I just returned from guiding a wildlife expedition for Natural Habitat Adventures in Malaysian Borneo. The diversity of mammals, birds, insects, reptiles and amphibians that we encounter on these trips is utterly mind-blowing, but the superstar is always the orangutan. Our itinerary now includes 2 rehabilitation centers that get up close and personal to semi wild individuals and two wilderness habitats to view and photograph wild ones. This trip was by far my best one yet for experiences with the awe-inspiring “man of the forest.”
Located near the small city of Kuching in the state of Sarawak, Semenggoh was established in 1975 as a “halfway house” for orphaned and injured orangutans allowing them to regain their health and skills and once again become wild. Rehabilitated orangs can move freely into the Semenggoh Wildlife Sanctuary, but can come in for supplemental feeding if they choose. The program has been so successful that the Sanctuary has reached its carrying capacity, and independent orangs are now moved to other protected areas of Sarawak.
Located near the town of Sandakan in Sabah, Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation was established in 1964. Around 20-30 orangutans visit the feeding stations regularly, and around 80 wild orangutans inhabit the surrounding virgin rainforest of the 10,000 acre Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve. Our group was ecstatic to view a female named Maraco, and her 3 week old newborn. The reproductive rate of orangutans is extremely slow as females give birth to only one baby every 7 years. Females are fertile between the ages of 15 and 35 years of age, so they usually only have 2 or 3 offspring in their lifetime! Between the ages of 1 and 4, the babies hold onto their mother’s shaggy hair. Between 4 and 7, the young will climb on their own, but follow their mothers closely.
Danum Valley Conservation Area
The last stop on our expeditions is Danum Valley, a remote, extremely wild region of southern Sabah. This is arguably as pristine and diverse as any wilderness on Earth. This is one of my favorite places on Earth. We had several encounters with wild orangutans as we explored the trail system on foot with the help of our expert local naturalist guides. The most memorable encounter, which ranks high in my own personal wildlife experiences of my lifetime, was watching the regions dominant male, named Ali Baba, courting a young female. We waited over an hour for them to wake from a nap in the crook of a tree before we were awarded with some amazing views.
The next day we came upon a mother and her 5 year old daughter. She was big enough to climb on her own and she hung from a branch for 30 minutes with one hand about 70 feet above the ground munching on young leaves. I was apparently much more concerned for her safety then her mother.
Stay tuned for more tales of Borneo’s wild creatures in the near future!