Paying Tourists Participate in Harmful Orangutan “Rehabilitation” Program


It has been brought to our attention by our good friends at Friends of the Orangutans (FOTO) Malaysia that each month, British company Travellers Worldwide sends up to 12 unqualified, paying individuals to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC) to take part in the “rehabilitation” of rescued or recovering orangutans.

A tourist poses with a young orangutan. Image Via FOTO Malaysia.

While at first glance, or to the untrained eye, this program may appear to have the best of intentions, FOTO Malaysia have been researching this issue deeply for a long time and have found that the program has something of a dark underbelly. 

There are a wide variety of reasons why the program could be described as unethical or unsustainable, but the main takeaway point is this: allowing unskilled volunteers to have contact with orangutans is dangerous for both animals and humans and can have serious negative impacts for orangutans under rehabilitation.

Without their mothers, orphaned orangutans need familiarity and trust, but should not learn to trust humans in general. They should bond only with a minimal number of qualified caregivers. It is irresponsible to allow an ever-changing group of volunteers to work hands-on with rehabilitating orangutans, because this risks the orangutans becoming habituated to humans, putting their futures in peril.

Orangutans at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre are in danger of becoming habituated to humans, threatening their future survival.

In response to this, our coalition has produced an appeal letter, signed by 198 expert animal welfare organizations from all over the world. In it, we ask Travellers WorldWide to cease their program for the benefit of orangutans. You can read our letter in full here.

Featured image: tourists at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre crowd near an orangutan. Image via FOTO Malaysia.

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The Asia For Animals (AfA) Coalition is composed of 16 well-known and respected animal welfare organisations that have a shared focus on improving the welfare of animals in Asia. We are committed to providing support to organisations to help with their campaigns to tackle some of the most pressing animal welfare concerns in the region. Click to see author's profile.


  1. Ronald K. Asuncion on

    Guys, come on. If you’re gonna do a write-up and include photos, at least make the effort to check whether the photos are true. You featured image was actually taken at a nearby resort, Sepilok Nature Resort. The people around the Orang Utan happen to be guests at the resort. The Orang Utan made it’s way there on it’s own.

    About the Volunteer Program, it has been well-managed by Sepilok for the last 18 years, providing extra help.

    Very irresponsible, your organization & FOTO.

    • Thanks for clearing this up, Ronald. I was concerned when I read the article as it seemed FOTO Malaysia had been monitoring the activities at “Sepilok” for a long time.

      I guess they were not aware that Sepilok Nature Resort, a hotel, is not the same thing as Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation center.

      • Ronald K. Asuncion on

        If they have been monitoring for a while, they would already know, sooner or later, what’s around the Rehab Centre.

  2. With so much of their forest habitat falling to make way for oil palm plantations, I’m more than a little bit surprised that this is the area of greatest concern for this species.

    • Ronald K. Asuncion on

      Oil Palm plantations only take up 0.4% of the world’s total land areas used for agriculture and livestock. You wanna act all concerned about the impacts of agriculture to the environment, then start with the one that cause so much more damage. Like soy. Go preach to those in the livestock sector as well.

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