An Adventure in the Bornean Rainforest

Long standing supporter, volunteer and 2016 volunteer coordinator, Joanne Cotton, shares her experience of voluntary work in Borneo gained from taking part in the Orangutan Foundation Volunteer Programme.

2016 Volunteers pose for a photograph, coconuts in hand.

“I had trawled the internet for hours reading up about potential volunteer programmes, many of which offered fun and adventure in far off lands but somehow there was something lacking. As soon as I read the information about the Orangutan Foundation programme, I knew that I had found the right adventure for me. It was really important to me that whatever project I joined, it had genuine heart and soul for a worthwhile cause, a real opportunity to help make a much needed difference. The Orangutan Foundation offered this by the bucket load! This was an opportunity to live and work in the rainforest in Indonesian Borneo with a local team doing building work that ultimately was to facilitate the release of orangutans in the area.

I applied for the programme straight away and was very glad I had done so as places were limited. The Orangutan Foundation arranged for a telephone interview with me, this was just an informal chat but was a great opportunity for them to check that I was suitable for such an experience and also for me to ask all of the many questions I had been thinking about.

That’s how my adventure started and six months later I found myself at an airport, on the other side of the planet, all by myself. I had never done anything like this before and it felt amazing, I felt so liberated, yet it had only just begun!


Volunteers get to grips with basic construction work, 2016.

When I signed up to do this project, this was well outside of my comfort zone but the staff at Orangutan Foundation were extremely helpful and supportive and provided me with lots of useful information so that I could be as prepared as possible for what lay ahead. If you are thinking of joining an Orangutan Foundation programme in the future, I cannot recommend it enough, just do it! It will open your eyes and it is likely that you will never look at our planet and life the same way again."

Applications for this year’s Volunteer Programme are now OPEN. Email info@orangutan.org.uk to receive an application form. Please join us for an unforgettable experience!

Adventures in Borneo

This summer I had the unique opportunity to visit Central Kalimantan to see the area in which the Orangutan Foundation operates. I have been interning with the Foundation for 4 months, and I’m familiar with many of the areas they protect, although by name only. Therefore, it was a pleasure to see these landmarks in the flesh and meet the Indonesian team that work so hard to protect them. The various camps are most easily reached via Kalimantan’s river systems. As I travelled down river by speedboat, the waterfront houses of Pangkalan Bun quickly turned into dense forest. Noteworthy sightswere various indicators of habitat loss, such as logs being transported towards the town. Kingfishers darted in front of the boat so fast that getting a good photo was impossible!

Whizzing down these waterways was the highlight of my trip

I first visited the site of the new guard post where this year’s volunteers were making excellent headway into its construction. The volunteers were a hardworking, dedicated bunch from all walks of life! They were all dedicated to the cause and felt genuine, collective concern for the threat of habitat loss, highlighted by the constant stream of reminders around them. They spoke of awaking to the sound of chainsaws, highlighting the need for a guard post in the area.

Myself, some of the Indonesian staff, and our volunteers!

Afterward, I got to visit Camp Buluh. This is the current home of Sugih, a 5-year-old female who was rescued by OF, previously kept as a pet. Foundation staff informed me that she had made good progress, she was behaving as a wild orangutan should - encouraging news.

Sugih being helped into the trees to practise nest building

The next day was the volunteer’s day off, and I was lucky enough to join them to visit Camp JL, where Okto and Ketty are currently being cared for, and Camp Gemini. Okto and Ketty were a lively duo to watch, and really quite amusing, with Okto dropping to the ground at one stage and crossing his arms as if to say “I am not doing any more nest-building practice!”. Hopefully in time he’ll exhibit less of this behaviour, as wild orangutans are rarely seen on the forest floor.

Okto swinging around in the trees above us.

Camp Gemini’s feeding station was a hive of activity; we saw many mothers with infants who inhabited the forest nearby. They began to crowd around with the promise of fresh fruit! We even saw a wild male, enticed by the fruit - and the females!

Hola Honolulu looking decidedly comfortable in the company of a wild male

On my last day, I was taken to visit Pondok Ambung, the Foundation’s research station situated within Tanjung Puting National Park. There were 15 camera traps placed around this area which provided evidence of a plethora of wildlife who call this National Park home.

Pondok Ambung staff member checking the camera traps for new images

We then visited the famed Camp Leakey where I saw a gibbon amongst the orangutans visiting the feeding station, which moved too swiftly through the tree tops for a photo! The traffic caused by the tourist’s klotoks was really a sight to behold, displaying how popular this area has become with people from around the world.

The journey back to Kumai was magical, made so by numerous orangutans who had begun to make their nests by the river’s edge.

Orangutan by the river’s edge looking as interested in me as I was in her

I had a fantastic time visiting this wonderland that so many orangutans call home. I would urge anybody who has not already done so to check out the various trips available to visit for themselves, particularly the Volunteer Programme (http://www.orangutan.org.uk/orangutan-tours). I’ve definitely received a ginger thumbs up from the orangutans in the area, as well as being made to feel very welcome by the excellent Indonesian staff members. Many thanks and hoping I’ll be back soon!


My Bornean Adventure

by Joanne Cotton Returning volunteer, Joanne Cotton, shares her experiences from the Orangutan Foundation's past summer volunteer programmes.

cozy klotok

June 2012

Yesterday was another great day as we travelled by boat for about 4 hours through the National Park. The scenery was stunning and the further into the journey we got, the more stunning the jungle scenery became. We saw wild orangutans, proboscis monkeys and many other animals which I can’t even remember the names of. I am really trying to commit everything to memory but the senses are completely overloaded!

The boat was moored up for the night and after eating our evening meal of fresh fish and stir fried vegetables with tempeh we were taken on a night walk. It gets dark at about half past five here but it turns out that there is as much to see during the night as there is during the day. One of the local Indonesians was obviously really keen to help us see as much as possible. He showed us a tarantula, smoking mushrooms and even our first leech of the trip!

Tomorrow we have a day at Camp Leakey where we will see orangutans of all ages up close, I can’t wait. Then, after a few days of getting used to the heat and the time difference we will head out to camp which will be our home for the next few weeks. That’s when the hard work building a boardwalk begins! But for now I am off to take a shower out of a bucket of river water with a hole in it!


September 2015

I am so thrilled to be back here! Borneo really stole a piece of my heart during my first trip. This trip is completely different from the first time. This time, although the work is still physically hard, it’s not quite as dirty! We are helping to rebuild an education centre in the National Park which involves lots of hammering, sawing and painting.

Last night I slept outside in a hammock for the first time and as I was falling asleep I could hear the orangutan long call in the trees around me. We tend to wake up quite early here and today I was woken by the macaques playing in the trees next to me.

Today was our day off so a few of us took a Klotok down the river to a little village. Our camp is located right on the river and there is so much wildlife here, we have even seen a crocodile a little further up the river!

Our lifestyle is very basic here, but I don’t find myself left wanting for anything. We work hard, are well fed and have had many laughs. We have been learning a lot about the wildlife and local culture from the Indonesians and we are even learning a little bit of Indonesian along the way.

I can see that each volunteer project is very unique and offers a very different experience each time. It will never be the same experience twice…. but that’s all the more reason to keep coming back!

camp fame

Applications are NOW OPEN for the 2016 programme! To apply for this year's summer volunteer programme, click here