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Watching Orangutans

Thumbs up for orangutans and their opposable thumbs


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In Malay "orang-utan" means "person of the forest," and you will have to agree with this name especially after seeing them in their natural habitat. Even though almost every zoo in the world has orangutans, only a few areas on Earth have conservation areas with free and wild orangutans, and Malay Borneo is one of them.

Orangutans are native to the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Interesting to know, they are believed to be the most intelligent primates. They use very sophisticated tools in their daily life, construct sleeping nests, and it is also believed that they adhere to specific cultural behaviour within their living groups. Orangutans live about 30 years and an adult male can reach an average height of 130 cm.

The best time to observe these animals starts in late April or May when the rain season transitions into the dry season. At this time, you might see orangutans searching for ripe fruits and occasionally for potential mates. They feast on fruits, especially figs and other nutritious ones to gain some weight for the upcoming fruitless months. If you a lucky, you will see some baby orangutans on their first exploration "into the wild", as they usually get out once it's not so wet outside.

In the hot months of June and August when the food resources are scarce, you can see orangutan families sitting or lying around in a lazy mode for the purpose of saving energy. During this period, they might eat some leaves and flower, or even have a caterpillar snack once in a while. Then in October, when the fruiting season is fully on, orangutans spend hours eating as much as they can to prepare for the rain season.

Batang Ai National Park is a good place, especially if you are also interested in meeting gibbons and seeing hornbills. Ethnic Iban people inhabit this area and it is possible to learn their culture during the visit as well. It is recommended to take a guide there, as the only way to reach the park is by boat.

Danum Valley is inhabited by orangutans and also by cute pygmy elephants. You can enjoy a simple daylight walk or join a night safari for a more mystic experience. Kinabatangan Wildlife Reserve consists of mangrove forests. There you can meet large families of orangutans on the trees and even larger groups of crocodiles on the ground. So, be careful!

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