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Volunteers' Stories




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


We were very quickly given responsibility for looking after the orang-utans and we were expected to get on with the job. I thoroughly enjoyed the responsibility and think it's great that the team at Sepilok trust us to do the work - they are always on hand to help but it teaches you responsibility.

The placement teaches you a lot about yourself and your ability to mix with others and adapt to different environments. It's a fantastic experience to see life within a different culture and to feel so welcomed. People going on this placement need to be open to change and able to act appropriately when maybe something is not as they expect.

What is the best thing about your placement?

Too much to mention!  The orang-utans obviously have to be top of the list!  It's just so fantastic to be that close to them and to interact with them. I truly hadn't imagined they could be so affectionate, despite all the stories I'd heard and it's an amazing experience to feel you're giving them some of the attention they desperately crave and deserve.

I also loved all the people who are looked after us - the staff at Sepilok, Rasa Ria and at the rest house are all very friendly and welcoming.  The rest house itself was far more advanced than I had expected it would be and the food is fantastic! (I miss the food so much!). I also love how laid back and friendly the people of Malaysia are.  It really helps you to relax into the placement - they make you feel like you belong. And also it's such a fascinating and beautiful country.

Overall I have to admit it was just fantastic to be away from my desk and doing something that felt so much more worthwhile. It was great to wake up and want to go to work! It also helped living in beautiful sunshine of course!

Would you recommend this placement to anyone else?

I'd definitely recommend this placement to anyone who loves animals and are happy to get their hands dirty!  It helps to have a reasonable level of fitness to cope with the heat, cleaning, carrying, trekking etc but you don't need to be super fit. You also have to be open and ready to adapt to new people and situations. 

If you find it difficult to make friends, like your own way of doing things or don't have any tolerance you shouldn't go. When living in such a close environment it can be difficult and people unwilling to adapt could easily make the living together aspect of the placement unpleasant.

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

Animal/orang-utan lovers who are happy to work hard, get dirty and smelly, (don't mind dealing with excrement!) and can adapt to a different way of life. The care and welfare of the animals has to be the main priority.  It is hard work at times so they must be prepared for this. They need to realise it's not a vacation and we are there to work and support the team and treat it like a job. They must have the animal’s best interests at heart and be aware that if they are feeling poorly they won't be able to work with the orang-utans. They should appreciate different cultures, be open to new experiences.

Also, it's important they can deal with heat - it can be very hot and you can't wear sun lotion while working with the orang-utans.  Some girls in our group were very pale and worried about burning but were told it's just not possible to wear sun cream as it's poisoness to the orang-utans. Also, you wear wellies on all working days - wearing wellies in humidity means you're always sweaty and hot!

Can you describe a typical day?

Days do vary depending on the section you are working on but generally you get up and have breakfast around 7.30am and either start work at 8am or 8.30am. Lunch is whenever you've finished your morning duties but is generally from around 12.30 - 1.30 or 2pm. It does depend our the section you're working on. Most days start between 8 and 8.30am with lunch around 12-2pm but again this depends on workload - you have to finish duties before going for lunch, and finishing your day around 4-4.30pm.

After breakfast at the rest house if working in clinic you spend the morning providing the orang-utans with breakfast - milk and fruit, then clean the living areas by sweeping and washing the floors.  You then bathed a couple of babies before taking orang-utans out for play - depending on their size they will either spend time playing in the jungle gym or in the tree play section.  It's a fantastic opportunity to watch them developing the skills they need to live wild again.

The afternoon is pretty much a repetition of the morning with more cleaning, and preparation of food and drinks for afternoon snacks, cleaning the outdoor play areas and taking some orang-utans out to play.

The Outdoor section involves taking up a very large bunch of bananas to the outdoor area and fighting to get them there without having them pinched by hungry orang-utans! Firstly we would do a head count - trying to spot all the orang-utans and marking them off on a sheet. We would then take the bananas out to a feeding platform in the jungle encouraging the orang-utans to follow us for their breakfast. We would then return to the Outdoor area and clean the night quarters before making out way to the viewing platform for the first of the days feeds. We would stand amongst the tourists answering questions and ensuring they remain quiet and also that they stay away from any adventurous orang-utans who occasionally make their way onto the viewing platform!

After lunch we would again take bananas up to the Outdoor area and again take out positions on the viewing platform for the afternoon feed.  Later in the afternoon we would help gather the younger orang-utans into the night quarters.

Trekking involved meeting at around 8.30am and going into the jungle with a member of the Sepilok team to look for orang-utan nests and wild orang-utans. We would update a sheet with info on any nests we spotted, noting the type of tree, height of the nest in the tree and how old it appeared to be.

We also did a small mammal survey where we set traps along a certain trail and then each day would check the traps and mark down all findings, including the weight and sex of what ever we caught and then release animal back to the wild.

When working at the Rasa Ria you do start a little earlier as you are collected from the flat at around 7.00 am. This section of the placement allows you to have more independence as you are living with just your team mates in a flat, therefore arranging your own breakfast and evening meals, (you are given a subsidy for this) and it's great mixing with the locals and shopping on the market.

The working hours are 7.30am to around 4-4.30pm with an hour and half for lunch. Lunch is provided at the hotel in the very nice staff canteen - so wish we had a canteen like this where I work!

Your working duties during the day are to prepare and give out food for the domestic animals who live in the nature reserve at the hotel.  We also sweep the area and clean out the water bowls. Next we'd  prepare food and drink for the orang-utans before heading up to the enclosure where the hungry orang-utans are waiting for you. Once breakfast is finished we'd set about cleaning the night quarters and then take some of the orang-utans into the play area where you would spend an hour or so watching them play.

After lunch is a repeat of preparing food and drink for both domestic animals and the orang-utans but if the weather is suitable we would also give a couple of the orang-utans a bath! Always good fun to see their reactions to the water - just like children playing!!

More Information about your Trip with Travellers

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