Experience Borneo as a Orangutan Rescue Volunteer
Become a volunteer at the award-winning orangutan project at Matang Wildlife Rescue Centre in Sarawak on Borneo Island. The centre is set against the backdrop of the magnificent Kubah National Park, but this rainforest and surrounding areas are constantly under threat of deforestation and fires. The additional pressure from the illegal wildlife trade means that many wildlife species are endangered, including the iconic Borneon orangutan.
Hands-on work to improve the lives of the animals
The centre serves as a sanctuary for orangutans which have been injured, orphaned or rescued from these multiple threats. Volunteers are therefore very welcome to support the staff in looking after these rescued animals. Be aware that the work is not a photo opportunity to pose with baby animals, but involves active labour and a hands on approach to assist with animal husbandry, construction projects and enrichment activities for the resident animals.
Successes to date
- Rescued & housed 186 animals
- Confiscated & rescued 38 animals from illegal wildlife trade
- Released 20 animals back into the wild including a Javan eagle in 2016
- Initiated & developed the successful kids club, focusing on environmental sustainability
- Held information booths to teach tourists about animal welfare and keeping endangered animals out of the pet trade
- Continued teaching at the community English club
Looking to the future
The centre is constantly looking for new and interactive ways to help protect and care for rescued animals, whilst supporting and providing opportunities for the local community. The dedicated team still work tirelessly to rescue and release more animals each year, whilst building better enclosures for the rescued animals in the centre.
This year, the centre is planning to initiate Skype sessions with schools around the world to teach students about rescued wildlife at the centre and raise awareness about the illegal wildlife pet trade.
This project promotes high ethical standards of animal husbandry
A strict NO CONTACT policy is implemented at the centre. In contrast to some other rescue centres, where volunteers are able to hug orangutan babies. It’s understandable that volunteers want those ‘selfie’ moments. However, it’s not in the interest of the apes. So this centre sets an admirable example to raise standards. Concern for the rescued animals must be the priority.
The reality is that close contact between humans and primates can be very harmful. There are 2 main risks:
Zoonosis means passing disease between humans and animals
Because great apes are genetically so similar to us, the risk of zoonosis is very real. In fact, some illnesses or infections are more damaging to apes than to humans. This applies even more in the case of baby orangutans. They have been orphaned at a young age, So, they have not yet built up enough immunity. Especially given that they have not been able to benefit from their mother’s milk. So they are particulary at risk.
Furthermore, if primates have been exposed to zoonosis, then their chance of release into the wild are less. This is because international guidelines for rewilding consider such animals to be a risk to healthy populations in the wild.
Habituation to humans and related behaviour issues
In normal circumstances, an orphaned child is provided with long-term consistent care. Cases where such orphanes are subjected by multiple carers for short durations is always considered bad for emotional development. Well, the same applies to ape orphanes. They also need consistent nurturing care. That is why the primary care-givers should be the long-term local staff.
Importantly, primates should be allowed to develop their natural arboreal behaviour. This means their life up in the trees. Humans cannot teach this fundamental behaviour. So the animals need to be allowed to go into the forest as much as possible.
Due to their high intelligence, great apes can easily imitate many human behaviours, such as brushing their teeth or smoking cigarettes. Again, this reduces the chance of such apes getting back to their natural life in the forest. So the main focus must remain to stimuate natural arboreal behaviour.
For this reason, the centre encourages the highest husbandry standards. This includes responsible interaction and good quality enrichment.