Semenggoh Orangutan Rehab – Meeting Ritchie


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Kuching is a great cosmopolitan city. Easy to navigate, great places to eat and it’s easy to get to the countryside if you’re so inclined. It’s also easy to get to a few national parks from here and the Semenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, 24 km from Kuching – and that’s primarily why we’re here.

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We’re here really because of Ritchie.  We’ve been incredibly lucky with our Orangutan spotting here on Borneo, so we figured we’d have one last trip. This time we’re in Sarawak, home of the Semenggoh Rehabilitation Centre. The main work of this centre has moved to the Matang Reserve, which backs onto the Kubah National Park, however, Semenggoh is still open and it’s also incredibly accessible from Kuching via public bus.

Richie was born in 1981 and he’s the current dominant male here at Semenggoh – and because of him we’re taking a last look at Orangutan’s on Borneo.

Like the rehabilitation centre at Sepilok, Sabah, the centre operates feeding times, to supplement the diet of rehabilitated Orangs. Here in Semmengoh those times are 09:00 and 15:00, so we took the K6 green bus from the bus stop on the corner of Jalan Masjid and Jalan Gertak, near the mosque. The centre itself was open from 08:00 until 11:00 and from 14:00 until 16:00.



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The bus was a bargain 4RM and left at 0720, getting us there in plenty of time for the first feeding, although getting there at 7 was important to get a seat – we’d contemplated catching it at the alternate stop as shown on the map below,  but we’re glad we didn’t as by then we were jam packed.

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We grabbed breakfast from one of the stalls by the bus stop (it’s not a station, just a road with buses parked on it, despite what the guidebooks may say).

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Forty five (45)  minutes later we were dropped at the entrance to the centre – remembering to ask the driver what time the buses returned (timetables here are subject to change on a whim), so we were aiming for the 11am return bus – as unlike the rehab centre in Sepilok, there’s not much else to do here between feeding times.

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The ticket office is right where the bus dropped us off and our tickets cost us 10 RM each (it was 5 RM for domestic tourists.) From the ticket office it was a 20 or so minute walk along the road through the park.

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If you take a private tour – and that’s where most of the folks seemed to come from – our local bus disgorged maybe 12 people at the centre – the van or car will drive you most of the way from the ticket office to the feeding area.  It’s somewhat undulating but a not unpleasant walk on a tarmac road. There are also a series of trails that you can follow off to the right and left, but it definitely feels a little unloved.

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We had time to take a look around the small hut with information boards telling us the names and ages of the various Orangutans that come back for feeding here, and then we headed to the covered wooden platform for our mandatory briefing from the rangers.

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Considering that they do this briefing every day it was poor. Full of waffle, repetitive and if he’d condensed it to 3 minutes rather than 15, it would have been more appropriate – somehow in lengthening the message he diluted it completely. Still there’s a stampede when he says we need to head off to the left down a small track.

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Of course all the slower visitors are at the front and we trip over each other and tree roots for 10 minutes before arriving at another viewing platform, where we stand (vaguely quietly). I’m torn between hoping that the Orangs can’t find enough food and need to come here and hoping that they never need to come here again.

This is definitely much busier than even the morning feeding session at Sepilok, but also feels more disorganised.

We’ve been stood almost silent for 10 minutes when there’s a whisper that grows that Ritchie is back at the feeding platform that we left to come here.  If we want to see him we need to head back. The slow folks managed to get to the front again (how does that happen?) So we all trip over each other and the tree roots again and head back to the covered platform.  Here we’re held back by a rope and more disorganization.  Then we see several Orangutans head through the trees on ropes to the feeding platform.

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Ritchie is lured by the rangers, along the ground. He’s HUGE.

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Gigantic. I imagine he’s not in the trees because he’s too darned big for the trees, that they’d buckled under his bulk. Oh, but I’m so glad we’re seeing him.

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Although are we? Really seeing him, I mean.  His movements are so human. Part of me is convinced I’m watching a man in an Orang suit. Is he so human or are we so ape?

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Ritchie is 34 years old. Even if we were to have Borneo on our agenda in the future (we don’t, there’s the rest of the world to see first), it’s unlikely we’ll get back in the rest of his lifetime. I’m seriously glad we got to see him, it’s a privilege, despite all the loud clicking cameras and exclamations from a crowd who seem to have forgotten to shut up now Ritchie is here.

It’s been a pleasure to share one of our last wild moments in Borneo with the king of this area.

P1090914 P1090916 P1090923P.S.  If you were to visit just one rehab centre to see Orangutans here on Borneo, I’d go to Sepilok rather than Semenggoh, there are less people, and despite first appearances, it’s definitely less touristy.

 

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About Sarah Carter

Sarah Carter is an avid reader, writer and traveller. She loves hiking, sailing, skiing and exploring the world through food. She left a successful career in IT security and compliance in both the UK and US to travel the world with husband and partner in adventure, Nigel.

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