From Iceland to Asia, with love: How to help endangered orangutans

We interrupt our regular programming to bring you a serious announcement. It’s a bit of a gritty subject, but exciting at the same time. So far this month, we’ve seen almost TEN TIMES more bookings for our Orangutan volunteering projects in Southeast Asia than this time last year.

We know you ethically-conscious lot have always been a bunch of animal lovers, and all-round kickass earth children, but this recent increase in interest into the wellbeing of our fuzzy friends is unprecedented – and we think we know why.



With their banned Christmas advert now nearing a gazillion views, supermarket chain Iceland together with Greenpeace have well and truly shone a spotlight on the plight of our ginger cousins in Borneo and Sumatra. Anyone with a conscience is now, or at least should be, cutting out palm oil from their everyday shopping basket. And with most major brands now cutting it out of their supply chains altogether, it may be easier to stop the demand for deforestation than you think.


What’s happening in Borneo and Sumatra?

Orangutans have lived on the idyllic islands of Sumatra in Indonesia and Malaysian Borneo for longer than we have. And to say that they’re our closest animal cousins would be an understatement – we share 97% of our DNA with these beautiful apes.

But their rainforest home is fast disappearing as it is destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations. This oil is a lucrative exponent of the trees orangutans live in – sold to the chocolate brands, fast food chains, supermarkets and cosmetics companies we buy from every day.

So now, there are only around 100,000 orangutans left in the world – living in a habitat 20% of the size the one they had 20 years ago. You can see for yourself just how endangered this species and their neighbours, like the Sumatran tiger, really are. On a trip to Sumatra in 2014, in order for me to come face to face with beauuutiful babies like this…


We had to drive through hours, and hours of this.


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All the way from Medan to Tangkahan, we passed by huge palm oil plantation. Listened to how palm oil industry started in Indonesia, its rise and fall is like reading a beautiful visual book. #gauruainsumatra #sumatraindonesia #sumatratravel #palmtree #palmoilplantation #plantation #buffalotoursindonesia #travelinggirl #mylifejournal #dailydoseofbeauty

A post shared by Tu Anh (@gaurua) on

How to help with orangutan conservation

It’s simple, and it starts at home. Stop the demand for palm oil, so they stop having to make so much of it – check the labels of what you buy, and cut it out. There are so many household brands who are well on the way to diminishing it from their products, just like Iceland have. Some real heroes in this space are Hovis, Nutella, Galaxy, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s, who all strive to use sustainable equivalents.


Volunteering with orangutans

Even better, once you’ve done that, get out there and help. There are two ways that you can get involved in Orangutan conservation work.

Our award-winning Work with Endangered Orangutans volunteering project offers 14 or 28 nights at Matang Wildlife Centre in Borneo. Starting out as the original Orangutan flagship project, work consists mainly of caring for not just Orangutans, but also Sun Bears, Macaques and Binturongs who call this Wildlife Centre home.

You’ll get to help out feeding them, and socialising them, enhancing the potential for rehabilitation to the point where they can be released into the wild. This is a big job, and so volunteers are always required at this project to help with the conservation and protection of these majestic creatures.

In addition to this, our Experience Borneo and Conserve Orangutans project is a 14-day voluntour. This means you’ll get to travel the island of Borneo, while helping out and visiting two Orangutan conservation centres.


How to see orangutans responsibly

Orangutan treks and tours

The best way to help out is of course to volunteer, but just visiting these orangutan sanctuaries and spreading the word of their plight to your friends, family and followers is hugely important. Our two-week Highlights of Sumatra or Highlights of Borneo tours offer opportunities to get up close to wildlife, as well as trek volcanoes, canoe through jungles and generally live like the badass locals do in one of the most fascinating corners of Asia.

You can be rest assured that these tours have all wildlife’s best interests at heart. STA Travel operates a pioneering animal welfare policy to ensure that all of the projects and tour operators that we work with do not harm or humiliate animals. So far, globally, we have withdrawn over 4,000 tours and activities where we felt that the welfare of animals has been compromised. You can find out more about it here.

If you don’t have the time for either volunteering or a two week tour on your travels around Southeast Asia, and would instead prefer to swing by to pay them a quick visit, there are a few important things to take into consideration.


Keep your food to yourself

Do not bait, or try to feed the orangutans with any of your food.


Look, don’t touch

Do not visit Southeast Asia with the intention of ever touching, holding or ‘hugging’ an orangutan – regardless of the fact that they are, literally, the most beautiful animals on the planet. Direct human contact can be detrimental to an ape’s welfare – we carry germs that their immune systems just can’t handle. Furthermore, don’t try to approach any that you see on the rainforest floor in case you intimidate them. Stay your distance and let them slowly approach you.


Boycott orangutan exploitation

There are sadly still petting zoos in Bali that offer tourists the chance to cuddle captive babies, alongside dishing out elephant rides and photo opportunities with snakes. AVOID, AVOID, AVOID!

So – if orangutans could speak, I’m sure they’d be proclaiming their thanks to Iceland right now for helping them finally be heard. Guerilla content kings, environmental warriors and purveyors of some damn fine frozen mince pies, we salute you!