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.

View in Shop


  • "Going on the 2 week volunteer trip to the Matang Wildlife Centre will remain one of my top 5 life experiences".
    Tessa, AU
  • In the past 2 weeks I've done more than I ever thought possible. I've helped with enrichment and husbandry at Matang Wildlife Centre with orangutans, sun bears, gibbons and many others. Seen flying lemers glide, wild pigs run on the beach, sunsets like no other, been bitten by a leech, mixed cement by hand, carried wheel barrow after wheel barrow and shovelled so much s*?it I'm considering adding it to skills on my c.v. I've learnt so much and it's been a truly life changing experience and to top it off I've met some amazing people! I'll be back Borneo! Volunteered April 2016
    Jade Galley
  • Going to Borneo to work with orang-utans has always been an ambition of mine and it was definitely worth the wait! I loved my experience at Matang and I would go back in a heartbeat. It is hard work but so worthwhile and I surprised myself by how much I could push myself. I feel privileged to have worked with such an amazing array of wildlife and such a dedicated, passionate team of people. Volunteering at the centre has been the most wonderful experience and it has made me even more passionate and determined to work in the conservation sector. I can't wait to go back! Rach

    Rachel Harper
  • "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
  • "...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

Facebook Feed

A second chance at freedom for this beautiful little #pangolin who was released in Kubah National Park. ...

Ben being adorable... ...

The Gorgeous Monkey aka Gandalf enjoying an fresh browse and #enrichment extravaganza. ...