One of the best places in the world to see semi-wild orangutans in their natural jungle habitat, swinging from trees and scurrying up vines, the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, can be visited on a half-day trip from Kuching or combined with a visit to Annah Rais Longhouse and/or Kampung Benuk.
Situated within the 6.8-sq-km Semenggoh Nature Reserve, the centre is home to 25 orang-utans: 11 who were rescued from captivity or orphaned and their 14 Semenggoh-born offspring, some mere babes-in-arms who spend their days hanging onto their mother’s shaggy chests. Four of the tree-dwelling creatures are completely wild (ie find all their own food), but the rest often swing by (literally) park HQ to dine on bananas, coconuts, eggs and – though they don’t know it – medications. There’s no guarantee that any orang-utans, the world’s largest tree-dwelling animal, will show up, but even in fruiting season (late November or December to February or March) the chances are excellent. Semenggoh is noticeably less touristy (and much cheaper) than Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah.
Hour-long feedings, in the rainforest a few hundred metres from park HQ, run from 9am to 10am and from 3pm to 4pm. When the feeding session looks like it’s over, rangers sometimes try to shoo away visitors (especially groups, whose guides are in any case eager to get back to Kuching), but orang-utans often turn up at park HQ, so don’t rush off straightaway if everything seems quiet.
For safety reasons, visitors are asked to stay at least 5m from the orang-utans – the animals can be unpredictable – and are advised to keep a tight grip on their backpacks, water bottles and cameras because orang-utans have been known to snatch things in search of something yummy. To avoid annoying – or even angering – the orang-utans, do not point at them anything that looks like a gun (eg a walking stick); do not scream or make sudden moves; and, when you take pictures, do not use flash.
Semenggoh Nature Reserve has two beautiful trails that pass through primary rainforest: the Masing Trail (Main Trail; red trail markings; 30 minutes), which links the HQ with the highway; and the Brooke’s Pool Trail (yellow and red trail markings), a 2km loop from HQ. At research time both were closed because of attacks on staff and visitors by two particularly aggressive orang-utans, Ritchie and Delima (‘Hot Mama’), whom rangers guess were mistreated in captivity. When the trails reopen, it should be possible to hire a guide at the Information Centre for RM30 per hour (for up to 10 people). Tickets are valid for the whole day so it’s possible to come for the morning feeding, visit a longhouse, and then see the afternoon feeding as well. Note: there’s nowhere in the park to buy food.