The distant rustling of leaves first announces the presence of an orangutan in the dense canopy overhead. Gradually, the rhythmic swaying of the boughs makes it clear that the ‘Great Man of the Forest’ is on the move.
As the almost imperceptible swishing builds to a distinct clatter and crashing, the graceful, almost balletic, swinging ape passes overhead. Moving with purpose and panache, it quickly covers a lot of ground before pausing to ponderously pick forest fruits and enjoy a much-deserved rest.
With their distinctive reddish-brown hair, amiable, expressive faces and soulful eyes, spotting an orangutan in its Bornean natural habitat is a sight that tugs at the heartstrings. Critically endangered, our close relative is one of the largest tree-dwelling mammals in the world but today they must survive in much-diminished rainforests that have been subject to extensive deforestation.
In recent decades, a movement has arisen to reverse this trend and protect the remaining areas of rainforest, while simultaneously providing an independent income for local communities. These eco-tourism projects offer you the chance to experience an unforgettable orangutan encounter.
Take a guided trek through the forest to marvel at the giant nests situated high in the trees. Orangutans make these every single day to rest and sleep undisturbed.
Drift down the rivers - in a motorboat or traditional wooden ‘klotok’ - to marvel at the calm, assured and athletic way that these large apes swing through slender branches to forage for fruits.
Visit a feeding station in the deep forest where rangers supplement the orangutans’ diminishing food sources. Here, you can see up close how the orangutans’ intelligence is expressed in their slow, considered movements.
Learn about conservation efforts at a rehabilitation centre and understand the risks that continue to face the habitat and survival of these endangered primates.
Listen to the evocative calls, grunts and howls as the forest comes alive in the early morning before you head off from your accommodation to explore.
In the unspoilt Danum Valley Conservation Area, you can stay in the heart of the wild forest while enjoying as much luxury as you desire, thanks to the superb range of accommodation available. Combine your orangutan spotting with hikes to active mud volcanoes that immerse you in the habitat of gibbons, hornbills, and a mind-boggling array of reptiles.
The Sepilok Sanctuary provides an excellent opportunity to discover more about conservation efforts and to get as close as possible to these amazing animals. Here, the focus is on rehabilitating injured and orphaned orangutans, bringing home just how close we are to these beautiful creatures.
The narrow, preserved rainforest corridor between the Kinabatangan River and the plantations beyond is a relaxing place to reward yourself with a sighting or two. There are several eco-friendly river lodges and accommodations that can arrange a gentle stroll under the dappled leaves, or a boat cruise that propels you slowly past wildlife such as orangutans, proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants, macaques, crocodiles, and hornbills.
The best way to see orangutans in Indonesian Borneo is on a traditional wooden riverboat cruise through the waterways of Tanjung Puting National Park. These traditional wooden boats, known locally as klotoks, typically have cabins, a dining area, and open decks for wildlife viewing. As you cruise through the waterways, you'll have the opportunity to explore various sections of the park and access remote orangutan feeding stations where rangers supplement the orangutans' diet.
The Semenggok Sanctuary is a wildlife rehabilitation centre for orangutans that aims, where possible, to release them back into the wild while researching behaviour and biology. Here, you can observe the flanged males, inquisitive females and playful young at their feeding stations, or in the natural forest setting that they share with other wildlife species, such as gibbons and hornbills.
Explore an untamed habitat concealing endangered animals, rare birds and plants with mysterious medicinal properties; all before steeling away for a remote island retreat.