Where to See Orangutans in the Wild

Do you want to know Where to See Orangutans on our planet? We have searched everywhere for you to find the best places to see Orangutans in the wild.

Orangutans belong to the great apes along with gorillas and chimpanzees. Surprisingly, orangutans are the only great apes that are not found on the African continent.

Are you a fan of the African Continent? Have a look at our blog All about Mountain trekking with the Gorilla’s.

In their social behaviour they are very similar to humans and surprise their observers again and again with their behaviour: Orangutans grab, brood and even powder themselves. 

Visually, the orangutans are the least similar to humans among all apes – and this is what makes them so fascinating!

Just have a look at the outline and jump to whatever part appears as the most interesting one for you.

What you need to know about Orangutans

Where to find Orangutans

Endangerment of Orangutans

This article is not only intended to introduce you to the way of life of orangutans, but ultimately to help you to actually admire them up close. 

What you need to know about Orangutans

The mental abilities of the red apes of Sumatra and Borneo have long been underestimated. However, their intelligence is only differently oriented, but not less than that of chimpanzees and gorillas, their African relatives.

As the largest tree-living mammal species, they use their technical and social ingenuity particularly to economically exploit the scattered food resources – and to avoid other species.

General Facts about Orangutans

Granted, high up in the trees you won’t be able to keep up with the orangutans. 

orangutan face

Their arms are very long, the hands hook-shaped, the thumb short and close to the wrist, the legs short and very flexible and the feet hand-like. This physique offers the optimal conditions to move high freely up in the trees.

Orangutans reach a size of 1.25 to 1.5 meters and have an impressive wingspan of up to 2.25 metres. In terms of weight, there is a clear difference in sexes: males weigh 50 to 90 kilograms, almost twice as much as females, who weigh 30 to 50 kilograms.

A female only gets her first young at the age of 15, which she looks after for up to eight years with close contact. Orangutans give birth to a maximum of four children during their lifetime – one reason why it is so difficult to maintain their population. In the wild, Orangutans life up to 50 years.

Social Behaviour of Orangutans

Apart from the close bond between child and mother, orangutans are usually found individually. Interactions between conspecifics take place, but are largely unexplored. When two males collide, this can lead to a dispute. The females, on the other hand, behave more peacefully and have even been observed to search for food together, studies show.

orangutan family

Orangutans are quieter than other apes. More noticeable sounds are the loud cries of the males to mark their territory. Little is known about other vocal expressions or communication by means of facial expressions and postures.

Diet of Orangutans

High up in the trees the orangutans can enjoy the juiciest fruits. 

orangutan baby monkey

Orangutans have a big appetite. Two thirds of their food consists of fruits, and they taste the leaves. Occasionally they even ingest soil to regulate their mineral balance. On their menu are not only juicy figs, mangos and lychees, but also Durian, probably known to you as “stinky fruit”. 

In your search for orangutans, you should look for trees covered with fruit, because the clever apes know exactly where to find them. 

Where to find Orangutans

There are generally three different types of orangutans: Borneo Orangutans, Sumatran Orangutans and Tapanuli Orangutans.  All three species live on Borneo and Sumatra, two huge islands.

Tapanuli orangutans were not discovered as a separate species until 2017 and live on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Their small distribution area can be seen on the map. The species lives in a narrowly limited distribution area, which is a forest area south of Lake Toba. Before the species was biologically defined, the small population of Tapanuli orangutans was counted as Sumatran orangutans. 

Borneo

Borneo is home to the largest population of the species of orangutans. It is the third largest island in the world, the largest island in Asia and offers paradisiacal views. 

borneo mountains

Most of Borneo belongs to Indonesia, other parts belong to Malaysia and even Brunei. The island is cut in the south by the equator and therefore has a predominantly tropical climate with high humidity. On the large southern part of the island there is no rainy season and the average temperature fluctuates around 27 degrees Celsius. The best time to travel is from March to September. April and July are considered the best months to travel because of the more moderate climate.

On average the sun shines on Borneo five hours a day. The rainforest on the equatorial island is one of the oldest in the world. There exists a rich treasure of different plant and animal species. Many of these plants and animals are endemic, which means that they are only found in the form in Borneo. So when you are there, you get to see things that are not found anywhere else. Borneo orangutans for example. Borneo Orangutans can be found best in the south of the island, but even in the north-east of Borneo, you might meet the calm creatures climbing in the trees. A great place Where to See Orangutans.

But, as just mentioned, Borneo is huge – twice the size of Germany. So how are you supposed to find your way around there and more importantly: How to climb with Orangutans

You will probably arrive at the airport of Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. From there you can start your discovery tour of Borneo. Kota Kinabalu is not only the capital of the state of Sabah, but also the gateway to Kinabalu National Park. Here you will find the oldest rainforest in the world with an area of 75,370 hectares and a thousand different animal and plant species.

In the middle of it all is the Gunung Kinabalu, with its 4,095 meters it is the highest mountain in Southeast Asia. The city is practically surrounded by the rainforest and so the national park is only about 70 kilometers away.  For an island the size of Borneo this is a stone’s throw away. The best way to get there is by bus; where you get to know local people as well! 

If you are very lucky, you might even spot an Orangutan at Kinabalu National Park. 

In Tabin National Park, your chance of success with orangutans is probably higher. The Tabin Wildlife Reserve is located in the centre of the island and belongs to the Malaysian state of Sabah in the north-east of the island. It is closer to the airport of Lahad Datu. Starting from KK it takes about 45 minutes by plane to cover the 270 kilometres. 

Other orangutans live in Gunung Mulu National Park and Bako National Park.

The Bako National Park is both the smallest and the oldest national park in the state of Sarawak. It is located in northwest Malaysia on the island of Borneo, about 37 kilometers from Kuching on a peninsula in the South China Sea. The Bako National Park, which was established in 1957, is known far beyond the borders of Malaysia for its boundless diversity of flora and fauna. You can reach the island via a ferry service with motorboats that moor at various points on the peninsula’s beach. From the landing stages, numerous hiking trails lead through the Bako National Park, which visitors can explore to their heart’s content.

The Gunung Mulu National Park, included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, is famous for its caves, one of which is considered the largest underground hall (the Sarawak Chamber).

Sumatra

It is the sixth largest island on earth, a tropical treasure of life on the equator. Here we can expect encounters with nature and great cultural diversity.

Together with Borneo it is the only habitat for orangutans living in freedom. Pongo abelii (the Sumatran orangutan) shares the island with the Sumatran tiger, Sumatran rhino, Sumatran elephant, Malay bear and about 200 other mammal species. By the way, the Sumatran tiger is a reason for the fact that the orangutan is almost exclusively high up in the trees. Again, Sumatra is a huge island, and it is quite helpful to get an overview on how to climb with Orangutans, before you enter the dense tropical rainfores. There are eleven national parks on Sumatra, three of which – the Gunung Leuser National Park, the Kerinci Seblat National Park and the Barisan Selatan National Park – are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In addition, there are numerous smaller nature reserves such as the Lembah Anai Nature Reserve between Padang and Bukttingi, the Batang Palupuh Nature Reserve and the Harau Valley near Bukittingi or the Way Kambas National Park near Bandar Lampung.

Gunung Leuser

The Gunung Leuser National Park is home to about 700 different animal species, including orang utangs, tigers, rhinoceroses, elephants, Thomas langurs, gibbons, macaques, cobras, crocodiles and leopards. It is also home to about 4000 different plant species, including the largest flower in the world, the giant reflower.

Most of the Gunung Leuser National Park is impassable. In addition, one may only enter the Gunung Leuser National Park when accompanied by a trained hiking guide and must obtain a permit in advance. Starting points for tours through the Gunung Leuser National Park are Bukit Lawang, Tangkahan and Gurah. From all three starting points you can undertake a variety of hikes, ranging from easy walks of several hours to expeditions lasting one or even several weeks. Often the organized hikes, which take place in groups, include overnight stays in the jungle as well as rafting or tubing on the rivers. In addition, some organizers offer pure kayak or rafting tours, night hikes, birdwatching and theme-specific hikes in the Gunung Leuser National Park.

Most visitors choose the tranquil village of Bukit Lawang as the starting point for their hike through the Gunung Leuser National Park, as there they can combine the excursion to the nature reserve with a visit to the popular Bohorok Orang Utang Centre.

Lembah Anai

The Lembah Anai Nature Reserve consists mainly of dense rainforest, which extends over hills and valleys on the approximately 220 hectares of land. If you cross the Lembah Anai Nature Reserve by bus, car or train, you will see unforgettable images: deep gorges, winding roads, massive, high railway bridges, giant trees, a waterfall whose spray shimmers colourfully in the sunlight, and perhaps even wild monkeys.  

Endangerment of Orangutans

Fact is, these beautiful, impressive animals are threatened with extinction!

orangutan in the jungle

The forests are cut down, for timber production or to use the area agriculturally, e.g. for palm oil plantations. The orangutans need the treetops in the rainforest, because this is where they build their nests and look for food. As we have learned before, orangutans have few offspring in the course of their lives. This makes it particularly difficult to maintain populations. In Java it has already become extinct, and on Borneo and Sumatra it is facing the same fate: according to estimates by the World Conservation Union IUCN, there are still around 104,700 orangutans on Borneo and around 13.846 on Sumatra. The WWF estimates that the number of orangutans in Borneo is now much lower, at around 54,000.

orangutan diagram

To maintain the populations of the great apes, various projects are supported: 

  • – Reforestation of destroyed rainforest on Borneo
  • – Orangutan reintroduction projects
  • – Environmental education in Indonesia and Germany
  • – Support for the orangutan sanctuary in Pasir Panjang on Borneo
  • – Support of the orangutan reintroduction centre in Jantho on Sumatra

On site you can visit the different animal protection stations and interact with orangutans. 

Summary on Where to See Orangutans

Finally, we’ll answer a question that is surely already burning on your fingers: Why are orangutans orange? 

The orange-red-brown fur colour of the orangutan is a result of the sunlight reflected from its fur. In the shade, their brown skin absorbs the light, so that only the dark skin underneath is visible.

Thanks for reading this article on Where to See Orangutans.

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