Facebook Pinterest YouTube  Email us     


contact us | request a call back | brochure | reviews | login




Volunteers' Stories


Karen Herring           


Orang-Utan Conservation at Sepilok Rehabilitation Center in Borneo, Malaysia

After her placement, Karen joined Travellers as a Project Co-Ordinator and Volunteer Liaison. She is currently based in India and takes wonderful care of our volunteers there! [Update: After a few years in India, she is now in Brazil, looking after volunteers and loving the location !!]

It has been a totally amazing and life changing experience. From our arrival at Sepilok Rest House, all the staff made us feel so welcome straight away it felt like it was our home. Living in a different culture, sampling the local cuisine and seeing the happy smiling faces of all the people was a humbling experience. I've made so many friends and I've learnt so much from the rangers about the orang-utans and the staff never tire of our endless stream of questions. 

Watching the orang-utans in the trees was breathtaking, an experience I will never ever forget. I thought I would freak out when I got a leech but I quite liked them and loved going to sleep each night listening to the sounds of the jungle. It was so calming.

Also, I didn't think I had a maternal instinct in my body but I fell in love with the babies especially Acutboy. I've come away a much calmer, patient, tolerant person with clear objectives for the future and know that I want to become involved in conservation projects.

This project has been a totally wonderful experience. I really can't fault it at all. Excellently run, wonderful and friendly staff who trusted us with the orang-utans 100%. Thanks for making it is special and for giving me the opportunity to work with such fantastic people and wonderful orang-utans. It surpassed all of my expectations. I was taught how to be confident in front of them, never to show that you're afraid (even when they're sinking their teeth into your leg - ouch!) and to be able to identify them all was amazing. 

I loved the time I spent with the orang-utans and I loved the trekking (just make them longer as 2.5 hours isn't enough.

What was the best thing about your placement?

Working in the outdoor nursery and seeing the orang-utans in their natural environment, the forest. This was what I came here to see and I could spend hours just sitting on the platform observing them in the trees; watching them interact with the other orang-utans and seeing the difference in their characters. I think Dusain got fed up of me as I never wanted to go home!!! 

There was also the time when Mimi came into the outdoor nursery with her baby Rooney. I really wasn't sure whether to hold the bananas out to her or throw them as the baby is only 7 months old and she is protective towards him. But I needn't have worried, I just held them out for her and stood there in awe as she took them from me. 

And finally, one morning when we walked up to the outdoor nursery to collect the wheelbarrow we arrived to find the cage (office) in chaos as the clever orangs had broken the padlock, stole the bananas, drank the milk and literally ran riot! 

Oh, and in my final week I placed Acutboy on the grass by the lake and let go - and he didn't scream and try to cling onto me.  He's finally claiming some independence and I felt really emotional.

What type of person do you think this placement would suit?

Someone with a love of orang-utans, who wants to learn more about why they are so endangered and have a hands-on experience with them and who doesn't mind getting their hands dirty as there is a lot of cleaning. Also someone who doesn't mind spending 2 weeks of the project trekking and drenched in sweat!

Typical day in the Indoor nursery:

We start at 8.00 am and the first job is to transfer the orang-utans from the night cages to the playing cages using a wheelbarrow to transport them, which is great fun as they always want to escape, especially Suzannah. Then we clean under the cages and in them if they've had upset tummies and then wash the area with dettol.

We then peel bananas for the orang-utans and bears and feed them, ensuring that you've given each orang-utan/bear the same quantity!  Then we boil water so we can sterilise all the equipment and do any washing that's required.  Then we make milk for the 2 babies and prepare their bath.  Make sure the water is at the correct temperature and bathe them quickly so as they don't get cold, then dry them and put a nappy on. Make milk or electrolyte for the other 2 in quarantine and then its play time.

We are usually finished by 9.30 - 10.00, so for the final hour or so we take out the babies and usually Sogo Sogo, who is in quarantine, down to the lake and relax and feed them their milk. Then at 11ish we take them back and head off for a long delicious lunch. 

At 2.00 pm we're back at the indoor nursery, boil more water, peel and feed bananas again, make up electrolyte for the orang-utans/bears and feed them individually. Make milk for the babies and then take out a few of the larger orang-utans so they can climb on the ropes and in the trees (trying not to let them escape to the outdoor nursery!). This is great fun and I'm hoping they'll extend this area more and put more ropes in.  Then at 3.30 we take them back and we transfer them via wheelbarrow back to the night cages. 

Then it's cleaning time.  Clean under both the playing cages and quarantine and rinse with dettol. Take out the rubbish and then prepare baths for the babies again, get them dressed and make electrolyte for them. At 4.30 we say goodbye to them and go home. It's hard work but very rewarding. 

More Information about your Trip with Travellers

List of ALL PROJECTS in Malaysia
SEPILOK ORANG-UTAN Project in Malaysia