Written by: Matt Newkirk
Destination: Kuching, Malaysia
Visited: October 2018
Semenggoh Nature Reserve is located just a 45 minute drive south of the city of Kuching on the Island of Borneo, Malaysia. The Nature reserve was established in 1975, and consists of about 1,000 acres of jungle that has been set aside as a home for wild and semi/wild orangutans. Currently Semenggoh Nature Reserve has 30 orangutans, most of which were rescued from the wilderness throughout the Sarawak region of Malaysia.
Male Orangutan Semenggoh Nature Reserve, Borneo
The word orangutan literally translates to “forest man” in the Bahasa Malayu Language. With just over 100,000 individuals known to exist, the WWF lists the Borneo Orangutan as critically endangered. The Borneo Orangutan currently faces a variety of challenges to its ongoing survival, including habitat loss, illegal hunting, and the exotic pet trade. Orangutans share 96.4% of their DNA with humans, and are astonishingly intelligent.
Pregnant female orangutan, Semenggoh Nature Reserve, Borneo
Male orangutans are highly territorial, and each adult male needs an exclusive range of about 800 square acres in order to survive. This huge range requirement has put serious pressure on orangutan populations as their natural habitat on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra have increasingly been developed. In Malaysia, pressure from development and agriculture, especially palm oil plantations, have encroached on the low-elevation jungles that the orangutans rely on to forage for food.
As jungle habitats have begun to shrink, more orangutans have been pushed into contact with humans where villagers have been hunting the orangutan for food and traditional medicine remedies for generations.
Another serious threat comes from the international demand for exotic pets. A baby orangutan can easily fetch MYR$60,000 on the black market. This prize represents the fortune of a lifetime for the typical villager in rural Borneo. To compound the problem, baby orangutans cling to their mother until they are strong enough to climb throughout the forest canopy on their own. The easiest way to capture a baby orangutan is to shoot the mother. Because of this, for every orangutan sold into the pet trade, two are taken from their natural habitat.
The first orangutan brought to Semenggoh Nature Reserve was named Bullet, because when he arrived, he had a bullet lodged in his scull from a hunter. Unfortunately the vets at the reserve were not able to save Bullet from his injury, but thankfully the reserve has been able to help scores of threatened orangutans since. Semenggoh Nature Reserve provides about 1,000 acres of natural jungle habitat for their population of 30 orangutan. Many of the reserve's orangutan have been rescued from other areas of Borneo, but more babies are being born into the group each season.
Orangutans Semenggoh Nature Reserve, Borneo
The government-run nature preserve is currently home to three adult male orangutan. Each of these large males requires 800 square acres of jungle in order to survive. Because of the vast area that adult orangutan require, it is impossible to keep the orangutan population within the protection of the reserve. For this reason, Semenggoh Nature Reserve is actively involved in outreach programs with the surrounding communities. The local people have come to understand the value of the orangutan, and value the wealth and opportunity that tourism provides. Locals commonly assist the reserve with tracking and managing the orangutan population around Semenggoh.
There are a few national parks surrounding Semenggoh where orangutan populations are also protected. Unfortunately there is no direct link-way between protected areas, so the reserve works with local land owners to arrange safe corridors where the orangutan can safely pass between these government sanctuaries.
In addition to providing a safe home for orangutan, the reserve is actively involved in educational programs and community outreach. Daily feedings and orangutan volunteer programs help to raise awareness of the plight of the orangutan, and help both Malaysians and foreign visitors to understand the importance of protecting these animals.
Semenggoh has been open to the public every day since it first opened in 1975. Since then it has only been closed for 1/2 day, when Semenggoh hosted Prince Charles of England for a private visit.
Semenggoh National Reserve
The guest area of the reserve consists of a small but informative ranger station, a short nature trail, and a feeding platform.
The orangutans at Semenggoh are semi-wild, and there is no guarantee that guests will see orangutan. The ranger warned us that when fruit is plentiful in the jungle, they may not see an orangutan for weeks. We were also told that the orangutan are less likely to show up if it is raining, but that didn't seem to stop them on our visit.
We were lucky and saw at least seven different orangutan, including an adult male, during the morning feeding. All of the females had young babies clinging to them with the exception of one that was clearly pregnant.
Feeding Orangutans Semenggoh, Boeneo
When we arrived, we were lead out to the viewing area, which is just 20 yards or so from the platform where the orangutans are fed. A ranger standing on the feeding platform was already calling the orangutan. Within a few minutes, we began to hear a rustling in the trees way off in the distance. The rustling slowly drew closer, until the first female orangutan with a baby clinging to her emerged from the jungle canopy and began climbing hand over hand down one of the many ropes leading to the feeding platform. After the first arrival, more orangutan steadily emerged from the forest to get their share of the fruit that the ranger was dolling out. Seeing the wild orangutan emerge from the forest for a meal was a truly magical experience.
Daily feeding starts at 9:00 a.m. Sharp, and goes until 10:00am. Visitors are asked to vacate the trail and feeding area from 10:00 until 2:00. The viewing area opens back up from 2:00-4:00 for a second daily session.
Semeggoh Nature Reserve is just a short 45 minute drive from downtown Kuching, in Malaysia. Kuching is home to an excellent international airport, and can be reached from many major hubs in Asia.
It is pretty easy to pick up a taxi from the airport, or downtown Kuching. If you would like to book ahead, you can call our taxi driver, Presly.
Presly Ak NyaNul
+60 010 2986711
You can catch bus No 6, 6A, 6B, or 6C across from the Public Bank on Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg. Buses cost about MYR $5 per person, each way. Be sure to tell the driver you are going to Semeggoh Nature Reserve, so he makes sure you get off at the right stop. You can buy a ticket at the entrance to the reserve, and it is about an additional 20 minute walk to the ranger station.
Orangutan rehabilitation programs are expensive, and Semenggoh receives a critical portion of its funding from private contributions. You can adopt an individual orangutan at the reserve starting at MYR $200 (USD $48) per year. You will receive a certificate and quarterly updates of how your adopted orangutan is faring.
Sarawak Forrestry Corporation Sdn. Bhd.
Lot 218, KCLD, Jalan Tapang, Kota Sentosa
93250 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
For those that want to help orangutans, but prefer more of a sit-down atmosphere, The Monkee Bar Bistro may provide just the thing. Located in downtown Kuching, The Monkee Bar donates 50% of its proceeds to orangutan and wildlife conservation in Sarawak.