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 Balikipapan 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 rehabilitated orangutans, whilst at the same time providing a source of income for local people.
Since 2001, the surrounding area has been planted with more than a million trees covering more than 1000 different species. With the growth of the forest, the density and diversity of wildlife returned. So far 137 bird species and nine primate species have been recorded.
Several Forest Schools built here provide natural, educational playgrounds for the orangutans, in which they are able to learn vital forest skills in the hope of someday being able to be returned to the wild. Elsewhere, many orangutan islands have been created to accommodate those orangutans which may be suffering from disabilities, preventing them from ever being release into the wild, whilst others are used to prepare suitable candidates for their release! What's more, there is an area designated solely to house a population of over 50 sun bears and volunteers spend time working with the bears too.
As a volunteer on 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 as a volunteer will help 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 9am - 5pm, 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 into Indonesia. The cost for 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.
I think each and everyone of us cried when we went to feed the orangutans from the kayak - it was such an emotional experience seeing the mothers with their babies. I wish I had stayed longer and will definitely do a longer trip next time. I was surprised at the level of accommodation, it was excellent - and although the work was hard it was rewarding. The volunteer coordinator Kate was knowledgeable and great fun to be with - just an amazing experience!
Julie Allen, 2019
I really enjoyed seeing the orangutans up close in their enclosures and giving them bedding or enrichment- you really get a feel for how powerful, but also how emotive they are. Cleaning the moat was the most fun part of the trip- a chance to splash around in the mud while being surrounded by orangutans on the islands. The on-site program coordinators for this project were particularly awesome- really friendly and welcoming and all around fun to be with. I appreciate that they were accommodating to me due to my physical limitations in the heat and sun. I never felt judged for needing to leave early or skip certain activities.
Eve Winiarski, 2019
I have so many favourite moments! But the individual boat trips around the islands with Sam, just chilling and watching the orangutans and the nature was amazing.
Susan Sandberg, 2019
We never expected to be so close to the animals, so regularly. Every time I looked into an orangutan's eyes, it melted my heart. The boat trips we took, took my breath away, and the whole experience was greater than I had ever imagined.
Deborah Griffiths, 2018
My recent visit to Samboja Lestari was my second time at this amazing project. For me personally, spending time with the orangutans is something that can’t be explained; it needs to be experienced. From start to finish, Kate, Wik and Sam make sure your days are full of varying activities and make you feel so welcome. All of the support staff, both at the lodge and at work, are so friendly and helpful. It’s like a home away from home. I can’t recommend this trip highly enough. I’m already looking to go back for a third time!!!
Caroline Pasovsky, 2018
My favourite memory was putting up a hammock we had spent time making in the week for the baby house, and then seeing a baby orangutan playing and laughing - very happy with their new hammock! I had an amazing time - again! I'll be going back again and again!
Holly Dibden, 2018
This was my third trip and, as a returnee, I was worried that I might be underwhelmed...but I was more impressed than ever. I can't speak highly enough of Kate - she has such vision, determination and commitment to the work, and has an unmatchable ability to motivate and cohere the volunteers. It is hard to imagine there being a more effective, harmonious and friendly team that Wiwik, Sam and Kate. All the volunteers learnt so much from them, and the level of mutual respect is very heartwarming and restores my faith in humanity. It's very fulfilling to work as a volunteer. My most quiet and moving moments came when I was watching an orangutan, Jonas, in his cage: when he looks you in the eye, he puts life's 'big questions' to you!
Philip Mason, 2018
There were too many amazing moments and memories here, but watching the orangutans with the enrichment we made is always special! This was my second trip and was just fantastic. I will go again, and again, and again...
Cathy Page, 2018
Kate was brilliant. Her energy and enthusiasm brought our group of strangers together to make a real team and forge new friendships I will never forget. The structure of the programme is top notch with balance on hard work, orangutan time and rest time. I loved every minute...even the digging in the rain! I hope to make it back again in the next few years.
Tanya Petrovic, 2018
The project is really well-organised, with a perfect balance of hard graft and down-time, including trips to local markets, treetop canopy walks, and boat trips down the Black River. I honestly couldn't pick just one favourite moment: every close encounter with the orangutans and sun bears was incredible. The project work was really varied, which was great, and the other volunteers were fantastic.
Philippa Cole, 2018
This trip was amazing, from hearing the jungle sounds and the orangutans for the first time, through to the last evening where we were all moved to tears watching project videos, seeing the passion and dedication of the staff, and feeling a real sense of achievement for the work we had been involved with.
Sarah Dugmore , 2018
The first time I looked in the eyes of an orangutan was a very emotional moment for me. I remember very well what was in my mind in that particular moment: orangutans are like us, but pure. We share 97% of their DNA, and in the 3% mission, there seems to be no space for the bad.
Sebastien Durelli, 2017
It was fantastic getting to see the individual personalities of all the orangutans. I loved every minute of it. We were lucky enough to be there when 10 orangutans were heading off to a new forest school, which would put them one step away from being released - it was a moment I will never forget. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Samboja Lestari; Kate the coordinator is just fantastic and so well organised. You couldn't ask for a better leader. The rest of the staff were just amazing as well - to see the love and passion they have for the orangutans is beyond words. I loved it so much, I'm sure I'll be back again!
Kerry Gourley, 2017
I loved everything! I guess if I had to pick a favourite memory, it would be when we were so close up to an orangutan for the first time, looking into his eyes and being overwhelmed by the wisdom he seemed to have.
Sarah Gillett, 2017
Making the decision to become a volunteer for a cause you have supported has to be the most rewarding type of support a human can offer. I started volunteering through The Great Projects in October 2016 and couldn't wait to go back. Seeing the progress from just 6 months ago was - to say the least - mind blowing, knowing that all the effort you put in as a volunteer actually is valued and serves to make huge, and I mean HUGE changes! Whatever tasks we were given, I found myself being immersed by this tremendous urge to be involved with all my heart and soul...you can't help that. You hear the sounds of the orangutans constantly calling out. It surrounds you. You see the orangutans enjoying their freedom on the islands that have been designed to create freedom and comfort for them as they await full release into the forests. It's there, it's real, it's awesome! You become part of this wondrous move to save the now critically endangered orangutan...I will always be involved, I will go back again, and I urge you to do the same.
Sharon Lynne, 2017
It is hard to choose just one favourite moment, as the whole stay was just a wonderful and enriching experience. Being able to spend so much time observing the orangutans and helping to make their life at Samboja as natural as possible in a group of like-minded people has been one of the best experiences ever. I would like to give a big thank you to everyone at The Great Projects, from the staff here in the UK and particularly to Kate and her team on location. Kate is an incredible person and plays a big role in making this such an amazing experience.
Marion Franke, 2017
My favourite memory was probably seeing the orangutans on the islands from the small boat. The boat trip down the Black River was also brilliant! Kate, Sam and Wiwik were excellent - they work so hard, are so motivational, and are great fun, always smiling!
Katherine Spooner, 2017
The volunteer coordinator and all the others working on the project were amazing and do a fantastic job of making you feel welcome. Couldn't have asked for any more than they gave.
Kelly Pring, 2017