“When you realise the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate more on the preservation of the future.” — Dian Fossey

I have idolised Dian Fossey, the zoologist, ever since I watched Gorillas in the Mist on television. She was the champion of gorillas in Africa and had dedicated her life to preserve and protect the great apes from extinction. Without her painstaking research and groundbreaking studies, we might never have known or cared about the primates’ existence.

I may not have the single minded devotion that Dian Fossey had for the majestic mountain gorillas of Rwanda but I am passionate about the conservation of wildlife. Although I’ve made a practise of donating money to various wildlife organisations, I have never participated in any conservation programme.

heart2heart_02So, I believe it was fate that brought me all the way to Matang Wildlife Centre in Kuching, Sarawak, last July. I was in Sarawak for a holiday but a friend had invited me to attend the launching of a conservation programme called Heart2Heart with Orangutan at the rehabilitation centre.

Nothing but divine intervention could stop me from going to the centre that day. Here I was, dreaming of saving the silverback gorillas in the Rwanda Mountain that I forgot about the equally precious and endangered animals that needed rescuing in my own “backyard.”

The orangutan is Asia’s only native great ape. An endangered species, they are only found in the rainforests on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. In Sarawak alone, there are an estimated 2,000 orangutans located at three protected areas, i.e. Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary, Batang Ai National Park and Ulu Sebuyau National Park.orangutan

Imagine my excitement when I found out that there was a volunteer programme at the orangutan rehabilitation centre. It was always my dream to help in efforts to rehabilitate orangutans, even if that meant cleaning out their cages. What a great way to create a worthwhile vacation, one that will become a lifelong experience and inspire me to return again and again to the Matang Wildlife Centre!

Volunteer Tourism

Combining a holiday with voluntary work is a fast growing niche market in the tourism industry worldwide. Known as volunteer tourism or voluntourism, it allows tourists to participate in goodwill activities.

Professor Stephen Wearing, the School of Leisure, Sport and Tourism Associate Professor buy cialis online from the University of Technology, Sydney, defined volunteer tourists as “Those tourists who, for various reasons, volunteer in an organised way to undertake holidays that might involve aiding or alleviating the material poverty of some groups in society, the restoration of certain environments or research into aspects of society or environment”.

The Heart2Heart with Orangutan Programme in Sarawak is one such volunteer tourism programme where participants voluntarily pay to work at the orangutan rehabilitation centre.

Heart2Heart with Orangutan

heart2heart_04The Heart2Heart with Orangutan programme is a unique conservation initiative run by Sarawak Forestry in collaboration with the Sarawak Convention Bureau. It is a one day programme which allows participants to actively participate in orangutan rehabilitation at the Matang Wildlife Centre and Semenggoh Wildlife Centre.

It aims to showcase the orangutan conservation efforts in Sarawak to the global community and to raise awareness on the importance of saving the orangutan from the brink of extinction.
(Cleaning up cages (1&2) – Pix courtesy of SARAWAK FORESTRY, Michael Tsan)

The programme starts with a briefing on the conservation programme, after which participants are heart2heart_03given a guided tour around the centre to familiarise themselves with their surroundings. Then, the volunteers are assigned tasks and areas of responsibilities or duties, and these can range from cleaning up the cages, preparing food for the orangutans, taking part in the orangutan enrichment programme, to assisting in related research and education work.

Towards the end of the day, volunteers are treated to a picnic at the nearby Matang Family Park before receiving their certificates. Their day, however, does not end there. As a treat for putting in a hard day’s work, volunteers are transported to the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre to see the rehabilitated orangutan family in their natural surroundings.

Volunteers preparing orangutan enrichment gamesApart from the hard labour, the volunteers are also given the opportunity to learn from a dedicated team of experts from Sarawak Forestry about the challenges of orangutan rehabilitation and related works at the centre.

Granted, volunteers have to pay for the programme but they can rest assured that their money will be channeled to the orangutan conservation works such as maintaining the centre’s enclosures, purchasing medication and food supply for orangutans as well as carrying out educational and awareness projects for local communities on orangutan conservation in both the Matang and Semenggoh Wildlife Centres.

For further enquiries or for more information about Heart2Heart with Orangutan please contact via e-mail: H2H.orangutan@gmail.com.

Another interesting programme worth mentioning is the orangutan adoption programme.