Travel Features > National Park & The Great Outdoors > Semengoh

An Introduction to
Semengoh Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre

Warden, Platform and Orang-Utans
©Wayne Tarman
Semengoh Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre is undoubtedly one of the best attractions in the Kuching area. It's highly accessible, only half an hour from Kuching by public bus, and offers the opportunity of getting close to some highly mischievous, semi-wild orang-utan. The centre was established in 1975 in order to care for wild animals which have either been found injured in the forest, orphaned, or previously kept as illegal pets. Although the centre houses many species of endangered wildlife, the orang-utans are the star attractions.

The centre's orang-utan population can be divided into two groups. The first group are the recent arrivals and the 'no-hopers'. The recent arrivals are usually young orphans whilst the 'no-hopers' are those orang-utans that have been previously kept as pets for so long that there is simply no chance that they will ever be able to fend for themselves in the wild. Recent arrivals are first given a medical check-up and then placed in cages. After a short period in quarantine their training begins. The young orang-utan are taught how to survive in their natural jungle habitat. Every day the wardens take them out into the forest and encourage them to climb trees, swing on branches and forage for food. After two to four years they are usually able to fend for themselves and are therefore released into the surrounding forest.

The second group consists of the semi-wild orang-utans that roam the 740 hectare forest reserve. These animals are half way through the rehabilitation process and mostly fend for themselves, foraging for food and living in the forest. However, they are partial to a free feed every now and then, and frequently return to the centre to grab a quick meal of banana, papaya, fresh milk or whatever the wardens happen to have.

The best time to visit Semengoh is during feeding time, which takes place between 8.30-9.00 am and 3.00-3.30 pm. The semi-wild orang-utans are good time keepers and as feeding time approaches they start to make an appearance. They descend from the trees of the surrounding forest reserve to offer visitors a unique wildlife experience and some excellent photo opportunities. They often make their way to the lower branches and small trees which surround the various orang-utan enclosures, the very same cages where they used to stay before graduating to the forest. Here, they play with each other, swing about in the hanging vines and occasionally descend to ground level to 'charge' groups of tourists.

Orang-utan hanging on tree
©Wayne Tarman
When the wardens arrive with buckets of food and bottles of milk the orang-utans stop playing around and head to the feeding platform. They follow the warden, walking along the plankwalk or swinging from tree to tree high up in the canopy above. At the feeding platform the warden tries to maintain some kind of order as the orang-utans move in, grab handfuls of food and scamper off to climb the nearest tree. Some of the orang-utan stay on the platform or sit on the ground until they're stuffed full.

Feeding times offer the chance of viewing the orang-utan at close range for a reasonably long period of time. The orang-utan usually spend an hour or so having their free meal and messing around with each other, the wardens and any tourist who happens to be standing in the way when they come wandering by. When the food has run out and the animals tire of the fun and games they gradually move off into the forest leaving visitors with an unforgettable wildlife experience.

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