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The Great Orangutan Project
Volunteer at the award-winning Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in beautiful BorneoTweet
This multi award-winning project is based in the Matang Wildlife Centre, and focusses on the conservation and protection of Borneo’s most fascinating and enchanting species – the orangutan.
Due to mass deforestation, logging, mining and forest fires, the habitat of the area’s orangutans is depleting and under constant threat. As a consequence, orangutan numbers are falling and the species is endangered. The Matang Wildlife Centre is a refuge for orangutans which have been left injured, orphaned or have been rescued, usually as a direct result of these threats. The centre works tirelessly to reverse this trend in a number of ways, and is thoroughly enriched by the involvement of volunteers.
Volunteers on this project enjoy the incredible rainforest surroundings of Kubah National Park as their own backyard, and work as part of a team alongside the local facilitators to aid the centre through improving husbandry standards, providing enrichment for the orangutans and assisting with construction tasks around the centre. This allows the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (who manage the centre which is owned by the Sarawak government) to concentrate on rehabilitation of the orangutans and the centre’s other animals, and thus further their conservation.
Taking part in this project allows volunteers to experience and actively participate in the efforts of this impressive wildlife centre and its fantastic team, towards improving the lives of the orangutans and other animals and working towards their future protection.
Please note itineraries are subject to change and what follows is simply a rough guideline.
Day 1: Arrive at Kuching Airport. Transfer to Basaga Guest House in Kuching. Enjoy welcome dinner and orientation in the evening with the project facilitator and fellow volunteers.
Day 2 – 13/27: Take a private transfer to the Matang Wildlife Centre Orangutan Sanctuary. Settle in, meet the project staff and commence the volunteer programme.
Work mainly consists of husbandry for the orangutans, sun bears, macaques, binturongs and other animals, including feeding and enrichment techniques which promote natural behaviours, enhance the potential for rehabilitation to release, and improve captive animal welfare. Volunteers are always be needed for further enrichment tasks, especially for the sophisticated great apes.
A weekly allowance is given for food at the supermarket. There are additional activities available such as visiting a long-house, meeting the Iban tribes, visiting nearby markets and social and interactive activities with locals and researchers at the centre.
Day 14/28: Transfer to Kuching and check into the Basaga Guesthouse.
Day 15/29: Take a private transfer to Kuching Airport for return flight or continue with independent travel plans.
For more information about specific activities during the project, please consult the ‘Duties’ section.
The main duties for volunteers include husbandry, enrichment, maintenance and construction work, and all volunteers are treated as pseudo-staff at the wildlife centre, meaning full participation in all of the centre’s work. Volunteers do not need any building, maintenance or animal husbandry experience prior to joining; the team are on hand to provide necessary training.
Matang is also a functioning rescue centre, so it is not possible to predict what animals may be arriving on a daily basis. Volunteers should be flexible and patient, and ready to get involved with any necessary tasks. Help may be required from volunteers with animals requiring veterinary treatment, as well as helping new animal arrivals settle into the centre.
Maintenance and construction are on-going tasks at the centre, and always require volunteers to help out. Past volunteers have been involved with the building of aviaries, gibbon cages, feeding platforms in the forest, boardwalks around the park and ranger stations in the national park. Maintenance is a never-ending mission of painting, cleaning, varnishing and gardening, and there is always work to be done.
Please be aware there is no physical contact allowed between volunteers and the apes unless under veterinary conditions. Excessive habituation to humans is nothing but detrimental to rehabilitation and conservation goals.
What Makes this Project Great
The Great Orangutan Projects' overall goal is to work with the Sarawak Forestry Corporation towards genetically sustainable orangutan populations in large, well-protected habitats to secure the long term future of the species in Sarawak. Volunteers are vital for both funding and actively helping with the work undertaken at the centre. This project is twice-winner of the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism awards (Highly Commended for 2009 and 2010), due to its demonstrating how volunteering and tourism are essential tools of animal conservation.
The centre’s team is made up of members of the local community who are employed to work at the centre both with the animals and the volunteers. There are also two full-time members of staff whose endeavours are entirely voluntary, striving to improve the lives of animals already resident at the centre and still in the wild. Volunteers focus on aiding the centre through improving husbandry standards, providing enrichment and assisting with the on-going construction work, allowing SFC to concentrate on rehabilitation and wider conservation efforts.
Everyone involved with the centre is dedicated to managing and promoting truly responsible tourism and volunteering experiences that work in the best interests of the animals and environment, something The Great Projects is also passionate about.
What fitness level does this project require?
The construction work undertaken on this project involves physical labour, often in humid conditions, and so requires a moderate level of fitness. The other tasks however, are not particularly physically strenuous, but a fair level of fitness is advised.
Are any specific skills required to work on this project?
No specific skills or experience are required, just commitment to the project and its aims, ability to work as a team and an upbeat, positive attitude.
What vaccinations are needed to travel to Malaysian Borneo?
The vaccinations required will depend on the medical history of each volunteer. We recommend that you consult your GP regarding your own immunisation needs. In conjunction with this, we would also recommend that you check Fit for Travel’s website.
What is the Malaria risk in the area this project is situated?
There is a high risk of malaria in the Sarawak region of the country. Therefore, it is essential that you seek advice from your GP before making a decision about preventative medication.
“It was wonderful to work so closely with the Orangutans and get to know their characters and individuals. My month at Matang is honestly one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had and would recommend it to anyone who loves wildlife and wants to do something to help orangutans.”
Deborah McCracken, July 2013
"This summer I spent 4 weeks volunteering at the Orangutan Project at Matang Wildlife Centre in Malaysian Borneo. I was part of a fantastic team and we worked hard - scrubbed, hosed, fed, painted, mixed some concrete - but seeing projects, small and large, progressing and in some cases being completed was hugely rewarding. Watching the animals benefit from our work and witnessing the dedication of the full time Project staff made me feel very privileged to be part of the team - even for a short time. I have already booked again for next year…I can’t wait!"
Sinead O' Mahony, July 2013
“I can’t actually think of one favourite moment as I enjoyed the whole experience. Being able to work so closely with the orangutans was a truly amazing experience, they are such special, intelligent animals and I loved every minute of my time there.”
Jennifer Ravat, June 2012
"Wow! What an amazing trip. Exhausting and hard work, but has given us something to think and talk about. Thank you so much for all of the care that you put into this trip for us. It was something special."
Lisa Dostine, November 2012
You will need to arrive at Kuching International airport, the day before you are due to begin, where you will be met by a project representative and then taken to temporary accommodation in Kuching. You will then be transferred the next day to the project site.
There is no visa required for most nationalities to enter Malaysia. Check the Malaysian Immigration website for detailed information.
Matang Wildlife Centre provides ten houses for staff and volunteers to live in. Each house has two or three bedrooms, a communal living space, kitchen, toilet, shower and veranda area. There is a maximum of four to a house and rooms are based on twin-sharing. The houses feature mains electricity and a fan in each room. There are also showers, but no hot water. These houses are self-catered with basic kitchen appliances such as a gas hob (two-ring burner), fridge/freezer, kettle and toaster.
Meals and Beverages
Meals and beverages are to be prepared in the volunteer’s self-catered houses. A daily allowance for food and water is provided however, and weekly supermarket trips included.
However, from May to September it is possible to opt for a catered option, whereby volunteers will be provided with a cooked lunch and dinner each day. There is an added cost for this of £50 for a 2 week stay and £100 for a 4 week stay. We can only cater for up to 6 people per trip so please book early for this option.
Currency and Exchange Rates
The Malaysian currency is the Ringgit. The conversion rate is around 1 MYR to 0.19 GBP, 0.23 EUR and 0.31 USD. For up-to-date conversion information click here.
What essentials should I take with me?
• Passport, travel insurance and travel documents.
• Cash and a credit/debit card.
• Camera, charger and adapter.
• Small backpack for daily use.
• Shorts, t-shirts, flip-flops and trousers.
• At least one pair of sturdy closed shoes.
• Raincoat if travelling during the rainy season
• Suncream and aftersun.
• Insect repellent.
• Toiletries and a towel.
What's included in the price of the project?
• A monetary contribution to the project itself
• Transfers to and from the airport
• Full orientation and support from the project managers
• Accommodation and meals as indicated
•Activities on the project site
What's not Included?
• Any flights
• Travel insurance to include cover for repatriation
• Visas if required
• Additional soft drinks, all alcoholic beverages
• Trips undertaken other than in the planned itinerary
Name: Malaysian Borneo
Population: Around 3,117,405
Capital City: Kota Kinabalu
Currency: Malaysian Ringgit
Time Zone: GMT + 8 hours
Country Code: +60
Renowned for its incredible rainforests and unequalled, natural diversity, Borneo is an enchanting and verdant destination. Due to its amazing collection of native species, Borneo is also at the forefront of the responsible travel and international volunteering revolution. The lush, green vistas and fascinating tribal cultures of this island make it one of the most interesting and visually stunning places to visit in the world.
The acknowledged capital of the Malaysian portion of Borneo is Kota Kinabalu. Characterised by a modern charm mixed with fabulous cultural heritage and the warm hospitality of its people, this city provides the perfect starting point to any visit to Malaysian Borneo, or is easily visited by those travelling elsewhere in the region first. Alongside the city buildings and ancient temples rolls miles of coastline, home to countless virgin coral reefs, stunning island paradises, and miles of tropical rainforest. The atmosphere of this city is one of cultural collision, and the city encompasses much of what Malaysian Borneo has to offer.
Alongside this amazing city, Malaysian Borneo has many other astounding attractions to offer visitors apart from the enchanting rainforest exploration opportunities. This is one of the world’s greatest destinations for scuba-divers and snorklers alike, offering countless coral reef environments that are abundant with rare and exotic marine life. Mount Kinabalu also stands majestically over the city and its surrounding environment, providing an imposing and breathtaking vista that can also be explored on foot. The Kinabatangan River is also a visually impressive place to visit, and cultivates an overwhelming amount of wildlife species.
Sarawak and Sabah are some of the main regions of the northern portion of Borneo. Blessed with stunning mountain scenery, exotic rainforests and jaw-dropping beaches, it is hard to find a Malaysian destination with more mysticism and charm. Of course Sabah is renowned for its copious populations of orangutans, but this region has a flavour of its own, with a diverse and fascinating culture, warm-hearted, welcoming indigenous communities and incredible variety of local cuisines. As well as its miles of lush, green rainforests, Sabah and Sarawak are also blessed with a stunning coastline and many off-shore islands, making it another ideal location for diving, snorkelling and swimming expeditions. Sipadan Island is a particularly beautiful and popular diving location, visited by marine enthusiasts all year round.
The region’s rainforests and diversity of wildlife however, are truly Borneo’s greatest treasure. The enchanting surroundings and populations of orangutans provide a truly unique setting for rainforest treks, and undeniable, once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Unsurprisingly, Borneo has a rainforest climate. This manifests itself through hot, humid days and much rainfall. The rainy season is typically from November to February and the dry season from June to August.
Average Temperature and Rainfall
Basic Phrases in Malay:
‘Goodbye’- ‘Selamat tinggal’
‘How are you?’- ‘Bagaimana anda?’
‘Please/Thank you’- ‘Sila/Terima kasih’
‘Yes/No’ – ‘Ya/Tidak’