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Volunteering with orangutans, gibbons and more at Matang, Borneo

My name is Ann; a 33-year-old UK national. In May 2019, I graduated from the University of Hull with a First-Class Honours degree in Wildlife and Conservation Management. Over the past six years, I have completed a number of volunteer projects across the globe encompassing childcare, flora and fauna conservation awareness and development, to the most recent projects which have focused primarily on wildlife and rehabilitation. 

I fell in love with Malaysia, after my first trip volunteering with orangutansVolunteering with orangutans

In April 2016, I spent eight incredible weeks volunteering with orangutans in Borneo, and during this time I fell in love with Malaysia – the wildlife, culture, people and undoubtedly the food! Shortly after returning to England, I swapped working in education to enrol in education. Towards the end of my university studies, I came across a UK charity based at Matang Wildlife Centre in Kuching, Borneo. I was fascinated to discover how the charity raises a large portion of its funds through both a volunteer programme and also reinvests 50% of its profits from other business ventures including hotels and bars. Funds are required to pay the enormous food bills, the ongoing enclosure construction and maintenance, and daily care/veterinary treatment for over 200 animals – many of which are unable to undergo rehabilitation or be re-released back into the wild. Eager to return back to Borneo – and to the orangutans of course(!), I felt this was too good of an opportunity to miss, arriving at Matang in October 2019.   

Never a boring moment with the animal husbandry, enrichment and maintenance

Each morning volunteers rotate husbandry duties between orangutan, sun-bear and quarantine areas, helping staff to distribute fruit/vegetables for the orangutans, drizzle honey or even smear porridge on logs for sun-bears. Volunteers also help to conceal food around the outdoor enclosures, as this promotes natural foraging for the animals – keeping them busy searching throughout the day. After watching the orangutans quickly climb to the top of the highest platform to find the papaya you finally managed to throw onto the very top(!), next comes the sweaty hard work! With the animals safely outside searching for food, all the night dens must be hosed down and cleaned with disinfectant. Depending on volunteer group size, cleaning can sometimes take most of the morning.

Volunteering with orangutans

A variety of enrichment for the animals

After a well-earned lunch break and a much needed rest from the hot and humid weather, afternoons activities often consist of making a variety of enrichment for the animals. From chopping fruit to make tasty ice-lollies for macaques, to sewing as tightly as possible coconuts into hessian sacks for sun-bears to rip apart with their sharp teeth and large claws, enrichment is a key aspect of a volunteers time at the centre. Other afternoon activities fluctuate depending on the current projects underway and the varying needs at Matang. Some volunteer groups will help with the construction of new enclosures, while others may be required to repair climbing structures in the sun-bear enclosures. Some animals are occasionally released back into the wild, giving volunteers an ideal opportunity to deep-clean, re-paint and re-organise the enclosures, ready for new arrivals. You won’t get bored, as two days at Matang are rarely the same! There is a never-ending list, so wherever your abilities, interests or skills lie, there will always be somewhere or something to help with. 

Waking up to the amazing song of the gibbons is the best alarm call!

Waking up to the gibbons each morning is one the best alarm calls anyone could ever ask for! More often than not you will hear them around lunchtime and late afternoon too – just in case you missed their first call. When volunteering with orangutans, you learn that many animals have no chance of release. This is always due to the physical and mental damage when being kept as an illegal pet. But occasionally some animals can be released, and this is a heart-warming experience to be a part of; seeing a slow loris climb high up into the tree canopy is a memory I will cherish forever. Although, watching the sun-bears rip apart the coconut filled hessian sacks I spent all afternoon sewing together is another memory I will hold onto for a long time too!  

A personal account by Ann Towse


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In her non-profit company Biodiversity Business, Barbara combines her lifelong experience in marketing communications with her passion for animals. Her mission is #Communication4Conservation: saving endangered species and their habitats.

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