Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre ~ Sarawak Borneo

If you're stationed in Kuching and wish to do more than shopping, then there are quite a number of interesting day trips to take. One of them is the Semenggoh Wildlife Rehab Centre, where travellers would normally go to, for a glimpse of Orang Utans in their natural surroundings. The word 'rehab' is a little misleading - sounds like an institution for drug or alcohol dependent inmates. This could be true for certain captive pets for example, I once had the 'privilege' to meet a berok (macaque) who was completely addicted to cigarettes. His master would reward him with a cigarette after a day's work plucking coconuts at the plantation and once there was a white cockatoo that had to have his coffee in the morning to get rid of his morning blues. Imagine! Pets are just as prone to addiction as we are.

Semenggoh Rehab Centre is a sanctuary. a place where orphaned or illegally incapacitated animals like the orang utan, sun bears, gibbons, even hornbills are brought to once having been confiscated from their owners/ customs or brought in by members of the public and rangers.

So how do I get there?

If from Kuching city, it's a 45min drive south to the centre. You can either take the STC (Sarawak Transport Company) bus No 6, 6A, 6B, or 6C from opposite the Public Bank in town, on Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg. That costs about RM4 per person per way. Tell the bus driver you wish to be dropped off at the Semengoh Rehab Centre and the bus will stop you at the gates. Give yourself another 20minutes for the stroll from the gates to the centre.

If you're short of time, try to flag down a white mini van, sometimes, if they have no passengers, the driver may be obliged to take you to the centre for only RM8 per person per way. But then, you may have to negotiate the price with them and make sure they agree to it before hopping into the van. The plus side to the van is that they can drive all the way into the centre's parking area which saves you the time for the 20min walk to the centre from the gates. And if you want them to wait for you, just let them know but pay for the returning trip only when you leave the centre.

If you don't mind forking out some money for a taxi, it's about RM48 per way per taxi

Once you get to the gates, you will be required to purchase an entry permit for RM5 per person.(malaysians) RM10 per person (non malaysians)

And what is there to do at the Centre?

For those wanting to see the orang utans, it is best to be at the centre by 8.30am or 2.30pm daily. The feeding times are 9.00am and 3.00pm .

Before heading off to see the orang utans, a ranger will brief visitors on the orang utans, a short note on what to do and what not to do and then it's off to the feeding area.

A feeding platform is located off the path some 10minutes walk into the jungle. This is where semi-wild orang utans are fed twice daily with a healthy mix of fruits, vitamins, bottles of milk with mixed boiled beans /sugar cane/sunflower seeds and fresh young coconuts. The ranger lays a buffet spread on the feeding platform and once that's done, he normally calls out to the orang utans by their names. Visitors are requested to keep as quiet as possible. In a few minutes or so, a rustling in the trees from the far distance, high up in the treetops signals the arrival of these great beings.

The orang utan swinging from tree to tree is not as you'd imagine Tarzan would do - swinging from vine to vine. These majestic beings move slowly but steadily, lending their weight to bend the pole-like tree, connecting it to the next tree, crossing the treetop highway with ease. It approaches the platform, climbs down the thick ropes and scours the buffet table where it leisurely picks up its favourite food. A ranger maintains his distance although occasionally passing the orang utan a bottle of milk and its vitamins to make sure that it goes away with a balanced diet. Don't be too disappointed though if you do not get to see the orang utans. These are semi-wild ones. They are in the process of being reintroduced into their natural habitat and as is, the rangers prefer that they come and go when they wish to. There are in fact a few who have been completely rehabilitated and do not return to the centre for their daily feed unless during months when the jungle fruits are scarce. However, there are several too who have become so used to human interaction that they simply cannot be returned to the jungle. These are especially so for ones that have been brought up by humans from young. A number of the fully rehabilitated orang utans have been repatriated to the Matang Wildlife Centre, adjacent to the Kubah National Park . Its eventual release to the adjacent jungle would allow them a larger roaming area.

Feeding times:

9.00am - 10.00am

3.00pm - 3.30pm


Note : This is a reserve and the residents have first priority and not the visitors. The shy animals will come when they wish and if they don't turn up, all is not lost. The satisfaction is that there are still some orang utans in the wild and they are free. The centre is not a zoo, don't treat it as one. During fruiting and flowering seasons, the orang utans may not come to the feeding stations at all. You are responsible for their well being and that includes being respectful - too much noise , littering at will and smoking will affect them. Be mindful that you are in their territory.

What else is there to do?

This is Sarawak 's oldest forest reserve constituted in 1920. It's some 20km south of Kuching and covers some 653 hectared of primary lowland forest (mixed dipterocarp) and parts of old secondary forests with patches of kerangas (heath forest). Apart from the rehabilitation centre, there is a Botanical Research Centre (BRC), an arboretum and nature trails that snakes its way round the site allocated for research and also for ex-situ conservation of genetic pool of Sarawak 's flora. The Arboretum was established in 1951 to preserve a small area of natural primary lowland forest. It covers an area of approximately 14 hectares and is one of the few least disturbed lowland dipterocarp forests near the city. Here there are a count of 2,500 tree species from 60 plant families and ongoing research is in progress here still.

Of many species that's endemic to Borneo or Sarawak, there is a palm named Areca Ahmadeii that is endemic to Semengoh Reserve Park! For botanists, there are a number of nature trails namely; Jalan Bawah, Jalan Menara, Jalan Selatan, Jalan Tengah and Jalan Utaraur to whet your appetite. These trails are fairly short, the longest taking about 30 minutes (Jalan Selatan). Bird watchers wont be disappointed on these trails either, a number of resident and also migrating birds can be found here.. look out especially at clearings.

What about the Orang Utans and how can we help them?

10,000 years ago, orang utans were found throughout Southeast Asia ranging all the way into Laos and southern China . Their populations probably numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Today, these harmless creatures are found only in Sumatra and Borneo . Even with the slight geographical differences between the2 islands, there are 2 sub-species of orang utans. The Sumatran orang utan have a narrower face and longer beard than the Borneo relatives and the Bornean male are darker in colour with wider cheek pads.

In the mid 1800's explorers like Edgar Wallace, Odoardo Beccari and William Hornaday spent a great deal of time in the Bornean jungle collecting fauna and flora from the rich land. Hunting, skinning, bottling and classifying their collections to be sent back to the museums they are affiliated with or sold to buyers around the world hungry for collections for their museums. An extract from The Malay Archipelago; Russell Edgar Wallace of his travels in Borneo and the man who created Wallace's Line, 'Near the landing-place we found a fine house, 250 feet long, raised high above the ground on posts, with a wide verandah and still wider platform of bamboo in front of it. Almost all the people, however, were away on some excursion after edible birds'- nests or bees'-wax, and there only remained in the house two or three old men and women with a lot of children. The mountain or hill was close by, covered with a complete forest of fruit-trees, among which the Durian and Mangusteen were very abundant; but the fruit was not yet quite ripe, except a little here and there.' On his hunt for an Orang Utan he writes,'On the fourth day, however, we found a Mias feeding on a very lofty Durian tree, and succeeded in killing it, after eight shots. Unfortunately it remained in the tree, hanging by its hands, and we were obliged to leave it and return home, as it was several miles off. As I felt pretty sure it would fall during the night, I returned to the place early the next morning, and found it on the ground beneath the tree. To my astonishment and pleasure, it appeared to be a different kind from any I had yet seen; for although a full-grown male, by its fully developed teeth and very large canines, it had no sign of the lateral protuberance on the face, and was about one-tenth smaller in all its dimensions than the other adult males. The upper incisors, however, appeared to be broader than in the larger species, a character distinguishing the Simia morio of Professor Owen, which he had described from the cranium of a female specimen. As it was too far to carry the animal home, I set to work and skinned the body on the spot, leaving the head, hands, and feet attached, to be finished at home. This specimen is now in the British Museum .'

Edgar Wallace as with other naturalists in the 1800's believed that they had seen or caught subspecies of orangutans or Mias as the local natives, the Dyaks called them in Sarawak . That may have been true then but today there are only 2 subspecies. Has hunting and forest destruction reduced the orangutans to only 2 sub species or were the early naturalists mistaken? As Odoardo Beccari, a noted botanist of 1800's concluded that he found that all his specimens collected on the Mias, no one mias was perfectly alike from the next. He states,' It is possible in the remote past the Mias Tjaping and the Mias Kassa ( these were various types of orangutan named by the locals and thought to be distinct subspecies)were two quite distinct species, perhaps having their origin in separate regions, and only coming into contact on the same area. At present, however, it seems hardly that the two races should remain distinct, for individuals of each are found promiscuously in the same locality, and even on the same tree'.

Getting There

By air - point of entry is Kuching airport, Sarawak. If you're coming over from Kuala Lumpur, then there are 2 choices, Malaysia Airlines ; www.malaysia-airlines.com and Air Asia ; www.airasia.com . For Malaysians travelling to Sarawak, don't forget to bring your I.C. (identity cards with you.) and to fill in the disembarkation form.

By bus - From Kuching city, it's a 45min drive south to the centre. You can either take the STC (Sarawak Transport Company) bus No 6, 6A, 6B, or 6C from opposite the Public Bank in town, on Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg. That costs about RM4 per person per way. Tell the bus driver you wish to be dropped off at the Semengoh Rehab Centre and the bus will stop you at the gates. Give yourself another 10minutes for the stroll from the gates to the centre.

By minivan - Sometimes, if they have no passengers, the driver may be obliged to take you to the centre for only RM8 per person per way. But then, you may have to negotiate the price with them and make sure they agree to it before hopping into the van. The plus side to the van is that they can drive all the way into the centre's parking area which saves you the time for the 30min walk to the centre from the gates. And if you want them to wait for you, just let them know but pay for the returning trip only when you leave the centre.

By taxi - it's about RM48 per way per taxi.

Once you get to the gates, you will be required to purchase an entry permit for RM5 per Malaysian, RM10 for Non Malaysians

Best Time To Go

The Semengoh Wildlife Rehabitation Centre is open daily from 8.00am to 5.00pm

Feeding times at the centre is at 9.00am - 10.00am and from 3.00pm - 3.30pm