Orangutans Up Close in Borneo

For most, catching a glimpse of the rapidly disappearing orangutan is an experience relegated to the confines of a zoo. These wispy-furred orange mammals, the Asian equivalent of the African gorilla and chimpanzee, once called most of Southeast Asia their home. Due to rapid deforestation and the encroachment of mankind, however, the island of Borneo is one of only two places where you can still see them in their natural habitat, foraging for food and swinging from branch to branch as the pliable tree canopy bends under their weight.
Borneo is the world's third-largest island, roughly the size of Texas, and is split between two countries: the larger Indonesian portion, Kalimantan, makes up the southern region, while the northwest belongs to Malaysia. All borders aside, the island's geographic composition perhaps best explains the orangutans' perseverance—the mainland is so mountainous and densely forested that most roads are forced to hug the coastline, leaving the interior as wild as its animal inhabitants. Penetrate into this wilderness and trek to the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary on the Malaysian side, or to Indonesia's Tanjung Puting National Park, home of Camp Leakey Research Station. These facilities are dedicated to preserving the animals' natural habitat and provide unparalleled access to "the man of nature" (the Indonesian translation of orangutan) as they forage, build nests for the night, and nurse their young. At Sepilok, orangutans can be seen both in captivity, where the animals undergo rehabilitation before returning to the wild, and living in the surrounding forest via an elaborate network of hiking trails. In addition to Tanjung Puting's massive orangutan population, the national park also hosts a plethora of other jungle species. Additional, smaller orangutan rehabilitation centers exist on Borneo, but they are much more difficult to reach, and some are not open to the public.
When planning your trip to Borneo, consider whether you're more interested in the offerings of Indonesia or Malaysia and plan accordingly. Both countries offer a wealth of active adventures and cultural immersion, and if you're going to the trouble of trekking into Borneo, you should take advantage of your proximity to these Southeast Asian hotspots.

Published: 19 Jun 2002 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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