Would you give up your comfortable life to move to a developing country and start a conservation project in Borneo that helps critically endangered orangutans? I don’t think I could, so I decided to travel here and volunteer instead.
In Malaysian Borneo, a project was started to help give Orangutans that have been rescued and are not able to be released a higher quality of life. The project is about 9 years old. They work closely with two protected forests that has several orangutans and they also have helped to release several of them. As with most efficient and sustainable projects, they have tried to work as closely as possible with local communities where there is human orangutan conflict and started education initiatives to introduce locals to the issues and hopefully inspire cooperation for their projects.
Orangutan Project works with the forestry department in Malaysian Borneo at the Matang Wildlife Center and with International Animal Rescue in Indonesian Borneo at their Ketapang location. They help to enrich the lives of their 100+ orangutans and offer them a nicer quality of life. The unfortunate part is that only very few can be released into the wild and feeding orangutans can be an expensive business. Because of this, the project that I am currently volunteering at was born. After seeing the success of Monkeebar, a bar in Kuching which donates 50% of profit to Orangutan Project, and has mostly workaway volunteers working the bar, they decided to open a resort on a very quiet beach where 50% of profit will also go to the charity.
I have been the only volunteer at this isolated beach resort that is under construction for a week and just recently had two new volunteers join. Our main responsibility is to paint. It has been blistering hot here, and it is insanely exhausting painting ceilings when it is so hot. I am gladly (most of the time) painting away because if these orangutans have to be in cages the rest of their lives because of what humans have done to them, then I am hoping that this hotel becomes a huge money maker so that Project Orangutan can pamper and enrich the lives of these orangutans.
If you want to volunteer for Orangutan Project and possibly see a few Orangutans, you can also pay quite a bit for weekly volunteer opportunities where you get to help create enrichment for them at the Matang wildlife center, but they are all in cages at this center and there is absolutely NO CONTACT with them. If you truly want to help orangutans, you can do so by purchasing fewer product with palm oil, (nutella, most peanut butters, most packaged foods, most soaps) or at least look for sustainable Palm oil options (I still don’t know if this a truly a thing yet) and help organizations like Orangutan Project, Save GP Orangutans, Permakulture Kalimantan Foundation, and Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. You’re money will go a really long way if you donate to the permaculture group as they are very grassroots and still not as big as the other groups but are working just as hard as them. If ever there is anyone holding an orangutan, it should only be veterinarians or their caretakers as the more contact they have with humans the less likely it is for them to be released into the wild. Humans are not something orangutans want to cuddle with. We are their enemies in the wild and if you see a wild orangutan you should be scared. They are aggressive and very dangerous.
I couldn’t afford to spend thousands of dollars each week I was away for my six months, but I still feel like the workaway I am volunteering at now is incredibly rewarding as I know where the money will be going once the resort is up and running. Either way, if you care for the orangutans, there are several ways you can help.
Below are the websites for the organizations I mentioned.