Borneo Orangutan Volunteer Interview – Owen Huw Morgan

Borneo Orangutan Volunteer Interview – Owen Huw Morgan

Posted by Sam Hopkins on 17th Jan 2014

This month we have been fortunate enough to get ourselves a skype interview with one of our volunteers from Australia: Owen Huw Morgan! Owen first travelled with us back in 2011 on the 'IAR Orangutan Project' in Ketapang, Kalimantan. He has just recently returned from another Borneo orangutan volunteer project and not only did he manage to return to Ketapang, but he also managed to spend some time at our founding project: 'The Great Orangutan Project' in Matang Wildlife Centre in Sarawak. Not only has he provided us with excellent insight to the projects, how they are run, and a first-hand account of his experiences; but he has also very kindly provided us with over a thousand of his photos! Below follows the interview: accompanied by just a few of his fantastic photos: we couldn't any more of them in!

Could you tell us a little bit about your experience of the projects?

Firstly, I would like to point out that both projects are very different! Ketapang is far more frontier-like, hardcore and remote. You are pretty out in the sticks here, and the focus is solely on orangutans. Volunteers should also be aware that Ketapang is a bit more basic than Matang, which has much more infrastructure seeing as it has been running for longer. As a wildlife centre, Matang offers a more homely feel. What's more, there aren't just orangutans here: the sun bears, civets, clouded leopard, and Bornean gharials (which are one of Borneo's most endangered animals) were all a particular highlight! I must stress however that the volunteer experience in both projects was equally good. Everyone was like-minded, passionate about orangutan conservation, and willing to put in the hard work needed. Age was no issue, as there were a range of different volunteers from ages 18 up to 60+! No one is too old to join here, which I thought was great. We all got along well! It has to be said though that both projects were equally challenging. During my time at Ketapang, I was involved in a range of activities, including building a three storey high platformed structure for the orangutans at the old centre (back in 2011). Likewise, at Matang, I was involved in building a snake enclosure for the resident pythons. Shifting concrete in the boiling heat and humidity of the Bornean rainforest is no easy feat, that's for sure! You need to realise that you are there to work and contribute to the overall aim of orangutan conservation. However, don't let that put you off! The project facilitators in both projects (Leo, Natasha, etc.) are fantastic and are always willing to tailor the work to your ability. If you're struggling, they'll be happy to let you take a breather. I remember at one point in being so hot we had to pour buckets of water over ourselves every ten minutes!

What do you feel that you contributed?

As a volunteer I felt that I contributed to the project on two levels. As an individual, I knew I was helping by providing the best day-to-day care possible for the animals, in the time that I was there, and constructing buildings that would last for years. However, I also realised that I was also a small link in a very long chain – that I was part of a much larger volunteering community. One person may only be able to do so much but together, as like-minded people, we can achieve something great.

What did you make of the project staff?

Like I said, the project staff are fantastic! I've done many different volunteer projects around the world with many different companies, and they are by far the best project staff I have ever worked with! They were so knowledgeable and passionate about what they are doing, and the interaction between staff and volunteers on both projects, even after hours, was outstanding. I am still in contact with all of them! They are also very understanding of the hard work which volunteers are putting in. Like I said earlier, project work is often very tough. The heat and humidity of the rainforest can really take it out of you, but all the staff understood this and they would never push you to work beyond your physical limits. I can't recommend them highly enough!

What was your highlight?

Ah – there are too many to mention! In Ketapang, I was fortunate to be involved in an actual orangutan rescue, which was an incredible experience (and can be found here). I think however that this is because I am writing a book on the orangutans out in Borneo. I'm certain that this isn't the norm for most volunteers, so I was particularly lucky! The community feel of Ketapang was also something which I really enjoyed. The IAR (International Animal Rescue) staff were with us nearly every evening, and we had regular barbeques! A particular highlight was 'World Orangutan Day' in August when we took part in street parades, handed out tree saplings to the public to help promote environmental sustainability, and helped to raise the profile of Borneo's critically endangered orangutans. Everyone could get involved, and it was a great experience to be a part of. In Matang, I really enjoyed getting to know the animals on a personal level, seeing them grow and progress and helping with enrichment. By the end, I could tell nearly all of them apart, which is quite a feat given how many animals Matang holds! The sun bears and binturongs (one of my favourite animals here) were also amazing to get to know, and testing new toys for the orangutans to play with was always an experience! Another highlight was releasing a wild python back into the wild (see the pics). Of course, it goes without being said that the community feel in Matang was also fantastic.

What were your biggest challenges?

I would probably say that the biggest challenges that I faced were getting ill (though that is to be expected when working in a rainforest) and working in very humid conditions. You get used to the humidity though, and should you get ill then the team really bands together and helps you get through it!!

Would you return to this or another one of our projects?

Where would you like to go next? I will always return to Borneo; I've become too attached to the people and the individual animals to ever say goodbye. I have also been very fortunate enough to have worked in South America and most of Asia so if I did pick another project it would have to be somewhere new – most likely either Africa (to volunteer with elephants) or on the Nordic Adventure that The Great Projects offer, as I love Scandinavian wildlife.

It's really important to us that we hear back from our volunteers and see what they have to say about a project and their experiences from it. Whether it's good or bad, all feedback is more than appreciated. If you would like to have a chat with us about your time on a project, or if you would like to share any photos or videos with us, please email [email protected] If we use any of your content on our website, Facebook page, or elsewhere, we will of course credit you!


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