Samboja Lestari Orangutan Volunteer Project

From £895.00

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:
You will arrive into Balikpapan Airport in Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. A lodge representative will meet you at the airport arrivals and will transfer you to the eco-lodge at Samboja Lestari. Once settled in you will be given a briefing by Kate your project facilitator.
Day 2 - Induction Day:
After a breakfast buffet at the lodge you will start your induction day which consists of a tour of the entirety of the facility site. Not only will you meet the resident orangutans, but you will also meet the facilities' sun bears and today is a great chance to get to know your fellow volunteers.
Day 3 - Orangutan Enrichment and Husbandry:
Today you will begin your project work at Samboja Lestari. The group is usually split in two with half spending a whole day working on creating enrichment items for the orangutans and assisting with husbandry and the other half doing the same for the sun bears.
Day 4 - Project Work with the Sun Bears:
After breakfast the group will reverse roles, with those who helped with the orangutans now working with the sun bears and vice versa. There is also the opportunity to help feed the orangutans on the islands for some, but please note that everyone will get this opportunity during the project.
Day 5 - Enrichment and Branch Collecting:
This morning you'll be up and at it, helping with any current construction projects or assisting with any maintenance upkeep. The afternoon is spent working on enrichment for the orangutans, and with over 200 at the centre, volunteer help is crucial to ensure that each orangutan gets an enrichment item! You may also have the chance to collect branches for orangutan nests!
Day 6 - Orangutan Enrichment and the Night Market:
Today will be another orangutan day, but to ensure the great apes remain stimulated you’ll be making a different type of enrichment for them. You may also help with leaf collection as these are important in helping the orangutans make their nests. Tonight you will have the chance to visit the local night market and we recommend trying some of the amazing street food whilst there!
Day 7 - Morning to Relax & then a Boat Trip:
Today you will have a relaxed morning off – doing as you like (a lie-in may be needed)! In the afternoon, you will be able to go on a fantastic boat trip along the Black River. This boat trip is a fantastic chance to see the iconic proboscis monkey and a typical Indonesian fishing village, so make sure you bring your camera along with you.
Day 8 - Tour the City of Balikpapan:
Today you will be able to spend a full day in the city of Balikpapan. You will be able to visit the local craft market, have a delicious lunch and buy anything you want or need from the local shopping mall.
Day 9 - Another Orangutan Day:
After a short break from orangutan activities, today you will be back working with the apes. You’ll be assisting with making enrichment and leaf collection, and you may also be called upon to help with some construction tasks and site maintenance if it is required!
Day 10 - Canopy Walk in the Rainforest:
Today you'll start your day with a general sanctuary task. In the afternoon, you'll be off on an adventure by means of 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:
Day 12 will be the final project day for 2-week volunteers, and the last chance to work alongside the orangutans assisting with anything that needs to be done. In the evening you will have time to speak to the facilitators, view a slide show from your stay and if you fancy, enjoy a few drinks as a group before transferring to the airport the next day.
Day 13 - Final day :
This is departure day for those volunteers on the two-week project. After a fond farewell, you will be transferred to Balikpapan Airport for your flight home or onward travel plans (in which case, please ensure that your flights depart between 9am and 7pm.) If staying for longer, the itinerary will repeat itself.

What will I be doing?

Your main activities whilst volunteering with orangutans at Samboja include husbandry, enrichment, forest plantation, 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 in the moat!



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, which are on-going tasks at the centre, and always requires volunteers to help out. You could be involved with the maintenance of the rainforest environment, building/maintenance of platforms on the orangutan islands, and upkeep of the sun bear enclosures. There is always work to be done!

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 enrichment and general enclosure maintenance of these magnificent bears - one of the world's rarest and smallest bear species.

Canopy Walk

Canopy Walk

This is a very popular excursion from the centre! You will have the opportunity to walk high up in the forest canopy, keeping your eyes peeled for all kinds of fauna and flora. There may even be the chance to spot a pair of singing gibbons if you are lucky! This is a wonderful way to appreciate the diversity of the Bornean jungle, and something you won't forget in 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.

Additional Information

Group Size Up to 12 People
Meals All Meals Included
Duration 7 - 26 Nights
Start Dates Set dates between March and October
Minimum Age Minimum Age 17
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


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 experience was out of this world - even greater than we ever imagined!

Caroline Pasovsky - 2018

My recent visit to Samboja Lestari was my second time to 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 their support staff both at the lodge and at work are so friendly and helpful. There is a special magic at Samboja that keeps you going back for more. 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

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!

Kate Mornard - 2018

My favourite moment was going on the boat with the keepers to feed the orangutans on the island, it was incredible to see the orangutans so close. And also all the people I met on the project, I have such good memories just from the time spent with them!

Philip Mason - 2018

Like for many other volunteers, my most quiet and moving moments came when I was watching Jonas the orangutan. When Jonas looks you in the eye, he puts life's 'Big Questions' to you!

Cathy Page - 2018

Watching the orangutans with the enrichment we made is always special. It was fantastic! This was my second trip and 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. Loved every minute... even the digging in the rain! Hope to make it back again in the next few years.

Philippa Cole - 2018

I did three volunteering projects between September-December 2017 and this was absolutely my favourite one! Everything about the project is fantastic! The coordinator, Kate, is great, as are the other members of staff - including Wik and Sam - and the staff at the lodge are so friendly. The project is really well organised with a perfect balance of hard graft and downtime. 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 - on 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 look in the eyes of an orangutan it 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. I was amazed by the people working there and the coordination of Kate together with Sam and Wik!

Kerry Gourley - 2017

It was fantastic getting to see the individual personalities of all the orangutans. Loved every minute of it! We were also lucky enough to be there when 10 orangutans were heading off to a new forest school that would put them one step away from being released.

Sarah Gillett - 2017

I loved everything! I guess if I had to pick one moment it was being so close up to an orangutan for the first time, looking into his eyes and being overwhelmed by the wisdom he seemed to have. The project is one of the best things I've ever done in my life.

Sharon Lynne (Tevet) - 2017

Whatever task it was, I found myself being immersed by this tremendous urge to be involved with all my heart and soul. You can’t help that…. You hear the sounds of the orangs constantly calling out. You become part of this wondrous move to save the now critically endangered orangutan which I will always be involved with – I will go back again. I urge you to do the same. It’s life changing!

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 orang-utans 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.

Simone Harris - 2017

The memory that will stay with me forever is connecting with a 4-year-old orangutan named Choccie. She had been rescued following a machete attack the previous year.

Katherine Spooner - 2017

Probably seeing the orangutans on the islands from the small boat, but everything was excellent. Also, the boat trip down the black river was brilliant! Kate Sam and Wiwik were excellent. they work so hard, are so motivational and great fun, always smiling!

Kelly Pring - 2017

The volunteer coordinator and all the others working on the project were amazing and do a fantastic job of making you feel welcome. Couldn't have asked for any more than they gave.