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:
Upon arriving into Sandakan Airport (SDK), you will be met by a project representative and transferred to your first night’s accommodation. Here, you will meet the rest of your group and will have a short orientation over a welcome dinner.
Day 2 - Transfer to Sukau Village:
After enjoying breakfast, you and your group will transfer by road to Sukau village, arriving at a local village B&B (your home for the next 9 nights). Drop off your luggage before joining a short health and safety briefing and spending the rest of the day at leisure: explore the local area, meet some of the villagers, or simply rest up ahead of your project days!
Day 3-10 - Project Days:
During these days you will take part in a range of conservation activities from habitat restoration to river-cruise data collection trips. Also, as integrating with and supporting the local communities is key to any long-term conservation plans, you will spend time interacting with the local school children and joining their families in their homes for most lunches and dinners.
Day 11 - Visit Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary:
Today you will depart Sukau and transfer back to Sandakan. On the way, you will stop at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation 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 be transferred to your accommodation in Sandakan for the night.
Day 12 - Final Day:
This is your final day on the project, which sadly means it’s time to say goodbye to all of your new friends! You will check out of your accommodation and transfer to Sandakan Airport in time for your return flight home, or to commence your independent travel plans.

What will I be doing?

Whilst the main focus of this project is habitat restoration, you will also take part in activities in and around Sukau village and along the Kinabatangan River as you assist with wildlife monitoring during river cruises and a rainforest trek.

Wildlife Population Observation

Wildlife Population Observation

As a result of the extensive reforestation work completed by the project, it is hoped that an increase in wildlife populations will be noted in the area. You will spend time cruising along the river and its tributaries to observe any endangered wildlife you see roaming along the river banks. This is also a fantastic opportunity to get some incredible photos!

Jungle Trekking

Jungle Trekking

As well as observing the wildlife by boat, you will have the opportunity to embark on a trek through the Bornean jungle. You will learn more about what the rainforest has to offer its inhabitants by way of food, traditional medicines and survival, and will of course be able to take the time to admire a range of impressive flora and fauna.

Habitat Restoration

Habitat Restoration

This is the most crucial activity in ensuring the survival of wildlife in the area and encouraging wildlife to return and thrive. You will take part in a variety of activities designed to aid habitat restoration, from tree-planting, nursery care and seedling generation to sapling maintenance, clearing invasive species and tree growth data recording.

Spending Time With The 'Orang Sungai'

Spending Time With The 'Orang Sungai'

Giving back to the community is a large part of this project, so most lunches and dinners will be served in the homes of the local villagers, providing them with the economic motivation to aid conservation efforts. This is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the Orang Sungai as they tell you about their daily lives, their history, and the traditions which they have held for centuries.

Work With The Local School Children

Work With The Local School Children

As well as spending time with 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! (Please note, this activity is dependant on the school calendar.)

Visit To Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Visit To Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

At the end of your time on the project, you will visit the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. Here, you will get to see orangutans in various stages of rehabilitation and learn about the process of releasing them back into the wild. This will also be a great opportunity to see them up-close as you visit during their morning and afternoon feeding sessions!

Additional Information

Group Size Up to 6 People
Meals All Meals Included
Duration 11 Nights
Start Dates 21st of Every Month (Except December)
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 - 2020

Finding an orangutan nest in a site only planted 18 months ago and watching a young female orangutan cartwheeling through the canopy doing what nature intended - my favourite moment!

Sheryl Alexander - 2020

Planted 500 trees and maintained 2 fields where other volunteers had previously planted trees

Rachel Blackford - 2019

I will never forget seeing the wildlife and meeting the other volunteers and local people.

Paula Titheradge - 2020

This project was fantastic, to experience local life and integrating with the local villagers was amazing. An amazing team and fantastic rewarding replantation work and then the privilege of seeing Orangutans and Pygmy Elephants in the wild at what can be only said as close as you could possibly ever get without interfering in their life. It was so rewarding and an amazing experience.

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.