I recently travelled to Indonesian Borneo for a personal adventure working with orangutans. Our accommodation whilst volunteering at the Samboja Orangutan Sanctuary was Samboja Lestari Ecolodge. It is a hideaway near Samboja in East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, just an hour’s drive from the capital Balikpapan.
Orangutans in Borneo
For anyone living or visiting Balikpapan, do yourself a favour and spend some time here. It is one of only a few places easily accessible to see rare and endangered orangutans and sun bears in a natural habitat setting.
The Ecolodge is a venture of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF but commonly known as BOS)
This geographical area is known mainly for its coal, oil and palm oil reserves. The commercial activity however is endangering many native animals for our future generations.
Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation is attempting to rescue many orangutans as well as preserve some of their forest habitat.
The lodge is situated in a 103ha tertiary rainforest. It was created from an arid desert between 1998 to 2005 by the efforts of Willie Smit and BOSF.
Greeting you at the entrance by a bridge over running water stream is an orangutan – not real of course!
Each air-conditioned room has French doors opening onto a balcony with a view of the rainforest and captivating sounds of tropical birds, cicadas and orangutans.
Many indigenous tree species, flowers and fruiting trees surround the lodge, and squirrels can be seen leaping from tree to tree.
The lodge has a unique design based on local architecture and is largely built from recycled products. Cosmetic décor is traditional Kalimantan.
It is well hidden amongst the rainforest and looks out onto the Orangutan and Sunbear Sanctuaries.
Three meals a day are provided at the lodge. All food is freshly prepared by the house staff and is delicious local Bornean traditional menu.
A smorgasbord of culinary delights is presented with free flowing tea and coffee available at all times.
A five-minute escorted walk takes you down to the Orangutan Sanctuary. This includes six moated islands over seven hectares, housing free roaming generations of orangutans.
They can also be viewed with binoculars from the top level of the lodge where luxurious King and Queen Suites have a private balcony overlooking the rainforest.
The Samboja orangutans cannot be released back into the wild. Keepers regularly deliver enrichment packages to the island orangutans by rowboat.
Orangutans come down to the water’s edge, giving you an unbelievable opportunity to closely observe these amazing primates, so human-like in their behaviour. Guests can also help prepare enrichment packages and food for them.
Excursions from the lodge can include an early morning 4km return Wildlife Nature Trail with a guide.
There is also a chance to visit the office of the BOS organisation.
You can watch a film about the planting of the forest and creation of the animal sanctuary in 1998. It also shows the subsequent release of many rehabilitated orangutan back into the wild.
There is also a 58ha sun bear sanctuary in the grounds. It houses many injured or rescued orphaned bears, which hopefully may be released back into the wild one day.
Sun bears are the smallest of bears and are usually found high up in trees.
Strong paws with very long claws assist their remarkable climbing activity.
Whilst they may appear small and cuddly they are quite an aggressive animal.
Staying at Samboja Ecolodge is a unique opportunity to enjoy a comfortable and unique accommodation in an amazing tropical rainforest setting, with a chance to be in close proximity of endangered orangutans and sun bears.
Irene Isaacson visited at her own expense through The Great Projects (UK).