Borneo Adventures I - Encounter with the Great Ape of Asia

Published on 19 November 2023 at 22:47

Orang Utan is a malay word and means "person of the forest".  The Orang Utan is the only great ape found in Asia, where it roams the tropical rain forests of Borneo and Sumatra. This fascinating and intelligent animal is perfectly adapted to a life in the tree tops and therefore heavily relies on its natural habitat. Three subspecies of Orang Utan are recognized today and all of them are critically endangered. I was blessed to experience an Orang Utan in the midst of Borneo's beautiful jungle.

Here's the story of my unforgettable encounter...

Where is it?

Borneo is the third largest island in the world and is shared between three countries - Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Approx. 100,000 Orang Utans live within this island's lush landscapes. While Borneo boasts numerous national parks and reserve forests for Orang Utan encounters, the Semenggoh Orang Utan Reserve stands out as a premier destination for witnessing these majestic great apes in their undisturbed habitat. The Semenggoh Reserve is located just 20 km South of Kuching, the capital of Sarawak in Malaysia, Semenggoh Reserve offers an unparalleled natural spectacle. Flights are available to Kuching Airport and this city can serve as a great base for expeditions to the natural wonders of Borneo. The Semenggoh Nature Reserve is conveniently accessible with Taxi or with public transport and the entrance fee is less than 2 Euros!

The experience

My time on Borneo was marked by intense daytime heat and the nightly arrival of tropical rainstorms accompanied by thunder that seemed to shake the earth. The thunder was unlike anything I'd ever experienced before!

I had set my sights on seeing the Orang Utans, making Kuching an ideal home base. The Marco Polo guesthouse, managed by a wonderfully friendly and knowledgeable elderly couple native to Borneo, offered both a comfortable stay and invaluable guidance. It was from there that I gathered all the necessary information to reach Semenggoh Nature Reserve.

Semenggoh originated as a rehabilitation haven for injured Orang Utans and those formerly kept as pets. Within its verdant rain forest, dedicated guides worked tirelessly to reintroduce these apes to their natural habitat. Over the years, their efforts bore fruit, resulting in a thriving troop of 27 individuals now calling the Nature Reserve home. They've largely acclimated to their wild surroundings, yet remain somewhat accustomed to human presence, frequently visiting feeding platforms twice daily. It's within this setting that encounters with the Orang Utans are most likely to occur.

Upon arrival at Semenggoh, a prominent ape statue and the headquarters welcome visitors. Acquiring a ticket grants the option of a 20-minute hike or a ride on an electric train to reach the feeding platforms. These feedings, spanning two hours and occurring twice daily, offer the unique opportunity to witness the Orang Utans, although their appearance isn't guaranteed as they emerge from the jungle to partake in the freely offered fruits. During the anticipation of the apes' arrival, visitors have the chance to explore a petite museum that chronicles the development of Semenggoh. This place introduces the diverse individuals residing within this reserve forest, offering insights into their stories and backgrounds.

I arrived at Semenggoh on a blistering afternoon, the temperature soaring close to 40°C, compounded by suffocating humidity. The preceding night had been tumultuous, with thunderous storms prompting guides to speculate that the Orang Utans might have sought shelter deep within the rain forest. Despite the slim odds, a few dozen of us gathered, hopeful for a glimpse of these great apes. While waiting, I explored the lush surroundings, alive with vibrant vegetation and a symphony of bird calls. Yet, no sign of the apes confirmed the guides' predictions. Some retreated due to the sweltering heat.

Then, a revelation. Not at the feeding platforms, but amidst the jungle between the platforms and headquarters, a sighting occurred. Remaining visitors followed the guides, and after some time, an Orang Utan emerged from the dense foliage. It was a semi-adult male from the troop—a curious soul, investigating the aftermath of the nightly storm. Initially timid, he gradually approached, carrying a piece of fruit that he settled down to eat on a sturdy branch. Over time, his curiosity increased, and he ventured closer to investigate us, the guests in his realm.

The sight was humbling—a large, sentient being emerging from the forest. With long limbs, he effortlessly swung from tree to tree, showing off his remarkable adaptation to an arboreal lifestyle. His eyes held an unmistakable humanity, mirroring his demeanor. For thirty mesmerizing minutes, we stood in awe, observing this close relative of ours before he gracefully retreated deeper into his jungle sanctuary.

I stood transfixed, gazing into the depths of the Malaysian jungle, catching glimpses of red-orange fur that soon vanished as the magnificent creature retreated. This encounter once again made clear to me the profound significance of protecting these beautiful animals and preserving their habitat from the human destruction.


See my amazing encounter in the slide show below:



Borneo Orang Utan (Pongo pygmaeus)

Useful links

- Marco Polo guesthouse in Kuching

- Semenggoh Nature Reserve

Add comment


There are no comments yet.