Orangutan rehabilitation sites and sanctuaries currently operate in three geographic regions.  The number of a given site corresponds to its position on the map.  Note that (*) denotes former rehabilitation sites.  Former sites are not shown on the map but are discussed in the text to follow.   

The five orangutan rehabilitation sites are discussed in more detail below and are organized according to their geographic location.    


In Malaysia, orangutans have been singled out for special protection and rehabilitation, unlike other endangered species. The Malaysian government established wildlife protection laws after federation and the 1963 Fauna Conservation Ordinance made it illegal to capture, keep or kill an orangutan within the Malaysian state of Sabah. The first rehabilitation effort was made by Barbara Harrison and the Sarawak Museum staff in 1961 (Harrisson, 1962) at Bako National Park in Sarawak. The aim of the project was to highlight the trade in orangutans and bring international attention to the need for protection (Harrisson, 1962; Schaller, 1961).

(1)  Sepilok (Sabah).   This is the only rehabilitation center in Sabah, located 25 km from the city of Sandakan on the northeast coast of Borneo. Sepilok was the first centre established in the wake of Barbara Harrison’s work. It was started as a small-scale experiment in 1964 (de Silva, 1965, 1971), soon after Sabah gained its independence through Malaysia in 1963 and Sabah passed a law strictly prohibiting the keeping of orangutans . Sepilok was founded shortly after Sabah established its Wildlife Branch in its Forestry Department (Payne & Andau, 1989).

Sepilok has now grown into an elaborate tourist park with reception area, cafeteria, signed trails, and guides. Its facilities are adjacent to the Sepilok Forest Reserve, a protected area of dipterocarp and heath forest about 43 km2 in size, where rehabilitant orangutans range once freed. Sepilok has remained the responsibility of the Wildlife Branch, although other agencies have contributed support. Canada, for example, through one of its aid organisations (CUSO), allocated funds for a volunteer to help develop its education program (Aveling & Mitchell, 1982) and Japan has contributed veterinary facilities and expertise for many years. As of 1989, Sepilok was reported to be supporting about 40 wild orangutans and a similar number of ‘rehabilitants’ (Payne & Andau, 1989).

The rehabilitation program consists of a graded series of stages through which ex-captives pass—quarantine, nursery, feeding platform, forest--according to each individual’s health, age, and experience status (Lardoux-Gilloux, 1994).

(2)  Semenggok (Sarawak).   Semenggok (Semenggoh, Semengoh), a small rehabilitation centre located near the city of Kuching in Sarawak, opened in 1975 (Kaplan & Rogers, 1994). It was originally a centre for gibbons (Aveling & Mitchell, 1982), then more recently became a government-run Wildife Rehabilitation Centre (Bennett, 1991).

Semenggok has access to a much smaller area of forest than Sepilok, the Semenggok Forest Reserve about 640 ha in size (about 1700 acres). Use of the reserve for orangutans and other wildlife is limited because the reserve is shared with botanical research facilities and nursery plots and it is surrounded by human populations (Bennett, 1991; McGreal, 1992). It is somewhat less accessible to tourists than Sepilok, and it supports a smaller community of ex-captive orangutans. There are no wild orangutans in the reserve.

As of 1991, orangutans were still being released into the Semenggok forest reserve. As of 1993, Semenggok sheltered about 20 orangutans confiscated from poachers and would-be smugglers. Continued introduction of ex-captive orangutans into such a small area must ultimately result in competition for resources and reduce the effectiveness of the program, as well as increase the likelihood that released orangutans will raid adjacent agricultural land.


(3)  Tanjung Puting.   Tanjung Puting National Park, just inland from the south coast of Borneo in Central Kalimantan, currently offers rehabilitation at several sites along its main river, the Sekonyer.

Tanjung Puting is coastal lowland, sitting on a peninsula jutting into the Java Sea. The peninsula is low-lying and swampy with a spine of dry ground that rises a few feet above the ever present swamp; nowhere does its elevation rise above 100 ft (Galdikas & Shapiro, 1994). About 205,000 ha of this region was declared a game reserve in 1935, much of representing good orangutan habitat (Aveling & Mitchell, 1982). It was made a National Park in 1982. The park officially covers 3,040 km2 of lowland dipterocarp and peat swamp forest. It is the largest protected forest in Central Kalimantan, one of the largest protected areas of tropical heath forest and peat swamp forest in Southeast Asia, and one of the most important wild orangutan areas in Borneo (Galdikas & Shapiro, 1994; Payne & Andau, 1989).

Camp Leakey, a site on the right branch of the Sekonyer River, was the main base for orangutan rehabilitation in Tanjung Puting from 1971 until the early 1990s. Camp Leakey was initially established by Dr. Biruté Galdikas for research on the resident wild orangutan population. Rehabilitation at Camp Leakey began informally in 1971, when Galdikas agreed with local authorities to accept ex-captive orangutans and assist them to return to free forest lives (Frey, 1978; Galdikas-Brindamour, 1975; OFI website, 1999).

Galdikas began using other sites within the park for orangutan rehabilitation from the late 1980’s (Tanjung Harapan, and briefly Natai Lengkuas). As of 1991 the intent was to cease rehabilitation at Camp Leakey because the camp had become increasingly crowded with rehabilitants, their offspring, and tourists. The crowding caused by the rehabilitants and their offspring probably stressed the wild population. The tourist influx undermined the rehabilitation process and increased the risk of introducing serious human diseases to the rehabilitant orangutans, who could then transmit disease to the wild orangutans.

The Indonesian government, via the national park authorities (PHPA), took over management of all orangutan rehabilitation in Tanjung Puting late in 1991. Since then, two new rehabilitation sites were opened for operation, a first at Tanjung Harapan and a second at Pondok Tandui. In 1995 new regulations came into law in Indonesia that prohibit the reintroduction of rehabilitant orangutans into areas currently supporting wild orangutan populations. Tanjung Puting supports an important wild orangutan population, so the aim is to terminate orangutan rehabilitation in the park. To handle the continuing influx of ex-captive orangutans in Central Kalimantan, a new rehabilitation site is under development at Nyaru Menteng, near the provincial capital of Palangka Raya.

(*)  Bontang.    A very small center specifically devoted to orangutan rehabilitation, but little known, operated for several years at Bontang on the edges of Kutai National Park in East Kalimantan. Bontang welcomed tourists, although relatively few visited because of its inaccessible location. It was closed in the mid 1990s when Wanariset took over all orangutan rehabilitation in East Kalimantan.

(4)  Wanariset.   Wanariset is a research centre dedicated to conservation-oriented research on tropical forests. It was established in the 1980’s by the Indonesian Department of Forestry, the Indonesian association of forest concession holders, and the Tropenbos Foundation of the Netherlands. It is part of the Forestry Research Institute, Samarinda, which reports to the Agency for Forestry Research and Development of the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry. Wanariset is not situated in a national park or reserve, but on land protected for research purposes 38 km north of the oil city of Balikpapan in East Kalimantan, along the main road to Samarinda.

Willie Smits, Wanariset’s Dutch team leader at the time, initiated an orangutan rescue and rehabilitation project at Wanariset in 1991 with the help of children at the local international school. The project was named the Orangutan Reintroduction Project. ORP’s focus remains the confiscation and rehabilitation of illegally held captive orangutans, but it increasingly devotes effort to a broader range of orangutan protection activities including surveys to identify good orangutan habitat, surveying wild orangutan populations, education, supporting wild orangutan protection efforts, etc.

ORP follows a rehabilitation program developed by Herman Rijksen, which emphasizes extensive medical screening and treatment, strictly limiting human contact, resocialising ex-captives to orangutans, and release into areas free of wild populations. ORP releases ex-captive orangutans in the triangle east of the Barito River and south of the Mahakam River, an area believed to be free of wild populations of orangutans. The reasons for orangutans’ absence are unknown, because the habitat resembles that of adjacent areas that do support wild orangutan populations (IBN-DLO, 1995). To date, ORP has released orangutans into two areas of protected forest—Sungai Wain and Gunung Meratus (Beratus)—that are distant and disconnected from the Wanariset facilities.

Sungai Wain is a water catchment forest with Protection Forest status (hutan lindung) located about 15 km north of Balikpapan and 20-25 km south of Wanariset. Wild orangutans have been absent from this forest since at least 1938 (Westermann, 1938). Officially protected is an area of ~11,000 ha (~ 27,000 acres) of lowland mixed dipterocarp rainforest with extensive swamp areas in the southern part. Around the protected areas of Sungai Wain forest lie another 10,000 ha of logged-over forest and swamp. The forest is bounded on the south by a canal, reservoir, and fencing; on the north by an uninhabited logging concession; on the west by the bay of Balikpapan; and on the east by farmland and the main Balikpapan-Samarinda highway (Smits et al., 1994). Despite its protection status, the forest has suffered considerable encroachment from adjacent human settlements and fires early in 1998 destroyed about 50% of the remaining good forest so that by mid 1998, only about 3500 ha of good forest remained.

The Meratus (Beratus) forest-block is a larger, more remote site. It constitutes an area of State forest land covered by lowland to hill rainforest with some swamp that lies some 30 km NW of Sungai Wain. Its centre has Protection Forest status (hutan lindung) but it was affected by logging incursions from the timber concessions that surround it until 1993. Its periphery is logged-over and has been abandoned by the concessionaires. On one side it borders onto the concession area of a timber production company. It is distant from human settlement, the nearest community being 50 km distant. In ecological terms, the Meratus forest-block is part of the hill and mountain rainforest covering the Pegunungan Meratus region, and the contiguous forest cover of the adjacent concessions. The Ministry of Forestry accorded 1,200 km2 of this forest-block to the orangutan reintroduction project with Protection Forest status. The area allocated is covered with good quality lowland and hill forest that should offer excellent habitat for orangutans, although much of the area is at elevations greater than 500 m. Elevations in the area reach 1200 m; permanent wild orangutan populations are very rarely found this high. Negotiations are currently under way to increase the protected area available for orangutan reintroductions.


Two rehabilitation centres have been operative in Gunung Leuser National Park, 8,080 sq km (830,000 ha) of mainly hill dipterocarp forest. Gunung Leuser is one of the largest and most important national parks in Asia (Payne & Andau, 1989). When these rehabilitation centres were opened, and until the 1980s, Gunung Leuser had only reserve status (Aveling, 1982). In mid-1980, a complex of reserves was combined to become Gunung Leuser National Park, one of Indonesia’s first national parks. About half the range is mountainous (> 1800 m) and sub-optimal orangutan habitat.

(*)  Ketambe.   Ketambe, a well known center for wild orangutan research in the western sector of Gunung Leuser National Park, supported a rehabilitation project for a few years starting in 1971 under the direction of Herman Rijksen, Ans Rijksen-Graatsma, and their staff. The project was funded by the Netherlands National Appeal of the World Wildlife Faund (Aveling, 1982).

Rehabilitation at Ketambe was terminated in April, 1979 when Rijksen concluded that it was ineffective and likely threatened the park’s wild population (Aveling, 1982; Rijksen, 1982). The remaining rehabilitants were translocated to the second rehabilitation site in Gunung Leuser, Bohorok, in the eastern sector of the park. Based on his Ketambe experience with rehabilitation, Rijksen (1978) was one of several orangutan experts to develop the changed rehabilitation methods that form the basis of the Wanariset ORP program (Rijksen, 1978; MacKinnon, 1992).

(5)  Bohorok/Bukit Lawang.   Borohok, at Bukit Lawang in the eastern Langkat sector of Gunung Leuser National Park (then a reserve), became the site of a second Sumatran rehabilitation project in 1973. Bohorok is situated about100 km east of Ketambe. The rehabilitation project at Bohorok was funded by the Frankfurt Zoological Society (Aveling, 1982; Frey, 1978).

Bohorok’s rehabilitation project was started by Monica Borner and Regina Frey, two Swiss women, then later supported by WWF and run by ranges from the Indonesian Nature Conservation Agency (PPA) (Borner & Stonehouse, 1979). In its early days, the centre consisted of a few facilities within the reserve (housing, quarantine cages, a feeding platform). The nearest human community was about 1 km away through untouched forest. Responsibilities for the rehabilitation were taken over by the PPA (Indonesian Directorate of Wildlife Conservation) early in 1980. By 1982 it had extended its functions to include conservation education (Aveling, 1982). The Nature conservaton Agency continues to direct and fund the rehabilitation centre.

Like all the older sites, Bohorok welcomed and promoted tourism and it became a major tourist attraction in the area. Since the early 1980s tourist development has destroyed all the forest along the river leading to the centre and converted it into rows of lean-to restaurants and hostels. Rehabilitants can enter the tourist village and close ape-human contact is common. In the early 1990’s the centre itself was enlarged, and there are concerns that a commercial entrepreneur is involved. The rehabilitation centre continues to operate but will likely be closed once an appropriate new site can be located. Problems associated with the heavy tourism are among the reasons for the closure.


Referenced Literature

Aveling, R. J. (1982). Orang utan conservation in Sumatra, by habitat protection and conservation education. In L. E. M. de Boer (Ed.), The orang utan: Its biology and conservation, pp. 299-315. The Hague: Dr. W. Junk Publishers.

Aveling, R. J., & Mitchell, A. (1982). Is rehabilitating orangutans worthwhile? Oryx, 16, 263-271.

Bennett, J. M. (1991). Orangutans in Sarawak: Past, present, and future. In Proceedings on the Conservation of Great Apes in the New World Order of the Environment, pp. 87-94. Republic of Indonesia Ministries of Forestry and Tourism, Post, and Telecommunication.

de Silva, G. S. (1965). The East-coast Experiment. IUCN Public N.S. 10: Conservation in tropical South East Asia, Bangkok, 229-302.

Frey, R. (1978). Management of orangutans. In Wildlife management in Southeast Asia, pp. 199-215.

Galdikas, B., & Brindamour, R. (1975). Orangutans, Indonesia’s "people of the forest." National Geographic, 148, 444-473.

Galdikas, B. M. F., & Shapiro, G. L. (1994). A guidebook to Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan Tengah (Central Borneo). Jakarta: PT Gramedia Putaka Utama and the Orangutan Foundation International.

Harrisson, B. (1962). The immediate problem of the orangutan. The Malayan Nature Journal, 16, 4-5.

IBN-DLO (Institute of Forestry and Nature Research of the Netherlands). (1995). The Meratus Rainforest Project: Conservation of Rainforest and Orang utans in Southeast Kalimantan, Indonesia. Unpublished report.

Kaplan, G. & Rogers, L. (1994).  Orang-Utans in Borneo.  Armidale, NSW, Australia: University of New England Press. 

Lardoux-Gilloux, I. (1994). Rehabilitation centres: Their struggle, their future. In J. J. Ogden, L. A. Perkins, & L. Sheehan (Eds.), Proceedings of the International Conference on "Orangutans: the Neglected Ape." San Diego: Zoological Society of San Diego.

McGreal, S. (1992). Semengoh orangutan rehabilitation centre. IPPL News, 19(3), 21.

Payne, J., & Andau, P. (1989). Orang-Utan: Malaysia's mascot. Kuala Lumpur: Berita Publishing Sdn. Bhd.

Rijksen, H. D. (1978). A field study of Sumatran orang utans (Pongo pygmaeus abelii, Lesson 1872), Ecology, behavior, and conservation. Wageningen, the Netherlands, Mededlingen Landbouwhogeschool: H. Veenman and Zonen B. V.

Rijksen, H. D. (1982). How to save the mysterious "man of the forest"? In L. E. M. de Boer (Ed.), The orang utan: its biology and conservation, pp. 317-341. The Hague: Dr. W. Junk Publishers.

Schaller, G. B. (1961). The orangutan in Sarawak, Zoologica, 46, 73-82.

Smits, W. T. M., Heriyanto, & Ramono, W. (1994). A new method of rehabilitation of orangutans in Indonesia: A first overview. In J. J. Ogden, L. A. Perkins, & L. Sheehan (Eds.), Proceedings of the International Conference on "Orangutans: The Neglected Ape" pp. 29-40. San Diego: Zoological Society of San Diego.

Westermann, J. H. (1936-38). Nature in Zuid and Oost Borneo. In 3 jaren Indisch Nature leven, 11 e jaar verslag (1936-1938). Ne. Ind. Vereeniging tot Natuurbescherming, Batavia: 334-411.



 Excerpted from:   Russon, A.   (1999).  Orangutan Rehabilitation.  (please do not reproduce without permission).  

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