Samboja Lestari Orangutan Volunteer Project

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This project offers you the chance to work on enrichment with captive orangutans and sun bears at the world-renowned Samboja Lestari Rescue Centre.

Samboja Lestari is an area of restored tropical rainforest near the city of Balikpapan in East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. Established by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF), this 2,000-hectare orangutan sanctuary was created with the aim of providing a safe haven for orphaned orangutans which had been rescued from areas of habitat loss, whilst at the same time providing a source of income for local people.

The project site is home to several forest schools which have been built to provide natural, educational playgrounds for the orangutans, in which they are able to learn vital forest skills in the hope of someday being released. Elsewhere, several islands have been created to accommodate those orangutans which may be suffering from disabilities, preventing them from ever being released, whilst others are used to prepare suitable candidates for their return to the wild!

By joining this project, you will help rehabilitate Samboja Lestari's orangutans and sun bears by assisting in a range of activities such as enrichment, husbandry, and sanctuary upkeep. Each year since 2012, the foundation has been able to successfully release a number of orangutans, and your work will help to ensure that more orangutans can continue to be released back into their natural forest home.

Samboja Lestari is an area of restored tropical rainforest near the city of Balikpapan in East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. Established by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF), this 2,000-hectare orangutan sanctuary was created with the aim of providing a safe haven for orphaned orangutans which had been rescued from areas of habitat loss, whilst at the same time providing a source of income for local people.

The project site is home to several forest schools which have been built to provide natural, educational playgrounds for the orangutans, in which they are able to learn vital forest skills in the hope of someday being released. Elsewhere, several islands have been created to accommodate those orangutans which may be suffering from disabilities, preventing them from ever being released, whilst others are used to prepare suitable candidates for their return to the wild!

By joining this project, you will help rehabilitate Samboja Lestari's orangutans and sun bears by assisting in a range of activities such as enrichment, husbandry, and sanctuary upkeep. Each year since 2012, the foundation has been able to successfully release a number of orangutans, and your work will help to ensure that more orangutans can continue to be released back into their natural forest home.

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.

Orangutan Island Observation at Samboja Lestari
Observation
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!
Orangutan with Bamboo Enrichment at Samboja Lestari
Enrichment
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.
Volunteers Cleaning Enclosures at Samboja Lestari
Husbandry
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!
Sun Bear Enclosure at Samboja Lestari
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.
Volunteers Building an Orangutan Platform
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.
Canopy Walk in East Kalimantan
Canopy Walk
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.
Volunteers Cruising down the Black River
River Cruise
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.
Night Market in East Kalimantan
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 & 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 & 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 & 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.

Important Information: This project is extremely popular, with dates getting fully booked up to 6 months in advance. We therefore recommend securing 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 September.

Duration Price
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Accommodation

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!

Meals & Beverages

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.

When is the best time to volunteer?

This project is based at a rehabilitation sanctuary, and there are orangutans and sun bears here year-round, meaning there is no real preferred time to volunteer regarding the animals.

The weather is also quite constant throughout, and whilst it can rain at any time of the year due to the rainforest climate, you can expect mostly dry weather with temperatures averaging 29-31°C (84-88°F) in the daytime and 24°C (75°F) at night.

Avergare Monthly Weather in Balikpapan, Indonesia

Getting There

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.

Visa Requirements

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.

Fitness & Skills

The work undertaken on this project can be quite physical, 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!

Vaccinations & Medical Requirements

To volunteer on this project, you must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 (at least 2 doses) and provide negative test results to show you do not have HIV or Hepatitis B or C prior to arrival. A chest x-ray or QuantiFERON blood test to show you do not have Tuberculosis is also required. These are ESSENTIAL, as without them you will be unable to join the project.

No Contact Policy

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, many of which are far more dangerous to an orangutan than they are to us. 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 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 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.

Experience the Samboja Lestari Orangutan Project

Take a look at wildlife adventurer Catherine Capon's trip to Samboja Lestari and discover what volunteering is really like!

Volunteers Review Their Time on the Project

Leslie, Alena and Charlotte review their experience at the Samboja Lestari Orangutan Project in Borneo.

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What's Included

  • Airport transfers to and from Balikpapan
  • Accommodation
  • 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)
  • Visas
  • Soft or alcoholic drinks and extra snacks
Where you can go
Contact Info
UK Office
The Great Traveller Ltd,
3 Dairy Yard
Star Street
Ware, Hertfordshire
SG12 7DX
United Kingdom

Opening hours:
   Mon-Fri 8:30am–5:30pm
   Sat 10am-4pm

T: +44(0) 208 885 4987