Viewing orangutans in their natural habitat is pure bliss
Natives to Indonesia and Malaysia, Orangutans can only be found in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. Known to be the largest tree-dwelling mammals in the world, Orangutans can grow up to 1.5m in height and 90 kg in weight. Despite their large built, these primates spend most of their time in canopies that are 6 to 30 metres above the ground. They manage to do so with the means of their long arms, swinging themselves from one branch to another with ease and agility.
Orangutans are considered to be the most intelligent out of all primates, using tools to build elaborate nests out of leaves and branches and have also developed a distinct and complex feeding culture in which the adults would pass on their knowledge to the young on how to make tools and find food. The average life expectancy of an orangutan is 30 years, with adult females only maturing at a late age of 10 and is only able to bear three to four offspring’s in their entire lifetime. Making them the lowest reproducing mammals in the world.
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With the increase of negative human activities, orangutans are now declared as an endangered species, with less than 120,000 left in the world.
One of the most serious threat is the destruction of their rainforest habitats. In the last 30 years, these primates’ home has been under the chainsaw to make way for oil palm plantations and other agricultural plantations. They also face the onslaught of poachers who will hunt for their meat, body parts, or simply as a trophy. Other than deforestation, fires that are a result of fire-fallow cultivation are other concerns that endanger the wellbeing of orangutans.
In 1997 alone, an estimated 2 million hectares of land was burned down, resulting in many hundreds of deaths of orangutans.
In addition, orangutans are thriving in the exotic pet trade in many Asian countries. Female orangutans are hunted the most, and when caught with their offspring, the young will be sold as pets. Regardless of the laws being implemented to help save the primates, the demand for orangutans as pets is still high in the black market.
The bottom-line is this: a 1 percent increase in death rate could bring about the total extinction of the species in 3 decades.
Despite the challenges, a lot is being done to save the orangutans. Rehabilitation Centres have been set up in Sabah, Sarawak, Kalimantan and North Sumatra. These centres take in orangutans that had been held in captivity, displaced, abused or raised as pets to help them re-adapt to the wild.
Orangutan Ecotourism Destinations
The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, just 25 kilometres west of Sandakan in the state of Sabah in Malaysia, is one of the largest and renowned centres in the region. The centre is surrounded by 43 sq km of protected land and is home to 60 to 80 rehabilitated apes that are living freely in the reserve.
In the rehabilitation centre, visitors can learn about the full rehabilitation process of the apes. Newly admitted apes are to go through a series of medical examinations and a quarantine period of three to six months before being assessed on which phase of the rehabilitation to be started on.
Visitors are welcome to see the orangutans during their feeding times, 10 am and 3 pm, at the main viewing platform in the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Feeding sessions can also be viewed in Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre situated in Sarawak. formerly a rehabilitation centre, The Bohorok Orangutan Centre at Bukit Lawang has been transformed into an ecotourism destination. In Gunung Leuser National Park, apart from the feeding sessions, the centre also provides exceptional environmental education programmes fitted for all ages.
Camp Leakey, located in Tanjung Puting National Park in Central Borneo, is a great place for orangutan viewing but is less accessible than the centres in Malaysia. The closest airport would be the Iskandar airport at Pangkalan bun, which is only serving private domestic flights, and you would then have to take a boat to the centre.
Sabah is pretty well connected, domestically and internationally. The main airport will be the Kota Kinabalu international Airport about 20 minutes away from the city. Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia provides direct flights daily from Kuala Lumpur. Sabah is also directly accessible to majority of the asian countries. Such as Brunei, Singapore and South Korea.
Those who are coming from Labuan, Indonesia and Philippines could catch a ferry to Sabah. There are ferry terminals and immigration checkpoints in Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan and Tawau. Those who wish to arrive in their own yachts and such may do so park in the Sutera Harbour Marina in Kota Kinabalu.
If you wish drive your way to Sabah, you may do so via the Trans Borneo Highway which is accessible in Kota Kinabalu, Kuching and Brunei Darussalam.