At our inception, Orangutan Project had just one project: volunteering at Matang Wildlife Centre . Through our partnership with Sarawak Forestry Corporation at this centre, we were also able to quickly work to re-start an orangutan rehabilitation program here, and implement comprehensive animal husbandry and enrichment programs in many of the animal areas. Over the years we have been able to expand the scope of our work significantly, both at this centre and in other areas of Borneo.
‘Volunteering’ is perhaps a misleading name for the opportunity we offer to work with us at these rescue and rehabilitation centres. It is more than working for free – volunteers pay to join us on our projects, and through this fee are actually funding a huge amount of materials, staff and works undertaken on the ground. Simply expecting to work voluntarily is not always useful. To make sure volunteers are actually employed effectively while on site, a team of English-speaking facilitators is essential, as well as all the equipment that the person will need while working (paint, brushes, shovels, wheelbarrows, work gloves, saws etc). Expecting the centres to provide all of this actually places a burden upon them and prevents them continuing their daily work. A successful, meaningful volunteer program takes a lot of hard work to manage, and rehabilitation centres are expensive to run. It is therefore the only logical model that a volunteer should make a significant financial contribution as well.
We also run tourism and educational visits to orangutan rehabilitation centres. Often, tourism surrounding orangutan is focused on a close encounter and fantastic, up-close photo opportunities. There has been a disregard of what is best for the orangutan and an emphasis on pleasing the tourist. It has been assumed that tourist satisfaction at orangutan rehabilitation centres is dependent on a close encounter with these apes, but we believe this is not so. In taking the time to explain the detrimental impact this type of tourism can have on great ape health and behaviour, we have found our tourists to be more respectful of the animals, more interested in some of the issues surrounding problematic tourism practices and more likely to avoid exploitative tourism opportunities with animals in the future.
Orangutan Project is passionate about providing truly responsible volunteering and tourism opportunities. We believe that people that search for these kinds of holidays really want to help the cause, and given the chance they can become valuable ambassadors for wildlife, both abroad and at home. One of the rewarding aspects of our job is continually meeting people who care about animals, want to do something to help, and often go out of their way to help the cause. Our projects have thrived because of the people who have decided that working hard in the jungle is a great way to spend their holiday – we think it is important to give these people the chance to truly help the cause, both through their financial contribution and their work while they are with us on site.
Though a lot of our efforts are focused on the centres we are based in, we also keep ‘the bigger picture’ in mind. Being a conservation company is no easy task, and conservation of endangered wildlife certainly won’t be achieved by only helping the rehabilitation centres themselves. Therefore, we continuously strive to create new, innovative and original projects that can provide sustainable solutions to some of the problems faced by animals and ecosystems on Borneo.
With money raised through our volunteering projects, tourism initiatives, business investments, education products and speaking tours, we are also able to fund wider work throughout Borneo, either undertaken ourselves or by trusted NGO and charity partners.