Malaysia Part 2: Semenggoh and the Wetlands

Semenggoh Wildlife Centre

Outside Kuching lies the Semenggoh Nature Reserve and its Semenggoh Wildlife Centre for rescued Orangutans. This was our first chance to encounter the endangered “men of the forest” on Borneo and even though we had planned to visit the well-known Sepilok Orangutan Centre later on in Sarawak, we decided to give this one a shot, too. After all, it’s for a good cause. Also, there’s no guarantee to see the rare great apes during one visit, so adding one centre to our journey seemed to be a good idea. And it totally was! The Semenggoh left us stunned with an incredible and unforgettable experience.

Kuching Riverfront
Kuching Riverfront

Following old internet posts, we headed at 7 am to the bus station for a ride to the rehabilitation center, only to find out that there is no bus going to Semenggoh anymore. We saw two couples talking to a local and trying to find a way to the reserve, so we joined them and took two taxis instead and shared the costs (40 MYR / taxi). The entrance fee is only 10 MYR and among donations and adoptions it’s one of the possibilities to help the park and animals. We were way too early so we waited on a bench and prepared camera and lenses. Then a few minutes before the feeding time, a ranger gathered everyone together to hold a short but important speech. The majority of Orangutans in Semenggoh were once held as illegal pets, injured or orphaned. The rehabilitation centre has the crucial mission to take care of the apes and make sure they can survive in the forest before releasing them in the wild. There are two feeding times a day, so the already released Orangutans that roam the jungle freely can come back to the centre’s dedicated area to grab coconuts or bananas – if they want to. That means if no one shows up, it’s actually a good sign and they’ve become completely independent. With these last uplifting words, the ranger guided us into the rainforest.

The path was particularly dark with only a few sunrays beating their way through the treetops onto the soil and large roots in front of our feet. Looking up, it was no wonder why – the large roots belonged to immensely tall trees, giving off a completely different vibe than the Bako National Park. 

Suddenly, it got brighter, as we reached a clearing in which the feeding platform was situated. The ranger, now on the other side of a trench, started making deep noises and thus calling the great apes. Everyone was quiet. Would they come? It seemed as the whole jungle was submerged in silence. Then, in the distance, branches cracked and leaves started shaking. The first “whoa”s and “oohhh”s were quietly leaving the open mouths of the people around us when a little ball of orange fur appeared behind the rattling trees. The first Orangutan had made its way to the clearing.

semenggoh wildlife centre orangutan

In awe we all kept our eyes and cameras on the invitee who was swinging from one treetop to the other, coming closer and closer and finally grabbing one of the ropes to slide down to the platform.

The spectacle kept on for an hour. We got to see a tall male Orangutan who initially scared of the young ones and sat down for a while, enjoying the fruit. The other ones came back shortly, but kept its distance out of respect and were climbing on the trees around us. 6 apes in total came to the clearing.

Unfortunately, the feeding time came to an end. The ranger brought us back to the entrance, where we met up with the two couples again. It turned out that we were all pretty amazed and this was a memorable, magical experience. 

Ian and Magdalena told us they’d do a boat trip through the wetlands that evening. This sounded pretty cool and we hadn’t yet plans for the rest of the day. So when we arrived in Kuching, we headed for the agency’s office and bought our tickets for the wetlands tour.

Kuching Wetlands National Park

The tour was not a bargain. It cost us 197 MYR (42€) per person for a guided boat trip in the Kuching Wetlands National Park. It would be for 4 hours, transfer and a meal included. We were pretty surprised when they asked us about allergies and they assured us we’d even get a vegan meal. At 4pm, the 3 guys from “Kuching Exploring” picked us up and the trip started immediately with a few jokes and laughters as soon as we entered the vehicle. On the way to the wetlands, we stopped once for Ian and Magdalena and once for the freshly cooked meals a guide had ordered for take away. 

The trip was totally worth it. We saw the first Proboscis Monkeys, had noodles with vegetables on the river, watched the sunset and observed fireflies after dark. Plus, we really had great guides that made the evening entertaining and taught us a lot about the people and animals of Sarawak. The only downside was the hunt for dolphins at the beginning of the boat tour. As soon as we left the harbor, our and a few other boats were eager to spot the mammals in the water. We’re obviously not fans of following animals with loud engines in hope to see a fin rising out of the water, so this was an unexpected letdown. After 20 minutes we finally continued and cuttered towards the interesting wetlands. Besides the long-nosed monkeys, we didn’t come across any wildlife. The land- and seascapes in the marvelous warm light, the golden hour, made up for it.

After the obligatory fresh coconut in the late evening, we fell in our beds. The following day we left for Kota Kinabalu and its Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. 

Jim
Author

Malaysia Travel Log

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