Animal Volunteering in Southeast Asia
In a world where influencers take pictures of themselves riding elephants in Thailand, here's how to set a good example doing animal volunteering in Southeast Asia.
Okay. You don't have the time or the money to help. So, maybe you could at least pay a visit to one of these institutions while visiting Southeast Asia?
We have all read about the terrible abuses that elephants suffer in Thailand - and if you didn't read it yet, here's a hint: It's NOT cool to ride elephants or the terrible exploitation of whale sharks in Oslob (Cebu) in Philippines.
I wouldn't be able to write this post without mentioning the fragile tarsiers from Philippines (almost extinct), or forget the orangutans (which continue to be decimated by the industries that exploit palm oil and derivatives) in Indonesia and Malaysia.
In an ideal world, everyone should have an opportunity to see animals in nature without interfering with the environment (and without having to go to zoos, of course).
Animal volunteering in Southeast Asia
There is always a lot of skepticism regarding ethical organizations involving animals in developing countries.
The mix of rich tourists and local poverty favor the spread of sad associations, including street snake shows, trained monkeys and other horrors.
Any educated person should avoid this kind of "attraction" but unfortunately some organizations manage to legalize such large businesses (e.g. Seaworld) that this may confuse even the most conscious people.
Thinking about it, I started looking for organizations where people could actually visit (or volunteer) making a difference to the species in question.
Note: Volunteering does not mean that you will be staying for free, unfortunately most of these institutions need funds to continue to work. When you contribute to maintaining them, at least you can be sure to contribute to causes that really matters while you live unforgettable moments.
1. BOON LOTT ELEPHANT SANCTUARY (THAILAND)
Elephants used in tourist attractions (unfortunately a common business in Thailand) are everywhere.
Boon Lott (survivor in Thai) rescues the elephants from owners who abuse the animals and brings a breath of fresh air, freeing elephants from their usual slave labor.
Volunteers are housed for 3-5 days (on average), and help with simple tasks: picking elephant food in the jungle, guiding elephants in the pasture, bathing them, taking them to swim in the river, interacting with local families, plant trees, etc.
The cost per guest is 6000 baht (180 US $) and includes all meals, transfers at Sukhothai Airport (or at the train or bus station) and laundry service.
The negotiations to rescue elephants are tough in Thailand. Often the money offered by the institution for the purchase of the animals is not enough and the owners of the elephants end up selling them to other abusers (who might pay better, as they transform the animals into their main source of income).
Boon Lotts Elephant Sanctuary
304 Mu 5, Baan Na Ton Jan, Sukhothai, Thailand 64130
2. LARGE MARINE VERTEBRATES RESEARCH INSTITUTE PHILIPPINES (PHILIPPINES)
If you've always dreamed of swimming with whale sharks, you can already fulfill that desire in a ethical way!
Of course you can scubadive anywhere but the chances of seeing them are very random.
Oslob, a very popular city South of the province of Cebu, is well known for whale sharks sightseeing.
The truth is that Oslob's touristy circuit should be totally out of the question for any sensible person or at least for those who claim to love animals. It all started when the fishermen in the area noticed that the animals were very docile, and from there it was a jump to start feeding the animals regularly as a way to keep them coming back.
This guarantees that thousands of tourists, hundreds of boatmen, and other interested parties achieve their goal ensuring sharks in the area, even if it is disrupting the migratory cycle of animals, which are now in danger of extinction. So, NO, there is nothing cool about going there snorkeling just to take pictures. And if you do, you'll look like a silly and ignorant tourist, that's all!
Lamave is an organization that indentify and study whale sharks in the areas of Donsol, Oslob, Leyte and Puerto Princesa, the capital of the province of Palawan (Philippines).
They also study manta bowls and turtles in the area.
Since the beginning of its activities in 2016, hundreds whale sharks have been identified in these regions and some are being tracked by satellite. Understanding the migratory cycle of these animals is a great step to start a conservation program.
In this phase, the volunteers will help to photograph and identify animals through softwares, manually collected data and information provided by satellites, in order to try to understand their seasonality and habitat use.
Just download the Port Princess volunteering pack or the Cebu volunteering pack here. Accommodation (with 3 meals included and travel within the context of the project) costs $ 450 / month and some programs can last up to 3 months.
The basic requirement is to to swim well but in some cases freediving may be required. They don't joke around: the depths can reach 10m!
Other options: volunteer with turtles or manta rays. Download the detailed programs here: Apo island turtle project and Manta bowl information pack. For the manta project it's necessary to have advanced PADI certification.
Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines (LAMAVE)
Tejero Jagna, Bohol 6308, CN201425897, Phillipines
3. PHILIPPINE TARSIER FOUNDATION INC. (PHILIPPINES)
Tarsiers are tiny primates, with eyes so huge that in some cases they can take up more space in the cranial cavity than the brain itself. They live mainly in the Philippines, specifically in Bohol, but can also be found in Samar, Leyte and Mindanao.
It's hard to find a cuter animal! They are very fragile and there are some reports of acute stress-induced deaths by photographic flashes and human manipulation.
Unfortunately the situation in the Philippines is obscure when it comes to organizations claiming to be tarsiers' conservation units. There are at least two with the mention "conservation" in the name but could be cataloged as "tourists traps". Avoid visiting the tarsiers at the Tarsier Conservation Area in Bilar (Loboc) in Bohol. I got there by mistake and wish I had known about it before. Some local guides will try to fool you to save on gas and will try to convince you that you are in the right place, or that the organization changed it's name.
In compensation, the Philippine Tarsier Foundation maintains a forest reserve on the island of Bohol that serves as a true sanctuary of Filipino tarsiers and relies on the active participation of local communities. They maintain a research laboratory with an emphasis on the protection and conservation of the species. Just behind the main building of the foundation, there is a sanctuary where the precious animals live. You can contact the foundation directly to enquiry about the volunteer program.
In the case of a spontaneous visit, you only need to show up at the headquarters (without reservation) and pay the equivalent of 60 pesos (or US$ 1.50 at the time of publication of this article) to see them, and maybe take some photos ( NO FLASH please)!
Philippine Tarsier Foundation
Km. 14, Canapnapan, Corella, 6337 Bohol, Philippines
Contact: email@example.com (Joannie Cabill)
4. ENDANGERED PRIMATE RESCUE CENTER (VIETNAM)
In this rescue center you will find 150 primates representing 15 species in total. Seven of these species are maintained only in the EPRC and no other facility in the world. Examples include Cat Langur (critically endangered), Delacours langur and Langk Shanked Douc.
The center animals are kept in semi-wild facilities that prepare them to be released in the wild. There, they study the animal's behavior and you can help repairing the cages, participating in enrichment programs (toys and amusements for the monkeys), guided tour of visitors, gardening, animal registration and even design and marketing of promotional materials.
Download all details here in the Volunter Information document. Cost: US $ 450
An alternative way to help is to visit the center where you can observe gibbons, langurs and lorises.
Endangered Primate Rescue Center (EPRC)
Cuc Phuong National Park, Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam
Phone: +84 2293 848 002
5. ORAGUTAN FOUNDATION INTERNATIONAL (INDONESIA)
The risk of orangutan extinction in Southeast Asia is so hight that it makes me want to publish an entire article only about it.
The OFI (Orangutan Foundation International) located in Kalimantan, Borneo, hosts volunteer teams for 3 weeks, but also accepts volunteers for up to 6 months.
The program consists of maintaining OFI's facilities in Central Kalimantan. OFI also needs specialized long-term volunteers to fill the positions of Field Correspondent and occasionally Enrichment Volunteers. There are also positions to assist in the tasks at the Orangutan Assistance Center and Quarantine in Central Kalimantan.
Volunteers are expected to pay rental fees (approximately $ 300 monthly) in Pasir Panjang and the amount includes three meals a day, electricity and accommodation.
Tebet Barat Dalam, 6A, N 9. Jakarta Selatan, 12810, Indonesia
Toll Free in the US: 800-ORANGUTAN, Ph: +1 (310) 820-4906
General Inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
6. BORNEAN SUN BEAR CONSERVATION CENTER (MALAYSIA)
The sun bear (or Malaysian bear) is the smallest, most arboreal and least-studied bear in the world. It is the second rarest species of bear, right after the giant panda.
Its name comes from the form of the curious golden half-circle that they show in the chest, which vaguely resembles a sunrise. There are no equal marks, each bear has its own!
The normal behavior of these bears ensures the health of the forest: they disperse seeds, maintain termites and help species of tropical trees.
The total population of solar bears has fallen by at least 30% in the last 30 years, contributing to the fact that bears were classified as "vulnerable" in 2007, which means that they are at high risk of extinction.
Volunteers at the BSBCC (Sabah, Malaysia) learn about wildlife conservation with biologists, how to care for sun bears, help feed bears, clean facilities and participate in enrichment for their well-being.
The cost of $ 1075 includes a donation, accommodation expenses, all meals, airport transfers, transportation to the BSBCC, and organization t-shirts.
PPM 219, Elopura, 90000 Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia
Ph: +60 89-534491
And if you are still lost or ensure how or where to volunteer, check this amazing post about volunteering abroad from Born Locals!
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