The Great Orangutan and Pygmy Elephant Project

From £1,295.00

Explore Borneo's lush rainforest in search of wild orangutan and the rare pygmy elephant



Project Description

Based in the mystical Lower Kinabatangan Floodplain Rainforest in Sabah, this orangutan project completely encompasses the awe-inspiring diversity and dynamism of Borneo's wildlife. The area in which you will be volunteering is situated within WWF's protected 'Corridor of Life', a region of enormous importance in balancing land-development and the needs of its indigenous communities and wildlife. This project allows complete immersion into the natural wonder of the unique habitat, aiming to work on the reforestation of the environment, to help orangutans and pygmy elephants in Borneo to thrive.

As a volunteer you will stay in the small village of Sukau for the duration of the project, a rural, indigenous community with a population of approximately just 1,000. The charming, hospitable 'Orang Sungai' ('People of the River'), are always keen to share their way of life and welcome guests into their community. In return, you will assist with educating the local population on the importance of conservation and implementing more sustainable ways of living.

The main part of the programme will be centred on activities in and around Sukau village or along the Kinabatangan River, but you will also spend time working with the project staff, assisting with wildlife monitoring through river-cruises and rainforest-treks. As well as orangutans and pygmy elephants, the orangutan wildlife sanctuary in which the project is based is also home to gibbons and hornbills - making it a wildlife-spotting haven.

Why This Project Needs Volunteers

Volunteers on this project are needed to help the conservation of the local wildlife, specifically the Orangutans and Pygmy Elephants, and this is done through wildlife monitoring, reforestation and spending time with the local Orang Sungai people helping to educate them about how conservation and economic growth can go hand in hand.

You’ll be helping plant trees, getting involved with teaching the local school children and observing the endangered wildlife along the river banks. Your time will be spread across many different areas during your stay!


Day 1 - The Adventure Begins:
You will arrive at Sandakan International Airport (SDK) and then be transferred to temporary accommodation, where you will have a welcome dinner and introduction. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to get to know you your fellow volunteers, but be sure to rest up as you have a busy day tomorrow!
Day 2 - Transfer to Sukau Village:
Enjoy a brief lie-in before heading over to Sukau Village and settling into your accommodation in twin-share rooms in the village B&B. You will also get the chance to meet some of the local villagers and explore the area, and today you will be able to enjoy the sights and sounds of Sukau Village.
Day 3-10 - Project Days:
This will be the time in which you will engage in a range of volunteer activities, from river-cruise data collection and habitat restoration, to partaking in the village education programme. For more information on the activities you be doing, please click the activities tab.
Day 11 - Visit Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary:
Today you will depart Sukau and transfer to Sandakan. On the way, you will stop at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre to view the morning feeding session. After lunch, you will visit the Rainforest Discovery Centre before heading back to Sepilok for the afternoon feeding session. After a busy day, you will check into your accommodation in Sandakan for the night and enjoy a farewell dinner with your group.
Day 12 - Final Day:
This is your final day, which means that it is, unfortunately, time to say goodbye to all of your new friends! You will check out of your accommodation and transfer to Sandakan Airport for your return flight, or to commence your independent travel plans.

What will I be doing?

On this project, you will work with both the local community and the local wildlife.

Boat Trips

Boat Trips

The principal focus of the project is to work towards the conservation of the orangutans and pygmy elephants in Borneo. By monitoring their numbers and patterns, you will be able to help the project team to understand the successes of their efforts. Cruise along the main river and its tributaries, keeping your eyes peeled for the wildlife species roaming along the river banks, and snapping some great pictures along the way!



As well as observing the wildlife via boat, you will also embark on numerous treks, allowing you to learn more about Sabah’s rainforests. Study endemic flora, observe native fauna, and take the time to appreciate the verdure of this spectacular habitat.



The local environment has suffered greatly over the years as a result of logging and deforestation. The area needs to be reforested if there are to be any hopes of wildlife species thriving here, and a major part of your time volunteering will be spent planting trees. The project aims to plant thousands of trees per year, so get involved and help make a difference to the lives of orangutans, elephants and more.

Spending Time With The 'Orang Sungai'

Spending Time With The 'Orang Sungai'

As a volunteer, you will also work with the local community, living alongside them on the riverbank. In exchange for them opening up their homes, you will spend time educating the community, providing them with economic motivation for conservation. Teach them about the value of their local wildlife, encouraging them to take on sustainable ways of living.

Work With The Local School Children

Work With The Local School Children

As well as educating the local communities, you may also have the opportunity to work with local school children, teaching them about the importance of conservation in their home environment and instilling a more sustainable, conscious mindset – after all, these children are the future of the local community!

Visit To Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Visit To Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

During the project, you will witness both wild and rehabilitated orangutans, gaining an understanding of the processes of releasing them back into the wild. Towards the end of your stay, you will pay a visit to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, home to captive orangutans who may be in the earlier stages of their rehabilitation, or in need of sanctuary care for the rest of their lives. This visit will emphasise the necessity for projects like this one, leaving a lasting impression on all volunteers.

Additional Information

Group Size Up to 12 People
Meals All Meals Included
Duration 11 Nights
Start Dates 21st of every month
Minimum Age Minimum Age 18 (Or From 16 Years Old With An Adult)
Getting There

The nearest airport to the Sabah region is Sandakan International (SDK) and you must arrive between 7am - 5pm on the project start date where you will be met and transferred (included in the price of the project) to the temporary accommodation which will take roughly 1.5 to 2 hours.

If you would like help booking your flights please feel free to contact our flight partners via our flights page.

Visa Requirements

There is no prior visa required for most nationalities to enter Malaysia as a 90 day tourist visa is granted on arrival. However, please check the Malaysian Immigration website for detailed information.

Currency and Exchange Rates

The Malaysian currency is the Ringgit. The conversion rate is approximately 1 MYR to 0.19 GBP, 0.23 EUR and 0.31 USD

What's included in the price of the project?
  • Airport transfers to and from Sandakan Airport (SDK)
  • Welcome dinner in Sepilok, Sandakan
  • Transfer from temporary accommodation to project site accommodation
  • Programme introduction in Sabah and orientation in the village
  • Entrance fees to Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary
  • Entrance fees to the Rainforest Discovery Centre
  • English-speaking programme facilitator
  • 11 nights at designated accommodation
  • Meals whilst partaking in the project
  • All conservation activities, materials, tools and equipment
  • Boat and river transfers
What's not included?
  • International and domestic airfare
  • Visa application/fees if required
  • Travel insurance


Alison Greene - 2018

From the moment I arrived in Sakau to the moment I left Malaysia, I was blown away by the wildlife and the people, just the most perfect time of my life, I will be back! I'll never forget seeing a frazzled mother orangutan with a juvenile and a brand new baby. Also, close to the site we’d just planted 100 trees!!

Melanie Mullard - 2018

I couldn't possibly pick just one favourite moment because there were so many! The people, the food and all of the unique opportunities this project has to offer are the things I will never forget.

Rebecca Moldovanyi - 2017

My favourite moment was when we were on a river cruise and then suddenly saw over 40 pygmy elephants crossing the river!

Margaret Skelley - 2017

I will always remember actually making a difference by planting new saplings in the rainforest. Also the monitoring of wildlife. So many highlights!

Emma Danielle Foster - 2017

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to take part in a project that I've wanted to do since I was a child. It really was a dream come true and certainly the most rewarding thing I have done.

Kathryn Ely - 2017

The volunteer work in reforesting the rainforest was very satisfying and the animal encounters and observations were superb as were the opportunities to learn Malaysian culture through home visits with locals in the village. The in-country director and guide was outstanding in his training, directions, teaching, wildlife observations, and general willingness to share all his knowledge of his homeland and the challenges to the wildlife there. He was happy, energetic, dedicated and very capable and organised. Many thanks to Mark for making this a truly great experience.