Your main activities whilst volunteering with orangutans at Samboja include husbandry, enrichment, forest plantation, maintenance and construction work for both the orangutans and the sun bears resident here. You will be treated as pseudo-staff whilst on the project, meaning full participation in all of the centre's work.
You’ll head over to the orangutan islands to observe these great apes and collect vital behavioural data on them whilst also monitoring their health and general well-being. You’ll do this by completing a circuit of the islands on a small boat, offering a great chance for some beautiful photographs. Just make sure not to drop your camera in the moat!
Whilst on the project you will have the chance to create enrichment to stimulate and benefit the orangutans resident here, whilst also helping to encourage natural behaviour. Creativity is encouraged here, so if you have an idea which you think the apes would enjoy please put it forward! You will also be preparing the food and delivering this to the orangutan islands.
Some of your time will be spent cleaning the orangutan enclosures and the fruit store where food for the orangutans and sun bears is prepared. You will also take part in leaf collection (for the orangutans to build their nests,) and this will involve regular treks out into the jungle - make sure you have packed your walking boots and are ready to really get stuck in!
Working with the Sun Bears
You will be able to work within the sun bear area during your time here, where around 50 sun bears reside! Volunteers help with enrichment and general enclosure maintenance of these magnificent bears - one of the world's rarest and smallest bear species.
Construction and Maintenance
You'll be helping with construction and repair work, which are on-going tasks at the centre, and always requires volunteers to help out. You could be involved with the maintenance of the rainforest environment, building/maintenance of platforms on the orangutan islands, and upkeep of the sun bear enclosures. There is always work to be done!
This is a very popular excursion from the centre! You will have the opportunity to walk high up in the forest canopy, keeping your eyes peeled for all kinds of fauna and flora. There may even be the chance to spot a pair of singing gibbons if you are lucky! This is a wonderful way to appreciate the diversity of the Bornean jungle, and something you won't forget in hurry!
An afternoon centred around relaxation is spent on the black river. You will board a local boat and travel along the winding river in search of the endangered proboscis monkey, famous for its oversized nose. During your journey you will travel through a local fishing village, which will offer you the chance to see how local people live, and you'll travel briefly out to sea to watch the sunset.
Please note your itinerary will depend on the requirements of the project and is subject to last minute changes due to weather or ground conditions.
Below is a sample typical two-week itinerary, however, if you are joining the project for a one week duration, please click here to view an example of a 7-night itinerary.
Day 1 - The Adventure Begins:
You will arrive into Balikpapan Airport in Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. A lodge representative will meet you at the airport arrivals and will transfer you to the eco-lodge at Samboja Lestari. Once settled in you will be given a briefing by Kate your project facilitator.
Day 2 - Induction Day:
After a breakfast buffet at the lodge you will start your induction day which consists of a tour of the entirety of the facility site. Not only will you meet the resident orangutans, but you will also meet the facilities' sun bears and today is a great chance to get to know your fellow volunteers.
Day 3 - Orangutan Enrichment and Husbandry:
Today you will begin your project work at Samboja Lestari. The group is usually split in two with half spending a whole day working on creating enrichment items for the orangutans and assisting with husbandry and the other half doing the same for the sun bears.
Day 4 - Project Work with the Sun Bears:
After breakfast the group will reverse roles, with those who helped with the orangutans now working with the sun bears and vice versa. There is also the opportunity to help feed the orangutans on the islands for some, but please note that everyone will get this opportunity during the project.
Day 5 - Enrichment and Branch Collecting:
This morning you'll be up and at it, helping with any current construction projects or assisting with any maintenance upkeep. The afternoon is spent working on enrichment for the orangutans, and with over 200 at the centre, volunteer help is crucial to ensure that each orangutan gets an enrichment item! You may also have the chance to collect branches for orangutan nests!
Day 6 - Orangutan Enrichment and the Night Market:
Today will be another orangutan day, but to ensure the great apes remain stimulated you’ll be making a different type of enrichment for them. You may also help with leaf collection as these are important in helping the orangutans make their nests. Tonight you will have the chance to visit the local night market and we recommend trying some of the amazing street food whilst there!
Day 7 - Morning to Relax & then a Boat Trip:
Today you will have a relaxed morning off – doing as you like (a lie-in may be needed)! In the afternoon, you will be able to go on a fantastic boat trip along the Black River. This boat trip is a fantastic chance to see the iconic proboscis monkey and a typical Indonesian fishing village, so make sure you bring your camera along with you.
Day 8 - Tour the City of Balikpapan:
Today you will be able to spend a full day in the city of Balikpapan. You will be able to visit the local craft market, have a delicious lunch and buy anything you want or need from the local shopping mall.
Day 9 - Another Orangutan Day:
After a short break from orangutan activities, today you will be back working with the apes. You’ll be assisting with making enrichment and leaf collection, and you may also be called upon to help with some construction tasks and site maintenance if it is required!
Day 10 - Canopy Walk in the Rainforest:
Today you'll start your day with a general sanctuary task. In the afternoon, you'll be off on an adventure by means of a canopy walk in the rainforest! You will have the opportunity to walk high up in the forest canopy, keeping your eyes peeled for gibbons and learning about the native flora and fauna from the project staff.
Day 11 - 12 - Project Work with the Orangutans:
Day 12 will be the final project day for 2-week volunteers, and the last chance to work alongside the orangutans assisting with anything that needs to be done. In the evening you will have time to speak to the facilitators, view a slide show from your stay and if you fancy, enjoy a few drinks as a group before transferring to the airport the next day.
Day 13 - Final day :
This is departure day for those volunteers on the two-week project. After a fond farewell, you will be transferred to Balikpapan Airport for your flight home or onward travel plans (in which case, please ensure that your flights depart between 9am and 7pm.) If staying for longer, the itinerary will repeat itself.
Dates, Availability & Price
To secure a place on this project a deposit of £195 is required at the time of booking, with the remaining balance due any time up to 60 days prior to your start date.
Select a duration below to see the available start dates. All dates shown are currently available for you to join this project but please be aware the project only runs between March and October.
Updates & Outcomes
At the Samboja Lestari Orangutan Sanctuary, one of Indonesia's most prestigious and renowned orangutan rehabilitation and rescue centres, and one of the main focal points of BOS F ('The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation'), the emphasis is on the rehabilitation and release of orangutans, many of whom were rescued from atrocious situations. The overriding goal is to reintroduce orangutans back to secure natural habitats in order to establish new viable long-term populations to bolster the conservation of the species in the wild. A number of orangutans have been already been successfully released by BOS F so please keep an eye on our blog for any further release stories. Every year since 2012 the team at the sanctuary have been able to release orangutans back into the wild, and the help that volunteers provide in helping the sanctuary to run is crucial to this process.
Sadly, some of the orangutan residents here cannot ever be released back into the wild because of injury or illness. For these orangutans, the sanctuary provides them with a safe haven where they can live out the rest of their lives away from the threat of deforestation and human destruction.
The sanctuary also includes a large area put aside for the 50 + sun bears living here. These bears have all been rescued from the illegal pet trade or from areas of major deforestation.
We have a wonderful weekend update for you today - the team at Samboja Lestari are happy to announce the opening of their brand-new sun bear enrichment area! See how the team (and our volunteers!) worked to create this exciting new area for the sanctuary's adorable animals by checking out today's blog post.
Remember Josh the orphaned baby Orangutan from last year? We have an update on how he has been getting on!
We have received updates from the Samboja Lestari Orangutan Project in Borneo about what the volunteers have helped achieve whilst out there. Take a look!
Is this trip for you?
Accommodation during your time at Samboja will be within twin-share rooms at the Samboja Ecolodge where all of the interior and exterior walls are built out of recycled materials! Each room comes equipped with fully working air conditioning, mosquito nets and an en-suite bathroom with cold water and a western-style toilet. Please don’t worry about being too cold in the shower - as it is very hot and humid here all year round, you will most likely welcome the respite!
You will have three meals per day provided for you whilst on this project. Breakfast is a variety of cereals, eggs and rice/noodle dishes alongside fruit and fresh fruit juice. Lunches and dinners typically consist of noodles or rice with chicken, seafood, mutton or beef and vegetables. Tofu and Soy bean dishes are also provided for vegetarians. Each meal is a buffet.
The construction work undertaken on this project will involve physical labour, often in humid conditions, and so this requires a moderate level of fitness. The other tasks however are not particularly physically strenuous, but a fair level of fitness is advised. No specific skills or experience are required, just a commitment to the project and its aims, a passion for wildlife conservation, an ability to work as a team and an upbeat, positive attitude.
To volunteer here you must have Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B Vaccinations, as well as an HIV and HCV test (to check for Hepatitis C) before arrival. A chest x-ray or skin test will need to be provided to prove that you do not have TB. Alternatively, if you have previously had a BCG injection and can provide proof of this, that will also suffice. Please can you either email a scanned copy of your vaccinations card and test results to firstname.lastname@example.org or upload them to your project account as soon as they have been completed.
This is ESSENTIAL, as without the above you will not be granted access to the volunteer areas on sites.
We are often asked whether or not volunteers will have the chance to touch or play with the orangutans whilst on this project. Our answer to this question is, and will always be no, and this is for good reason.
Orangutans are highly susceptible to human diseases and something as minor as the common cold can prove fatal to these Great Apes. Also an environment of constant change, with new volunteers going to the project every two or four weeks and being in contact with the orangutans would be very detrimental to the Orangutans wellbeing. With no consistency in their lives behavioural problems arise. They also have a tendency to begin to trust humans which is damaging should they be released back into the wild, as they will become easy targets for poachers. Finally, an orangutan is around 7 times stronger than an adult male human so a no contact policy is just as crucial for your wellbeing as orangutan welfare.
That is not to say that as a volunteer you will have no interaction with the orangutans, it simply means that you will have no direct contact with them. You will still observe them on a daily basis and see how your contribution to their husbandry and enrichment makes a real difference in these great apes’ lives. For more information please view our article on hands on contact with orangutans here
When is the best time to volunteer?
The project runs between March and October, avoiding the rainy season and as this project is based at a rehabilitation sanctuary there are orangutans and sun bears here year round, so there is no real preferred time to volunteer.
You need to fly into Balikpapan on the project start date between 9am - 5pm. Most volunteers travelling to the project will need to stop and change via Jakarta international airport (Soekarno-Hatta International Airport). There are numerous daily flights departing Jakarta for Balikpapan (Sultan Aji Muhamad Sulaiman Airport). Once in Balikpapan, you will be met by a project representative who will then transfer you to Samboja. This drive takes approximately one hour.
Please note that if you arrive a day early, you will need to stay at a hotel in Balikpapan. Please let us know if you would like any suggestions.
If you would like help booking your flights, please visit our flights page and fill out the form. A member of our team will get back in touch as soon as possible with a suitable quote.
Your passport must be valid for a minimum period of six months from the date of entry into Indonesia. Entry to Indonesia will be refused and airlines may not carry passengers holding passports with less than six months validity. You are required to retain your arrival card for presentation to Immigration upon your departure.
In order to join this project, you will need a tourist visa. You will be able to get one of these on arrival into Indonesia, but please note you may have to pay for this on arrival. The cost is currently $35 for a 30-day visa.
If you plan to stay longer than 30 days in Indonesia, you will need to either get the 30 visa on arrival and then visit an embassy in Indonesia before your 30 days are up to extend it for a further 30 days, or arrange a 60 day social/cultural visa in advance(you will need documents from the project to support your application for this option). The cost for the 60-day visa can vary depending on which Indonesian embassy you are applying through.
We do advise that volunteers should check here to see if there are any specific requirements for their country of residence.
Currency and Exchange Rates
The currency of Indonesia is the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). As of January 2018, the exchange rate was roughly £1 to IDR 17,500. Please note that this is likely to fluctuate, so it is best to check XE's website for the most up to date exchange rates.
What's included in the price of the project?
- Airport transfers to and from Balikpapan (Sultan Aji Muhamad Sulaiman Airport)
- Three meals per day
- Tea, coffee and drinking water at the lodge
- All volunteer activities at the project site
- Canopy walk excursion
- River cruise across the black river
- Conservation donation to Samboja Lestari Orangutan Sanctuary
What's not included?
- All flights
- Any vaccinations
- Soft or alcoholic drinks and extra snacks
- Laundry service (washing and tumble drying – this can be purchased on site and the cost is per item. Costs are roughly 75p for trousers, 50p for t-shirts, 25p for underwear)