Orangutans are an incredible species – did you know they share almost 97% of our genetic makeup?
They are highly intelligent primates, but sadly, orangutans are on the brink of extinction due to deforestation in their habitat.
While you used to be able to see orangutans in the wild over a much greater range in Asia, they are now only found in Malaysia and parts of Indonesia.
If seeing wild orangutans is on your bucket list, please choose an ethical animal tourism experience.
This post has all the information you need about where to ethically see orangutans in the wild, plus tips on how to help save them.
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Map of Destinations for Wild Orangutan Watching
Where to See Orangutans in Malaysia
Borneo is a large island shared between Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei, but the Malaysia area is the best place to see orangutans.
The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, Sabah
While this isn’t completely wild, the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is an excellent place for guaranteed orangutan sightings while supporting their conservation.
The center was founded in 1964 to rehabilitate injured, orphaned, and rescued orangutans.
About 60 to 80 orangutans live there, which visitors can come and watch. The best time to visit is during feeding time at 10:00am and 3:00pm.
I visited here while I was in Sepilok and enjoyed my day at the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. It was so much fun to watch the orangutans play with each other!
As orangutans are becoming much more challenging to see in the wild, the center provides a fantastic opportunity to see these amazing creatures up close while supporting their conservation.
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, Sabah
Right next to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center is the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, another fantastic organization doing great work for sun bears.
NOTE: Both centers are located next to each other and can be easily visited in one day.
Accommodation Options in Sepilok, Sabah
They offer shared dorms and private accommodation at great prices, and you can also book tours to the Kinabatangan River from here.
The Kinabatangan River, Sabah
The Kinabatangan River is among the best places in Malaysia to see wild orangutans and other wildlife.
The river is home to over ten different primate species – notably the proboscis monkey and the orangutan —and more than 50 mammals, including the adorable Borneo pygmy elephant. On top of that, there are over 200 different species of birds in the area!
The best way to experience the Kinabatangan River is to stay at an eco-lodge for a few days.
Most offer inclusive packages, where you pay a set price to stay at the lodge, which includes accommodation, food, guided hikes, and river cruises to look for wildlife.
I booked a 3D/2N tour package through the Nature Lodge Sepilok to stay at their lodge on the river, which was a fantastic experience.
During my time there, we took four river cruises, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon, and two hikes during the day and night to see wildlife with a guide.
The river cruises were incredible. We saw many different species of monkeys, as well as birds.
Sadly, we weren’t lucky enough to see wild orangutans during my time there, but I still loved the experience.
The tropical climate, lush greenery, and biodiversity of this region reminded me of where I live in Puerto Vallarta – there’s just something about these areas that calls to me!
The lodge is the perfect place to relax. It’s set right in the jungle, yet the facilities are clean and even have AC inside the rooms.
The food at the lodge is excellent. It’s buffet-style for each meal with a wide selection. Even though I don’t eat meat, they were more than accommodating in cooking me extra veggie-friendly things.
Our guide was knowledgeable about the area and all the wildlife we saw. Most Kinabatangan region inhabitants are Orang Sungai, who have lived there for hundreds of years, surviving off the land.
Today, most locals are engaged in the hospitality industry as the area has become a hotspot for ecotourism.
Danum Valley, Sabah
Danum Valley is another great place in Malaysia to see orangutans. It is estimated there are around 500 living in the 400 km2 rainforest reserve.
Along with wild orangutans, this reserve is a home for proboscis monkeys and pygmy elephants, as well as rare birds.
There are many trails through the reserve to explore as you look for wildlife. Although orangutan sightings are not guaranteed, walking through this pristine wilderness reserve will surely be a magical experience.
Batang Ai National Park, Sarawak
Batang Ai National Park is a remote spot on the Indonesian border where you can spot rare wildlife. It has the highest orangutan population density in central Borneo!
Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Sabah
The Tabin Wildlife Reserve is the release point for orangutans after they’ve been rehabilitated from the Sepilok Rehabilitation Center.
Aside from orangutans, the reserve is also home to Borneo Pygmy Elephant, Sumatran Rhinoceros, and Tembadau, as well as seven of Sabah’s eight primal species. This place is a wildlife lover’s paradise!
Where to See Orangutans in Indonesia
Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan
Tanjung Puting National Park is one of Indonesia’s best places to see orangutans.
This 3,040 km2 park is home to over 5,000 orangutans and proboscis monkeys, gibbons, and over 200 species of birds.
You can explore the park on foot or via a traditional Klotok boat, where you can sleep on deck at night.
You can also volunteer here with the Orangutan Foundation. They have rehabilitation and release sites, as well as Camp Leakey Research Center.
Where to See Orangutans in Sumatra, Indonesia
The orangutans in Sumatra are even rarer than those found in Borneo. Due to deforestation, there are only about 6,000 left in the wild.
Gunung Leuser National Park, Sumatra
The best place to see them is Gunung Leuser National Park, just outside Bukit Lawang in North Sumatra, Indonesia.
Gunung Leuser National Park, an Indonesian UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers rainforest tours that range from 2 to 7 days.
Inside the park, you can see orangutans and several other amazing species, including Sumatran rhinoceros and wild tigers.
Types of Orangutans
There are two species of orangutans; the Bornean and Sumatran orangutan.
Sadly, both species are classified as critically endangered, meaning they face an extremely high risk of extinction.
This is primarily due to habitat loss. In the last 30 years, orangutans have lost around 80% of their habitat, mainly in part due to deforestation, as rainforests are cut down to make way for palm oil and other agricultural plantations.
Due to this, it’s more challenging than ever to see orangutans in the wild. However, a few places remain where you can have this amazing wildlife encounter.
When choosing a place to see orangutans in the wild, ensure that it’s in an ethical organization helping to contribute to their conservation.
How You Can Help Save the Orangutans
It’s not too late to save the orangutans. Here are some ways you can help make a difference in the future of these amazing animals, even from home.
Avoid products that contain unsustainable palm oil.
The main reason orangutans are facing extinction is that their habitat is being destroyed for unsustainable palm oil products.
As long as the market demands these products, companies will keep destroying habitats to produce them.
By choosing products that are made sustainably, you can help shift demand.
TIP: Look for the RSPO label to ensure you purchase products made with certified sustainable palm oil. The World Wildlife Foundation has more tips on this.
Support a charitable donation.
Donating money to an organization working to help orangutans is an easy way to make a difference, such as The WWF, Orangutan Foundation, or Sumatran Orangutan Society.
Join a wildlife volunteer program while traveling.
Volunteering your time to organizations in Borneo and Indonesia, working on the ground to save orangutans, is a great way to help.
There are many benefits to working on a conservation project for both you and the animals.
I love volunteering with wildlife in Puerto Vallarta; it’s a great way to give back to the community and get in touch with nature.
Spread awareness about the threat orangutans face and how others can help.
Sharing information like this with your friends and family and on social media can bring attention to these issues and help others make a difference.
There you have it, the best places to see orangutans in the wild throughout Borneo and Indonesia. I hope this post can inspire you with new destinations to check out on your travels.
Seeing orangutans in Borneo was an eye-opening experience for me; I know it will be for you, too.
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