything to prepare them for viewing the orangutans. We were shocked by the tourists’ behavior and noise, which was very different from our experience at Semenggoh. In the outdoor nursery, you can view the orangutans from behind glass. Again no information is provided outside the video and information center. The nursery felt very much like a zoo back home. However, we understand from visiting the information center that this is a specific step in the rehabilitation process.
Sepilok costs triple the price of Semenggoh, and although we are HAPPY to pay for the experience since the work they are both doing is SO important, we were disappointed in the staff. For as many staff members as there were in Sepilok, we felt they could have half the staff if they hired people who guided visitors on where to go and how to act in the center.
4. Rainforest Discovery Center in Sepilok
Okay, the chances may be slim, but we couldn’t help our jaws dropping when two girls from the UK told us they spotted a wild orangutan in the trees at the Rainforest Discovery Center in Sepilok. If you’re going to Sepilok, your first and obvious choice for orangutan spotting is the rehabilitation center mentioned above. But, if you have some extra time and are looking for more wildlife, take a stroll around the RDC. Although the chances of spotting an orangutan are slim, the center is known for birdwatching and other wildlife sightings. So it’s worth a visit!
5. Kinabatangan River Safari
A great way to see wild orangutans, and other wildlife, in Malaysian Borneo is by joining a Kinabatangan River Safari.
This is an amazing experience for those who love wildlife and want to see animals in the wild in Borneo. However, please note that your chances of seeing an orangutan are lower than in the locations mentioned above because the animals are 100% wild here.
During our 3-Day 2-Night Safari, we were not lucky enough to see orangutans but know of two groups on the river at the same time that did. So it’s all about timing here!
The orangutans you may see along the Kinabatangan River are native to this jungle. You may see them in the trees along the river or even near the lodge where you are staying. A couple of weeks before our visit, our guide saw an orangutan during a day hike in the jungle!
Wildlife on the Kinabatangan River
If you do decide to visit Kinabatangan, you have the chance to see so many different animals. Although a sighting of an orangutan or a pygmy elephant might be rarer, your time spent here will not disappoint. There’s so much to see, from monkeys like Macaques and Proboscis to birds such as Hornbills and Kingfishers.
Due to the loss of habitat in the area, the Forestry Department has taken steps to ensure the animals can use all of the remaining jungle. Because orangutans cannot swim, the forestry department has put ropes across a smaller river off the Kinabatangan. These ropes allow the orangutans to cross the smaller river and roam around the little habitat they have left.
Although we were not lucky enough to spot an orangutan during our time on the Kinabatangan River, we still recommend this experience. Read this post (COMING SOON) to plan your Kinabatangan River Safari and learn more about the wildlife in the area!
Visiting Orangutans in Borneo
We have listed 5 places to spot orangutans on your trip to Borneo. There are other places in Borneo where orangutans may be seen, but we wanted to share our research and experiences.
If you choose another location in hopes of seeing an orangutan, we highly encourage doing research beforehand. Therefore, ensuring the places you visit use ethical practices is essential. These animals should be kept wild and not in captivity for tourism purposes. Often, our desire to see and experience leads to some pretty shady actions taken by people in hopes of making some money. We witnessed this same issue in places in Sri Lanka with elephants.
When planning a trip to Borneo, please make sure the places you visit use sustainable and ethical practices. Orangutans lose more and more of their habitat every day. From being captured for exotic pets to habitat loss from palm oil plantations, orangutans are endangered. So be kind and do your part!
We hope you enjoy your time in Borneo and are lucky enough to spot an orangutan or two! Let us know if you do visit one of the places mentioned and how your trip goes. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us, we are happy to answer!