Blog: Ethical Orangutan Tourism: Putting the Well-Being of Orangutans First

Here at Orangutan Outreach, we know you love orangutans and that it would be a dream come true to see the beautiful red apes in the wild. We are frequently asked for recommendations of where to see wild orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra, and how to choose an ethical guide company. We also receive worries from orangutan lovers when they come across a social media post depicting unethical jungle trekking opportunities, such as when tourists are allowed selfies with an orangutan.

We’re always happy to answer your questions and try to address your concerns. One of the most famous places to jungle trek to see orangutans is the Bukit Lawang village in Sumatra. There are plenty of orangutans and many wonderful guides there. Unfortunately, Bukit Lawang also has many complaints of unethical practices such as guides feeding orangutans and allowing tourists to get much too close. Why does this happen? The short answer is money. Guides feed the orangutans so they will come closer, and tourists can get better photographs. This leads to a bigger tip for the guides. It is a serious issue that many people are trying to address. You can do your part by becoming well educated, and sharing what you have learned.

Our friends at We Are Sumatra have written an excellent ethical orangutan tourism blog on the subject. In the authors’ words, this blog provides “best quick tips for choosing a guide you can trust, then dives deeper to explain why it’s so important to follow the recommendations of experts when jungle trekking in Bukit Lawang”. We highly recommend you take the time to read this blog, whether you are planning a trip to see orangutans or not. It is extremely helpful in understanding the “dos and don’ts” of orangutans tourism, and walks you through how to do your research to find opportunities that put the best interests of the orangutans first. These tips can be applied anywhere – not just in Bukit Lawang.

Now we know you will ask where else you can go to get a glimpse of the orangutans you love! We Are Sumatra has got you covered there as well, with a wonderful orangutan top spots blog that discusses six locations to see wild orangutans in Sumatra. Enjoy this great read and get ready for when travel to Indonesia is once again possible! Orangutan Outreach will also soon be providing similar information for orangutan trekking in Borneo.

We have one more important note for you. There are currently guidelines in place regarding orangutan eco-tourism (which are followed by ethical guides). What we expect is that guidelines will become even stricter once tourism in Indonesia and Malaysia begins again. The Covid-19 pandemic has opened the world’s eye to what happens when humans come into too close of contact with wild animals. Humans can contract diseases from wild animals, and also pass diseases to wild animals. It’s a lose-lose situation when we do not provide the natural world with the respect it deserves. Great ape conservationists have been in discussion since the pandemic began about changes that should be made to great ape eco-tourism. Please be advised that great ape eco-tourism opportunities may be few and far between going forward, and that the ethical guides will now keep you even further from the apes. While this may make your heart sink just a bit, it is truly for the best.

Thank you for loving orangutans! Thank you for supporting the best care for orangutans – whether they are living at rehabilitation center or are living in the wild. We appreciate everything you do for orangutan conservation efforts!

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