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Orangutans in Borneo & Indonesia


Encounters with Asia’s primates

Primates are where we started over 15 years ago. Specialising in primate safaris worldwide we were the sole global specialists in this field. While we've come a long way since, now covering 42 destinations around the globe, encounters with our primate relatives remain close to our hearts. There are just three orangutan species left in the wild, the Bornean, Sumatran and Tapanuli. This "person of the forest" is the largest arboreal mammal and the only great ape in existence in Asia. With long arms that may reach two metres in length, shaggy reddish-brown fur and grasping hands and feet, the orangutan swings slowly through the tree canopy of Borneo. When night approaches they make nests of vegetation to sleep in and occasionally smaller ones during the day to rest.

Nws St Borneo Orangutan Eating

Where do Orangutans live?

When is the Best Time to See Orangutans?

As soon as the rains start to cease, around April and May, the hungry apes can be seen swinging from branch to branch in search of plump ripe fruit, as well as for potential mates. April to August has the driest weather giving optimal chances of good sightings of orangutans in the wild. See the newborn baby orangutans starting to emerge, as they make their way out into the creeping boscage for the first time now it’s not so wet!

ORA St Borneo Orangutan Credit Dylan Haskin

Where is the best place to see orangutans?

Stay near the orangutans

One of our favourites, Borneo Rainforest Lodge, is set in the fauna and flora-rich Danum Valley with its own tree-top canopy walkway and close to all of the wildlife that the Damun Valley has to offer, particularly orangutans.

Sepilok Nature Resort is hidden amongst a veritable treasure trove of tropical plants and grasses, huge trees and spectacular orchids in bloom, the quaint bungalows of the Sepilok Nature Resort are within walking distance of the world-famous Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve. The adjoining Orangutan Sanctuary has feedings at 10am and 3pm daily.

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Orangutan Facts

Male orangutans are evident by their large size (weighing up to 90 kilos, compared to 50 kilos for females), their cheek pads and throat pouch. Generally antisocial apes, their primary social structure consists of solitary males and subadults of both sexes and adult females with one or two juveniles. They are not territorial animals; however adult males are usually quite hostile towards one another.

Males in Sumatra sport moustaches and beards, as well as prominent throat sacs which they use to bellow and roar. The Sumatran species is also a little thinner, with longer faces and longer, paler hair on their bodies. Bornean and Sumatran orangutans are definitely very similar, but there are some differences. Sumatran orangutans have a closer social network than those in Borneo, gathering together to feed.

The discovery of the Tapanuli orangutan in 2017 marked the first time a new great ape species was introduced to science in almost 90 years. They have thicker, curlier hair than the other two species of orangutan, with males identified by their noticeably flatter cheek pads. Their “long call” – used to communicate with other orangutans when it is time to mate - is also noticeably distinct, as is their diet.

St Borneo Kinabatangan River Above Mpphotograph

Why book your orangutan safari with NWS?

NWS originally started as World Primate Safaris back in 2005; when it comes to primates we are the experts with a long history of sending clients on transformative expeditions. We also support the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, which rehabilitates baby orangutans and those found in captivity with the aim of getting them back out into the wild.

Working closely with conservationists, we can offer the change to join habituation safaris and more. Our exclusive network on the ground links us to all the best lodges in the region and we are often able to add that little NWS twist to your trip, transforming it into something really special.

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Seeing Orangutans In the Wild

Seeing orangutans in the wild is one of the most magical experiences in Borneo. Starting early in the day, you set out into the jungle before the mist has risen. Trudging through wet soil, peeling back the bright green vegetation as you go, you venture into the wild to search for orangutans. At this time in the morning, these incredibly human-like creatures are setting out in search of breakfast, occasionally daring to come down to the forest floor to pick up fallen fruit. You may hear the odd hoot or call, but not the overwhelming chatter experienced when tracking chimpanzees.

It takes expertise and patience to find these mesmerising and peaceful animals in their natural habitat, but luckily you are with just the person. Your expert guide leads you in the right direction, and before you know it, you are looking straight up at one of these charismatic apes. At home in the treetops, they are comfortable sitting above you, feeding on fruit. They are often just as curious about you as you are about them. Throughout Borneo, there are various areas where you can track wild orangutans, including the incredible Danum Valley and via river safaris down the Kinabatangan.

Spotting orangutans in the wild can be hard work, but it is always worth it to see them in their natural habitat. We also give clients the opportunity to visit the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre, where injured and orphaned orangutans are nursed back to health so they can be reintroduced into the wild. Seeing orangutans here may not match the thrill of spotting them in the wild, and we wouldn’t suggest it as an alternative, but the opportunity to see them in close proximity is not to be missed. Visiting the Centre will contribute to this vital conservation project and complement your encounters with wild orangutans.

Borneo is an untamed and exciting island, full of surprises and wonderful experiences for people of all ages. Here you can trek jungles, relax on beaches, dive in turquoise oceans and travel down wildlife-rich rivers. Big safari vehicles are unnecessary, as you can explore on foot, by bike or by boat, experiencing intimate wildlife encounters like no other. We have used the same guides in Borneo for years, simply because they are the best at what they do. They have expert local knowledge which they will share with you, teaching you all about your surroundings, from the topography and wildlife to the local peoples and cultures.