Samboja Lestari Orangutan Volunteer Project

From £1,295.00

Work on enrichment with captive orangutans and sun bears at the world renowned Samboja Lestari rescue centre.



Project Description

This project is located at the Samboja Lestari Orangutan Sanctuary in Borneo and it gives you the chance to work on enrichment ideas for some of the 200+ orangutans that reside at the project site.

The main aim of this project is to assist in orangutan rehabilitation. By helping with enrichment making, husbandry and small construction projects it means a lot of the staff can be used in areas such as forest school and nursery where they can help teach the young orangutans the skills they need to survive in the wild. This means that they can be released quicker and still have a good chance of survival in the wild.

This project has helped to release a large number of orangutans back into the wild and this is due to the success of the rehabilitation process that takes place at Samboja, and the release sites which are secured by BOSF Indonesia, the charity partner of the project.

This project is perfect for anyone who wants to completely understand orangutan conservation and work alongside people who manage every aspect of rescue, rehabilitation and release.

Why This Project Needs Volunteers

Volunteers on this project help to work towards the rehabilitation and eventual release of the Orangutans and Sun Bears living at the project site. As there are always new animals being bought into the site, it is crucial that there is a steady stream of volunteers to help with enrichment, husbandry, and general sanctuary upkeep.

Due to the volume of animals needing to be looked after at this site, and the limited space available, unfortunately a number of Samboja's animals have to be kept in cages. This is far from ideal, and the project continues to develop and build as many outdoor areas for the animals as possible, but this does require a lot of man power and funding – which is why your participation is so crucial!


Day 1 - The Adventure Begins:
Upon arrival into Balikpapan Airport, you will be met by a member of the team and transferred to the project site at Samboja Lestari. After settling in, and perhaps having your first glimpse of the centre's orangutans, you will enjoy dinner and have a chance to relax before getting a good night's sleep ahead of tomorrow's activities.
Day 2 - Induction Day:
After breakfast at the lodge, you will have an orientation from Kate, the volunteer coordinator, before climbing the on-site fire tower, where you will enjoy an incredible view and see all areas of the centre. In the afternoon you will take a trip to head office to meet the staff, before enjoying dinner in the evening and learning all about the history of Samboja Lestari.
Day 3 - Orangutan Enrichment & Husbandry:
Today you will begin your project work by creating enrichment for some of the 200 resident orangutans and collecting leaves and branches for them so they can build their nests. If there's time, you may also get involved in food preparation for the animals.
Day 4 - Project Work with the Sun Bears:
After breakfast, you will walk to the sun bear enclosures as you prepare for a day working with these incredible animals. You will spend today feeding the bears, cleaning their enclosures and creating enrichment for them. In the afternoon your construction skills may also be tested!
Day 5 - City Visit to Balikpapan:
Today you will be able to spend a full day in the city of Balikpapan. You can visit the local craft market, try some local food or simply buy anything you may need for the week ahead from the local shopping mall. You will also enjoy a nice lunch as a group with the volunteer coordinators.
Day 6 - Orangutan Enrichment & the Night Market:
Today will be another orangutan day, and to ensure the great apes remain stimulated you’ll be making a different type of enrichment for them. Afterwards, you will be able to give the enrichment items to the orangutans and see what they make of your work! Tonight you will visit the local night market and we recommend trying some of the amazing street food whilst there!
Day 7 - Enrichment & Branch Collecting:
This morning you'll be helping with any current construction projects, such as building platforms on the orangutan islands. Then, in the afternoon, you will be creating enrichment for the orangutans in an area which overlooks the orangutan islands, offering another great opportunity to observe them.
Day 8 - Morning to Relax & a Boat Trip:
Today you will have a relaxed morning off which you can spend as you like (a lie-in may be needed)! In the afternoon, you will go on a fantastic boat trip along the Black River. This is a great opportunity to see the iconic proboscis monkey, so make sure you bring your camera along with you!
Day 9 - Another Orangutan Day:
The orangutans will be your priority today and you’ll spend your time thinking up creative enrichment ideas for these clever apes, as well as gathering branches for nest making. If any construction needs completing at the project site, then it will be all hands on deck too!
Day 10 - Canopy Walk in the Rainforest:
You'll begin your day either working on enrichment for the orangutans or on a small construction project. In the afternoon, you'll be off on an adventure as you go on a canopy walk in the rainforest! You will have the opportunity to walk high up in the forest canopy, keeping your eyes peeled for gibbons and learning about the native flora and fauna from the project staff.
Day 11 - 12 - Project Work with the Orangutans:
These will be your final full days at Samboja Lestari, and you will spend your remaining time working alongside the orangutans. You will continue to create enrichment for them and, if you have not yet had the opportunity, you will take a small boat around the islands to distribute food or enrichment items. This is a great opportunity to see the orangutans up-close and to take some amazing photos! Your final evening will be spent with your group and the project coordinators, as you enjoy your final dinner and a few drinks if you wish.
Day 13 - Final day:
Sadly, today will be your final day and after saying goodbye to the rest of your group and the project staff, you will take a transfer back to Balikpapan Airport in time for your flight home or to continue with your travels.

What will I be doing?

Your main activities whilst volunteering with orangutans at Samboja Lestari include husbandry, enrichment, reforestation, maintenance and construction work for both the orangutans and the sun bears resident here. You will be treated as pseudo-staff whilst on the project, meaning full participation in all of the centre's work.



You’ll head over to the orangutan islands to observe these great apes and collect vital behavioural data on them whilst also monitoring their health and general well-being. You’ll do this by completing a circuit of the islands on a small boat, offering a great chance for some beautiful photographs. Just make sure not to drop your camera!



Whilst on the project you will have the chance to create enrichment to stimulate and benefit the orangutans resident here, whilst also helping to encourage natural behaviour. Creativity is encouraged here, so if you have an idea which you think the apes would enjoy please put it forward! You will also be preparing the food and delivering this to the orangutan islands.



Some of your time will be spent cleaning the orangutan enclosures and the fruit store where food for the orangutans and sun bears is prepared. You will also take part in leaf collection (for the orangutans to build their nests) and this will involve regular treks out into the jungle - make sure you have packed your walking boots and are ready to really get stuck in!

Construction and Maintenance

Construction and Maintenance

You’ll be helping with construction and repair work, two on-going tasks at the centre and ones which always require volunteer assistance. You could be involved with the maintenance of the rainforest environment, building/maintenance of platforms on the orangutan islands, or the upkeep of the sun bear enclosures, to name but a few examples.

Working with the Sun Bears

Working with the Sun Bears

You will be able to work within the sun bear area during your time here, where around 50 sun bears reside! Volunteers help with general enclosure maintenance and the enrichment of these magnificent bears - one of the world's rarest and smallest bear species.

Canopy Walk

Canopy Walk

As a popular part of the volunteer experience, you will have the opportunity to walk high up in the forest canopy, keeping your eyes peeled for all kinds of flora and fauna. You may even spot a pair of singing gibbons, if you’re lucky! This is a fantastic way to appreciate the diversity of the Bornean jungle – you won’t forget this experience in a hurry.

River Cruise

River Cruise

An afternoon centred around relaxation is spent on the Black River. You will board a local boat and travel along the winding river in search of the endangered proboscis monkey, famous for its oversized nose. During your journey, you will travel through a local fishing village, which will offer you the chance to see how local people live, and you'll travel briefly out to sea to watch the sunset.

Trip to the Night Market

Trip to the Night Market

During your stay, you will have the opportunity to visit the local night market. Why not take this opportunity to enjoy some local Indonesian cuisine? With plenty of options to go around, you'll be spoilt for choice.

Additional Information

Group Size Up to 12 People
Meals All Meals Included
Duration 12 - 26 Nights
Start Dates Set dates between April and September
Minimum Age Minimum Age 17 (Or From 15 Years Old With An Adult)
Getting There

You need to arrive into Balikpapan Airport on your project start date between 9am - 5pm or you can be collected from a hotel close to the airport. Jakarta International Airport offers a large number of flights to Balikpapan. Once in Balikpapan, you will be met by a project representative who will then transfer you to Samboja Lestari.

Visa Requirements

You will need a tourist visa to join this project. You will be able to get one of these on arrival in Indonesia, but please note that you may have to pay for it. The fee is currently $25 for a 30-day visa.

Currency and Exchange Rates

The currency of Indonesia is the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). As of June 2015, the exchange rate was £1 to IDR20,958.

What's included?
  • Airport transfers to and from Balikpapan
  • Accommodation
  • Three meals per day
  • Tea, coffee and drinking water
  • All volunteer activities
  • A Conservation Donation
What's not included?
  • All flights
  • Any vaccinations
  • Visa Fee
  • Airport taxes
  • Travel insurance
  • Soft or alcoholic drinks and extra snacks


Kara Collins - 2020

My favourite moment was visiting the baby house and seeing the different characters and how they interacted with each other and their adoptive mothers/babysitters. Kate, Sam and Wik (the volunteer coordinators) were amazing - very informative, welcoming and a good laugh. We had a problem with our air conditioning one night and we were very quickly moved to a new room - accommodation was of a high standard. Could not have asked for more.

Deborah Hills - 2020

The privilege and pleasure of being so close to the Orangutans. The experience totally exceeded my expectations. Kate, Wiwik & Sam were amazing making the 2 weeks informative, fun and fantastic. They're knowledge, skills and obvious compassion for the Orangutans is something that will stay with me. I'm already saving for the next trip.

Julie Allen - 2019

I think each and everyone of us cried when we went to feed the orangutans from the kayak - it was such an emotional experience seeing the mothers with their babies. I wish I had stayed longer and will definitely do a longer trip next time. I was surprised at the level of accommodation, it was excellent - and although the work was hard it was rewarding. The volunteer coordinator Kate was knowledgeable and great fun to be with - just an amazing experience!

Eve Winiarski - 2019

I really enjoyed seeing the orangutans up close in their enclosures and giving them bedding or enrichment- you really get a feel for how powerful, but also how emotive they are. Cleaning the moat was the most fun part of the trip- a chance to splash around in the mud while being surrounded by orangutans on the islands. The on-site program coordinators for this project were particularly awesome- really friendly and welcoming and all around fun to be with. I appreciate that they were accommodating to me due to my physical limitations in the heat and sun. I never felt judged for needing to leave early or skip certain activities.

Susan Sandberg - 2019

I have so many favourite moments! But the individual boat trips around the islands with Sam, just chilling and watching the orangutans and the nature was amazing.

Deborah Griffiths - 2018

We never expected to be so close to the animals, so regularly. Every time I looked into an orangutan's eyes, it melted my heart. The boat trips we took, took my breath away, and the whole experience was greater than I had ever imagined.

Caroline Pasovsky - 2018

My recent visit to Samboja Lestari was my second time at this amazing project. For me personally, spending time with the orangutans is something that can’t be explained; it needs to be experienced. From start to finish, Kate, Wik and Sam make sure your days are full of varying activities and make you feel so welcome. All of the support staff, both at the lodge and at work, are so friendly and helpful. It’s like a home away from home. I can’t recommend this trip highly enough. I’m already looking to go back for a third time!!!

Holly Dibden - 2018

My favourite memory was putting up a hammock we had spent time making in the week for the baby house, and then seeing a baby orangutan playing and laughing - very happy with their new hammock! I had an amazing time - again! I'll be going back again and again!

Philip Mason - 2018

This was my third trip and, as a returnee, I was worried that I might be underwhelmed...but I was more impressed than ever. I can't speak highly enough of Kate - she has such vision, determination and commitment to the work, and has an unmatchable ability to motivate and cohere the volunteers. It is hard to imagine there being a more effective, harmonious and friendly team that Wiwik, Sam and Kate. All the volunteers learnt so much from them, and the level of mutual respect is very heartwarming and restores my faith in humanity. It's very fulfilling to work as a volunteer. My most quiet and moving moments came when I was watching an orangutan, Jonas, in his cage: when he looks you in the eye, he puts life's 'big questions' to you!

Cathy Page - 2018

There were too many amazing moments and memories here, but watching the orangutans with the enrichment we made is always special! This was my second trip and was just fantastic. I will go again, and again, and again...

Tanya Petrovic - 2018

Kate was brilliant. Her energy and enthusiasm brought our group of strangers together to make a real team and forge new friendships I will never forget. The structure of the programme is top notch with balance on hard work, orangutan time and rest time. I loved every minute...even the digging in the rain! I hope to make it back again in the next few years.

Philippa Cole - 2018

The project is really well-organised, with a perfect balance of hard graft and down-time, including trips to local markets, treetop canopy walks, and boat trips down the Black River. I honestly couldn't pick just one favourite moment: every close encounter with the orangutans and sun bears was incredible. The project work was really varied, which was great, and the other volunteers were fantastic.

Sarah Dugmore - 2018

This trip was amazing, from hearing the jungle sounds and the orangutans for the first time, through to the last evening where we were all moved to tears watching project videos, seeing the passion and dedication of the staff, and feeling a real sense of achievement for the work we had been involved with.

Sebastien Durelli - 2017

The first time I looked in the eyes of an orangutan was a very emotional moment for me. I remember very well what was in my mind in that particular moment: orangutans are like us, but pure. We share 97% of their DNA, and in the 3% mission, there seems to be no space for the bad.

Kerry Gourley - 2017

It was fantastic getting to see the individual personalities of all the orangutans. I loved every minute of it. We were lucky enough to be there when 10 orangutans were heading off to a new forest school, which would put them one step away from being released - it was a moment I will never forget. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Samboja Lestari; Kate the coordinator is just fantastic and so well organised. You couldn't ask for a better leader. The rest of the staff were just amazing as well - to see the love and passion they have for the orangutans is beyond words. I loved it so much, I'm sure I'll be back again!

Sarah Gillett - 2017

I loved everything! I guess if I had to pick a favourite memory, it would be when we were so close up to an orangutan for the first time, looking into his eyes and being overwhelmed by the wisdom he seemed to have.

Sharon Lynne - 2017

Making the decision to become a volunteer for a cause you have supported has to be the most rewarding type of support a human can offer. I started volunteering through The Great Projects in October 2016 and couldn't wait to go back. Seeing the progress from just 6 months ago was - to say the least - mind blowing, knowing that all the effort you put in as a volunteer actually is valued and serves to make huge, and I mean HUGE changes! Whatever tasks we were given, I found myself being immersed by this tremendous urge to be involved with all my heart and can't help that. You hear the sounds of the orangutans constantly calling out. It surrounds you. You see the orangutans enjoying their freedom on the islands that have been designed to create freedom and comfort for them as they await full release into the forests. It's there, it's real, it's awesome! You become part of this wondrous move to save the now critically endangered orangutan...I will always be involved, I will go back again, and I urge you to do the same.

Marion Franke - 2017

It is hard to choose just one favourite moment, as the whole stay was just a wonderful and enriching experience. Being able to spend so much time observing the orangutans and helping to make their life at Samboja as natural as possible in a group of like-minded people has been one of the best experiences ever. I would like to give a big thank you to everyone at The Great Projects, from the staff here in the UK and particularly to Kate and her team on location. Kate is an incredible person and plays a big role in making this such an amazing experience.