Interact with a wild orang utan and be back at your hotel in time for lunch. You can do that at Semenggoh, but why we be in such a hurry? After the orang utan feeding time, there is so much more to see.
Semenggoh’s main attraction for visitors is its Wildlife Centre, where endangered species, once kept illegally as pets, are trained on how to fend for themselves before being released into the forest. Over the years, a number of orang utans have been trained and released and now form a wild colony in the reserve.
Wild they may be, but their training has made them used to humans and routines. It has also taught them to watch out for the caretaker bringing out food every morning. As regular as clockwork, the orangutans swing down from the trees for a free handout of fruit. It is one of the few places in the world where humans can interact with their shy jungle cousins. However, when food are plenty in the forest during fruiting season, they might not come down for the handouts at all.
Just 20 kilometres south of Kuching, the reserve has its own rare flora and fauna including the giant squirrel, pigmy squirrel and splendid variety of birds. In the morning, you can hear the howling of gibbons, which, like the orang utans, have been rehabilitated and released in the forest. Trekking trails make Semenggoh an ideal place for exercisers, wildlife photographers and nature lovers.
Orangutan in the wild
The orang utan (pongo pygmaeus) is found in the rainforests of Malaysian Borneo (Sarawak and Sabah), Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan) and North Sumatra. It is one of the world’s largest primates, and is almost completely arboreal (tree living). The word “orang” is Malay for “person” whilst “utan” is derived from “hutan” meaning forest. Thus, orang utan literally translates as “person of the forest”.
A mature male has large check pads and a pendulous throat sac. Adult males can reach a height of 150 cm (5 ft), weigh up to 100 kg (220lbs) and have an arm span of 240 cm (8 ft). Females are about three quarters of the height and half the weight of the males. Both sexes are covered with long reddish hair. Orang utan have a low reproductive rate, females usually giving birth to a single infant once every 7-8 years.
Females reach sexual maturity at 12 years of age but generally don’t have their first offspring until two or three years later. Males reach sexual maturity at 15 but their cheek pads may not fully develop until a few years later. The life expectancy of orang utan in the wild is unknown but is thought to be less than in captivity, where some have lived to over 50 years of age.
Orang utan are primarily fruit eaters and spend most of the day roaming the forest foraging for food. They are particularly fond of wild figs and the pungent smelling durian. Although fruit is their most important source of food, they also feed on young leaves, insects, bark, flowers, eggs and small lizards. Each individual builds a new nest each night, a safe resting place 12-18 metres (40-60 ft) up in the roof of the forest.
Wild orang utan are generally solitary. However, adolescents often gather in pairs and females occasionally form temporary groups of four or five. This rather lonely existence stems both from the relative scarcity of food in the rainforest and from a lack of predators. A mature adult roams a vast area of forest every day in order to find enough food to satisfy its healthy appetite. Its huge size also eliminates the need for ‘group defence’.
The orang utan is an endangered species and is totally protected by law in Malaysia, Indonesia and internationally. Today, there are an estimated 20-27,000 orang utan left in the wild (perhaps 20,000 or so in Borneo and the rest in Sumatra). Deforestation, human encroachment on their habitat, indiscriminate hunting and the live animal trade: all are factors that have contributed to a decline in their numbers. To gain a better understanding of the orang utan and re-introduce rescued animals into the wild, both the Indonesian and Malaysian authorities have set up rehabilitation programmes. Sarawak’s centre at Semenggoh is open to the public so visitors can find out more about these highly intelligent creatures of the rainforest.
The best time to visit Semenggoh is during the morning and afternoon feeding sessions when there is a good chance of seeing semi-wild orang utan returning to the Centre for a free meal. Feeding takes place between 9.00-10.00am and between 3.00-3.30 pm.
As feeding time approaches, the semi-wild orang utan emerge from the rainforest, descending from the forest canopy to the lower branches of trees near feeding platform. They are highly entertaining creatures and offer a wealth of facial expressions to visitors.
It is not uncommon to see two young orang utan playing, or a mother teaching her baby how to climb, but these antics soon stop when a warden appears carrying buckets of fruits and bottles of milk. Then, the orang utan slowly make their way to the feeding area, faithfully following the footsteps of the warden or swinging in the trees above the footpath.
For the visitor, feeding times provide a unique opportunity to view the orang utan at close range. The animals usually spend considerable time feeding in one place, either on the wooden platform, in a nearby tree or hanging from guide ropes. Visitors therefore have an excellent view, a remarkable photo opportunity, and ample time to appreciate the intelligence and beauty of these fascinating forest creatures.
Occasionally orang utan will visit the Centre HQ rather than the feeding area, to simply look at the visitors rather than feed. Whilst it is impossible to assume human motives for this behaviour, it appears they are simply satisfying their curiosity, or in some cases showing off their delightful infants to an admiring audience.
On occasions, the orang utan may descend from the trees near the Centre HQ and approach visitors. Although this is likely to be an unforgettable experience, visitors should bear in mind that the orang utan, however tame they may appear, are still wild, powerful and potentially dangerous animals. The Centre is also part of a Totally Protected Area. Therefore, the following rules & regulations must be observed when visiting the centre.
Do not litter. Please use the litter bins provided.
From Kuching, take Sarawak Transport Company bus No. 6 which stops outside the main gate, from here it is a 20 minute walk to the Centre. The last return bus to Kuching is at 1700 hrs. Visitors can also take a taxi from the main taxi stand in Kuching, or from outside their hotel. Local travel Agents also run guided tours to Semenggoh.
Park Opening Hours:
8.00am to 5.00pm
Monday – Sunday including Public Holidays
Semenggoh Wildlife Centre
Tel: +6082 618325 or +6082 618324 Fax: +6082 618424
There is no accommodation at Semenggoh and overnight visits are not permitted. Visitors must leave via the main gate by 1645 hrs.
A permit is required for professional photography or filming, which should be arranged in advance with the National Park Booking Office.