Eco-Tourism & Volunteering

Often people don’t realise the role that many large travel agents play in the tours and volunteering opportunities they advertise. The branding of eco-tourism has become very fashionable and unfortunately many travels agents have taken advantage of this. Many ‘eco-tours’ have nothing ‘eco’ of note; although people book these products because they are motivated to decrease their negative impact on the environment, they are sometimes being sold a product that simply provides the agent with commercial profit. All to often, little or no consideration has been given to the environmental impact of the tourist on the area.

Eco-tourism and volunteering opportunities with wildlife are often offering irresponsible and dangerous practices, with products developed exclusively with the human’s satisfaction in mind, with little or no regard to what is in the best interest of the animal. Unfortunately, the Western tourist is generally not prone to investigate and question a situation: given our access to technology and the internet, this is rather inexcusable.

When travelling overseas and perhaps seeking encounters with exotic animals, please stop to consider the following points when presented with the chance for a photo opportunity, or up-close experience with an animal:

  • If the animal is a baby, where is it’s mother and how has the centre/attraction acquired it?
  • If you have to pay for a photo with the animal, can you be sure if it is the animals that are benefiting from this money? If so, has consideration been given to the welfare of the animal in question?
  • Were you asked to disinfect, adhere to a quarantine procedure or wear a facemask? Has any consideration been given to the potential pathogens you can pass to any animal; primates in particular?
  • You think of it as a once in a lifetime experience – the animal is often subjected to this on a daily basis, many times a day
  • Just because you have always wanted to hold an orangutan/a tiger cub/a bear cub, does this mean you should be able to, just because you can pay someone to let you do it?
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the tourist experience you are being offered in the animal’s best interest?

Tour operators and volunteering companies should ask themselves:

Are we taking people’s money in order to help the animals at the project site, or are we using the animals in order to make money?

As a prospective volunteer or tourist to see endangered wildlife, you may be looking at a plethora of different volunteering and tour options, and may perhaps be wondering if you should choose a project that would allow you to have contact and photo opportunities holding the animals, rather than one that does not. Perhaps you feel like you would get more out of the experience if you could have lots of physical contact with the animals

There are many projects that are doing valuable work for the benefit of endangered wildlife or habitats. Our advice when deciding on a project to participate on is:

  • Research the subject as a whole, and the project specifically, to make an informed choice as to whether it is serving to benefit its purported cause
  • Ask for financial transparency from the travel agent selling the project. You should know where your money is being spent, and how it is divided between the project site and the travel agent. Reputable agents will be happy to provide this information.
  • Get in touch with past volunteers/participants on the project you are interested in. Facebook is a great tool for this, though any travel agency should be happy to put you in touch with past participants too, before you hand over any money






Cuddle an Orang the ethical way!

Help fund our work with this soft Orangutan toy - £17+postage.

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  • I've been every year since 2009 and will continue to visit every year until I become too old and doddery to get on a plane. The most life changing experiences of my life!!
  • "...The whole experience was amazing, the keepers were  so friendly and taught us so much about the animals... It was one of the best experiences of my life and would do it again."
    Erika, UK
  • "My 4 weeks at Matang not only achieved a life long dream for me, but also helped me mature and grow in confidence. "
    Sophie, UK
  • "You will be surprised by how much you are capable of and you will inspire your friends back home to follow their dreams too".
    Carlene, NZ
  • "Going on the 2 week volunteer trip to the Matang Wildlife Centre will remain one of my top 5 life experiences".
    Tessa, AU

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A few parting words from one of our April #volunteers Margaux Pfau:
"What an experience... Living those last weeks in the middle of the rainforest, surrounded by this gorgeous vegetation. Working everyday with incredible animals, from the amazing Orangs to the cuties Slow Loris, the beautiful Clouded Leopards, Sun Bears and so many others ... I will never forget this powerful #volunteering, I learned so much by living in such a peaceful place with nothing but nature. I'm also really glad that I shared this experience with an awesome volunteers team and the most benevolent staff I've ever met! I wish the best for Matang Wildlife Center, who's just doing a remarkable work full of love and passion with the endangered animals. Goodbye Borneo, my heart belongs to you and the fantastic wildlife you have ❤"

Thanks Margaux, hope to see you here again in the future :)

We have been reluctant to post photos of this orangutan, as we are aware that cute photos of baby orphans often inspire a lot of love, which is wonderful, and also a lot of the "you are SO lucky, I would just LOVE to be able to cuddle him" sentiment. Please remember that for humans to cuddle baby orangutan, either mothers have been killed, babies have been forcibly removed (in some zoos animals will be forced to breed just to provide babies for photo ops for tourists) or in rare cases like this, a traumatic separation has occurred and just 2 or 3 humans will be responsible for the infant's care. Please NEVER pay for a photo opportunity with wildlife babies, wherever you are.

As you'll remember, the #orangutan Ting San unexpectedly gave birth at Matang in early March. Unfortunately, after less than 2 weeks it became clear that she wasn't feeding her baby and he was slowly starving, so we had to intervene and take him from her, with HUGE regret and sorrow. This could be due to Ting San's start in life, as she was kept as an illegal pet and treated very much like a human baby, as far as we know spending no formative time with her mum in a natural setting.

The baby needed quite intensive care for a few days as he was very malnourished and dehydrated and only weighed 1kg. In the last few weeks he has more than doubled in weight and is now looking like a healthy baby orangutan.

Ting San has showed very little interest in him when we have brought him into the orangutan area, and as it is very unlikely she will be producing enough milk now to feed him (and also unlikely that she would show any interest in doing so again) so we have him in our care for the time being. We will keep you updated on his progress!

(If you would like to hug the orangutan that the baby is hugging, you can find these plush toys in our shop!)

A big thanks to all the #volunteers who helped build this new pond the #sunbears are LOVING it! ...