Semenggoh Wildlife Centre: see wild orangutans

Semenggoh Nature Reserve and its main attraction, the Wildlife Centre, is just a few miles south of Kuching. Orangutans have been rehabilitated here for more than 20 years. Most of the animals were released from captivity; however, orphaned babies and injured apes have also been rehabilitated and subsequently prepared for life in the wild.

The rehabilitation program has been highly successful, and today a colony of semi-wild orangutans lives in Semenggoh. The released animals have also produced offspring on several occasions. The eldest of the successfully-released primates has already given birth to three babies.

Orangutans at Semenggoh Wildlife Centre
Orangutans at Semenggoh Wildlife Centre

The facility used to be called Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, but since the animals are now prepared for release at a nearby rehabilitation centre, the Matang Wildlife Centre, the name has been changed. Nowadays, Semenggoh Wildlife Centre is simply where they are released into the wild and supported through feeding. Furthermore, their health is closely monitored during the initial period after their release.

Watch the morning and afternoon feedings

The animals have got used to being well cared for by humans, so they have built up a particular bond and trust with our species. Even though each orangutan has been prepared for a life in the wild with a multi-stage, extremely lengthy rehabilitation program, they are still supported with two daily feedings.

Visitors to Semenggoh Wildlife Centre can observe these feedings from a distance. Sometimes, individual animals stroll across the visitor platform or along the paths close to the visitors with their food, so it is important that you follow the park rangers‘ instructions.

Feeding in Semenggoh
Mother and young at the feeding station
Male orangutan at feeding time

Feedings occur between 9 and 10 am in the morning and between 3 and 4 pm in the afternoon. These are the best times to visit the centre, as the chances of seeing an orangutan are significantly higher.

However, depending on the time of year, none may come at all. Summer is fruit season, and there is enough food for all the animals in the surrounding rainforest. Of course, it is a positive thing if the apes are able to be entirely self-sufficient without being dependent on additional feedings. For visitors, however, these days are understandably disappointing.

Seeing orangutans in the wild: an incredible experience

At Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, there are two locations where feedings take place: one of these is quite close to the parking lot, while the second is in the forest. The latter is only open to visitors when there are actually orangutans around. Before the feeding starts, the rangers will tell you the rules of conduct: be quiet, speak softly, keep your bags and backpacks closed, don’t eat, don’t leave garbage lying around, and turn off the flash on your camera.

A rustling of the treetops will be the first indication that an orangutan is coming to feed. Due to the dense rainforest in Semenggoh Nature Reserve, it will take a moment for you to catch your first glimpse. It is an incredible experience to watch the primates swing from branch to branch high up in the trees. For the final few metres, they climb down from the treetops at lightning speed, where a sumptuous meal of fruit awaits them.

Orangutan at Semenggoh Nature Reserve
Orangutan swinging through the treetops...
Semenggoh Wildlife Centre Monkey climbs down
... and then climbs down to the feeding station

It’s impressive to see this endangered species up close and watch them tuck into bananas or crack open coconuts on tree trunks to drink the milk and then eat the fruit. If you’re lucky, a mother will come by with her baby (there are even milk bottles provided for the little ones). Then, of course, even more circumspection and calm are required; after all, the mother should not feel that she is in danger and the baby should not feel frightened.

It is clear that the animals are used to having contact with humans. They do not seem at all shy and enjoy their meal calmly. Sometimes you even get the feeling that they are actively seeking interaction with humans. For example when they stroll across the platform after eating or shimmy along the taut ropes, looking into the camera almost continuously.

Young ape at the Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Center
Mother with her young
Posing monkey in Semenggoh
Posing monkey

Ritchie is the star of the Semenggoh Nature Reserve

“Ritchie” is a large, very dominant male who lives in the Semenggoh Nature Reserve. He is sometimes rather aggressive towards other male orangutans. He was born in 1981, making him the oldest male in the reserve. The only older orangutan is the female Seduku, who is already coming up to 50.

Richie was released from Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre
Richie was released from Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre

Because of his size and strength, the park rangers are a bit tenser when Ritchie comes by to feed. Before the feeding even starts, you’re told what to do in case he stops by. Other apes seem to try to avoid contact with Ritchie. If he is at one of the two feeding sites, the others usually tend to go the other one.

There is more to discover

Various information boards inside the building and outside on the visitor platforms provide extensive information about the work done at Semenggoh Wildlife Centre and the rehabilitated apes. The multi-stage and lengthy reintroduction program at the rehabilitation centre, for example, is explained extensively. For older orangutans, this process can even take over ten years. In addition, there is a profile of each animal with its name and history.

Besides orangutans, there are other exciting flora and fauna in Semenggoh Nature Reserve. Gibbons also live there, having been reintroduced to the wild and found a safe home in the nature reserve.

Crocodile in Semenggoh
Crocodile in Semenggoh

However, the crocodile enclosure is alarming, as several huge crocodiles are kept in a tiny area that is anything but appropriate for them.

As positive as the Semenggoh Wildlife Center’s work is for the protection of orangutans, critical questions must be asked as to why the crocodiles have to live in such cramped conditions.

How to get to Semenggoh

Semenggoh Nature Reserve is located about 12 miles (20 kilometres) away from Kuching. From there, you can take bus line 6 to the main entrance to the nature reserve; the trip takes about 45 minutes. From the main entrance, it will take another 20 minutes to reach the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre feeding stations. You will have to catch the first bus from Jalan Masjid Bus Station in Kuching Town Centre at 7:15 am in order to get there in time for the morning feeding. The fare is about 3 MYR.

Alternatively, you can take a cab directly to the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre parking lot. The ride from Kuching takes about 20-30 minutes.

The entrance fee to the park is 10 MYR.

Semenggoh Wildlife Centre sign
Semenggoh Wildlife Centre entrance

Our recommendation for Semenggoh Wildlife Centre

Orangutans are very hard to find in the wild; therefore, we highly recommend a visit to a conservation facility. You will also be supporting the important work being done to reintroduce the animals into the wild.

The trip from Kuching and tour of the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre can be done comfortably in half a day, so an overnight stay near the centre is not necessary. The entrance fee is for the whole day, meaning that if you like, you can also watch the second feeding if you have time and/or did not get to see any apes during the morning feeding. You should bring something to eat for yourself too – however, don’t eat while the orangutans are around…

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