It’s our last day in Sarawak. We are sad to leave this wonderful place, but also excited for this day. Because this day we will have an opportunity to see semi wild orangutans in their natural habitat. We are signed up to do a Kuching heritage and Semenggoh tour with Borneo Adventure.
Our guide today is Freda who picks us up and the other guests in the morning. Freda is a Sarawak local, from the Bidayuh tribe, and has so much love and passion for Sarawak, it shines through in everything she does. We will be exploring Kuching in the morning, before heading to the highlight of the tour in the afternoon – the orangutans.
This is our fourth and final day in Kuching. We have seen quite a bit of the central part of town, but we are looking forward to learning about the city from the perspective of a local. As we drive around to different sights and points of interest, Freda explains the significance of the name Kuching (it means “cat” in Malay), the feng shui principles behind some of the city’s design, and the history of Kuching and Sarawak.
Sarawak was born when British adventurer James Brooke put down a rebellion in the area, and was rewarded a piece of land from the Sultan of Brunei. Over time the Sultan needed more and more favours, and in return James Brooke demanded more and more land for his new state of Sarawak. We had read a little bit about the history of Sarawak before the tour, but what we didn’t understand was the deep love and respect the local people of Sarawak have for the Brooke family.
In the latter part of the morning we visited the Ethnology Museum of Sarawak. The lower half of the museum show cases flora and fauna from Sarawak, while the upper floors are all about the different tribes of the region. Freda is an expert in local tribes, and also guides tours to tribal longhouses and on treks through the rain forest. She offers insight into tribal life that no amount of informational placards could ever provide.
But onwards to Semenggoh and the moment we have all been waiting for. It’s about a 40 minute drive from Kuching to the wild life centre of Semenggoh. The centre here operates as a place to rehabilitate injured or rescued animals, as well as study these amazing creatures and provide education to the general public. It is not a zoo, and in fact, there are no zoos at all in Sarawak. This centre is home to several semi wild orangutans who come and go as they please. The centre offers food twice daily, but whether the orangutans show up is up to them. During the fruit season, none might come at all.
It’s the end of the fruit season when we visit, and orangutans are starting to come back to the centre. The public is allowed to stay in the viewing area for one hour only, to try to minimize the impact on the orangutans. Before we head to the viewing area we are given a safety briefing. A ranger goes through a list of behaviours which make the orangutans angry. No pointing sticks or umbrellas as they might mistake it for a gun and attack. No noise. No crying babies. Keep your distance. “You need to understand that if you end up getting attacked by an orangutan, I will not try to save you,” the ranger explains, “I have already been bitten twice while trying to save others who did not listen to instruction, and I do not intend to be bitten a third time.” That get’s everyone’s attention.
We are here to observe wild animals. This isn’t a zoo, there isn’t a cage to separate us from them. We are in their space now, and we need to respect that.
We head to the viewing area. Minutes tick by. Nothing happens. People are growing restless. It’s hot and we are all worried we might not see any orangutans, which is always a possibility. One of the rangers attention is intently drawn to a particular area of forest. Everyone turns to squint into the jungle behind us, not really knowing what we are looking for. Suddenly branches off in the distance start moving, and in the distance between two trees I see what looks to be a massive arm move between two branches.
We are in luck! One, two, three and then four orangutans gracefully pull themselves from tree to tree. A baby follows it’s mother through the canopy, too independent to ride on her back now. They ignore all the tourists frantically snapping photos and proceed to grab coconuts, smash them open with one hand, and start to eat.
When Jacob saw the orangutan smash open the coconut and start to eat it, he immediately found a nice big round rock which he was determined that Mama should eat as well. Being a parent is like enrolling in intensive acting school. He wouldn’t give up until he was satisfied I had eaten the rock just like the orangutan.
Seeing four orangutans was pretty amazing, but soon we would get the icing on the cake. Ritchie, the dominant male, was at the other feeding area. The crowd began to rush off. Ritchie can be extremely aggressive, so we needed to practice a lot of caution, but luckily today we was rather docile as he munched away on some bananas.
If you are in Kuching, then the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre is something you absolutely can not miss. The only way to see orangutans more wild than this is to do trekking and camping through the jungle. Plus, the money you spend at the Wildlife Centre will go back into further rehabilitation and research of the orangutans and Borneo’s other precious species.
We visited Kuching and Semonggoh with Borneo Adventure, and highly recommend this tour.