The trek to the viewing platform on ascending jungle terrain is hot and humid. Insect repellant is strongly recommended. The good news is, the walk takes only about 10 minutes. That's because the nature preserve is still within the lush 400-acre property of Shangri-la's Rasa Ria Resort in Kota Kinabalu.
Since the resort is a bit far from the city center (about 45 minutes' ride by bus), it's designed to be a self-contained luxury destination where all amenities are within easy reach. Rasa Ria has its own cove and beachfront, 18-hole golf course, hiking trails and nature preserve, the latter maintained in partnership with the Sabah government.
The preserve's star attraction is Borneo's most famous animal, the orangutan, a threatened member of the family of great apes. Its natural habitat fast disappearing, the orange-haired animal is also decreasing in number. The nature preserve seeks to stem the tide by providing baby orangutans rescued from poachers or abandoned by their mothers in the wild to grow up inside the sprawling preserve for a few years until they reach maturity, after which they will be released in the jungle, in another part of Borneo, and allowed to survive on their own.
Orangutan-watching is scheduled twice a day in Rasa Ria, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, coinciding with the animals' feeding time. Bananas and fruits are left near the viewing platform, and pretty soon the baby apes--six in all at this time, though only three showed up--swing into view, oblivious of the humans gawking at them. [Video below]
Orangs are arboreal creatures, meaning they spend most of their time atop trees, and move around by swinging on branches, vines, etc. using their long, powerful limbs. Visitors watching them are confined to the viewing platform and are not allowed to touch the animals--for good reason. Though they are shy and gentle, they are very strong creatures. They sometimes grab at cameras, shades, hats. Worse, get too close and you might be at the receiving end of poop or piss as the ape flies high above you.
More about the orangutan (its name is also spelled orang utan--in Malay, “man of the forest”--but I'll go for the more common one-word usage): “According to research psychologist Robert Deaner and his colleagues, orangutans are the world's most intelligent animal other than humans, with higher learning and problem solving ability than chimpanzees, which were previously considered to have greater abilities. A study of orangutans by Carel van Schaik, a Dutch primatologist at Duke University, found them capable of tasks well beyond chimpanzees’ abilities--such as using leaves to make rain hats and leakproof roofs over their sleeping nests. He also found that, in some food-rich areas, the creatures had developed a complex culture in which adults would teach youngsters how to make tools and find food.”
As I Facebooked afterwards: On the orangutan trail, a ranger asked, “First time to visit your cousins?”. After seeing three baby orangs, I'm all for the family relation.