Indonesia boasts some of the most unique wildlife in the world, the islands of Sumatra and Borneo indeed the only places where you can find the great apes. And even more limited are the places where the orangutans of Borneo are still wild in their natural habitat.
Borneo has one of the oldest rainforests in the world, and the Borneo jungle was long considered the ultimate adventure challenge. With this mystical aura and a unique species, it is no surprise we decided to head to Kalimantan which has four different national parks where to see orangutans.
The Wild Orangutans of Borneo: Kutai National Park
We chose Kutai National Park to see the great wild apes and spent three days and two nights there. About 600 wild orangutans (sometimes spelled orang-utans) live throughout Kutai National Park, with 30 within 5 square kilometers ( 2 sq. miles) of the lodge. Though the population of the park decreased sharply in the early 2000s, recent data shows the number has been growing to about 2,000. Indeed, new babies are born every year, each female bringing a new baby every seven years.
During our stay, we had the chance to see orangutans every time we went on a hike. We were thrilled to see our first orangutang, and could not believe our luck at each new encounter. They even came to the compound, where we saw one two mornings in a row.
We met two different families. One family of four had a mother, a male, a young of about 15 years, and a young baby orangutan of about 1.5 years. Babies usually stay very close for the first three years, then relatively close for another three. The adolescent was somewhat aggressive, shuffling branches around at our sight, and sending branches towards our direction. We tracked back to give it space and let him cool down.
Interesting facts about orangutans: the families change their location every day, as they like to stay in a clean nest every night. So every day, every hike, you need to search for the groups again.
The other family was quieter and did not mind our presence. Instead, we enjoyed a ballet performance from the young baby. That little one was a definite character, and we loved watching him interact with his mum.
Wild Orangutans: Borneo Jungle Habitat
The orangutans like to eat ripe fruits, figs, but also bark, leaves, and sometimes even termites. Some of the fruits had a shell, which the orangutans would crunch with their strong jaws. Our ranger Udin was listening to these sounds, that would indicate an animal was nearby. We quickly learned to identify that distinctive sound ourselves, and soon found wild orangutans in a tall sangkwang tree.
These are usually very tall and large trees and offer protection and habitats to the wild animals, in one of the few remaining rainforests in Borneo. We spent about two hours with this group of orangutans. They stayed close to that one tree, moving from branches to branches, nibbling on fruits. One younger separated from the group after a while, jumping from one tree to the other and hanging from the flexible branches.
The orangutans also like to chew on the branches of the young acacia trees to drink the milky sap.
The last morning, a young male moved through the nearby trees and settled in a neesia tree. Many of the fruits were ripe for the taking, and the orangutan feasted on these while seated on the top branch. We observed for about one hour, while it gently ate its way around.
He then left, crossing over the high walkway, hanging in the bamboo trees before disappearing into the jungle. Orangutans are such large animals, both fast and slow at the same time. Fast to move from tree to tree, but slow and deliberate in their constant movements.
Getting Close, Too Close
These three days watching the wild orangutans gave us great insights into Orangutan habitat and habits. It was remarkable to observe them in relatively closed up conditions, where they stay, play, eat, sleep.
One of the key features of Kutai National Park is that the apes here are entirely wild animals, not reintroduced as it is the case in other national parks.
While it is disheartening to see how limited their space is due to deforestation of the rainforest, it was also impressive to see how close they let humans approach. Most of them show no fear of people, probably a sign how respectful the park treats them. However, it also shows how accustomed they became. Maybe not a good sign in case of poaching, an issue the parks also faces in some areas. A clear sign of human impacts on the natural habitats and animal behavior.
How to Plan a Borneo Jungle Tour
For details on how to organize a Borneo Jungle trek, or to visit Kutai National Park, click here to find our travel guide to Kutai National Park.
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