Your main activities whilst volunteering with orangutans at Samboja Lestari include husbandry, enrichment, reforestation, 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!
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 general enclosure maintenance and the enrichment 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, two on-going tasks at the centre and ones which always require volunteer assistance. You could be involved with the maintenance of the rainforest environment, building/maintenance of platforms on the orangutan islands, or the upkeep of the sun bear enclosures, to name but a few examples.
As a popular part of the volunteer experience, you will have the opportunity to walk high up in the forest canopy, keeping your eyes peeled for all kinds of flora and fauna. You may even spot a pair of singing gibbons, if you’re lucky! This is a fantastic way to appreciate the diversity of the Bornean jungle – you won’t forget this experience in a 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.
Trip to the Night Market
During your stay, you will have the opportunity to visit the local night market. Why not take this opportunity to enjoy some local Indonesian cuisine? With plenty of options to go around, you'll be spoilt for choice.
Below is an example of a typical two-week itinerary. Please note, however, some activities may be subject to change during the time of your stay as they are dependent on weather conditions and the requirements of the project at the time.
Day 1 - The Adventure Begins:
Upon arrival into Balikpapan Airport, you will be met by a member of the team and transferred to the project site at Samboja Lestari. After settling in, and perhaps having your first glimpse of the centre's orangutans, you will enjoy dinner and have a chance to relax before getting a good night's sleep ahead of tomorrow's activities.
Day 2 - Induction Day:
After breakfast at the lodge, you will have an orientation from Kate, the volunteer coordinator, before climbing the on-site fire tower, where you will enjoy an incredible view and see all areas of the centre. In the afternoon you will take a trip to head office to meet the staff, before enjoying dinner in the evening and learning all about the history of Samboja Lestari.
Day 3 - Orangutan Enrichment and Husbandry:
Today you will begin your project work by creating enrichment for some of the 200 resident orangutans and collecting leaves and branches for them so they can build their nests. If there's time, you may also get involved in food preparation for the animals.
Day 4 - Project Work with the Sun Bears:
After breakfast, you will walk to the sun bear enclosures as you prepare for a day working with these incredible animals. You will spend today feeding the bears, cleaning their enclosures and creating enrichment for them. In the afternoon your construction skills may also be tested!
Day 5 - City Visit to Balikpapan:
Today you will be able to spend a full day in the city of Balikpapan. You can visit the local craft market, try some local food or simply buy anything you may need for the week ahead from the local shopping mall. You will also enjoy a nice lunch as a group with the volunteer coordinators.
Day 6 - Orangutan Enrichment and the Night Market:
Today will be another orangutan day, and to ensure the great apes remain stimulated you’ll be making a different type of enrichment for them. Afterwards, you will be able to give the enrichment items to the orangutans and see what they make of your work! Tonight you will visit the local night market and we recommend trying some of the amazing street food whilst there!
Day 7 - Enrichment and Branch Collecting:
This morning you'll be helping with any current construction projects, such as building platforms on the orangutan islands. Then, in the afternoon, you will be creating enrichment for the orangutans in an area which overlooks the orangutan islands, offering another great opportunity to observe them.
Day 8 - Morning to Relax & a Boat Trip:
Today you will have a relaxed morning off which you can spend as you like (a lie-in may be needed)! In the afternoon, you will go on a fantastic boat trip along the Black River. This is a great opportunity to see the iconic proboscis monkey, so make sure you bring your camera along with you!
Day 9 - Another Orangutan Day:
The orangutans will be your priority today and you’ll spend your time thinking up creative enrichment ideas for these clever apes, as well as gathering branches for nest making. If any construction needs completing at the project site, then it will be all hands on deck too!
Day 10 - Canopy Walk in the Rainforest:
You'll begin your day either working on enrichment for the orangutans or on a small construction project. In the afternoon, you'll be off on an adventure as you go on 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:
These will be your final full days at Samboja Lestari, and you will spend your remaining time working alongside the orangutans. You will continue to create enrichment for them and, if you have not yet had the opportunity, you will take a small boat around the islands to distribute food or enrichment items. This is a great opportunity to see the orangutans up-close and to take some amazing photos! Your final evening will be spent with your group and the project coordinators, as you enjoy your final dinner and a few drinks if you wish.
Day 13 - Final day :
Sadly, today will be your final day and after saying goodbye to the rest of your group and the project staff, you will take a transfer back to Balikpapan Airport in time for your flight home or to continue with your travels.
Dates, Availability & Price
Important Information: This project is extremely popular, with dates getting fully booked up to 6 months in advance. We therefore recommend that you secure your place as early as possible to ensure you can join on your preferred start date.
To secure a place on this project a deposit of $245 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 April 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 BOSF ('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 BOSF 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.
- posted on 26/11/2019
- by Sharon Lynne
Returning volunteer Sharon gives a heart-felt review of her experiences volunteering at the Nyaru Menteng and Samboja Lestari orangutan sanctuaries. Find out why she'll be returning for her 5th year with us in this latest blog post.
Over the past three months, volunteers on the Samboja Lestari Orangutan Volunteer Project have worked incredibly hard on a number of huge construction projects! Including a wall around orangutan island 2, new hammocks for the big guys and an area for any adult orangutans in need of veterinary treatment.
Things have been getting real spooky around the Samboja Lestari orangutan sanctuary. From playing trick or treat with sun bears to carving scary watermelons for orangutans, the volunteers had good fun creating Halloween-themed enrichment!
Is this trip for you?
Accommodation during your time on the project will be in 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, so 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 and each meal is served as a buffet.
The work undertaken on this project will involve physical labour, often in humid conditions, so a moderate level of fitness is required. No skills or experience are required; all that we ask is that you arrive with a commitment to the project and its aims, a passion for wildlife conservation, and the willingness to work alongside your team!
To volunteer on this project 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 also need to be provided to prove that you do not have Tuberculosis. Alternatively, if you have previously had a BCG injection and can provide proof of this, that will also suffice.
This is ESSENTIAL, as without the above you will not be granted access to the volunteer areas on site.
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 always will 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' well-being. With no consistency in their lives, behavioural problems arise. They also have the 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 safety as theirs.
That is not to say that 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 to the lives of these apes. For more information, please view our article on hands-on contact with orangutans here.
When is the best time to volunteer?
This project runs between March and October, which avoids the rainy season and as it 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 will need to fly into Balikpapan Airport on your project start date, arriving between 7am - 7pm, with most international flight routes going via Jakarta International Airport (Soekarno-Hatta International Airport). Upon arrival into Balikpapan Airport, you will be met by a project representative in the arrivals hall who will then transfer you to Samboja Lodge. This transfer takes approximately one hour.
If you arrive a day early and stay in a hotel close to Balikpapan Airport, we will be able to arrange your transfer to Samboja Lodge from there. 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.
To join this project, you will need a tourist visa which you can get on arrival in Indonesia. The cost of this visa is approximately US$35.
If you plan to stay in Indonesia for longer than 30 days, you can get a 30-day tourist visa on arrival and then extend your visa for a further 30 days by taking a trip to an embassy while in-country. Alternatively, it is possible to arrange a 60-day social/cultural visa in advance of your arrival and we can provide you with the correct documents to support your application.
We advise that you speak to the embassy in your country to see if there are any requirements for travel. Please note that your passport must be valid for a minimum of six months from your date of entry into Indonesia.
What's included in the price of the project?
- Airport transfers to and from Balikpapan
- Three meals per day
- Tea, coffee and drinking water at the lodge
- All volunteer activities at the project site
- Canopy walk excursion
- River cruise along the Black River
- Conservation donation to the Samboja Lestari Orangutan Sanctuary
What's not included?
- All flights
- Vaccinations and medical tests (which are required)
- Soft or alcoholic drinks and extra snacks
- Laundry service (this can be provided at the lodge for a very small fee)