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Orangutans are an incredible animal – did you know that they share almost 97% of our genetic make-up? They are highly intelligent primates, but sadly, orangutans are on the brink of extinction due to their habitat’s deforestation. While you used to be able to see orangutans in the wild over a much greater range in Asia, they are now only found in Borneo and Indonesia.
If seeing wild Orangutans is on your bucket list, please choose an ethical animal tourism experience that contributes to their conservation. This post has all the information you need about where to see Orangutans in the wild ethically, plus tips on how you can help save them.
Types of Orangutans
There are two species of orangutans; the Bornean and Sumatran orangutan. Sadly, both species are classified as critically endangered, meaning they face an extremely high risk of extinction.
This is mainly due to habitat loss. In the last 30 years, Orangutans have lost around 80% of their habitat, largely in part to deforestation, as rainforests are cut down to make way for palm oil and other agricultural plantations. Due to this, they are more difficult than ever to see in the wild. However, there are still a few places left in the world where you can see Orangutans.
When choosing a place to see Orangutans in the wild, ensure that’s in an ethical organization helping to contribute to their conservation.
Where to See Orangutans in Borneo
Borneo, an island that’s part of Malaysia, is a paradise for nature lovers. I ended up there by chance on my way to the Philippines. I had an amazing experience spending a week on the Kinabatangan River, visiting the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, and diving at Sipadan Island.
The Kinabatangan River
The Kinabatangan River is one of the best places to see wild Orangutans in Borneo and other wildlife. The river is home to over ten different primate species – notably the proboscis monkey and the orangutan —and more than 50 mammals, including the adorable Borneo pygmy elephant. On top of that, there are over 200 different species of birds in the area!
The best way to experience the Kinabatangan river is to stay at an eco-lodge for a few days. Most offer inclusive packages, where you pay a set price to stay at the lodge, which includes accommodation, food, and guided hikes and river cruises to look for wildlife.
I booked a 3D/2N tour package through the Nature Lodge Sepilok to stay at their lodge on the river, which was an amazing experience. During my time there, we took four river cruises, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon each day, and two hikes during the day and night to see wildlife with a guide.
The river cruises were amazing. We saw so many different species of monkeys, as well as birds. Sadly, we weren’t lucky enough to see Orangutans during my time there, but even so, I still loved the experience.
The lodge is the perfect place to relax. It’s set right in the jungle, yet the facilities are clean and even have AC inside the rooms. I booked the cheaper dorm room, but I was the only person in it, so I had it to myself. Always a win while backpacking!
The food at the lodge is great. It’s buffet-style for each meal with a wide selection. Even though I don’t eat meat, they were more than accommodating in cooking me extra veggie-friendly things to eat.
Our guide was amazing and so knowledgeable about the area and all the wildlife that we saw. Most of the Kinabatangan region inhabitants are Orang Sungai, who have lived in the area for hundreds of years, surviving off the land. Today, most locals are engaged in the hospitality industry as the area has become a hotspot for ecotourism.
What’s amazing about the packages through Nature Lodge Sepilok is that they are affordable, even for backpackers. In 2018, For 380 Malaysia Ringlets (90 USD), I booked a 3N/2D River cruise package that included transportation from Sepilok, three nights accommodation in the lodge, four river cruises, two guided hikes, and all the meals at the lodge.
Danum Valley, Sabah
Danum Valley is another great place to see orangutans in Borneo. It is estimated there are around 500 living in the 400 km2 rainforest reserve. Along with wild orangutans, this reserve is a home for proboscis monkeys and pygmy elephants, as well as rare birds.
There are numerous walking trails through the reserve to explore as you look for wildlife. Although orangutan sightings are not guaranteed, walking through this pristine wilderness reserve is sure to be a magical experience.
If you want to visit the Danum Valley, a great place to stay is the Borneo Rainforest Lodge. It sets on the Danum River banks, so you may be able to spot monkeys and wild orangutans from your room!
Batang Ai National Park, Sarawak
Batang Ai National Park is a remote spot on the Indonesian border where you can spot rare wildlife. It actually has the highest orangutan population density in central Borneo!
Borneo Adventures offers three different tours in the park where you can take your chances to see orangutans in the wild. The tours are multi-day adventures, and they say you have a 30-40% chance of a sighting on Borneo Adventure’s five and six-day orangutan tours.
Tabin Wildlife Reserve
The Tabin Wildlife Reserve is the release point for orangutans after they’ve been rehabilitated from Sepilok, which I have more info about below. Aside from Orangutans, the reserve is also home to Borneo Pygmy Elephant, Sumatran Rhinoceros, and Tembadau, as well as seven of Sabah’s eight primal species. This place is a wildlife lover’s paradise!
The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
While this isn’t completely wild, the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is a great place to go for guaranteed Orangutan sightings while supporting their conservation.
The center was founded in 1964 to rehabilitate injured, orphaned, and rescued orangutans. About 60-80 Orangutans are living there, which visitors can come and watch. The best time to visit is during feeding time, which is at 10 am and 3 pm.
I visited here while I was in Sepilok and really enjoyed my day at the orangutan rehabilitation center; it was so much fun to watch the orangutans play with each other!
As Orangutans are becoming much harder to see in the wild, the center provides a fantastic opportunity to see these amazing creatures up close while supporting their conservation.
Right next to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center is the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Center, another amazing organization doing work in sun bears’ conservation.
Both centers are located next to each other and can be easily visited in one day.
If you need a place to stay in Sepilok overnight, I recommend the Nature Lodge Sepilok. The lodge is just a 20-minute walk to the Orangutang Rehabilitation Centre. They offer both shared dorms and private accommodation at great prices, and you can also book tours to the Kinabatangan river from here.
Where to See Orangutans in Indonesia
Tanjung Puting National Park
Tanjung Puting National Park is one of the best places to see orangutans in Indonesia. This 3,040 km2 park is home to over 5,000 orangutans and proboscis monkeys, gibbons, and over 200 species of birds.
You can explore the park on foot or via a traditional Klotok boat, where you can sleep on deck at night.
Where to See Orangutans in Sumatra
The Orangutans in Sumatra are even rarer than those found in Borneo. Due to deforestation, there are only about 6,000 left in the wild. The best place to see them Gunung Leuser National Park, which is just outside Bukit Lawang in North Sumatra, Indonesia.
To see the Orangutans inside the park, you can arrange a tour through your accommodation. Hotel Orangutang looks like a great choice. It’s set right in the jungle, so you may be able to see monkeys from your room! It’s got great reviews as well.
Gunung Leuser National Park offers anywhere from 2-7 day tours through the rainforest. Inside the park, you can see Orangutans and several other amazing species, including Sumatran rhinoceros and wild tigers.
How You Can Help Save the Orangutans
It’s not too late to save the orangutans. Here are some ways you can help make a difference in the future of these amazing animals, even from home.
Avoid products that contain unsustainable palm oil. The main reason orangutans are facing extinction is that the habitat is being destroyed for products using unsustainable palm oil. As long as the market demands these products, companies will keep destroying habitats to produce them.
By choosing products that are made sustainably, you can help shift demand. Look for the RSPO label to ensure you purchase products made with certified sustainable palm oil. The World Wildlife Foundation has more tips on this.
Support a charitable donation. Donating money to an organization working to help orangutans is an easy way to make a difference. The WWF, Orangutan Foundation, or Sumatran Orangutan Society are great ones to choose.
Join a wildlife volunteer program while traveling. Volunteering your time to organizations in Borneo and Indonesia, working on the ground to save orangutans, is a great way to help. There are many benefits to working on a conservation project for both you and the animals.
Spread awareness about the threat orangutans’ face and how others can help. By simply sharing information like this with your friends and family and on social media, you can bring attention to these issues and help others make a difference too.
There you have it, the best places to see orangutans in the wild throughout Borneo and Indonesia. I hope this post could inspire you with some new destinations to check out on your travels. Seeing orangutans in Borneo was an eye-opening experience for me, I know it will be for you too.