Community Engagement Project

An integral element of conservation and research abroad is the willingness to involve local communities when attempting to meet your objectives. We have carefully designed our approach to engender a sense of ownership over local nature and to highlight the environmental, economic and cultural benefits of living in such close proximity with orangutans.

Engaging with the local communities which live close to the Tabin Wildlife Reserve where we work is a really important part of conducting research in a foreign country. One of the biggest problems that orangutans are facing in the wild is people’s lack of awareness of just how special they are and what they need from people in order to survive and for their habitats to be protected.

Sometimes people may simply not know that what they’re doing could actually be endangering the future survival of orangutans and all the other species that live alongside them in Borneo. These human activities could be hunting, cutting down trees, and even something as small as leaving litter in the forest or the sea.  Unfortunately, everything that we humans do has such a big impact on all of the other world’s species. So next time you leave that light on or take the plastic bags on offer at the supermarket, think to yourself if it is really necessary or perhaps just a bit of a luxury...

Because of all this, my team and I have been working in Tabin to develop environmental education programmes for local school children here in Sabah. We first began this work in 2012 and since then we’ve had the chance to present in front of thousands of children to get our message across. We love visiting the schools because the kids always have so much energy and enthusiasm for learning about orangutans. We deliver tailored environmental education programmes for children between 6 and 18 years old.  I suppose our job is made pretty easy by the fact that orangutans tell their own story by just be being so charming and full of character!

Apart from showing them lots of orangutan photos and videos, we also need to get serious by telling them about how the orangutans are losing so much of their habitat and how humans are exploiting them in other ways too, such as hunting and keeping them as pets. We’re hoping to really inspire these youngsters to create the next generation of wildlife guardians for the future! Some of the questions we get from the children are hilarious too! On our last visit to a school in Kota Belud, one little boy asked us “do orangutans get married?!”

We also want to develop local capacity & enhance the perceived value of a career in wildlife conservation.  We do this by building the confidence in our local team of researchers to more effectively communicate with various audiences when asked about our research. Their emerging status as regional guardians of wildlife will grow further through greater involvement with the project manager in disseminating our knowledge at international workshops.

We’re looking to expand our current programme throughout the whole of Sabah to include all the major towns in the region. We aim to continue ongoing field training to members of local communities in tree species identification, phenology, orangutan tracking and location methods and computer skills training relevant for processing, analysing and presenting our data. This training method allows OAUK to source local staff members. Moving forward we aim to see our staff playing a greater role in contributing to international conferences, while also liaising directly with relevant local government departments. The only way to do this is through exposure.


The Community Engagement Project is one of the many projects we run to support orangutan conservation.  If you would like to support this and other projects that we run, you can donate to the charity by visting our donation page