I made a pact with myself that 2018 was to be an epic year. 10 months in and I can truly say it has exceeded all expectations. One of the most significant parts of the year was a 3 week trip to Borneo, Malaysia.
Late last year my brother, boyfriend and myself had our first float tank experience in Fremantle, hydrating afterwards in the foyer was a brochure advertising ‘Borneo Ethical Adventures’, immediately I was interested! Over the following weeks I concocted a plan to make a trip to Borneo a reality in 2018- my heart set on the ‘Road Less Travelled’ tour. I tried to rope in family members and friends, eventually my brother and boyfriend were on board! The same crew who originally found the brochure would be jet-setting to the third biggest island in the world! It was meant to be.
Borneo Ethical Adventures was founded by the lovely Alison Pritchard. Alison lived and worked at Mulu National Park in Sarawak for a number of years and has since partnered with local businesses to create an exploration in to the very heart of this incredible island. We had 10 action packed days with Alison and a team of fellow travellers, venturing through jungle, caves, markets, long boats down rivers, and bustling cities. One of the most impactful days was our trip to Matang Wildlife centre.
Sadly, the wild population of Orangutans in Borneo has more than halved in the last century with an estimation of 104,700 remaining. Projects like Matang are desperately needed!
Matang Wildlife Centre is run in partnership by Orangutan Project and Sarawak Forestry Corporation. Orangutan Project is a Malaysian conservation organisation and UK based charity. Founder and CEO Leo Biddle started Orangutan Project in 2006. Matang Wildlife Centre is an ambitious sanctuary for rescued and abandoned animals who require rehabilitation and care, predominantly due to human conflict and the illegal pet trade. Their fundamental goal is rehabilitation and release back in to the wild.
The sanctuary houses endangered wildlife including orangutans, sun bears, deer, crocodile and hornbills.The main attraction is the orangutan adoption programme, where young orangutans, who were either orphaned or rescued from captivity, are taught how to survive in the wild. It was here we met Peter. Peter is 33 years old and the oldest orangutan at the centre. He was confiscated in 2009 from a wealthy family that obtained him as a pet and has since spent his time being loved and looked after by the Matang workers.
We arrived at the sanctuary early morning and got straight in to making enrichment parcels for the animals. We cut, filled and sewed until we had little parcels filled with different textures, colours and treats (even magazines! – the orangutans like to look at the pictures!). These enrichment parcels help to occupy the orangutans and sun bears, providing stimulation and fun. We then had a nutritious lunch and spent the afternoon exploring the park and giving our parcels to the animals.
It was very entertaining seeing the different personalities of each animal, as some of them fought to get as many treats as they could, whilst others quickly grabbed a parcel and retreated to safer ground away from the mob. One of the cutest was the young male orangutan who entertained not only us but the other orangutans with some groovy moves and had us all laughing hysterically! Another highlight was when walking past the monkey enclosure, watching a sneaky little monkey, playing innocently. Until the boys were in a close enough range that it threw it’s poo at them! It doesn’t like boys very much apparently. The monkey started jumping and bouncing around, laughing at its achievement and the rest of us found this hilarious!
All fun aside, everyone involved in a project like Matang is doing serious work. These animals have been surrendered and abused and sadly have the mental scars to prove it. This was particularly evident in Peter. His eyes were so sad. Upon approaching his cage, he did an uncomfortable lap around hisenclosure dragging a tyre and making loud sounds and banging. It was explained to us that he usually retreats when people approach, due to his past trauma and rough relationships with humans prior to his time at Matang. We were extremely lucky however, after his initial reaction, he sat facing us, amused with his enrichment parcel. I really just wanted to hug him and take away all his painful memories.
The time spent at Matang was one of those rare experiences that dives deep in to your soul. Anthony Bourdain reflected that;
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
If you’re ever in Kuching, you’ll be forever changed after spending some time with the animals at Matang.
For further information on Matang Wildlife centre check out their website; https://sarawaktourism.com/attraction/matang-wildlife-centre/. Orangutan Project do incredible work, they also have various volunteer opportunities available. To find out more visit https://projectorangutan.com. For an unforgettable adventure to Borneo hit up Alison at https://www.borneoethical.com.