Where to See Wild Orangutan in Borneo?


Orangutans are great apes, as opposed to monkeys. These animals come from tropical forest areas in Sumatra and Borneo/Kalimantan. Based on these origins, orangutans are divided into two sub-species, namely the Sumatran Orangutan and the Bornean Orangutan. Fyi, orangutans are primates that have a lot in common with humans. According to research, human and orangutan having 97% of DNA in common. Physically, orangutans are not much different from humans. This primate has 5 fingers in both hands. They are also have complete senses like humans such as hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch.

Mother and Baby Orangutan (Photo by Carine 06)

Another similarity between orangutans and humans is about breeding. Orangutans gestation periode usually from 8.5 to 9 months before giving birth to baby orangutans. And baby orangutans will usually be weaned after reaching the age of 6 years.

Usually a single offspring is born (rarely 2), weighing about 3½ pounds. The young stay close to their mother until they reach adolescence. Orangutans have the longest “infancy” of the great apes. At Tanjung Puting National Park, females typically carry their young up to the age of five years when crossing the canopy from tree to tree.

It seems logical if you want to see orangutans when you come all the way to Southeast Asia. Ofcourse, you want to see these wild animal in its natural habitat such as national parks and other nature reserves.

Actually there are more of these places than of "rehab centres". But most tourists seem to think it is too much trouble to bother, since seeing the apes in the wild often involves more inconvenience. It could be you need to reach such reserves away from the cities. Then having to walk in humid, muddy rainforest and actually spending time looking for the apes. However, easy possiblities where you can count on seeing wild orangutans within a day or two without even having to walk also exist. 

Some people argue that wild orangutans should be left alone in their natural habitat. Though this is naively overlooking the fact the loggers destroying their habitat pose a far greater danger to wild orangutans than do tourists peeking at them from below. 

By visiting habitats of wild orangutans we will actually contribute to their continued preservation by demonstrating outside interest in them! This is especially true in Kalimantan, where the lack of attention actually seems to have encouraged illegal logging in many reserves.

Well, your options to see orang utan in wild include the following:

Taman Nasional Tanjung Putting and Camp Leakey

Tanjung Puting National Park (TNPP) is one of the most famous place to watch orangutan. But, some travellers says that this national park is overrated. TNPP covers 4000 sq kms of peat swamp along the coast. While it was established to protect wild orangutans, those are very rarely seen here by visitors. What the visitors will sees in this locatio is orangutans which is"ex-captives" at Camp Leakey. 

Camp Leakey started as a centre for research on wild orangutans, made famous by Birute Galdikas. Later, it became a rehabilitation centre. Located in Tanjung Puting National Park near the twin coastal towns of Pangkalanbun/Kumai (easily reached from Java by airplane or Pelni ships).

This orangutan rehabilitation center are relatively remoteness from main tourist destinations or routes. That’s why this place relative feels less commercialized and circus-like other rehabilitation center. Before visiting the place, you need to get a permit document from the Tanjung Puting National Park office in Pangkalanbun (Jl. Malijo No.3).

This is also a good park to see Proboscys Monkeys.

Gunung Leuser National Park and Bukit Lawang Rehabilitation Center

This is the only national park where you can see wild population of Sumatran orangutans easily. Gunung Leuser National Park located within the territory of the Nangro Aceh Darussalam Province and North Sumatra Province. One of the best places to watch orangutans in this national park area is Bukit Lawang. Bukit Lawang located in Bohorok District, Langkat Regency, North Sumatra. At Bukit Lawang, visitors can see orangutans by trekking in the forest.

Most tourists get no further than touristy Bukit Lawang (see under "rehabilitation centres, below) on the park's edge. But if you want to see wild orangutans, you can go to Gurah (also known as "Ketambe", a name that techincally refers to a research area across the river), right in the center of the national park area. You can use bus via Kutacane from Medan. 

Gurah has a good trail-system in hilly rainforest. There is also guest house accomodation with a range of cheap, and guides who are far less pushy than those at Bukit Lawang. Actually, you can explore most of the trails without guides. Or, take the quiet main road cutting across the park worthwhile and just walk.

Wild orangutans are quite easy to see around this area, you can also see Rafflesia flowers. Use Gurah as a starting point for longer trips (multi-day treks). Some of the parks highest mountains peak can be reached from this place, though for seeing wildlife the area around Gurah itself is best.

If you Gurah is too far for you, try Tangkahan. Tangkahan is an ecotourism site, it can reach in 4 hours by bus from Medan (or by hiring an ojek or 4 WD from Bukit Lawang) on the south-eastern edge of the park. 

Taman Nasional Kutai

There is at least 700 individu (estimation) of wild orangutans live in Kutai National Park. They are very easy to see and the access is also very easy, yet visitors are very rare. Tourist can also see Proboscys monkeys and gibbons easily. Unfortunately the forest itself is devastated, particularly the parts which is easily accessible. This is one from some reasons why the wildlife is so easy to see here.

To reach the park, we need a few hours up the coastal road from Samarinda, the East Kalimantan capital. Before enter the national park, you need to visit the national park office (Jl. Awang Long) in the town of Bontang to get your permit and the latest info on prices.

From Bontang to Sangatta, you can access to 3-4 different places.

Your first destination in the park could be Teluk Kaba on the coast (an hour's walk off the road). This place has great board-walks through beautiful mangroves forest. In the forest, you might see otters or monitor lizards. There is basic accomodation here, but the forest is devastated.

The next stop you can visit the Sangkimah ranger post. This Ranger Post located in one of the least damaged forest in the park. This area has short trails to explore.

After the ranger pos in Sangkima Village, go on to Sangatta, here you can find several cheap accomodation. In Sangata, you can hire a boat to watch proboscys monkeys dowstream from town. Or you can go upstream to reach the orangutan research station at Mentoko. Mentoko has the best trail-system in the national park.Not only orang utan,  you have a great chances to see, hornbills, pheasants, etc. You may see these from the boat itself!

Betung Kerihun National Park and Danau Sentarum National Park

Betung Kerihun National Park is vast and remote wild reserve located in north east of West Kalimantan along the border with Sarawak, Malaysia. While the Danau Sentarum National Park located not far from the previous one.

With a total area of approximately 800,000 hectares (TNBK) and 127.393,40 ha (TNDS), TNBK and TNDS keep extraordinary biodiversity. Due to the uniqueness of the landscape and the high biodiversity, TNBK and TNDS should be one of the ecotourism destinations that offers the challenge of exotic wild tropical rainforests. Located at an altitude of 300-1960 m above sea level, BKNP is a natural habitat for 1,216 species of plant diversity consisting of 418 genera and 110 families (75% endemic to Borneo).

There are many places to stay at Betung Kerihun National Park. For those of you who want to enjoy the traditional lifestyle of traditional Dayak tribes, you can stay at Betang House which is open to tourists.

In addition, there are also homestays scattered in the four areas of the Embaloh, Sibau, Mendalam and Kapuas watersheds. For those who like camping, there are also special areas (camping ground), such as in Karangan Laboh, Muara Tekelan, and Camp Derian. 

Before coming to the national park, you need to visit the park office in the town of Putussibau (Jl. Komodor Yos Sudarso 130) where you can get your permit and advice. The parts of the park nearest to Putussibau could be reached along the Sibau and Mendalam rivers. This area richest in wildlife, and also has the highest density of orangutans.

To get there, from Putussibau, take a Putussibau – Badau route bus, get off from the bus at the junction for the Iban longhouse village of Sadap. In Sadap village, you can hire a boat (about Rp. 500.000) and guides to explore upriver. You will also have to take all your own food and camping equipment - though if you are not fussy, basic stuff could be found in Sadap.

Tempat lain untuk melihat orang utan di sekitar TNBK adalah di area koridor yang menghubungkan kawasan TNBK dan TNDS. Koridor keduata kawasan yang cukup dikenal adalah sungai Labian dan Leboyan. Kawasan ini memiliki ekosistem yang relatif masih alami dan menjadi salah satu spot orang utan liar.

Gunung Palung National Park

Gunung Palung National Park is one of the best place to see wild orangutans. The trail-system and and the density of wildlife you can seen here is unparalelled. Gunung Palung's profile may rise now that it has been included in Lonely Planet's latest Indonesia guide.

Researchers estimated that there is about 2000 to 2500 orangutans live in GPNP - perhaps 10% of the world's total! Several wild orangutans here have been habituated to observers by researchers who follow them daily, so they could usually lead you to one if you didn't find any on your own. Agile gibbons, maroon langurs, hornbills are all over the research area in greater numbers than anywhere else.

To get to the park, from Pontianak you can use airplane to Ketapang City (or use direct flight from Jakarta). Before get in to the park, you need to get permits for a stay at Cabang Panti Research Center and guides from the park office. The Park Office located at Jl. Kh. Wahid Hasyim 41/A Ketapang City. The gateway to the park is the coastal town of Ketapang which is can reached by a short bus-ride from the city. Followed by a 20 km hike through partially logged forest. 

The park has basic accomodation facility. You may also need to take a compulsory guide from the Ketapang office. But if you don’t, you could easily explore the area on your own anyway since trails at Cabang Panti usually marked every 50 metres.

Danum Valley, Sabah, Malaysia

Danum Valley is part of a 400 km2 rainforest reserve, this place could offers your best chance of seeing the orangutans in their natural habitat. Recent studies estimated there is around 500 orangutans live in the area.

Located in a stunning place on a bend on the Danum River. The lodge offers a network of well laid out trails. There is also local villagers guides who can help you to spot wild orangutan. Walking in an early morning on the canopy walkway is a delight and often the best way to spot orangutans and other primates.

You can also staying at the Danum Valley Field Centre as another option. This facility actually is a research station, there are no guides available to accompany you, but you’ll feel as though you are at the forefront of protecting these endangered creature.

Kinabatangan River, Sabah, Malaysia

Kinabatangan likely the most prevalent (which doesn't really mean the best) choice, where you can see wild orangutans. Unfortunately, the reason behind this is they can't stow away in a limited portion of timberland left between the oil-palm manors along the waterway! All things considered, a scope of other natural life, quite crocodiles, proboscys monkeys and elephants are easy to see here as well. 

And since most wildlife-viewing can bee enjoyed from boats, this is one place where anyone can see wild orangutans and other primates without having to walk in the forest. 

The main visitors area is close to the town of Sukau, which is the place natural life is most easiest to find. While most guests here go to costly cabins (like the Sukau Rainforest Lodge) on a visit, Sukau can be reached by public transport (5-10 RM) from a turn-off at the Sandakan - Lahad Datu road, and there are 2 cheap lodging options in/near the village: a very basic 10 RM Rest House that can be booked via Karim's Coffee Shop, and the scenically located 20 RM Sukau B&B outside the village by the riverside. 

Travellers have also reported being able to arrange cheap homestays in the village. Boat rental can also be arranged independently in Sukau. Rather, a lot less well off voyagers/visitors select to visit one of the "Jungle Camps" further up the waterway, booked on the web or through visitor houses close Sepilok. 

The facility are very basic, but far from the crowds. Uncle Tan's, the oldest one, can still get very busy - check the Nature Lodge Kinabatangan if that bothers you. However, wildlife is somewhat less plentiful than near Sukau. If you want the least expensive method for visiting the Kinabatangan, you can basing yourself at the Miso Walai Homestay in Batu Putih town, depicted in answer #17 beneath. 

Either Sukau or Batu Putih is additionally a decent base from which to visit the Gomantong Caves (simply off the way to Sukau), that are encompassed by the last fix of essential backwoods in the region. I saw a bigger number of orangutans there than along the stream itself! 

The Kinabatangan River is Sabah's longest stream. It is fixed with ensured holds, making it a decent place to spot wild orangutan in its natural habitat, as well as pygmy elephants, proboscis monkeys, crocodiles and the majority of Borneo's hornbill.

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