Endangered Orangutans Up Close in Borneo

mother baby orangutan

Mother and Baby Orangutan, Borneo.
Image credit: Weeping Camel

Many visitors to Borneo who are interested in eco travel make a bee-line for the well-known orangutan rehabilitation sanctuary at Sepilok, near Sandakan in the Malaysian province of Sabah. Fewer people know there is another orangutan sanctuary just 45 minutes’ drive from Kota Kinabalu.

The 64-acre nature reserve was established by the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort and the Sabah Wildlife Department in 1996. Rasa Ria is a fancy beach-side hotel, but it is possible to visit without staying there – to experience the nature reserve, including the orangutan sanctuary and jungle canopy walkway, as well as the hotel restaurant and beach.

orangutan sepilok

Orangutan in Rasa Ria Nature Reserve.
Image credit: Natasha von Geldern

Adjoining the hotel grounds is a protected ecological space dedicated to supporting the endangered wildlife of Borneo. The nature reserve is home to 67 different species and there is a veterinarian clinic, ranger station and food preparation kitchen all on site.

The Rasa Ria Nature Reserve works in conjunction with the Sepilok centre, taking in the youngest rescued orangutans and helping them through the initial phase of rehabilitation. The youngsters stay here three to five years until they are big enough to fend for themselves in the jungle and ready to be transferred to Sepilok for subsequent phases of rehabilitation.

The team here has seen 29 orangutans successfully rehabilitated and there are currently four babies aged between three and six years: Katie, Wulan, Tenten and Itinban.

The stories of these beautiful creatures are all too common; of rescue by workers at the huge palm oil plantations in Tawau. Orphaned and robbed of their habitat they would stand little chance without human intervention.

Baby Orangutan, Sepilok Nature Reserve.  Image credit:  Daniel Kleeman

Baby Orangutan, Sepilok Nature Reserve.
Image credit: Daniel Kleeman

As well as welcoming visitors to view the orangutans, the Rasa Ria Nature Reserve also runs programmes for local students, with the aim of raising awareness about the need to protect this precious species.

In 2009, the Sabah Wildlife Department and Shangri-La initiated a wildlife rescue unit to complement the rehabilitation centre. Around 20 rangers were recruited from local communities in Sabah and this team works to rescue elephants and orangutans across the province.

So is the orangutan rehabilitation sanctuary at Rasa Ria as good as the famous one at Sepilok? I have spoken to people who have visited both and they agreed that although there are more orangutans at Sepilok, Rasa Ria offers the chance to see them much closer as they are still at the stage of being quite comfortable around humans. I can certainly attest to that – one of the young animals came within a metre of me.

orang-utan malaysia

Orangutan in Borneo at Rasa Ria Nature Reserve, Sabah.
Image credit: Natasha von Geldern

The other difference is that at Rasa Ria you see babies and youngsters, whereas at Sepilok you will see adults. For me the proximity to Kota Kinabalu, where I was based on my Malaysia holiday, was a key point.

To visit the Rasa Ria orangutans call or email the Nature Reserve at least 72 hours before you wish to visit – this is important, both to reserve your place and ensure that they are offering orangutan viewing walks on that day. The cost is 65 Malaysian Ringgits (around $30).

Filed Under: ExperienceFeatured ArticlesMalaysiaReserves and Parks

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About the Author: Natasha von Geldern is a travel writer and editor who is passionate about making the pages of the atlas real, one step at a time. As well as Eco Traveller Guide, she contributes to Wild Junket Magazine, Yahoo! Total Travel, Travel Wire Asia and Travelbite.co.uk. She blogs at www.worldwanderingkiwi.com and tweets about all things travel @NvGtravels.

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  1. Steve says:

    We also went to the Rasa Ria reserve about a year ago now – good to see they’re keeping up with the great work there
    Steve recently posted..Pyramids of the Sun and Moon – Teotihuacan, MexicoMy Profile

  2. Jennifer says:

    I can barely stand to read about orangutans, it breaks my heart. You really got some terrific photos here, though.
    Jennifer recently posted..Hiking Forest Park in Portland, OregonMy Profile

  3. One of my favorite animals in the world. It’s terrible to think they might be extinct one day (excluding zoos). These organisations are so important to keep them going, but more importantly us humans need to change our attitude towards helping keep these animals survive.
    Nicole @ Green Global Travel recently posted..The Triumph of Tenacity & Our Next Eco AdventureMy Profile

  4. Elle says:

    What amazing photos!! Am very jealous here.
    Elle xx
    Elle recently posted..Barbara’s SpainMy Profile

  5. Sandra Foyt says:

    We just saw an exhibit at the Philadelphia Zoo on the plight of the orangutans; of course, I’d rather see them in their native Borneo.
    Sandra Foyt recently posted..New York City Photos from the Circle LineMy Profile

  6. omg those faces are so adorable. i love them, i love them, i love them! gabi
    gabi klaf (the nomadic family) recently posted..The Reality of Family Life on the Road- Rain for the Limping Soul- PhilippinesMy Profile

  7. Dale says:

    If I show these pictures to Franca her heart will explode with excitement. She’d love to help these guys and gals out given the opportunity.
    Dale recently posted..The Question Everyone Is Asking – Where To Next?My Profile

  8. Debbie says:

    The realization they may one day be extinct is sad. Organizations like this are so important. You took some really great photos! Thanks for sharing!
    Debbie recently posted..Hector Pieterson Museum & MemorialMy Profile

  9. Such fascinating creatures. It’s good to know someone is sticking up for them!
    Bethaney – Flashpacker Family recently posted..Can You Stay in Hostels with Kids? #hostels @YHA_AustraliaMy Profile

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