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Borneo Sun Bear and Rainforest Experience

Sepilok and Sabah, Borneo
from £1,025 (2 weeks)

Ref: AV106

An opportunity to work with sun bears in Borneo.  Volunteers can spend two or four weeks at the Sun Bear Sanctuary or follow two weeks at the Sun Bear Sanctuary with two weeks at the Corridor of Life - a newly delineated high priority conservation area. Both locations provide a safe haven for rescued sun bears and work towards rehabilitating them and releasing them back into the wild.  This is an exciting opportunity to work with the Malaysian keepers to improve the conditions of these wonderful bears, as well as helping to improve understanding of conservation through work with schools in the local village. Take a one-off chance to trek through the rainforest of Borneo and learn about some of its mystery.

Who can join: 18 years of age and over
Accommodation: Twin shared rooms
Transfer time: approx 1 hour
Pick up Point: Sandakan Airport
Meals: Meal included as detailed
Volunteer numbers: approx. 6

Duration & Fees

2 weeks£1,025
4 weeks£1,685
4 weeks£1,835

(2 weeks Sun Bear/2 weeks Sanctuary Sabah)

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Start Dates

This project starts on the 5th of each month throughout the year.


£180 deposit at time of booking – balance payment of project fee due 12 weeks before departure

What's Included

  • Aiport pick-up from Sandakan Airport on arrival and transfer to project accommodation
  • Welcome dinner on arrival day in Sepilok
  • Induction and orientation at the Sun Bear Conservation Centre 
  • 13 or 27 nights' accommodation
  • Meal allowance to cover project days (not including days off) at Sepilok
  • All meals will be provided at Sabah
  • All activities, materials, tools and equipment required on project days
  • Help and assistance from English-speaking Project Co-ordinator
  • Programme induction in Sabah, and orientation to the village
  • Boat and river transfers on project days at Sabah
  • Visit to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre including entrance fees
  • Entrance fees to Rainforest Discovery Centre
  • Transfer from project base to Sandakan Airport for departure flight

What's not included

  • International and internal flights to and from Sandakan Airport
  • Visa fees
  • Meals on arrival and departure days and on days off
  • Comprehensive insurance to include cover for repatriation
  • Personal items and expenses


  • help to improve the conditions of these wonderful sun bears that have found a safe home at the sanctuary and help with their rehabilitation
  • learn all about the these lovely little bears and their rehabilitation and the process of releasing them back into the wild;
  • monitor and watch these bears climb the hightest of trees and play together in their new safe home!
  • understand and compare the situation of captive/rehabilitated bears with those in threatened habitats
  • raise awareness among tourist, the local community and students for responsible living and travelling.
  • enjoy the stunning surounds of Sepilok and explore the tree top walks of the jungle and it's wildlife
  • Experience the beauty of Borneo and make new friends from all over the world.
  • at Sabah plant trees and maintain planting sites important for orang-utans, sun bers and pygmy elephants as well as interacting with the students of local schools in an education programme focussing on conservation.  
  • st Sabah - observe and collect data on wildlife whilst taking a boat down the Kinabatangan River 
  • at Sabah - trek through and learn about the mysterious and beautiful rainforest of this part of Borneo

Sun bears are the smallest and least known members of the bear species. Their populations are rapidly diminishing in Southeast Asia. Habitats are being destroyed by deforestation and sun bears are being brutally killed for commercial exploitation. Baby sun bears are one of the cutest young animals in the world. After their mothers are killed, they are captured as pets and are locked in tiny cages. The mission of the sanctuary is to rescue these captured sun bears, promoting sun bear conservation in Borneo through animal welfare, conservation, rehabilitation, research and education - to put a stop to these cruel practices.

Volunteers to this project can choose from three options: 

  • The first option is to spend 14 days working at the Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sepilok.
  • The second option is to spend 28 days working at the Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sepilok
  • The third option is to spend the 14 days working at the Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sepilok followed by 14 days working in a village along the Lower Kinabatangan River in a Wildlife Sanctuary in Sabah

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, Sepilok

The Conservation Centre is approximately 19 kilometres from Sandakan Town and is located next to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre with links to forest trails and boardwalks (which is a stunning area). The Sanctuary was founded in 2008 by Siew Te Wong who has spent many years researching and working to conserve the sun bears. The Centre is about 19 kilometres from Sandakan Town and has links to many existing forest trails. The aim of the sanctuary is to provide a safe haven for rescued sun bears, as well as working towards their rehabiltation and release back into the wild. This project attracts many volunteers each year from all over the world who share this aim, and volunteers work alongside the Malaysian sun bear keepers to improve the conditions for the bears.

The Sanctuary aims to promote sun bear conservation through holistic approaches to animal welfare, rehabilitation, education and research and there are currently nine permanent staff.  

There are currently 28 rescued bears living at the the sanctuary which has two bear houses and 1.14 hectares of natural forest enclosure where the bears can roam freely during the day (and night).  Some of the bears have been rescued from poachers and may have been kept illegally as pets and the project provides a safe haven for these bears as well as working towards their rehabilitation and release back into the wild. 

The primary role of the volunteer is to provide basic care in the role of assistant keeper. Volunteers will enjoy learning about the personalities of the different bears at the Centre and gain real experience of working in a renowned Sun Bear sanctuary. Any research into the sun bears and their behaviour in the wild that can be done before the placement will be very valuable and the resident staff will very much appreciate the ideas of volunteers in providing new activities to occupy the bears.

Daily activities may include: 

Husbandry - feeding the bears and cleaning the cages - essential to promote good hygiene and prevent disease. Some daily checks and general maintenance may also be included.

Enrichment - to provide stimulation and create living conditions as near as possible to their natural habitat. This could involve providing leaves for cages for bedding and nesting purposes; buying special fruit to vary the diet; collect branches from fig or fruit trees to observe behaviour; providing fun work with ropes for the animals; hiding food around the cages to encourage foraging behaviour; trek into the jungle in search of termite nests.  Volunteers will be involved in designing and preparing new enrichment items - the effect of which on the sun bears can then be observed. 

Construction - volunteers may be involved in designing and working on small construction projects to improve the night dens or enclosures.  This may include building new exhibits and extensions or improving existing exhibits by adding furniture or painting.

Education - there is an education centre and library at the centre and volunteers may be asked to talk to school children and visitors at the visitor centre about the sun bears.  They may also be asked to prepare displays and information boards and will be in charge of updating the blog and data entry of the Bear Behaviour Record and the Weekly Record.

Volunteers, who work closely with the keepers, will have the chance to learn some Malay as well as to improve the spoken English of the Malaysian keepers. Volunteers will have six days off during their 28 day placement (or 2 days during a 14 day placement) - plenty of time to explore Sandakan and the beautiful surrounding areas.

Wildlife Sanctuary, Sabah

Volunteers will start their programme and spend their first fourteen days at the Sun Bear Conservation Centre where they will work with the Malaysian bear keepers to improve the conditions of the sun bears living at the Centre.  This will give the opportunity for volunteers to learn more about sun bears - their needs for enrichment as well as the whole rehabilitation process.  After two weeks working with the sun bears at close quarters volunteers will enter a small bit of paradise - the Lower Kinabatangan Floodplain Rainforest in Sabah where they will receive a short orientation to the second half of their programme before starting work the following day.  This Wildlife Sanctuary is home to singing gibbons, orang-utans, proboscis monkeys, sun bears, hornbills and pygmy elephants as well as a host of other rarely seen wildlife.  The programme will end in the quaint town of Sandakan after a short visit to the world famous Sepilok Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre. 

The Kinabatangan River is the longest river in Sabah and runs for 560 km from the heart of Borneo through tropical rainforests, floodplain forests and mangroves before merging into the Sulu-Sulawesi Sea.  This is an area earmarked for agriculture and development and with government co-operation, various NGOs, private companies and individuals a geographical area framing the river has been delineated as a high priority conservation area - known now as the Corridor of Life.  It requires long term effort to ensure that wildlife has a protected habitat to continue to survive against the onslaught of man and development.  It is an area of 26,000 hectares, much of which has been severely damaged and requires urgent replanting to restore it to a habitat for over 250 birds, 50 mammals, 20 reptile species, 1060 plant species and countless insects.  The largest mammal is the pygmy elephant and the largest primate is the organ-utan.

The project base is located in the village of Sukau - approximately 2 hours from Sandakan Airport - and with a population of approximately 1,000.  There is a primary school in the village and villagers derive their income through tourism, plantations and related village businesses.  Most activities will take place in and around the village and along the Kinabatangan River.  Volunteers will live among the gentle, ever-smiling Orang Sun gai or "People of the River" and will learn their way of life and join them in their homes for meals. 

The aim of the project is to ensure that the habitat of the pygmy elephants and orang-utans is protected and volunteers will be mainly involved in restoring destroyed habitats, contributing towards the reforestation of the Corridor of Life to preserve the remaining wildlife and biodiversity in these sanctuaries. 

Daily activities may include:

Wildlife Population Observation - which entails cruising on the river to observe the endangered wildlife roaming the forest along the river banks.

Habitat Restoration - this is hard work but crucial to ensure the survival of wildlife.  It will include tree planting, nursery care and seedling generation, sapling maintenance, mulching and composting, clearing invasive species and tree growth data recording.   It will also include maintaining plots of land that have been planted by previous volunteers to give them the best chance of survival and will create corridors of greenery for the orang-utan, elephants and other wildlife to move more easily in the forests.  Macaques, deer, elephants and birds have been sighted within the very trees planted by earlier volunteers - which is really exciting!   Rest breaks from this heavy work are available when required and much wildlife can be observed around the village and from boat cruising along the river

Education Programme - volunteers will spend a half day with the children of the community working on conservation issues that the children deal with on a daily basis and emphasising their future impact on conservation.  Volunteers will be provided with a framework and the facilitator will guide in the planning of this session. The children - who are the custodians of the future - attend the local school between the ages of 6 and 12.  They have grown up swimming in the river and playing in the rainforests and it is vital that these children learn how to protect the rainforests in the future.  Volunteers are able to spend time developing conservation-based programmes that will help them in the future to take responsibility and cherish the environment in which they live. 

Community Development - the community living along the Kinabatangan are mainly a local tribe known as the Orang Sungai who have lived along the river for generations and who depend on the rainforest and river for their daily resources - food and drink, medicines, poison, hunting tools, building materials, clothing, carrier bags and even cosmetics!  To-day many of the tribe can be found working in the tourism industry or with research and conservation teams along the river, studying the beautiful landscape and its inhabitants. 

Working with the community is a vital part of conservation and the most successful projects have been those that have brought the community into the conservation programme itself.  Interaction with the community is important and most meals are taken in their homes - home-cooked lunches and dinners.  Volunteers will learn some local skills while assisting in project work with the local community. 

Rumble in the Jungle - volunteers will take part in a jungle trek to observe the flora and fauna of the rainforest and to see what is traditionally available to the inhabitants in tems of medication, food and survival.

Visit to Sepilok and Sandakan - On their last day all volunteers will become tourists and will visit the Sepilok Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre and watch these fascinating animals feeding.  In Sandakan it will be possible to see the local township and absorb some of the local atmosphere.   The last evening is spent in a city hotel with a chance to visit a lovely rooftop restaurant and watch the sunset while enjoying a few drinks and fine food. 

Please Note: For this project proof of Hep A and B and TB vaccinations will be required to work with the bears or doctors letter to confirm that you are free from TB and Hepatititis A and B

There will also be a short telephone conversation with a project representative before you join the project to find out a little more about you, discuss the project and what you hope to achieve as a volunteer. 

Extra Information

Sepilok is surrounded by lush tropical rainforest, and there are many optional activities that volunteers may be tempted with. A visit to the world-famous Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre - just five minutes' walk away -  is a real must for all volunteers to see the orangutans.  There are also possible trips to  the Rainforest Discovery Centre, the Sandakan War Memorial Park and excursions into Sandakan town itself.  There are stunning tree top rainforest walks near the volunteer location which are not to be missed. 

Sandakan is the second largest city located on the east coast of Sabah and is is well known as the gateway for ecotourism destinations where fauna, flora and cultural heritage are the main attractions. There are several other interesting places to visit around Sandakan such as Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary, Turtle Island Park, Kinabatangan River and Gomantong Caves. 

Getting There

Volunteers should arrive into Sandakan Airport where they will be met by the project staff and transferred to the accommodation. 

Amanzi Travel holds an ATOL licence and can help with any flight arrangements required.  Please contact Amanzi Travel for further information.

Support and Orientation

Support and advice is available from Amanzi Travel office staff and project/trip leaders. Upon booking, you will receive a comprehensive pre-departure pack that provides all the details you will need to prepare for your trip.  This document includes information on accommodation, staff, visas, optional activities, packing checklist and medical advice and if you have any questions that are not answered in the pack we are always on hand to help and advise. We will do all we can to ensure that you are well prepared and looking forward to your trip. You will also receive an in country orientation on arrival.

A 24 hours a day, 7 days a week emergency contact number is provided for everyone who travels with us.

Amanzi Travel holds an ATOL licence (9401) and is able to arrange your flights on request giving you financial protection for your flight and trip costs. We also offer advice on personal travel insurance for your trip.

Accommodation at Sepilok is comfortable but basic.  Twin-shared rooms with bunk beds are provided and there are shared toilets and bathrooms.  There is a nice sitting area and a kitchen with fridge and gas stove where meals can be prepared.  There is also a washing machine available for use and volunteers will need to purchase their own washing powder.

The accommodation at Sukau (Sabah) will be in a comfortable and basic village run B & B, within walking distance of the centre of the village and jetty.  Rooms will be shared with other volunteers and there are western style toilets and cold water showers.  Breakfast is taken overlooking the river.  Here volunteers will be able to wash their own clothes or pay to for a laundry service which will need to be negotiated on arrival.

Accommodation at Sandakan (last night) is in comfortable and basic hotel rooms in the town, shared with other volunteers with toilets and showers.  The hotel is within walking distance of the Promenade with its quaint little shops and eateries.  Here there are internet cafes, restaurants and food stalls serving local and western foods and there is a beautiful roof-top restaurant where volunteers can have a drink and watch their final sunset in Borneo!

A welcome dinner will be provided in Sepilok the evening that volunteers arrive, including a project briefing.  For the remainder of the placement a meal allowance will be given to each volunteer at the Sepilok project who will be expected to buy groceries and prepare their own meals alongside fellow volunteers.  The allowance covers all working days at the project and will be sufficient for local grocery items as well as occasional visits to the food stalls.   There will be access to a shared kitchen with basic cooking facilities.  Meals can also be purchased from the cafeteria, street food stalls or downtown, and are very cheap - a full meal costing RM6 - RM15   Vegetarian food can be found in town but the range is limited.  

Volunteers working at the village project will have all meals prepared for them apart from dinner on the last evening at Sandakan.  Lunch and dinner will be taken in the homes of the local villagers.  This is part of the project's commitment to bringing alternative and sustainable income sources to the local community.   There are no vegetarian restaurants in the villages.  However home cooked meals can be provided for vegetarian and other diets but must be advised to Amanzi Travel well in advance so that appropriate arrangements can be made. Please note that alcohol is not permitted on this project.

All volunteers will need money for bottled water and extras such as fruit juice or snacks. 

Click here to view the full interactive mapMalaysia


Malaysia is a bubbling, bustling melting-pot of races and religions where Malays, Indians, Chinese and many other ethnic groups live together in peace and harmony. The multiculturalism has made Malaysia a gastronomical paradise and home to hundreds of colourful festivals. As a people, Malaysians are very relaxed, warm and friendly.

Geographically, Malaysia is almost as diverse as its culture. 11 states and 2 federal territories (Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya) form Peninsular Malaysia which is separated by the South China Sea from East Malaysia which includes the 2 states (Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo) and a third federal territory, the island of Labuan.

One of Malaysia's key attractions is its extreme contrasts which further add to this theme of ‘diversity’. Towering skyscrapers look down upon wooden houses built on stilts while five-star hotels sit just metres away from ancient reefs.

Rugged mountains reach dramatically for the sky while their rainforest-clad slopes sweep down to floodplains teeming with forest life. Cool highland hideaways roll down to warm, sandy beaches and rich, humid mangroves.

Malaysia is one of the region's key tourist destinations, offering excellent beaches and brilliant scenery.

People & Language

Malays comprise 57% of the population, while the Chinese, Indian and Bumiputeras and other races make up the rest of the country's population.

While Malay is the national language the many ethnic groups also converse in their various languages and dialects, but English is also widely spoken.

Islam is the official religion of the country, but other religions such as Buddhism and Christianity are widely and freely practised. 


The country experiences tropical weather year-round. Temperatures range from 21ºC (70ºF) to 32ºC (90ºF).

Higher elevations are much colder with temperatures between 15°C (59°F) to 25°C (77°F).

Annual rainfall varies from 2,000mm to 2,500mm. However, the wettest parts of Malaysia could well be the hill slopes of Sarawak’s inland areas, which receive a mean annual rainfall exceeding 5,000mm.


Area 329,758 square km
Population 29.95 million
Capital city Kuala Lumpur
Time Eight hours ahead of GMT and 16 hours ahead of U.S Standard Time.
Currency The monetary unit of the country is Ringgit Malaysia and is written as RM or MYR.
Telephone - +60 to dial

Borneo, Malaysia

Borneo is the third largest island in the world and the largest in Asia, and is characterised by ancient dense tropical jungles, endangered wildlife, world class diving and spectacular mountains. Bordered by the South China Sea to the northwest, the Sulu Sea to the northeast, the Celebes Sea to the east and the Java Sea to the south, the island was once attached to mainland Asia by Jakarta and Sumatra and is now split into the two Malaysian states - of Sabah and Sarawak in the north. The hub of rain forests, wildlife and diverse culture makes it an adventure paradise. Borneo is home to one of the oldest rainforests in the world, parts of which are 140 million years old, and also to 18,000 species of plants and trees and hundreds of species of mammals, birds and fish. The rainforest as one of the few remaining natural habitats of the endangered orang-utang and is also home to one of the world’s four rehabilitation centres in the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve in Sepilok. The rainforest is also a refuge for endemic forest species including the Borneo clouded leopard, the Hose’s civet, the dayak fruit bat, the Asian elephant and the Sumatran rhinoceros. Kota Kinabalu Mountain is the highest peak in Borneo, standing at 4,096 metres and is a ubiquitous symbol of Borneo, with its presence on the flag as well as being its first UNESCO World Heritage Site. The major river systems in Borneo are the Kapuas at 1,143 km, the Mahakam, the Barito and the Rajang and some of the world’s longest underground rivers in impressive cave systems can also be found in Borneo, offering a wealth of exploration.

Borneo Malyais Climate and Weather

Summer (March - October) 38 °C 23 °C
Winter (November - February) 28 °C 22 °C

Rainfall: From 301 mm in November to 74 mm in March Rainforest areas have a typically tropical climate and are hot and humid most of the year. Borneo benefits from sunshine all year round with temperatures that range from 25-33 degrees Celsius during the day, and rarely drop below 20 degrees Celsius at night. The exception is in the mountains where the temperature can drop to around 15 degrees Celsius. Most rain falls between November and January during the north-east monsoon, and takes the form usually of short bursts.

Borneo Sun Bear and Rainforest Experience

The Borneo Sun Bear Sanctuary needs advertising in countries like the UK to continue their excellent and much-needed work. The staff I worked with during my time there are why this project survives and are assets to the project. Some of the horrors these bears have endured and the emotional scars are shown through repetitive, abnormal behaviours. However, with some of the TLC that the Sanctuary has to offer, I have no doubt that these bears will become fully rehabilitated, make a full recovery, and be released back into the wild. 

Jenny, UK (Borneo Sun Bear and Rainforest Experience)

Borneo Sun Bear and Rainforest Experience

You don’t need a conservation degree, you don’t need husbandry experience, as long as you absolutely want to help and think you can dedicate yourself to caring for bears!

I decided that as my studies in Animal Conservation were coming to an end it was time to spice up my CV with some more relevant volunteering experience. I’d done plenty of research projects and even helped to coordinate at a conservation biology conference, but I’d never taken part in any extensive animal husbandry.

Straight away you notice the beautiful trees and all the different sounds of the forest… I can’t emphasize enough just how friendly everybody is. That night we fell asleep to the incredibly LOUD rainfall outside! You get used to this, I promise.

The next day we got to work! Now, the work itself is not particularly difficult BUT add the heat and jet lag and you have a tiring combination! Don’t worry though, the staff take good care of you and as long as you drink PLENTY of water you’ll be fine! Some of the tasks include preparing the fruit and veg (a lot of it!), preparing the ‘bear porridge’ (rice), carrying and scattering the fruit and veg outside for the bears, cleaning the indoor cages and preparing fun enrichment for the bears to keep them entertained! If you can think of a few different things that will help to stimulate the bears and get them active then don’t hesitate to tell a member of staff, they love new ideas!

All the bears have their own personality and preferences. Some are sweet and quiet, like Mary, and some love to Splash and mess around, like Bermuda! During your time there you’ll definitely get to know your own favourites.

The work is important and it is essentially why you’re there, but the staff understands that you would also like to explore the local area, particularly if you’re from another country like me! There’s plenty of other things to see, like the canopy walks at the Rainforest Discovery Centre just down the road or busy markets in Sandakan. If you love your food Wong knows all the best places to eat so just ask! If it has his recommendation then you’re definitely up for an excellent meal. If you have a sweet tooth I can personally recommend the cake from the ‘Fat Cat Cake House’ in Sandakan!

Georgie, UK (Borneo Sun Bear and Rainforest Experience)

Borneo Sun Bear and Rainforest Experience

For me, the choice of becoming a Volunteer 'with endangered animals and somewhere in a forest ' was very clear to me since a long time. I wanted to help out where help was needed, and at the same time gaining experience working with animals.

At this sanctuary there’s a group of very dedicated people who not only take care of previously captured sun bears, but also make sure they acquire enough skills to be released into the wild again and 'dehumanise' them. And if that is not enough, they also actively teach local communities about the importance of preserving the natural habitat of sun bears and all the other species that live in primary and secondary forest… 

By working 'backstage' and staying in the resort, you definitely have the chance of seeing a lot of Sabah's wildlife. Orang utans, macaques, squirrels, hornbills and kingfishers, beautiful butterflies, cobras and vipers, water monitor lizards an small lizards, weird looking insects and colourful birds, and I was lucky to see and be sniffed at by two baby-pygmies elephants who were in quarantine at the next door centre.

Jaike, Netherlands (Borneo Sun Bear and Rainforest Experience)

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