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The Great Orangutan and Pygmy Elephant Project
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Explore the river in search of the pygmy elephantsTweet
This project is based in a remnant of paradise called the Lower Kinabatangan Floodplain Rainforest in Sabah, on the island of Borneo, within the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) protected ‘Corridor of Life’. It is an area of enormous importance for both wildlife and the local communities who live here. The wildlife sanctuary you will be living in is home to singing gibbons, orangutans, proboscis monkeys, sun bears, hornbills and the pygmy elephant, as well as a host of other rarely seen wildlife.
You will stay in the small village of Sukau which is 2 hours from Sandakan Airport with a population of approximately just 1,000. There is one primary school in the village and most villagers derive their income through tourism, plantations and related village businesses. The main part of the programme will be in Sukau village with activities conducted in and around the village or along the Kinabatangan River. You will live among the gentle, ever-smiling Orang Sungai or “People of the River” during this programme, experiencing their ways of life and joining them in their homes for meals.
As the project is within the wildlife sanctuary where pygmy elephants and orangutans live, we are responsible to ensure that their habitat is protected. With a focus on these species, volunteers assist with wildlife monitoring from a boat cruising on the river and on treks in the rainforest. From here, observe and record any wildlife that roams along the river banks at the forest’s edge, taking photographs of the animals and collecting data for research purposes. Volunteers also help to restore destroyed habitats by contributing towards reforestation and assisting with educating the local population on the importance of conservation and implementing more sustainable ways to live.
Day 1 - Arrive at Sandakan International Airport (SDK) and transfer to dormitory. Welcome dinner & introduction.
Day 2 - Enjoy a little lie in before heading over to Sukau. Accommodation at Sukau is room-sharing with other participants in the village B&B which is run by members of the local village. Please note bathrooms have cold water showers and western toilets.
Day 3 to 11 - Volunteer Activities - includes:
Wildlife Population Density Data Collection: cruising on the river to observe and record the endangered wildlife that roam the forest along the river banks, taking photographs, if possible, of the wildlife (focusing on pygmy elephants and orang-utans) for record and research purposes;
Habitat Restoration: tree planting, nursery care and seedling generation, sapling maintenance, mulching & composting, water hyacinth clearing and tree growth data recording;
Education Programme: spend half a day with school children of the community to work on conservation issues that the children deal with on a daily basis and emphasize their immediate and personal impact on conservation;
School Project / Community Development: development of a continuous project with the community of the local village. This project directly benefits the community and volunteers will interact with the community on various levels
Breakfast, lunch and dinner on all days at Sukau will be included.
Day 11 - Depart Sukau and transfer to Sandakan. First stop Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre to view the morning feeding session. After lunch visit the Rainforest Discovery Centre before heading back to Sepilok for the afternoon feeding session. Check into accommodation in Sandakan (Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner)
Day 12 - Check out and transfer to Sandakan airport (Breakfast).
You will help monitor the numbers and patterns of various animals, including orangutans and pygmy elephants. These activities will often be conducted from a boat as you cruise along the river and whilst we cannot guarantee that you will see a pygmy elephant, every group who has undertaken this project have had the magical experience of sighting these mysterious animals.
You will also work with the community - a local tribe called the 'Orang Sungai' (People of the River). They are a very gentle people who live along the river bank. Educating the community and providing them with economic motivation for conservation is one of the best ways of protecting local wildlife. You will have the opportunity to work with local school children providing them with an education in the importance of conservation.
One of the foremost ways we can preserve the local environment is with re-forestation. Part of your time on this trip will therefore be spent planting new trees and tending to the pygmy elephant and orangutan habitat. This is vital to ensure the survival of these wonderful animals.
What Makes this Project Great
The Great Orangutan and Pygmy Elephant Project is a chance for volunteers to immerse themselves in the wildlife and local community of the lush Borneo rainforest. Volunteers will be fully engaged in working alongside the local tribe conserving the environment and the wildlife that depends on it such as orangutan and elephant. The breathtakingly beautiful scenery and rare species complement each other to create an experience that you will never forget and it will become clear why this area of the world is known as the ‘Corridor of Life’.
The main part of the programme will be spent in the beautiful Sukau village with activities conducted in and around the village or along the Kinabatangan River. You will live among the gentle, ever-smiling Orang Sungai or “People of the River”, joining them in their homes for meals, experiencing their culture and assisting in community projects.
Volunteers help the environment by restoring destroyed habitat around the village to contribute towards the reforestation of the Corridor of Life by planting trees to preserve the remaining wildlife and biodiversity in these sanctuaries. The wildlife sanctuary you will be living in is home to singing gibbons, orangutans, proboscis monkeys, sun bears, hornbills and the pygmy elephant. You and your family will get a chance to spot and survey the incredible wildlife around the village and on river cruises along the river during your stay on the project.
To round off the tour, after the project work, volunteers will be taken to visit the world famous Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre to see the endangered apes up close in their natural habitat.
What skills do you need on this placement in Borneo?
Volunteers should love animals, especially orangutans, and be willing to work hard. The work is physical and the temperature in Borneo high so volunteers should have a decent fitness level. All participants should be able to speak good English and be able to work as part of a team. Previous experience with animals or research knowledge is especially welcomed.
Where does my donation go?
1. Enrichment - food (food parcels and a wide variety of different interesting foods) and physical enrichment (like hammocks and rope swings)
2. Construction - on materials and tools for getting orangutans out of cages and maintaining existing outdoor enclosures (everything from spades, to cement, to wheelbarrows, to nuts and bolts)
3. Reforestation - helping to create more species diverse forest by planting primary rainforest species under the pioneer tree canopy ( such as dipterocarpaceae, fabaceae and malvaceae) in certain areas. Also, we plant up species where we create destruction during the building process, such as recently when a digger dug out the island moats.
How do I go about booking my flights?
Please try to book your flights as far as possible in advance of your departure as flights become more expensive with time. We will provide you with some additional information in the 'Know Before You Go' pack that we send when we have received your deposit. If you have any difficulties feel free to contact our support team.
Do I need a mosquito net?
Volunteers sometimes leave behind their mosquito nets but we cannot guarantee availability so if in any doubt please bring your own.
"My favourite time was going out early in the morning with the morning fog still present over the Kinabatangan River and spotting the first proboscis monkeys."
Kristina Effler, Sweden
"One of the best things about this programme is that it really benefits the local community. I got immense satisfaction from the knowledge that I had come to Sabah and done a variety of activities that benefitted the local people."
Farrah Naz, United Kingdom
"What I perhaps enjoyed the most was the class we did at the school. Groups of volunteers teach the children about protecting the environment and our module was on recycling... If you ever want to see Borneo, I would definitely recommend combining it with something like my project. You see and experience so much more!"
Monica Filkova, United Kingdom
“It was very well organised, the facilitator Mark was a great guide with a lot of knowledge he shared with us.”
Konrad Streitberger, September 2012
Arrival night in Sepilok: dormitory style room in a traditional style longhouse with hot water. Shared bathroom. Situated in a relaxing and peaceful area set on high ground.
At Sukau: Basic but comfortable village B&B set in the heart of Sukau. Rooms are shared, water is cold! Common area overlooks the river.
At Sandakan: Basic but comfortable hotel room in Sandakan town with shared rooms. Town with internet cafes, restaurants, supermarkets etc.
Free, provided on arrival at airport.
We recommend a course of malaria tablets and to consult with your local GP about what other vaccines are required. Contact us if you have any queries following consultation with your doctor.
You will require special insurance for this project. Please let your insurance company know the nature of your trip. Do not hesitate to contact us with any queries and we will be able to suggest insurance policies relevant to your travels.
Please read our responsible volunteer policy and orangutan protection policy on responsible volunteering abroad with primates.
• Airport transfers to and from Sandakan Airport (SDK)
• Welcome dinner in Sepilok, Sandakan, Sabah
• Transfer from dormitory to project site accommodation
• Programme introduction in Sabah and orientation in the village
• Entrance fees to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre
• Entrance fees to Rainforest Discovery Centre
• English-speaking programme facilitator;
• 11 nights at designated accommodation;
• Meals as indicated on itinerary
• All activities, materials, tools and equipment included in “Project Days”
• Boat and river transfers
What's Not Included:
• International and domestic airfare
• Visa application/fees
• Meals and accommodation when travelling independently
• Travel insurance
• Private transfers