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How will your visit to the wilds of Borneo help save the ‘Critically Endangered’ Orangutans?

Nicola Shepherd By Nicola Shepherd
20 Oct 2017
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Both orangutan species are now on the path toward extinction. The Bornean orangutan is now critically endangered, with populations in sharp decline due to habitat destruction and illegal hunting.

Bornean orangutans now join their cousins, Sumatran orangutans, which have been listed as critically endangered since 2008. Populations for that species are currently estimated at about 14,000.


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Anyone who is truly committed to conservation will find this news particularly devastating and I honestly feel that more progress to protect these splendid creatures should have been made by now. Until Indonesia and Malaysia get a handle on their illegal deforestation and clamp down on bad behavior by the legal palm oil and rubber plantation industries, orangutans will only continue to decline.

With great regret it looks like the world has yet to wake up to that threat.


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You can help by visiting them in their natural habitats

By visiting orangutans in their natural habitat, one can help save this most endangered species. A great way is by taking a short, adventurous trek which offers a rare chance to see orangutans in the wild, living naturally amongst the primeval landscapes of Borneo’s rainforests.

Staying in jungle camps and spending some time with the local Iban people, this is a unique opportunity to experience the true essence of one of the most fascinating destinations in Southeast Asia.


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From colonial Kuching you drive out through a rural landscape of rich plantations and colorful markets, heading for the expansive waters of Batang Ai and the Nanga Sumpa Longhouse. An evening with the Iban then provides a unique opportunity for some priceless interaction, before striking out along the rainforest trails the following morning to your first camp at Sungai Mawang.

Over the coming days you trek through forests that are home to wild orangutans and pigtailed macaques, wandering past towering pusaka trees and camping beneath the startling blanket of a jungle sky, whilst all the time watching out for signs of the elusive red apes.


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Include a visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in the Malaysian Sabah District of North Borneo was founded in 1964, to rehabilitate orphan orangutans. The site is 43 sq. km of protected land at the edge of Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve. Today around 60 to 80 orangutans are living free in the reserve.

The facility provides medical care for orphaned and confiscated orangutans as well as dozens of other wildlife species. Some of the other animals which have been treated at the centre include; sun bears, gibbons, Sumatran rhinos and elephants.


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Having seen the educational (although optional) DVD at the centre, you can make your way through the forest to the viewing platform. From here you can witness the successfully rehabilitated orangutans living wild in the reserve coming for a free feed.

It's a magical experience, as the trees begin to shake, and a flash of orange appears. Two rangers arrive with fruit and sugar cane to place on the feeding platform, approximately 60 feet from the viewing platform.


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The orangutans that come for this free feed are wild and therefore can be dangerous, so there are staff on hand to make sure interactions do not occur, for the safety of both visitor and orangutan.

You will have a most magical experience in the forest surrounded by the sights, smells and sounds of Borneo. There are also various nature trails and walks within the reserve; from tropical highland rainforest, to lowland mangrove swamps where wildlife can be seen including orangutans and nocturnal animals on the night walk. The walks vary from 250 m to 5 km.


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You can donate towards the care of the orangutans at the centre and orangutan conservation?

Please visit either the centres Donations page or why not adopt one of the orphaned orangutans before you go.  You may even get to see your adopted baby when you visit.  Adopting one of the young orangutans is an excellent way to help the centre raise funds for their current projects and get something back in return for your support.  You can also visit their Adoptions page for further details. Alternatively, you can also adopt or give a donation when you are at the Centre.


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Here are the hard facts!

Bornean orangutan populations have declined by more than 50% over the past 60 years, and the species' habitat has been reduced by at least 55% over the past 20 years.

The Bornean orangutan differs in appearance from the Sumatran orangutan, with a broader face and shorter beard and also slightly darker in color. Three subspecies are recognized, each localized to different parts of the island:

  • Northwest Bornean orangutans are the most threatened subspecies. Its habitat has been seriously affected by logging and hunting, and a mere 1,500 individuals or so remain. Many habitat patches in the area are small and fragmented.
  • Northeast Bornean orangutans are the smallest in size and found in Sabah and eastern Kalimantan as far as the Mahakam River.
  • Central Bornean orangutans are the subspecies with the most animals, with at least 35,000 individuals.


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Why do Orangutans matter to us and the planet?

Orangutans play a critical role in seed dispersal, keeping forests healthy. Over 500 plant species have been recorded in their diet.

The majority of wild orangutan populations are located outside of protected areas, in forests that are exploited for timber production or in the process of being converted to agriculture. An estimated 300 million trees have been cut down in Borneo since 1994.

Orangutans have an extremely low reproductive rate because they have a long interbirth interval, single offspring, and take a long time to reach sexual maturity.


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What are the key threats for Orangutans?

Illegal Wildlife Trade - Young orangutans are in demand for a flourishing pet trade, with each animal fetching several hundred dollars in city markets on nearby islands. Studies have indicated that 200-500 orangutans from Indonesian Borneo alone enter the pet trade each year. This represents a real threat to wild orangutan populations as orangutans have an extremely low reproductive rate. There is also trade in orangutan parts in Kalimantan, with orangutan skulls fetching up to $70 in towns.

Conflict With Humans – Orangutans are sometimes shot in retaliation when they move into agricultural areas, such as oil palm plantations, and destroy crops. This occurs particularly in times of hardship when orangutans can’t find the food they need in the forest.


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What is doing

Orangutans used to roam as far north as southern China, and as far south as the Indonesian island of Java. Today they’re only found on two islands – Sumatra and Borneo.

To secure a future for orangutans ‘Save the Orangutan’ focuses on restoring their habitats, addressing wildlife crime and reducing human-orangutan conflict.

How You Can Help Further?

You can adopt an Orangutan here

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