Hanging with Orangutans at the Orangutan Sanctuary Borneo

orangutans swinging through the trees

I was excited to be spending time with the orangutans in the Orangutan Sanctuary Borneo.

The Sanctuary is actually in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah in the nature reserve attached to the Shangri La Rasa Ria resort, which is a feeder to the Sepilok orangutan sanctuary.

Orphaned baby orangutans go through their first stage of rehabilitation here before being returned to Sepilok for the second stage and final stage.

I wasn’t sure how our time hanging with the orangutans would be in comparison to my experience seeing them in the wild in Sumatra, Indonesia.

We were jungle trekking in Bukit Lawang (coolest place name ever!) and a few orangutans came swinging through the trees when they heard us approaching.

They were rehabilitated orangutans so were used to human contact, so used to it that we hand fed them biscuits.

Bukit Lawang Orangutans
Jungle trek in Bukit Lawang

It’s pretty hard to beat an experience like that.

But travel is not always about beating one experience or comparing, it is about savouring each moment as it is presented to you.

Visiting the orangutans in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo was different, but there was so much I  enjoyed and gained from it.

Mostly how precious they are, how they are so like humans, and how they desperately need to be protected.

There are only 20,000 left alive in Borneo and 5,000 in Sumatra. Hang our head in shame humans!

orangutans in Borneo

Visiting places like the orangutan sanctuary in Borneo allows us to see just how much they are worth protecting and causes us to fight harder for them.

The orangutan sanctuary is doing all it can to rescue orphaned babies, become their mothers and teach them how to survive in the wild.

It’s a pretty hard thing to do when you have poachers and habitat-destroyers tracking their orange furs down in their rainforest homes.

Orangutan child-like playfulness

All I could think of were my children as we sat and watched.

The two girls were just as cheeky and playful. They loved to show off and be the centre of attention. They fiercely protected their food from scavenger long-tailed macaque, who were very clever in staging their food kidnappings.

long-tailed macaque monkey stealing food
A crafty steal

They hung upside down to eat and did limbering exercises and yoga poses with the flexibility that only our babies ever know.

We watched from a platform inside their jungle home.

The nature reserve is within the forest and they could wander off if they chose to, but they are happy and content in their home for now until they learn how to survive in that big bad world.

We were there for feeding time, a time that involved a lot of playing, unco-operativeness and tantrums.

Hmmm just like my house at feeding time.

I recognized Kalyra’s animal twin in one of the orangutans as she threw herself on the floor, rolled around banging her head and hanging over the edge of the platform in protest.

Human parents aren’t the only ones who suffer at meal times.

orangutans feeding Orangutan sanctuary Borneo
Feeding time

Orangutans sabah Borneo

The Baby Orangutan

We were lucky enough to see the baby orangutan in a small bamboo sheltered area of ther eserve.

She was a little frightened by all the people and ran from one tree to the other making little squawking sounds. I wanted to pick her up, cuddle her and shoo everyone away.

She was the same size and weight as Savannah and just as clingy and cuddly begging her handler to hold her all the time, but he kept releasing her for some play and swing time.

She was precious.

baby orangutan

baby orangutan Borneo

baby orangutan Borneo
Please cuddle me

baby orangutan swinging

Orangutans in Borneo
Cuddle time

Orangutan sanctuary Borneo

baby orangutan

baby orangutan sanctuary Borneo

orangutan sanctuary Borneo

They may not speak human words, but they act, play, and feel like us. They are called Man of the Forest for a reason and we need to take better care of our animal friends.

They need us more than ever.

A friend told me of his experience encountering orangutans both at the reserve and while remote jungle trekking in the Sabah. Of course, he compared the wild encounter to be more worthwhile.

I don’t think you could beat the thrill of that, but there is so much joy to be had in spending time watching them play in sanctuaries as well.

Whether it’s a random encounter or a planned visit, it’s heart warming to be close to their carefree, playful spirit.

I wish us humans could be more like it in all we do.

Want to learn more about Borneo? Check out the Lonely Planet Borneo (Travel Guide)

Have you seen orangutans in the wild before or in a sanctuary?

Share your experiences below in the comments.

I traveled to Malaysia courtesy of Malaysia airlines and Tourism Malaysia. If you’re inspired to check out Malaysia just as I have, head to travel.com.au for more info

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25 thoughts on “Hanging with Orangutans at the Orangutan Sanctuary Borneo”

  1. I agree that travel “is about savouring each moment” instead of comparing. And I also agree we need to take better care of our Earth and everyone in it. What a wonderful experience it sounds like you had. Love the video, too.

  2. I loved seeing the orangutans in Borneo last year! Such an incredible experience. I’m not sure if I was at the same exact place you went to, but it sounds similar. Did you also get to see the proboscis monkeys nearby? They were pretty incredible too.

  3. Wow, this is going on my bucket list! We recently visited a turtle conservation program and I had the same thoughts – how do we allow such beautiful animals to be so endangered?
    Your photos are beautiful Caz!

  4. I can imagine that seeing them in the wild would be more exciting, but the sanctuary is a great cause for their survival, and visiting and supporting a place like this is a great way to help preserve their species and create awareness. I want to go!

  5. Thank you Caz! We are in KK now and didn’t even realise this place was here, gonna go check it out. We saw some in Sarawak and really enjoyed watching them interact with each other and swinging around.

  6. Hello:
    I’m looking into volunteering at a sanctuary for orangutans at the moment.. I was wondering if you could tell me a bit more about your trip: such as where you stayed, rough prices for you flight and accommodation per week?
    I’d really appreciate it!
    Thanks ([email protected])

  7. I visited this place earlier this year, pretty amazing. And sad at the same time. Sad that a place like that has to exist. I also saw wild orangutans during a river cruise, they were far away but you could see them as they were sitting in a tree. That was even more amazing, even though it was hard to see them. But they were completely out in the wild and I think that was so awesome! Apparently it’s rare to see them so close to the Kinabatangan river.

    Did you visit the Turtle sanctuary at Selingan Island? If not, I can recommend that for your next trip to Borneo.

  8. Do you know when the best time to go is at the sanctuary in Kota Kinabalu? (Time of day)? Also, do you have to have tickets or can you walk in that day? Thank you!

  9. Brittany parker

    Hello! Loved what you wrote! My boyfriend and I are planing a trip to Kota Kinabalu and I would love to go and see the orangutan’s. We’re on a budget and I can’t see anywhere if we can go to the sanctuary without having to stay at the resort because it seems out of our budget. Any info you have would be much appreciated.


  10. Great post on orangutans but please do not promote contact with humans as human diseases can easily spread to orangutans and can be dangerous for them. Thanks!

  11. I visited Bukit Luang in 2010 and back then a strict distance had to be adhered. I would think as a self promoted animal lover you’d recognise this without being told. Also the fact you’re feeding them biscuits seems a little contradicting. Sorry for my blunt opinion, but I dont think you need to be a tree hugger to see that feeding wild animals biscuits is a no no.

    1. I visited Bukit Luang and had this experience in 1997 – a very different time to 2010. As mentioned, these were rehabilitated orangutans that had been re-released into the wild. They knew the guides and came up to us as soon as they saw us. We didn’t encroach on their space. And yes I agree that feeding them biscuits is a no go. BAck in 1997 I was young and ignorant and following what they guide said was okay. Thankfully we have the grace in life to learn from the ignorance of our youth.

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