The Orangutan Health Project

Orangutan Research & Conservation

North Sumatra, Indonesia show on map

You will be contributing to the orangutan research and conservation goals of the project.

By volunteering with the Orangutan Health Project, you will be contributing to the research and conservation goals of the project. It is hoped that these efforts will lead to an improved understanding of how best to promote the long-term survival of the orangutan and its unique ecosystem by improving our understanding of both.

The Orangutan Health Project (OHP) is the first orangutan research project to investigate the special behavioral and ecological conditions necessary to maintain health in wild orangutans. Founded in 1999, OHP set out to evaluate the differences in health between wild and semi-wild orangutan populations. Today, OHP remains the only on-going and long-term orangutan health research project conducted in the world at this time. This is partly due to the complexity of self-medicating behaviors in orangutans and the astonishing biodiversity of the rainforests they inhabit, especially when geographical and seasonal variations are taken into consideration.

The primary focus of OHP’s research is to investigate and understand how wild orangutans combat parasitic infection. Understanding the preventative and curative methods utilised by wild orangutans will allow rehabilitation facilities to implement this knowledge into programs for reintroduction candidates. This will increase the likelihood of survival for reintroduced orangutans, and decrease the risk of any subsequent adverse effects on the health of surrounding wild populations.

The project is proud to be able to provide important work for the local community and employs only local guides for trekking in the forest.

In addition, volunteers may also be given presentations on wildlife research and conservation, parasite finding in orangutans and field parasite diagnostic methodology. The most important fact - there will be absolutely NO physical contact with the orangutans. If you are hoping to come so that you can cuddle one of these amazing creatures, then this is not for you. This rule will be strictly enforced if necessary. We also cannot guarantee encounters with orangutans – our research focuses on wild orangutans and much of our work therefore takes place in areas where the orangutans themselves can be quite elusive, often staying high up in the canopy or travelling to other areas where more fruit is in season. This is the reality of wildlife fieldwork. However, should you be lucky enough to catch even a short glimpse of one of these graceful creatures in its natural habitat, the experience will certainly stay with you forever.

Typical day


Day 1: Arrive in Medan, travel to project, orientation to location, rest and recuperate.

Day 2: Orientation to project and tasks. Start work in the office.

Day 3: Visit the orangutan feeding platform and practice trek in the forest. Second visit to feeding or free-time in Bukit Lawang (swimming/tubing, explore nearby sites, etc.)

Day 4: Volunteer tasks at base (see below).

Days 5-10: Fieldwork/trekking with overnight stays in the forest carrying 
out tasks necessary to the project's research (see below). Three meals per day and water are provided.
Alternatively, several one-day treks in the jungle to carry out tasks necessary to the project's research (no overnight camping). This is also when only one volunteer is scheduled for a given month.

Day 11: Field work data processing.

Day 12: Free day. (Re-visit feeding platform/swimming/tubing/opportunity for cultural outings.) Volunteer BBQ.

Day 13: Travel to Medan (AM) for afternoon flights.

IMPORTANT: The above is only an example of a possible schedule of activities. It is always subject to change based on the needs of the project. Staying overnight in the forest is not guaranteed and will be based on considerations such as weather, staff availability, number of volunteers, and most importantly, physical fitness of the volunteers.

Possible research tasks at base:

  • Entering behavioural data collected by Field Assistants
  • Organizing samples of orangutan foodstuffs and preparing for our herbarium
  • Organizing faecal samples collected by Field Assistants
  • Preparing equipment for Field Assistants to go to the forest
  • Preparing behavioural data sheets
  • Preparing sample bottles for Field Assistants
  • Shopping for project supplies in town or at the local market
  • Brainstorming ideas to help the project’s promotion
  • Keeping temperature, weather and humidity data records updated
  • Cleaning project office and accommodation

Possible research tasks in the forest:

  • Locating areas with a significant wild orangutan population
  • Finding and following orangutans to collect behavioural data and faecal and plant samples
  • Nest counting to provide seasonally varying estimates of the orangutan population
  • Fruit trail transects to record the range of foodstuffs available to orangutans in an area

Volunteers on every team will get proper instruction and information about the following matters:

  • The project and your role/responsibilities within it
  • Safe behaviour in tropical countries, potential health risks and precautions
  • Proper sample collecting techniques and data entry protocols
  • Advice about the best clothing and equipment for work in the forest
  • Local flora and fauna and especially about the orangutans
  • Indonesian culture, basic language, and appropriate behaviour in Sumatra

Details on Arrival

As you require a 60-day tourist visa to enter Indonesia and will be with the project for 13 days of this, you have an excellent opportunity to explore more of this incredibly diverse country. 

We run one team per month for 13 days starting on the first Monday (with holiday exception) of every month. The teams consist of a minimum of one team members and a maximum of eight.

 Overnight trekking is only possible with 2+ volunteers.

Free-time activities

The program schedule includes some free time to enjoy the nature and cultures of Sumatra.

We are a short bus ride away from a fast running river where swimming, rafting, and tubing are available. There are a number of other rivers, waterfalls, hot springs, and a bat cave to be discovered around the Bukit Lawang area. White water rafting or kayaking can be arranged in town.

Cooking lessons are available in Bukit Lawang, including a trip to the local market to buy ingredients. Many places in Bukit Lawang also offer excellent massages. Wood carving lessons are available.

It is also possible to organize a day trip with some OHP affiliated guides to see a local school, visit an oil palm plantation, try out traditional bamboo rafting, and explore the area on motorbikes.

Day trips to Tangkahan to visit ranger elephants is possible. 

Water Sports

Program Requirements

In order to join the program you need to be at least 18 years old on the program start date. There might be exemptions if you can provide the permission of your legal guardian(s) or if your are accompanied by your parents.
Language Skills
You need to speak English (basic level)
Health Declaration
Required Documents
Medical form
Nationality Restrictions
No restrictions. Helping hands from all over the world are welcome.
Other Skills
Our volunteers are a diverse bunch, coming from around the world from different backgrounds, age groups, and levels of related experience. Some are considering futures in conservation or research, some are specifically interested in Indonesia or orangutans, and others are just looking for a different kind of travel experience. Potential volunteers should: have a good sense of humor, enthusiasm, patience, general good fitness, enjoy a challenge & are willing to adapt to a different way of life.
Time Commitment
Your helping hand will be required on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 09:00 - 16:00

Suitable for


Included Services

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Our services are free of charge!
All program fees are charged directly by The Orangutan Health Project.

Before your journey

Profound consulting and ongoing support (free)
The Orangutan Health Project (your host organization) provides consulting and is keen to answer all your questions. Once you reserved your spot, you will receive the contact details of your volunteer project.
Online preparation course (optional, from $49)
Prepare yourself and become a confident and well informed traveler. Global Travel Academy takes you on a journey before you leave home, helping you to become one of the world's greatest travelers. Our trusted partner for online learning offers courses in "International Volunteering", "Travel Health & Safety" and "Travel Safety Abroad".

On-site services

Services by The Orangutan Health Project

A student discount is available with proof of current student enrollment. Please contact us for more details.

100% of the money received by OHP is used to support the on-going research and administration of the project. This includes the costs of the research stations, transport, park permits, local staff and guides, electricity, laboratory supplies & maintenance, and other project expenses. It also includes your food, water and accommodation.

Your participation fee is used to cover all the day-to-day expenses of running the project, including food and accommodation for volunteers and staff, operation of the project base, lab equipment, supplies and analysis work, and the funds necessary to transport faecal, plant, and soil samples abroad for important analysis work. We also pay the full cost of national park permits, at tourist rates. Any ‘leftovers’ are invested in the future expansion of the project, including the building of an ambitious new research station in an area of forest previously unstudied. This area is home to a significant population of wild orangutans and the new station will go a long way to protecting their habitat while simultaneously providing a site for conservation education, summer schools and an expansion of research.

Airport pickup is included in the fees.

Airport Pickup at Kuala Namu International Airport

We advise you not to make reservations before you have been officially accepted to the program. You will need to fly into Kuala Namu Airport in Medan. International flights normally arrive via Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, or Jakarta.

Because the entire volunteer team will travel together to the project base, it is important that you schedule your flight for a morning arrival—preferably 9am or earlier—on the first day of the program schedule. If morning flights are not available, we ask that you arrive in Medan the day before the start of the program.

Alternatively some volunteers choose to arrive in Medan a few days before the start of the project—if this is the case, we will arrange pickup from your hotel the morning of the first day. If you do opt for an early arrival, it will be your responsibility to book and pay for airport transfers to and from your hotel, hotel accommodation and meals before the start of the program.

Delayed flights/late arrivals
In the event your flight is delayed or you arrive late, special travel arrangements may need to be made. Depending on the length of delay, it may be necessary to spend a night in Medan and to be picked up the next day by project staff. We will email specific instructions about what to do in this situation prior to your departure.

Transport to project
A project staff member will meet you at the airport or your hotel, and the entire team will travel together to the project site—approximately 80km (3 hours) from Medan.

You will be provided with transport to Medan on the morning of the final day of the program (this is always a Saturday). This will get you to the airport in time for afternoon flights on Saturday (please ensure departure flights are booked for the afternoon or evening (12pm or later) to allow sufficient travel time from our base to the airport). There is a departure tax of IDR 200,000 which you will need to pay at the airport when flying out of Medan.If you have a morning flight the day after the program ends, we can arrange to have you dropped off at a hotel (all costs beyond the end of the program are the volunteers responsibility).

Alternatively, some volunteers choose to spend some time in Medan or to travel around North Sumatra’s many beautiful destinations (including beaches, volcanoes, and lots of forests) after the end of the program, making use of the approximately 14 days remaining on their visas.


Project accommodations, amongst the rice-fields of Timbang Lawan are basic with limited amenities and no running water.

Water for bathing and washing clothes is drawn from our well, though weather permitting (as it normally is) we also collect rainwater for these purposes. Like almost all of Indonesia, we purchase bottled drinking water in large drums, which we also use for cooking.

There are two small bathrooms, one with a squat-style toilet, and one with a western style- sitting toilet. Both are non-automated, meaning water must be poured down with a scoop after each use to flush. Neither toilet accepts toilet paper, if you choose to use toilet paper you will need to dispose of it in the bin provided. More instruction is given during orientation presentations.

There are no showers, and bathing is done either in a river (while in the jungle) or with a supply of cold water that you scoop over yourself, both of which are extremely enjoyable after a hot day of work or trekking.

While staying at our base, you will probably share a small bamboo room with another volunteer, depending on the number of volunteers in your team. Privacy may be in short supply. Each volunteer is given a mattress and a mosquito net.

We do have electricity, though we experience power cuts known as “mati lampu”—meaning “dead lights”—on a near daily basis. We also have WiFi internet available for volunteers.

There are a variety of insects and small animals around for you to get acquainted with: cats, geckos, mice, cockroaches, leeches, chickens (be prepared for a chorus of roosters very early every morning), spiders, ants and frogs. Mosquitoes are around at night, but not usually in large numbers (they are much worse in the secondary forests).

Bedroom (Double) Camping
Food & Beverages

We eat three times per day with all meals prepared by our project cook or by project staff. The food will always be Indonesian cuisine consisting mainly of rice, noodles, vegetables, tofu, tempeh and fruit. It is very different from western food but also very tasty, and is similar to much Southeast Asian fare in general.While Indonesian food is traditionally extremely spicy, utilising varying amounts of chilli(but rarely without), our meals are usually less hot and we do our best to accommodate those with lower spice tolerances.

Meat is served only on special occasions, and vegetarians can easily be catered for. Vegans may struggle as locals often do not understand the concept and may not know what exactly is in the food.

While we try to accommodate specific dietary needs, we only have access to food available locally. Again, if you have a very precise dietary regimen, please ensure that you bring any necessary food items along.

Bottled drinking water is provided by the project at all times, but alcohol and soft drinks are not, and can be purchased at the volunteers own expense. These can be found at local shops just around the corner from our project base.

Internet Access
Good access at the project site
What's NOT included?
Visa, flights, travel insurance or vaccinations are NOT included in the program fees.
Flight Tickets
The nearest airport is Kuala Namu International Airport (KNO) in Kuala Namu. We assist you to find cheap flights to Indonesia.
Travel Insurance
Going abroad is an adventure and it is always best to be prepared. Sudden illness or injury, cancellation or theft - a travel insurance for Indonesia provides security and is a plus to have.
If you are intending to volunteer in Indonesia you should seek medical advice before starting your social journey. Check your required vaccinations for Indonesia.
Costs (Prices in USD)
2 weeks (min. stay)
2 weeks (max. stay)
Average fees

You can volunteer at the project site in North Sumatra/Indonesia between 2 weeks and 2 weeks. Please note that the above shown program fees are estimated and subject to exchange rate fluctuations. The Orangutan Health Project will let you know about the final price during your application process.
Crowdfunding Service
Generally, volunteering abroad involves certain costs. In case you need financial support, we will assist you to fundraise your volunteer program in Indonesia.
Deposit (15%)
The deposit is simply to reserve your volunteer placement. Payments are handled by PayPal, our trusted global payment provider. If you don't have a PayPal account, you can also pay using a credit card.
Final Payment (85%)
Your final payment will be agreed with {} during the application process. Common solutions are either via bank transfer or a cash payment at the project site.
  Asia South-Eastern Asia Indonesia  North Sumatra, Timbang Lawan

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