Wildlife in Kalimantan

Rampant deforestation for palm oil and the timber trade has tragically left many species in Kalimantan on the verge of extinction – especially orangutans, the ‘old man of the jungle’. But that precariousness only spurs on those dedicated to their conservation to greater efforts. In Nyaru Menteng and Samboja Lestari, the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS) run prestigious sanctuaries, while in Tanjung Puting there are several camps with feeding stations. Visits to these operations ensure that vital funds get where they are most needed.

Other ways to explore the wildlife in Kalimantan include guided hikes and river boat tours; snorkelling and diving safaris in renowned destinations such as the Derawan archipelago; and lending a hand as a volunteer at an orangutan rehabilitation center in Samboja Lestari. Even when a tour is predominantly focused on seeing wildlife, there is sure to be some cultural element to it too, such as village visits. Conservation projects can rarely survive without support from local communities, so ensuring that Indonesians benefit from the tourism that the animals attract is incredibly important – and of course, discovering Kalimantan’s tribal culture has much to recommend it anyway.

Where to see wildlife in Kalimantan

Samboja Lestari

Located near Balikpapan, Samboja Lestari is a section of restored rainforest that’s home to one of Indonesia’s most prized rehab and rescue centers for orangutans, operated by the BOS. At once sobering and uplifting, you’ll see firsthand conservation efforts in action, with orangutans either readied for return to the forest through educational play or offered a sanctuary for the rest of their lives if they are too sick or injured to go back to the wild.

There are several orangutan islands. The one for apes that cannot be released is open to visitors; you can watch feeding and enrichment (such as teaching the orangutans to find their own food through play), and visit the medical clinic. Also on-site at Samboja Lestari is a sanctuary for over 50 sun bears. This is the rarest bear in the world, threatened by habitat loss, the pet trade, and also often held captive for its bile, which is used in medicinal treatments and other products.

Gentle or more challenging nature hikes in the area introduce you to a variety of other wildlife too, from blood pythons to red leaf monkeys, while local fishermen may take you out by boat in search of the highly endangered proboscis monkey.

Tanjung Puting National Park

Reached via ‘Crocodile River’, Tanjung Puting is considered the best place to see orangutans in the wild. There are several camps with feeding stations set up, including Camp Leakey, named for the great paleo-anthropologist who was an inspiration to Drs. Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey.

You can stay on a houseboat while you explore Camp Leakey and its work, and take short hikes in the area where you might see gibbons and wild pigs. At another camp, Pesalat, there is a reforestation project illuminated by thousands of fireflies in the evenings, and you can also take a boat trip out to see proboscis monkeys – with watchful crocs another critter to watch out for.

Palangka Raya

Another BOS sanctuary, the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Rescue Centre, is not far from the capital of Central Kalimantan. Home to some 450 orphaned or displaced orangutans, it’s the largest of its kind in the world. As well as island forest schools, the center has a fruit plantation and nature reserve. It’s often combined with trekking in Sebangau National Park nearby, where there are hornbills, monitor lizards and wild orangutans to be seen.

Snorkel & scuba dive safaris

Lying off Kalimantan’s east coast, the Derawan Archipelago makes up part of the Coral Triangle with nearby Sulawesi. It has a sterling reputation among the international scuba diving community for its clear waters and excellent reefs that are home to an extravagant variety of marine life: sea turtles, rays, parrot fish, leopard and nurse sharks, and pygmy seahorses. On a typical diving vacation in Kalimantan, expect to hop between different islands during around 30 dives over two weeks.

Nunukan is a popular spot for Borneo snorkelling safaris with several superb sites, including the house reef, which is dominated by a 40m sloping wall. You can expect to encounter turtles, groupers, eagle rays and many other colourful species in these pleasantly warm, transparent waters.

Our top Kalimantan Vacation

Indonesia highlights holiday

Indonesia highlights vacation

Experience the diversity of the Indonesian islands

From £3556 17 days ex flights
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Volunteering with wildlife in Kalimantan

If you’d like to get more hands-on with the wildlife, beyond simply contributing funds through a visit, then you can join an orangutan volunteering vacation in Kalimantan. Although ‘hands-on’ is a bit of a misnomer, as you won’t actually be cuddling the apes despite how irresistibly cuddly they may look. Remember they’re immensely strong! Your main duties will consist of tasks such as enrichment (hiding food away to encourage hunter-gathering behaviours), husbandry, forest plantation and maintenance work. Trips are based at the BOS center in Samboja Lestari, so you may also be helping out with sun bears. It’s hard work, but incredibly rewarding and no experience is necessary.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Marc Veraart] [Intro: Marc Veraart] [Samboja Lestari: Momo Regar] [Snorkel & scuba dive safaris: Nanosanchez]
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