Everyone in the Getaway
office volunteered to head to Malaysian Borneo to spend time with the orangutans. And everyone was envious when Kelly Landry landed the trip.
Considered the world's most intelligent animal after humans, the orangutan has 97 percent of its DNA in common with us. They can be found only in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra and are in perilous danger. The past 20 years have seen their habitat destroyed by logging and burning. Others have been rescued from the pet trade.
The Matang Wildlife Park in Malaysian Borneo is one of the few refuges remaining and it is encouraging volunteers to sign up and help.
Way Out Experiences runs two- or four-week programs for volunteers on the Great Orangutan Project. Leo Biddle has donated the last five years of his life to the project and manages the rehabilitation and eventual release of the incredible creatures.
Volunteers stay in traditional long houses in the park and all food and local transport are included. Your donation covers costs and once you arrive it's a matter of helping with whatever needs to be done.
There always plenty to be done with the building and maintenance of climbing platforms. Lunch for the animals is set out on different parts of the platform to teach foraging behaviour. It is better for their future to look for food rather than have it presented by human handlers.
Kelly met Amam, possibly the largest male orangutan in captivity. Some years ago he bit through an electrical cable and literally fried his eyes. In 2007 some South African veterinarians, who had removed cataracts from cheetahs, donated their time and now Amam can see again.
There were 16 orangutans at the centre when Kelly was there with new arrivals almost every day. Four-year-old Ting Sang has lived in the park for two years and will soon be ready to head out on her own.
Rehabilitation varies depending upon the individual animal. In the wild they spend six to nine years with their mother, learning how to survive. It can take five to 15 years in the park.
Because of the intelligence of the orangutans they become bored very easily, and food puzzles keep them and everyone watching entertained.
The Matang Wildlife Park, 30 minutes from Kuching in Malaysian Borneo.
Way Out Experiences has two- and four-week volunteer programs with the Great Orangutan Project. Prices start at $1990 per person and include all accommodation, meals, access permits, private transfers a local guide and donation. Check their website for 2010 dates.
Prices correct at December 10, 2009.
For further information
Great Orang Utan Project
Way Out Experiences
Studio 6, 8 High Street
Hertsfordshire Al5 2TB
Ph: +44 845 371 3070
Matang Wildlife Centre
Semenggoh Orang Utan Rehbilitation
Visas: Australians can enter Malaysia without a visa. Thirty-day entry permits will be issued, but customs officials can grant 90 day permits at their discretion.
Electricity: Plugs have three pins, identical in shape and voltage to British plugs, so Australian travellers will need a UK adaptor. They operate at 230V/50Hz.
Time zone: Malaysia time is GMT +8.
Currency: The ringgit Malaysia (RM).
International dialling code: + 60.
It is recommended travellers to Borneo see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there are specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended and are best discussed with your doctor. For further information, visit www.welltogo.com.au and www.smarttraveller.gov.au.