The Great Orangutan and Pygmy Elephant Project

From £1,095.00 £930.75

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 including river-cruise data collection, habitat restoration, and 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 Sanctuary 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, so 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.

Developing Knowledge

Developing Knowledge

During the project, you will learn about orangutans within the rehabilitation stage, also coming to understand the process of releasing them back into the wild. Through this, you will recognise and compare these situations with that of captive animals, and those with threatened habitats.

Wildlife Monitoring

Wildlife Monitoring

The principal focus of the project is to work towards the conservation of the orangutans and pygmy elephants in Borneo. This is achieved mainly through monitoring their numbers and patterns, as well as those of other animals in the habitat. This is the perfect opportunity for some great photos!

Boat Trips

Boat Trips

In order to see as much wildlife as possible, some of the monitoring/data collection will be conducted from a boat whilst cruising along the main river and its tributaries to observe the endangered wildlife roaming the forest along the river banks.



Another important method of preserving the local environment is through reforestation. Part of your time will, therefore, be spent planting new trees and tending to the pygmy elephant and orangutan habitat, as to help their numbers slowly increase. Doing so is a vital part of the crusade to ensure the survival of these unique and magnificent animals.

Spending Time With The ‘Orang Sungai’

Spending Time With The ‘Orang Sungai’

As a volunteer, you will also work with this welcoming and friendly community, living along the river bank. Educating the community and providing them with economic motivation for conservation is one of the best ways of protecting local wildlife and all volunteers will contribute to this education effort. There is also an opportunity to work with local school children, educating them about the importance of conservation for their home environment and way of life.



You will be taken on numerous treks so as to spot an extensive range of flora and fauna inland, as well as learn about the mysterious rainforests of Sabah. Intrepid travelers rejoice: these are truly memorable experiences which you will remember for a lifetime!

Additional Information

Group Size Up to 8 People
Meals All Meals Included
Duration 11 Nights
Start Dates 21st of every month
Minimum Age Minimum Age 18
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


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.