Volunteering With Orangutans

Why volunteer with orangutans?

Without both the physical and economic help of volunteers, the Orangutan sanctuaries we work with would not be able to continue to run the incredible projects they currently do. Volunteers make a huge difference to the lives of the animals at the centres through enrichment programmes and by helping to educate the local community to resolve the human-animal conflict which is often prevalent in these areas. If you are passionate about Orangutan conservation or even just animal conservation in general, then volunteering with these great apes is a rewarding experience for both you and them. The centres always welcome an extra pair of hands as there is always a project on the go which needs to be completed!

What is the role of a volunteer?

Two days are never the same in the world of a volunteer. As the Orangutan sanctuaries are constantly welcoming new residents into their care all of the time, the role of a volunteer can change very quickly. The main tasks revolve around enrichment and creating a stimulating environment for the resident Orangutans, however you may be tasked with anything from mucking out the habitats to helping build a new enclosure or veterinary clinic! Volunteers are often taken to local schools or communities to help teach the natives about the best practices for living within such close proximity to their arboreal cousins. The role of a volunteer on these projects is not one that can be defined easily. With so many tasks needed to be accomplished, the one thing that is certain is that you’ll never be bored!

What is enrichment?

Enrichment is the act of making an animals life better through providing stimulating environments for them, which in turn enable them to demonstrate their species typical behaviour and enhance their well-being. Enrichment can come in many forms and they are all crucial to the animal’s wellbeing as they are intended to help bring out their natural instincts and create a more dynamic, realistic environment for the animals to live in. New enrichment ideas are always needed to keep the Orangutans at the projects stimulated, so volunteers are always welcome to suggest new clever and creative ideas.

The importance of enrichment

The act of enrichment is crucial for the Orangutans who are resident at the centres as the aim is to eventually release as many of the apes as possible back into the wild, and enrichment is the best way to ensure their natural instincts are still prevalent. Enrichment activities are just as crucial as veterinary ones as without them the animals could begin to display negative behaviours, handicapping their chance of ever being released back into the wild. Enrichment allows an animal to exert control over its surroundings and enhance their own wellbeing by remaining mentally and physically engaged whilst being rehabilitated.

Types of Enrichment

This type of enrichment utilises novel objects to ensure that the animals are cognitively challenged. The types of objects you may see used are anything from Kong toys and bamboo pieces, right through to blankets and cuddly toys. When used in creative ways and in different combinations, these objects provide a challenging way for the Orangutans to get their food, or something different to play with, and this helps to replicate the challenges they would face in the wild as best humans can.
Sensory enrichment encompasses all five senses; touch, sight, smell, sound and taste. The most common type of sensory enrichment used is olfactory enrichment; which will utilise the Orangutans sense of smell by leaving spices and other strong scents around its enclosure, encouraging it to scent mark as it would in the wild. Other forms of sensory enrichment include giving the Orangutans toys to touch, providing a new visual element in the enclosures and playing in sounds that would naturally be heard in a rainforest environment.
Perhaps the most crucial of all of the elements of the enrichment process, structural enrichment is how the animal’s enclosure is created. The enclosures at the centre should replicate the natural environment of the Orangutans as closely as possible and as a result, constant structural enrichment is needed. Attempts to accurately replicate an Orangutans natural environment can be difficult due to economic and environmental restraints. However, building platforms, rope swings and hammocks amongst others is beneficial to the Orangutans, as they mimic the trees and rainforests they will be living in once they are released back into the wild.

Considerations

As enrichment plays such a big part in the lives of the Orangutans it is crucial that care and consideration are taken when preparing and planning it. Any risks that may occur from the use of enrichment materials should be minimised by using the safest materials, construction methods and practices possible. There will always be an element of risk when providing enrichment, but if all of the enrichment is overseen by a trained member of staff, the risks should be minimal and not outweigh the benefits of providing stimulation for the animals. Pre-planning and consideration can go a long way to ensuring that all of the enrichment provided benefits the Orangutans.