Post Rainforest World Music Festival, Encounter with the Orangutans

Orangutan female with baby - Photo by Angel Romero
The last day of the post-Rain Forest World Music Festival program took us to the Semmongoh Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center to visit the orangutans. The word “orang” is Malay for “person” while “utan” is derived from “hutan” which means forest. Thus, orang utan literally translates as “person of the forest”.

According to Malaysian sources, some 12,000 orangutans are believed to live in the forests of Sabah and Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo). Orangutans also live in Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan) and North Sumatra (Indonesia). The orangutan is one of the world’s largest primates, and is almost completely arboreal (tree living). They are primarily fruit eaters.

My group of journalists had an exquisite breakfast at the Hotel Pullman Kuching. You can choose between a western style breakfast with eggs and sausage, or cereals and fruit, or you can go for the Malay breakfast, which I chose. It consisted of a variety of delicious noodles, spring rolls, samosas and other goodies. For desert there was a large selection of pastries.

Satiated with great food, we boarded our van, which took us to the Semmongoh Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, which is 20 kilometers away from Kuching. This park is a sanctuary for injured and orphaned orangutans and is home to over 20 of these ‘people of the forest.’

We got there right around the feeding time and were greeted by Mr. Jen Sangel, Semenggoh’s park manager. Even though the orangutans are free to roam around, the park is not large enough to support wild food for all the orangutans so the park staff provides additional food, which consists of fruits that are placed on a feeding platform.

young orangutan - Photo by Angel Romero
Semmongoh is open to the public and the park’s regular feeding times are the best opportunities to take photos and videos of the great apes. You can get there by bus, taxi or with a packaged tour easily available at Kuching’s hotels.

We watched the large dominant male named Richie eating first while the smaller males, females and baby orangutans waited. The ‘people of the forest‘ are incredibly agile arboreal apes and they are fascinating to watch as they move throughout the trees.

After the feeding, park employees Francis Gombek and Nor Emel, gave us a briefing about the orangutans, their habitat and conservation efforts. The visit included a nest survey. We walked around and learned how to spot nests to identify which are recent and which are old nests. Orangutans create a new nest every day.

If you are interested in supporting the orangutan conservation efforts, Sarawak Forestry has the Orangutan Adoption Program. Cost is RM200 (Individual) / RM10,000 (Corporate). A certificate for adoption will be issued. More information at: Orangutan Adoption Programme; Sarawak Forestry Corporation; Sdn. Bhd.
Lot 218, KCLD, Jalan Tapang, Kota Sentosa; 93250 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia. Tel: +6082 610088, Fax: +6082 610099. Email:, Website:

kolok mee noodle dish - Photo by Angel Romero
For lunch, Margaret Tan took us to a eat a typical Sarawak noodle dish. Several of our colleagues from mainland Malaysia and Singapore were really looking forward to eating the local kolok mee and none of us were disappointed. The version I tried included noodles, shrimp, various types of dumplings and pork in a tasty sauce.

After lunch, we went to the Arboretum of Sarawak area to take a look at the wide variety of plant species endemic to Sarawak. Our guide was CY Ling. The visit included a tour through the various gardens: ethno-botany, arboretum, orchid, nepenthes and bamboo.

The botanical visit was the end of the official program. That evening, I met with radio producer and Rainforest World Music Festival master of ceremonies Hendrick Foh and his wife Agatha. They took me to a Chinese restaurant called Akasu, where the food was excellent. We ate suckling pig, crabs, a shellfish called razor shell, oyster pancakes and more of the delicious local fern called sayur paku.

I would like to thank the Sarawak Tourism Board, Sarawak Forestry Corporation, Diethlem Travel & Tours, Pullman Hotel Kuching and all the wonderful staff and volunteers involved in making this a memorable trip.

Read the whole Rainforest World Music Festival 2011 series:


Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites and Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.


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