Hanging with Orangutans at Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre


mum and baby orangutan

Ever since our first trip with the kids to Asia in 2009, Colin has dreamed of seeing orangutans in the wild. We visited Kota Kinabalu in Sabah on that first trip but the kids were so young and tired from the heat, and the travel distances were so long that we decided wait until the children were older and settle for seeing orangutans at the zoo. And it wouldn't be right for me to mention that zoo trip without taking the opportunity (again) to mention that during that visit Colin matched his strength against a young girl orangutan in a coconut opening contest and lost badly. If I didn't tell you the kids would!

As soon as we decided to go back to Borneo our 'one thing we must do' was to see Orangutans in the wild.

On the outskirts of Kuching, 30 minutes from the centre of town is the Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, established to care for wild animals which have either been found injured in the forest, orphaned, or were previously kept as illegal pets. The centre cares for a wide range of native species, but it's orangutan program is what makes it famous.

The centre aims to rehabilitate animals in order to release them into the wild. The orangutans that visit the centre were originally animals that were in their care and over a period of several years were taken out every day by the centre's staff to suitable places in the surrounding forest where they were taught to forage for food, climb trees and swing ... all the essential skills they need to survive!

Once they are able to fend for themselves they are released into the surrounding forest where they spend most of their time living in the jungle but they do occasionally return to the centre for the twice daily feeding the centre runs. They don't always show up ... which is actually great as it means they are supporting themselves in the wild, but if fruit is scarce they will usually drop by at least once a day.

Orangutans sarawak

We were lucky enough to visit during the season where there is very little fruit on the trees in the jungle. Lucky because this meant that 6-7 orangutans had decided to visit the centre for morning tea! We were so busy being in awe of being up close to so many orangutans we lost count!

mother orangutan

The feeding stations are set up close enough to the edge of the jungle that visitors can see these amazing creatures up close but far enough away that they don't feel threatened. Most of the time we were withing 10 metres of them.

It was amazing. They were really active, alternating between eating, climbing and swinging across the suspended ropes between the trees.

Sadam the orangutan

Which is a hazard in itself - we just missed getting peed on from a great height by one of the young males! Noah thought that was hilarious. He probably wouldn't have if he'd been peed on!

mum and baby orangutan

Ritchie, the dominant male was there. He's simply huge. And strong. Seeing him smash open a coconut in about three seconds flat certainly leaves you with no doubt who would win in an arm wrestling contest. I don't know if having the longest body hair is important in the orangutan community but if so he wins that too.

Ritchie the big male

He arrived halfway through the feeding session and it was fascinating to see how his presence changed every other orangutan's behaviour. The mother and bub disappeared into the nearby trees until he had finished eating. The younger males all hung back or quickly got in first and ran off into the trees with their stolen fruits.

My bananas!

Visiting the Centre

Semenggoh is 30 minutes from the centre of Kuching and holds two public feeding sessions each day - 9-10am and 3-3.30pm. The staff are fairly stict about pushing people on the door once the session finishes to ensure the animals don't get too overwhelmed. Actually they were quite strict during the whole visit to ensure public safety and the safety of their orangutans. But they were also very friendly and happy to chat or share information about each animal and the program. The morning session is supposed to be your best option for seeing orangutans, so that of course means it's the most popular one. This was the session we attended and there were approximately 100 other people there.

Entry costs RM3 (1USD) for adults, while young children are free. We were told by our driver that if you are unlucky enough to not see orangutans during your morning visit you can return in the afternoon and reuse your ticket for no extra costs. Or if you just want to see them a second time! You could easily go to the nearby crocodile farm or Annas Rais Longhouse, have some lunch at a nearby restaurant and return to the park for the afternoon session.

Public bus number 6 runs from Kuching to the Centre but it's a long walk from the front gate to the viewing area - it looked like a 20 minute walk with kids along a winding, hilly road. If you go by car or taxi they will drop you inside the park right outside the viewing area.

Don't bring any food into the park. Apart from the fact that it's one of the centre's rules, we've come off second best in a food fight against 10kg macaques so I honestly don't want to think about what would happen if a wild orangutan decided it wanted my apple!

can we go now?

You can buy drinks at the information and souvenir shop close to the feeding area but no food. There are plenty of shady spots to rest ... or nap within the grounds if the heat gets too much.

no gambling?

See the last point on the sign - Gambling is also prohibited within the park. We weren't able to figure out exactly why they felt the need to stress that point. We liked to imagine that part of the rehabilitation program was teaching the orangutans to play blackjack and now they're all addicted to gambling so they're asking visitors not to gamble in front of them.

As good a explanation as any I think!


This post if part of Delicious Baby's Photo Friday

Next Post: Kuching, a lovely surprise Previous Post: Headhunters and turkeys: Jungle hideaway in Sarawak

About the Author


Tracy Burns

Tracy always talked about traveling a lot more than she ever traveled. Married to an avid traveler that thankfully changed. After almost two years exploring South East Asia and Australia, enjoying the most amazing food, temples, beaches, and more importantly every sweet food treat she can find, Tracy is keen to explore further afield. Tracy juggles homeschooling, playtime, blogging and learning more about photography while they travel. Some days she juggles them better than others!

Comments (10):

  1. What a great experience - your pictures are so awesome - much better than seeing them play listlessly behind bars at a zoo!

    Have a great weekend!

  2. What an amazing experience! I'm going to show this post to my 8 year old when she gets home from school - orangutans are her absolutely favourite animal and she would love to see them in the wild.

  3. What an amazing experience for you and your children. I could probably watch those creatures all day long and more.

  4. I wish we'd have gone there! We found sepilok a victim of it's own success. Packed out and overly touristy to be enjoyable. I heard they're doing good things for the sun bears behind the scenes. We were told the palm oil problem is bigger in Sarawak than Sabah but without seeing it it's hard to gauge.

  5. @Becca - I agree, we've seen some very sad orangutan and other animal enclosures in zoos around the world. It was nice to see them in a more natural, free setting.

    @Lisa - I hope your daughter enjoyed seeing the photos. Has she looked on Youtube for orangutan movies. There are some great ones there - my kids love the David Attenborough one from Sarawak where the orangutans are mimicking human activities like hammering and sawing.

    @Sonja - we could have definitely stayed all day watching them. Col has an ambition now to find a centre he could volunteer at.

    @Miriam - Palm oil didn't look to be that big an industry around Kuching. Very little palm oil at all. Not like the drive from KL to Singapore where it's nothing but palm oil trees. But I've heard it's a problem in a lot of other areas in Sarawak.

  6. What lovely photos! If you want to learn more about Orangutans and the crisis facing them in the wild, please visit the Orangutan Outreach website: http://redapes.org

  7. Thank you for sharing the link to your organisation. The programs you are running look amazing. We'd love to learn more about the environmental pressures facing orangutans (I hope I didn't sound too glib about deforestation and palm oil around Kuching, I'm sure it's a big problem but I was expecting to see palm forests like on the peninsular that go on for hundreds of kilometers. Perhaps we were just in the wrong area!) Is there any opportunity for families to volunteer? Otherwise I am sure my husband will look into it just for himself at some point.

  8. Thank you for assisting the plight to protect orangutans. Not enough people realise just how endangered these animals are. Keep spreading the message.

  9. Thanks so much for posting such amazing pictures. My three boys sat over my shoulders asking all kinds of questions. The small details, such as the smashing of a coconut were great to read to the boys.

  10. Thank you Elizabeth. If the boys like the coconut part they might like this picture which I didn't put in the post http://www.flickr.com/photos/ourtravellifestyle/6929298146/in/set-72157629447064648 - they first ripped off part of the outer husk and then smashed it against the tree. It was amazing. This video is amazing too - my children loved watching it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFACrIx5SZ0

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