Friday, May 11, 2018
Getting closer to the Orangutans of Borneo
I absolutely dig wildlife holidays. I feel they allow us to see nature in its rawest and truest form. That sheer combination of awe, fear and joy when you see millions of animals migrating from Tanzania to Kenya, when you stand close to a family of gorillas in Uganda or Rwanda, watch a tiger walk by your jeep in the forests of India or see the Polar Bears in the arctic region of Canada, is a feeling that transcends many levels of travel happiness. One such rich wildlife experience that the wildlife lover in you needs to have is to get close to the Orang-utans of Borneo.
Orangutan, which literally translates into ‘man of the forest’ in Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malay, is one of those intelligent primates that is known for its similarities to us humans in terms of social circles, behavioural patterns and its ability to walk upright. Seeing this thick haired aurburn/orange primate swinging from one branch to the other, conversing with other orangutans using interesting sounds, walking on its two limbs and watching the different expressions on its face up close is quite a surreal experience. They are even known to build nests as their sleeping pads, which is a stupendous act in itself.
As these great apes are found only in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra, it is the perfect excuse for an adventurous rainforest holiday. While the forests of Indonesian Borneo are home to the highest number of orangutans, I feel the best place for a sure shot orangutan interaction are the rainforests of Malaysian Borneo. They offer the perfect blend of easy access, good infrastructure and organized wildlife experience.
You could either see them in the wild (where sightings would depend on your luck) or you could catch them in action at the Orangutan rehabilitation sanctuaries where injured and poaching victims are taken care of till they are ready to be left in the wild. If you ask me, I am always in favor of the wild as it gives you the full rainforest experience, which is so much more than just an interaction with the Orangutan. You get to experience some of the remotest rainforests in the world, appreciate its unique flora and fauna and come across other unique species of animals such as the Pygmy elephant, Malay Sun Bear, Sumatran Rhinoceros, Proboscis Monkey, 10 plus varieties of hornbills, the Western Tarsier and so much more. Most of these species are endemic to this region and cannot be seen elsewhere and that gives this wildlife sighting a special ring to it.
The top three places for a wild rainforest experience in Malaysian Borneo would be Maliau Basin conservation area, Danum valley and Kinabatangan wildlife sanctuary. All three of these places are located in the Sabah province of Malaysia and are located pretty close to a domestic airport and are well managed by the wildlife authorities who offer everything from birdwatching, jungle treks, night treks, boat rides, canopy walks to nature photography. They are however a bit on the pricier side and need advance bookings and a lot of patience.
If you are running short on time, money and/or patience, the next best way to get close to the wild is by visiting an orangutan rehabilitation sanctuary. One of the best ones is the Sepilok Orangutan rehabilitation center that is located at the edge of the Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve in the Sabah province of North East Borneo. This place, home to about 80 orangutans, gives you a good peek into the lives of these primates in a natural conservation rescue area. The best Orangutan experience is had during their feeding times and hence it is prudent to know the feeding schedule so that you can see them throw all their antics. The center is also a great place to learn about this ape, what it eats, its behavior, so on and so forth.
Whether you opt for the wild rainforest experience or the rehabilitation center, the experience of getting close to an orangutan is going to be super special and one that you will treasure all your life. After all, only a few thousands of this species survive worldwide. Sabah and Malaysian Borneo will throw many other adventures your way during your wild rainforest holiday to make it an unbelievable experience.
How to get there: The nearest domestic airport would be Sandakan and may be Tawau. Kota Kinabalu would be your nearest international airport. Air Asia has excellent coverage here.
Tips: Remember to carry DEET insect repellant, full sleeved cotton clothing, sunglasses, a pair of binoculars, a flashlight or headlamp for those night treks and lots of sunscreen.