Hello from the other side,
Apologise for the ghosting, there’s been a serious dry spell on this blog recently but all for good reason! My summer has been chock-a-block from the get go. It went a little like this:
Iceland (March)->revision->exams->Borneo->visa stress->China, and soon to be Canada road trip with dad, and then back to China for my 10-month placement. And since getting back from China, I’ve been squeezing in trying to see everyone before I leave for a year, because let’s not lie to ourselves, I’ll probably do some travelling straight after my placement is up (Sorry mum and dad!).
This is just a short insight into the truths I learnt during my trip to Borneo, Malaysia.
I won this Orangutan and tribes tour trip after entering a competition with The Great Projects, so whilst I was excited, I hadn’t really thought all that much about it, nor had many expectations. But boy did it exceed them! It was a truly culturally immersive experience. But I’ll save the highlights for a separate piece. One thing that I do seriously value is that I got to learn about the conservation efforts that go towards helping Bornean orangutans, and the struggles they face. I helped make enrichment which was amazing and so rewarding to watch them enjoy themselves.
I did not get any hands on experience with the orangs, and I am proud of this. Sure it might be a once in a lifetime experience or a great photo op, but did you know that because we are so genetically similar, orangs can catch our diseases. Something as small as the common cold or the cold sore virus (which 90% of us have been exposed to) can kill a baby orang. Yes, kill. To the point where Sepilok, a hands-on orangutan place in Borneo (not part of the Great Projects) which allows the volunteers to hold the baby orangs actually has a 50% mortality rate. So do your research, hands-on is not best. And what’s even sadder is these babies have been through so much trauma already. Did you know that to get hold of the baby the mother must be shot dead? I understand that these places, like Sepilok advertise as “conservation” and sure, they’re rescuing babies from the blood ridden hands of poachers but being its “mother” for a couple weeks is actually very scarring to the baby orang. Just think, they’ve already had their mother shot dead in front of them, just as they start to form a bond with this caring parental figure, they then leave and another takes its place. That’s why in Matang Wildlife Centre, to become an orang babysitter, you must be a Malaysian national and fully commit to your role, because you are in effect adopting an abused child that above all else demands stability and compassion.
One of the youngsters at Matang Wildlife Centre where I volunteered, called Simanggang came in as a baby after his mother had been shot and he had to witness her slowly bleed out as he still clung to her limp body. Such intelligent animals would never forget that moment. What’s worse is that because he was clinging to her as she was shot, as most orang babies will, he came in with bullet shrapnel and pieces of his mother’s bone embedded in him, and still to this day has it as it was too dangerous to operate.
This trip was truly incredible and eye opening. I learnt so much, and I don’t want to rant but please please please, if you care about the animals, do your research. Go to and support establishments that don’t support cruelty to animals. Something as simple as riding an elephant. Just think, why would an animal so big and intelligent, and powerful allow someone as small and insignificant as a human pester and poke it to ride it and allow tourist to ride them? Well here’s a truth you may not know. The elephants are put through something called ‘Phajaan’, which translates to breaking their spirit. It is a barbaric process that lasts weeks, were the elephant will be tied up by the limbs, stretched out in a position where it can neither stand nor sit; stuck in this limbo, it is then sentenced to continuous torture. It will be screamed at and hit with metal instruments and slashed with bull hooks until it no longer has any hope of ever thinking it has more power and the right to its own freedom than what little it is given. So again, I plead you, say no to riding an elephant.
The same can be said for using animals as props, they are not just simply plucked from the wild. They must be taken whilst young, because who likes grown animals anyway, right? And who can train a fully grown animal when it’s in its prime, best to get them when they’re young and malleable, right? And so in order to fuel the hungry tourism business of animal props, they’re parents and family groups will be shot dead, branding the massacre of its family into that baby’s mind forever, only to be tortured some more, likely drugged in order to ‘behave’ for the photos, or even have their teeth pulled with no pain medication and by some unlicensed individual who has no idea what they are doing. So again, say no to photos with wild animals, think twice about the actions that got them to where they are and if you’re willing to support that for a simple selfie.
Choose National parks, the animals freedom and conservation efforts over drugged and scarred babies, beaten and broken into a life no one deserves.
Written by Raphaella Ruggiero
Edited by Amy Ruggiero