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GAP YEAR | VOLUNTEER ABROAD | WORK EXPERIENCE OVERSEAS

 

Volunteers' Stories

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SARAH GREGORY
British

Volunteering at the Orang-Utan & Sun Bear Conservation at Sepilok Rehabilitation Center in Borneo, Malaysia

 

A typical day in orang-utan husbandry or the outdoor nursery starts at 8 to 8.15 when you meet the allotted ranger at the center. You load a wheelbarrow with bananas and walk up with the ranger to the outdoor nursery. The area is normally very quiet with only a couple of teenage orang-utans about but as word gets out that the bananas have arrived more and more descend from the trees. We spend about fifteen minutes at the start of the morning with us locked in the cage which serves as an impromptu office and the orang-utans outside reaching through to us - a strange reverse of the normal situation.

After catching up with the ranger for this time we go and feed some of the teenage orang-utans on a close by feeding platform. We normally give them a few slices of bread each to encourage them to move away from the outdoor nursery and into the forest and leave us able to sweep the nursery area. At this point it is not unusual for one of the larger adolescent males to turn up to steal all the bread and we have to make a fast exit form the platform.

We are not supposed to touch or comfort the orang-utans at this stage of their rehabilitation as they are close to returning to the wild and are meant to be as independent as possible, however if one of the more boisterous young males tries to wrestle with you then you are allowed to wrestle him back!

Feeding and fighting time is followed by about half an hour of sweeping the leaves from the nursery - which is strangely enjoyable as you get to watch the orang-utans around you playing with each other. At about 10.00 am we head back to the indoor nursery area and the younger orang-utans for play time. On the way we collect leaves and branches to place in the younger orang-utans cages to encourage them to build nests.

We take out 6 orang-utans between six volunteers and have two hours with them. We spend time giving then leaves and branches and encouraging them to interact with each other.

For the younger babies a lot of cuddles and comforting is the order of the day. Some of the time is also spent encouraging the orang-utans to climb on the ropes and trees around the nursery. This is done by hiding fruit in the trees or putting your orang-utan on the ropes and making a dash for it before they grab you again, in the case of the more clingy ones. At 11.45 we put the orang-utans back in their cages with some food and drink for their efforts and return to the rest house for a much needed 2 hour lunch break.

We return to the Center at 2pm and it is our group's job to clean cages. We each clean one of the indoor cages with dettol and scrubbing brushes and then help another group clean and tidy under the outdoor cages. We have a few minutes to prepare for outdoor play time so we may cut up fruit and place it in bottles, hide bananas, or even once tried to make honey lolly pops, which got very messy!

Then we have an hour of play with the older orang-utans (about 5 years old). They are let out of their cage in one orange rush and are into everything - it is not unlike babysitting an extremely energetic and strong toddler. There is lots of running around and play fighting and again we try to encourage some climbing. Then all too soon for the orang-utans and just about as we are ready to collapse, it is bed time.

At 3.45 we put all the orang-utans to bed in their indoor cages and feed them one last time. As we give them their last bits of bread or fruit we all rush out the door whilst they are distracted and unable to scream for us to come back and play some more. It is time to go back to the rest house and have a much needed shower and, of course, tackle the dreaded hand-washing. 

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SEPILOK ORANG-UTAN Project in Malaysia
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