Explore Borneo's lush rainforest in search of wild orangutan and the rare pygmy elephant.
Based in the Lower Kinabatangan Floodplain Rainforest, this orangutan project completely encompasses the awe-inspiring diversity of Borneo’s wildlife, earning the title of perhaps our most ‘wild’ project of all.
This project is located within the WWF’s protected ‘Corridor of Life’, a region of enormous importance in sustaining its wildlife populations. Deforestation has tragically destroyed much of Borneo’s rainforests, taking countless animal lives in its wake with the remaining animals being left vulnerable. Today, local communities and volunteers work in tandem to revive the rainforest, planting thousands of trees per year and breathing life back in to the area. In recent times, these efforts have proven to be successful, with visibility of both orangutans and pygmy elephants improving over time, but more must be done to allow these species – and others – to thrive in their endemic homes.
On this project, you will become a guest in the small village of Sukau, living amongst the charming ‘Orang Sungai’ (‘People of the River’) and learning their way of life. This rural, indigenous community has a population of only 1000 or so, yet they are always keen to welcome guests. In return for their hospitality, you will assist in educating the locals on the importance of conservation and implementing more sustainable ways of living in a way which will be mutually beneficial to both the people and the animals in the area.
The main focus of this project entails the monitoring of wildlife species along the Kinabatangan river, and as a volunteer you will embark on river-cruises and rainforest treks in search of wild orangutans, pygmy elephants and more. With gibbons, hornbills, and other species frequently spotted in the area, the ‘Corridor of Life’ is indeed a biodiverse haven, and your time spent volunteering will help to encourage more animals to return here in the years to come.
On this project, you will work with both the local community and the local wildlife.
Please note that itineraries are subject to change, and what follows is simply a rough guideline.
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!
Located in Sabah, Borneo, this project is situated in an area of rainforest which has unfortunately undergone a great deal of threat over the years, leaving much of the wildlife here vulnerable: logging activities and the prevalence of palm oil plantations have, in recent times, left countless animals without protection – similarly affected, however, are the tiny communities which call the forests home.
The project has worked hard not only to reforest the vital ‘Corridor of Life’, but to encourage the local ‘Orang Sungai’ to live in harmony with their surroundings, speaking with members of the community to educate them on the importance of conservation. This can be observed most clearly in our volunteers’ efforts with the youngest members of the community: by visiting local schools and working with the children there, the project aims to instil a sense of responsibility into their young minds, as well as a sense of respect for their surrounding environments. These young children will someday grow to be the guardians of the rainforest, and should we wish for Borneo’s threatened wildlife to survive, we must work with the region’s inhabitants to make this possible.
The main goal of this project, of course, is to see wildlife species returning to the ‘Corridor of Life’, and so far, the efforts of the project seem to have had some success. With an aim to plant over 2000 new trees annually, the work here is difficult – but the rewards are inspiring. The project has, in recent times, seen impressive numbers of orangutans and elephants returning to the area, and it is hoped that this continue perseverance shall result in thriving forests for years to come. The project has indeed managed to succeed in their goal of planting such a huge number of trees, with over 2500 saplings being planted in 2017 alone!
Palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil in the world. Little do people know, the cultivation of this product has caused a colossal, detrimental impact upon endangered species, as well as the rate of deforestation, climate change and more! Read up to find out more, and view a list of palm oil free alternatives!
Tomorrow is World Orangutan Day, and as the world prepares to celebrate the iconic great ape on its own important day, The Great Projects have taken the time to put together a list of our top three orangutan rehabilitation stories!
Your time on this project will be spent staying in three different accommodations: a dormitory-style accommodation on your first night at the project (complete with warm showers and western toilets); a local village B&B for the bulk of your time here; and a final night in a comfortable yet basic hotel in Sandakan town. Please note WiFi is not available in the accommodations.
The local village B&B in Sukau is situated right on the riverbank, with a common area overlooking the river itself – a tranquil place to start your day! Rooms here will be shared with other volunteers on a two-per-room basis, and each room has an en-suite with warm showers and western toilets. While this accommodation is basic, it is comfortable, coming complete with linens and bath towels. What’s more, you’ll be situated right in the middle of Sukau village, offering you ample opportunity to get to know your hosts and learn all about their ways of life!
Additionally, there are laundry facilities available at the project site in Sukau; please note that this costs around RM15 (£2.75/$2) per kilogram.
All meals and beverages are provided and are included in the price of the project, though breakfast is to be prepared by volunteers. Lunch and dinner are prepared by local villagers in their homes, presenting a great opportunity to hear about their daily lives, to chat with the children, and to see how the community has been living for centuries. Those with dietary requirements will be catered for, however, we do kindly request that you let us know of your needs well in advance.
This project requires physical work in order to partake in the restoration efforts, so a moderate level of fitness is advised. The physical work is not overly exerting but is necessary most days. No specific skills are required to volunteer for this project; however, a love of animals, a strong work ethic, and an ability to work in a team are all vital.
It is essential that you check with your GP with regards vaccinations, as this is very much dependent on your medical history. It is also useful to consult the NHS Fit for Travel website in conjunction with your GP’s advice. The Great Projects are not qualified to provide medical advice - you must speak to your GP for information well before travelling.
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 month 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 can be 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 well-being 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 when visiting Sepilok and along the river if you are lucky enough to see them. For more information please view our article on hands on contact with orangutans here.
There is no specific 'best' time to join this project, as wildlife is visible all year round. With that in mind, the only differing factor is the weather.
Based on weather, you may prefer to join this project between February and October, as the rainy season hits between November and January. However, over the years, the weather patterns have been changing (both in Malaysia and globally), making this season less clearly defined.
The nearest airport to the project is Sandakan International (SDK), and you must arrive between 7am - 4pm on the project start date, where you will be met at the airport and transferred to the temporary accommodation. This transfer will take between roughly 30-40 minutes, and the cost is included in your project fee.
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.
There is no prior visa required for most nationalities to enter Malaysia as a 90-day tourist visa is granted on arrival. However, please check the Malaysian Immigration website for detailed information. Visas are of the volunteer's own responsibility.
The Malaysian currency is the Ringgit. The conversion rate is approximately 1 MYR to 0.19 GBP, 0.23 EUR, and 0.31 USD. We advise visiting www.xe.com, where you can see live exchange rates.
From the moment I arrived in Sakau to the moment I left Malaysia, I was blown away by the wildlife and the people, just the most perfect time of my life, I will be back! I'll never forget seeing a frazzled mother orangutan with a juvenile and a brand new baby. Also, close to the site we’d just planted 100 trees!!
Alison Greene , 2018
I couldn't possibly pick just one favourite moment because there were so many! The people, the food and all of the unique opportunities this project has to offer are the things I will never forget.
Melanie Mullard, 2017
My favourite moment was when we were on a river cruise and then suddenly saw over 40 pygmy elephants crossing the river!
Rebecca Moldovanyi, 2017
I will always remember actually making a difference by planting new saplings in the rainforest. Also the monitoring of wildlife. So many highlights!
Margaret Skelley , 2017
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to take part in a project that I've wanted to do since I was a child. It really was a dream come true and certainly the most rewarding thing I have done.
Emma Danielle Foster , 2017
The volunteer work in reforesting the rainforest was very satisfying and the animal encounters and observations were superb as were the opportunities to learn Malaysian culture through home visits with locals in the village. The in-country director and guide was outstanding in his training, directions, teaching, wildlife observations, and general willingness to share all his knowledge of his homeland and the challenges to the wildlife there. He was happy, energetic, dedicated and very capable and organised. Many thanks to Mark for making this a truly great experience.
Kathryn Ely, 2016
If you have any questions about this project or would like help finding the perfect project for you then please feel free to give us a call or send us through your enquiry and we will be happy to help.
Nikita & team.