Zoos, Penang and Locals.
After completing my A-levels in the UK and working for 6 months to fund my trip, I began a gap year that would last 5 months and cover 7 countries. Towards the end of this adventure I flew to Kuala Lumpa to spend 4 weeks on a conservation project, at first in a Zoo that was part of a breeding program aimed at saving the orang-utan, and then in the jungles of Borneo promoting eco-tourism and working to conserve the orang-utan’s natural environment.
After meeting with the group in Kula Lumpur we split in half with some of the group going to a Kula Lumpan zoo and my half traveling north to a town called Taiping. The long journey was made enjoyable but the beautiful scenery as we passed hillsides, fields and cliffs.
Once we arrived in Taiping we were shown into our accommodation before making the short walk across the local park. As we reached the zoo we were greeted by Wasabi (the orang-utan we would be looking after) reaching out of the cage for us to hold her hand and say hello. Her hands were so human and holding her hand and looking into her deep thoughtful eyes were a daily treat throughout our project. We were then shown around the primates section visiting the monkeys, gibbons and a lemur alongside some other animals kept in the section.
On the second day we started out tasks, cleaning the cages, preparing food for the animals before spending ‘enrichment’ time with Wasabi. Enrichment simply mean entering the cage and playing with her, giving her toys to play with, hiding food that she had to rummage for and giving her the stimulation she misses while living in captivity.
For lunch and most meals we would venture into Taiping itself. We were clearly a novelty and there were often no other westerners in the town. All the people were extremely friendly and would often ask one of the girls in our group to take their picture with her. I would go to the local market to eat lunch with the other man on the trip but the girls would stick to the more westernised restaurant. The food we tried was very nice and washed down particularly well with a Tiger beer.
Towards the end of our first week we were due to have 2 three-year-old orang-utans delivered that were due to join the breeding programme. Preparing their cage meant climbing up into the very hot cage to attach swings and a bed to their cage. After a few hours of hard work the cage was ready and the young orang-utans were let into their new home. The young orang-utan found a fun new game was to wee on the girls through the cage, he never did it to me or the other guy in our group.
We were given two days off to visit Penang. We had a very good time, partying and eating from their world famous hawker stalls. The journey back was very long after our previous night of fun coupled with the questionable ‘bottled’ water we bought from a stall at the bus station.
During our last week at the zoo we continued to visit the local town, We also got to see more of the zoo and go behind the scenes to feed and see other animals.
We also took a trip to a nearby orang-utan sanctuary where orang-utans are cared for and trained for future release into the wild.
At the end of the week we split from the half of the volunteers that were due to spend another two weeks at the zoo as we were due to send 2 weeks in Borneo with just over a week of that spent with an Iban Tribe, planting trees and helping to promote conservation with the tribe.
To read the second half of this Malaysian Adventure check back next week.
Rob Ayres is a Marketing Associate at World of Expats. Born into a well-travelled expat family and growing up in the UK and US, he spent his Gap Year in Asia before returning the UK to study at Bath University.