Borneo Wildlife

Orangutans, Primates and Rainforest

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In 1858 English naturalist Alfred Wallace formulated his theory of evolution through natural selection—independent of Charles Darwin.  Borneo was his “Galápagos.”  While Wallace encountered the impenetrable jungle and hostile headhunters of yesteryear, today the island offers many photogenic rewards to traveling photographers—in relative ease and comfort—while still providing a wonderful sense of adventure.
The Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak lie on the northern perimeter of Borneo—the third largest island on earth.  This is the most biodiverse rainforest on the planet, with hundreds of tree species in each square mile.  Over 100 species of orchids have been catalogued on a single mountain and extensive tree fern forests cover the wettest terrain.  Collectively, the forests here house a fantastic assortment of endemic animals.  None are as well-known as the orangutans—Asia’s shy “Man of the Woods"—the great red apes that dwell deep within Borneo's remote and steamy forests.
For a long time orangutans were known only from the sketchy encounters of Western explorers.  In recent years, orangutans have been the subject of extensive scientific study, and are now one of the world’s better known primates.  Unfortunately, human abductions of young “orangs” from their mothers for the pet and zoo trade, and habitat loss due to logging and expanding oil palm plantations, have reduced orangutan populations and created numerous orphaned animals.
Our first photographic encounters with orangutans begin with a visit to the popular Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre.  Here, orphaned young orangs are kept safe within a large protected natural environment where they are prepared to be reintroduced to the wild.  We photograph these engaging primates in an open setting during their twice-daily feedings.
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is immediately adjacent to Sepilok.  The center is another wildlife rehabilitation facility dedicated to the care and release of orphaned and ex-captive sun bears back into the wild. At the center we learn about the world's smallest bear species and create hard-to-get images of these otherwise reclusive animals within the semi-natural setting of the center.
The Kinabatangan River is the longest river in Sabah and known for the highest concentration of primates in northern Borneo.  The forest here is secondary forest, colonized by a significant quantity of "cluster fig" trees (Ficus racemosa)—a preferred food source for a wide variety of wildlife.  Our focus in this area concentrates on photography from a boat.  Wildlife we can expect to encounter along the river and surrounding forest includes orangutans, silvered langurs, proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants, and several showy species of hornbills—to name just a few.
After our stay at the Kinabatangan River, we are off to the Tabin Wildlife Reserve.  Four-wheel-drive safari vehicles are our photographic platforms as we search for images within Sabah’s largest wildlife reserve. The roadways allow light to penetrate into what could otherwise be a dark, jungle world.  We take advantage of this light on game drives searching for the area’s notable species—Müeller's Bornean gibbons, leopard cats and hornbills.  Of course, we cannot pass up the opportunity to get out on a night drive to locate some of the reserve’s intriguing nocturnal denizens.
Our photography in the remote Danum Valley takes place on foot along a network of well-maintained trails that radiate from our luxurious jungle lodge.  We spend three full days exploring the local nature trails with a guide, all the while keeping an eye out for species such as maroon langurs, orangutans, cats, civets, colugos, and more.  Birdlife is especially diverse, with 275 recorded species.  A wonderful network of canopy walks among the tree tops is a fantastic way to get a birds-eye view of the forest while nature trails near the lodge also provide good opportunities for nighttime photos.

For Trip questions or to enroll give us a call at (206) 463-5383

Tour Itinerary

Day 1
Depart home.
Day 2
We lose this day as we cross the International Dateline on flights originating from North America and Europe.
Day 3 (Sep 10, 2022)
Upon arrival at Sandakan, Malaysia, you are met by our representative and transferred to our overnight lodging.  We meet for dinner, an orientation and, perhaps, a short night walk. (D)
Day 4  
We start our day with a dawn walk high in the treetops on a remarkable stable canopy-viewing structure from which to photograph canopy birds and arboreal mammals.  After breakfast we visit Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre where captive and orphaned young orangutans are prepared for reintroduction into the wild.  Here, a large opening in the forest provides the photography experience as the orangutans are fed, providing great close-up photography.  While Sepilok is a busy tourist attraction, and not a true "nature" experience, it yields some of the best orang portraiture to be found in Borneo.
Later in the afternoon, we take a photo walk within Sepilok Forest Reserve for an introduction to photographing Borneo’s forest inhabitants.  We end our day with a canopy walk at dusk to see giant flying squirrels emerging from their nests to begin their nightly rounds. (BLD)
Day 5
After an optional dawn birding walk and breakfast, we head to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.  With private access and a guided tour by its founder, we learn about sun bear conservation issues and the center's mission of providing safe sanctuary for ex-captive sun bears in large forest enclosures to facilitate their rehabilitation back into the wild.  The semi-natural setting here allows for unparalleled photography of these reclusive rescued bears.

Following our morning sun bear photo encounter we continue our journey on the Kinabatangan River, home to one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in Borneo.  The river provides great access into this diverse forest habitat where ten species of primates make their home.  Bird species here number more than 200, and include Storm's stork, crested serpent eagle, gray-headed fish eagle, brahminy kite, black-and-red broadbill, scarlet-rumped trogon, hooded pitta, buffy fish owl, long-tailed parakeet, maroon woodpecker, Asian paradise flycatcher, and eight species of hornbills.

After settling into our lodge we explore the area on an evening river cruise to photograph pygmy elephants, orangutans, silvered langurs, proboscis monkeys and birds.  After dinner, a night walk provides an opportunity to photograph some of the area's nocturnal fauna, such as slow loris, western tarsiers, civets, and others.  (BLD)
Day 6
Dawn on the Kinabatangan River is best photographed with a morning cruise to capture sunrise and the early morning wildlife activity along the river’s shores.  From our boat we continue our photography of orangutans, monkeys and elephants, along with the myriad bird species that call the river home.
Just a short boat ride and a 15-minute overland transfer brings us to the Gomantong Caves. These massive limestone caves are an amazing experience by themselves and the surrounding reserve affords great wildlife photography of orangutans, maroon langurs and hornbills, along with a mix of other bird species that have become habituated to the presence of people in the area.  Almost a million swiftlets nest in the caves and we may see nest collectors climb rickety ladders and ropes to harvest the solidified saliva nests for bird’s nest soup, a delicacy in China.  We spend an afternoon photographing around the reserve and caves, ensuring that we are in place to watch the bat exodus.  At dusk a torrent of over a million bats pour from the caves to spread out and feed over the river and surrounding jungle during the night. 
While short morning jungle walks allow us the chance to photograph the forest and its inhabitants, our day doesn’t end when the sun goes down.  After dinner grab your macro lens and flash as we head out on a night walk to work on our macro photography with the jungle’s reptiles and amphibians.  During our days here we also experience nocturnal animals on a night cruise on the river.  (BLD)

Day 7
We head into the heart of Borneo’s largest reserve. Tabin Wildlife Reserve is home to a plethora of wildlife including ten primate species—with orangutans, Hose's langurs and Müeller's Bornean gibbons—five cat species, more than 220 species of birds, pygmy elephants, and banteng, a species of wild cattle.
After lunch we begin our photographic exploration of the reserve.  Access by open sided 4x4 vehicles gives us the best vantage to search for and photograph bearded pigs, troops of pig-tailed and long-tailed macaques, leopard cats, common palm civets, flying squirrels and binturongs.  Photography along the route of our drives is quite good as the tree canopy gap above the road provides overhead light to illuminate our subjects. (BLD)
Day 8
This morning we hike to one of the reserve’s mud volcanos where salt enriched mud bubbles to the surface.  These mud pots attract a great array of animals and birds to photograph, most notably Müeller's Bornean gibbons, pygmy elephants, leopard cats and hornbills.
Along with our day and night safari drives, there is time explore the diverse primary forest and the nature trails surrounding our lodge either as a group with a local guide or, if you prefer, on your own. (BLD)
Day 9
Today we make the bumpy four-hour drive to the wild and dramatic Danum Valley.  The world-famous Borneo Rainforest Lodge is our setting for the next three full days of exciting photography.  This luxury lodge is known for the surrounding expanse of 150 square miles of undisturbed primary lowland rainforest and its approachable photogenic wildlife.  In the evenings we venture out on night walks to experience the forest as it comes alive with nocturnal wildlife. (BLD)
Days 10-13
Our days in the Danum valley are spent walking the well-maintained (but occasionally muddy) forest trails adjacent to the lodge.  The trails allow for easy access to the uniquely diverse and habituated wildlife of the area. 
There are more than 30 resident orangutans around the lodge—so there is always something close by to keep us busy.  Because no hunting is allowed, the orangutans are very comfortable around people.  Other notable species here include maroon langurs, hornbills, gibbons, deer and owls, many of which are habituated and can also be found near the lodge.
Additionally, for photographers interested in smaller fauna—snakes, lizards, insects and frogs—wonderful macro photo opportunities are available.  A small pond near the lodge has a variety of frog species and is a great source of photography subjects.
An optional moderately challenging hike to a nearby waterfall yields attractive images, and a fantastic canopy walkway allows unique access to the little-known canopy world of Borneo’s lowland rainforest.  (BLD)
Day 14
With an early wake up and a predawn drive to the top of the Danum Valley overlook, we enjoy a continental breakfast while photographing the sunrise.  As the photogenic mist slowly burns away, it reveals the classic view of the green forested valley below.  After our leisurely sunrise shoot we return to the lodge with time for one more photo walk before we resume our travels with a drive to Lahad Datu Airport and our flight to Kota Kinabalu.  (BLD)
Day 15 (Sept 22)
After breakfast, we transfer to the airport for flights home.  (B)
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Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris Enrollment Information

Borneo Wildlife

Sep 08, 2022 - Sep 22, 2022


A deposit and completed and signed Registration Form are required to reserve a place for you on a Joseph Van Os Photo Safari.


All prices are quoted in US dollars and all payments must be paid in US dollars. For deposits only, we accept Visa,  MasterCard or American Express. Final payment of the trip fee must be paid by check or bank transfer. Trip deposits are non-refundable and non-transferable.
A deposit of $1,000 per person is required. Full payment of the trip fee is due 120 days prior to departure date. We must receive written notice of your cancellation, at which time cancellation fees in the following amounts apply:

If Written Cancellation is Received:                            Cancellation Fee:
90 days or prior:                                                             100% of deposit
89 to 61 days prior:                                                         50% of entire trip fee
60 or fewer days:                                                            100% of entire trip fee

Emergency evacuation insurance is REQUIRED for this tour. As noted in Section 3 below, we send a brochure for trip insurance to US and Canadian residents. The policy offered includes the emergency evacuation coverage required for this trip. Participants purchasing trip insurance on their own—that is, not through our office—should confirm that emergency evacuation is included in their policy.
No partial refunds are made for unused portions or services of a trip for any reason whatsoever. Trips are sold as a package only. This policy also applies to tour extensions and independent travel arrangements. Cancellation fees are not transferable.

No partial refunds are made for unused portions or services of a trip for any reason whatsoever. Trips are sold as a package only. This policy also applies to tour extensions and independent travel arrangements. Cancellation fees are not transferable.

Protect your travel investment and purchase a trip insurance policy that includes emergency evacuation coverage. A trip insurance brochure will be sent with your enrollment confirmation. A CANCEL FOR ANY REASON policy is available.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris are within the capabilities of average people in good health. Some of these trips require the capability of walking for several miles over uneven trails, stepping from a small boat to a wave-washed rocky beach, flying in small planes and helicopters, and occasionally hiking at high elevations—all while carrying an assortment of camera equipment. If you have concerns about your own capabilities and/or fitness as it relates to a trip, please inquire with our office before reserving a space. By forwarding a signed Registration Form and trip deposit, you certify that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions of disability that would create a risk for you or other trip participants and you agree to inform our office in writing if changes in your health occur any time prior to the tour. We reserve the right to request a doctor's statement of good health. The company's or trip leader's judgment shall provide the ultimate determination of an individual's ability to embark upon or to continue a trip. Once a trip has been confirmed, medical circumstances will not be considered as exceptions to our cancellation policy. We assume no responsibility for medical care or for special dietary requirements. “Meatless” meals are normally available at most locations. Due to the remote nature of many photo locations, and the growing diversity of today’s dietary trends, participants requiring special food items are encouraged to bring their own.

Tour members are asked to refrain from smoking with or near the group.

Participants will receive three emails before the trip departs: 1. Initial Tour Information sheet confirms the deposit and provides pre-departure information. 2. Invoice/Practical Information provides clothing and photo gear recommendations, climate data, applicable health advisories and reading list. Visa information will also be included (if applicable). 3. Final Tour Information includes arrival instructions, itinerary revisions (if any), hotel addresses, trip telephone contact information and participant list. We provide the trip leader's telephone number(s) and/or e-mail address with final documents so you can inquire about special photographic questions you may have regarding your trip. We welcome your calls or e-mail messages to

Information supplied upon enrollment describes the specific costs that are included in your trip fee. Generally these costs include lodging in double room occupancy, all meals (specified in the itinerary as BLD denoting breakfast, lunch or dinner), ground transportation during the trip in vans or small busses, air transportation as specified, meal and baggage tipping, and guide services provided by the trip leaders. Not included are airfare or other transportation from your home to the trip staging location, airport departure taxes, insurance, alcoholic beverages and bar expenses (plus bottled water and soft drink expenses on international tours outside of North America), tips and gratuities to local guides abroad, phone calls, passport or visa expenses, laundry or items of a personal nature. Gratuities to Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris trip leaders are optional and always appreciated. Rates are based on group tariffs; if the trip does not have sufficient registration, a small party supplement may be charged.

Single accommodations are available for a supplemental cost in many locations; see the pre-departure trip information or call our office for details. You will be charged the single supplement fee if you desire single accommodations or if you wish to have a roommate, but one is not available. In some remote locations, clients with single rooms are infrequently compelled to share a room due to circumstances beyond our control. In such cases, appropriate per diem refunds will be made reflecting the direct cost of the single room at the facility where clients are required to share. There is no additional single supplement fee on ship-based cruises, if you request a roommate and one is not available.

Cost increases may occur unexpectedly due to rising costs of airfares, ground transport, fuel surcharges, accommodations and currency fluctuations, among others. Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. may be compelled to amend prices, and we reserve the right to do so without prior notice. An increase in trip prices shall not be sufficient grounds for any refund of funds paid for the trip other than as determined by the terms of our cancellation policy.

Whenever possible, our trip participants are lodged in comfortable, modern hotels. We select among the best available accommodations, but refrain from extravagance. Some interesting photographic destinations are far removed from modern amenities, however, and where necessary we will be accommodated in rustic country inns, cabins or tented camps.

Meals are always a special part of our trips for the camaraderie they engender and the opportunity they provide to try new foods from different areas. Depending on the trip and specific locale, participants order restaurant meals from the full menu or, less frequently, table d'hôte. Some trips include picnic lunches in the field. Fruit juice for breakfast and coffee or tea are included with the meals. Soft drinks are included with meals on tours within North America. Participants are responsible for their own bar tab (including bottled water, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages on tours outside of North America) at restaurant lunches and dinners.

Our itineraries are intended as examples only. Participants should allow for flexibility due to changes in weather, natural history or cultural events, or other logistical arrangements deemed necessary by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. or our leaders.

The second tour leader (and any subsequent additional leaders) listed for each trip on the website will be added as the group size warrants. If only one space remains on a trip, and logistics permit, we accept two persons traveling together, even if it exceeds the trip maximum.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. and/or their Agents act only as agents for the passenger (trip participant) in regard to travel including, but not limited to, sightseeing, meals, lodging, transportation, and all other services whether by railroad, motorcar, motor coach, boat, ship or aircraft or other conveyance, and they assume no liability for injury, damage, loss, accident, delay or irregularity which may be occasioned either by reason of defect in any vehicle or for any reason whatsoever, or through the acts, bankruptcy or default of any company or person engaged in conveying the passenger or in carrying out the arrangements of the trip.

They can accept no responsibility for losses or additional expenses due to delay, cancellations or changes in flights or other tour services, and by force majeure including sickness, weather, strike, war, volcanic eruption, terrorist acts, political unrest, quarantine, epidemics and outbreaks, or other causes.  All such losses or expenses will have to be borne by the passenger, as trip fees provide for arrangements only for the times and locations stated. Baggage is at the owner's risk entirely.

The right is reserved to 1) substitute hotels of similar category for those indicated and to make any changes in the itinerary or transport where deemed necessary, or caused by changes in flight schedules or equipment substitution; 2) cancel any trip prior to departure due to low enrollment, in which case full refund of the paid trip funds will be given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 3) At the company’s sole discretion, suspend or postpone any trip due to force majeure in which case the trip may be rescheduled, or a refund issued less any non-refundable deposits paid to tour component providers on behalf of the passenger, or a travel credit given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 4) substitute trip leader(s) for the leader(s) originally specified, in which case the substitution is not a basis for participant cancellation or refund other than provided by our normal cancellation policy; or 5) accept or retain any person as a member of any trip.

Trip prices are based on tariffs and exchange rates in effect at the time of publication and are subject to adjustment in the event of any change therein.

A Registration Form including the Enrollment Conditions and Release and Assumption of Risk sections must be signed by each participant prior to the commencement of the trip. Participation by any trip member will be declined in the absence of the signed Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section, with no trip fee refund. No modification to the Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section will be accepted.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this agreement, the enrolling trip participant(s) agree(s) to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, the enrolling participant(s) agree(s) to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington. Certain ship owners require the use of pre-printed ticket forms that limit the ship owner's and operator's liability. When such tickets are used, the passenger is bound by the terms of these tickets with respect to the passenger's legal relationship to the owners and operators of the ship, their agents (Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc.), and the ship's crew.

Borneo Wildlife: Moderate Activity Level

Boat, 4X4 "jeeps" and commercial aircraft transportation.  Photography shoots in or near vehicles from small boats and on foot hiking from our lodging.  Hikes of up to two miles round trip on warm and humid "jungle" trails on several occasions.

Trip Details
Sep 08 - Sep 22, 2022
Fee: $9,595 from Sandakan, Malaysia
Deposit: $1,000
Limit: 12 participants
Activity Level: ModerateModerate
  • Trip features multiple locations to photograph orangutans—in close proximity
  • A great opportunity to photograph gibbons, macaques, langurs and other monkeys in the wild
  • Photograph wildlife by boat, 4x4 vehicles and on foot on rainforest trails
  • Night photography in the "jungle" to photograph reptiles, amphibians and insects
  • Classic sunrise photo shoot over the Danum Valley rainforest.
  • Exclusive boat trips on the wildlife-rich Kinabatangan River
Tour Leaders
Jeff Vanuga

Jeff Vanuga