Paper Edition | Page: 6
JP/Tan Hee Hui
Doing some good things during a holiday is possible without having to compromise the fun factor.
Socially conscious tourism is not a recent phenomenon. Filled with many opportunities, altruistic-based travel experiences are popular among many travelers from around the world.
For a fee, they partake in activities that benefit the local environment, culture and community while enjoying spectacular sights and quality downtime, besides gaining a wider perspective of the world.
Also known as “volunteer tourism”, you don’t have to go far to enjoy this unique form of travel.
It can be found locally or in neighboring countries like Malaysia, where we’ve checked out several hotspots and performed a variety of tasks, resulting in highly memorable getaway experiences.
A conservation staff sorts turtle eggs at the hatchery on Talang-Talang Besar Island. JP/Tan Hee HuiSaving turtles at Talang-Satang National Park (Sarawak)
A half-hour boat ride from the town of Sematan (110 kilometers west of Kuching), Talang-Satang National Park consists of islands, such as Talang-Talang Besar and neighboring Talang-Talang Kecil. It has white beaches and is surrounded by clear, emerald-blue water.
Each week, a group of six people is allowed to visit the thickly forested and pristine Talang-Talang Besar and Kecil islands and their surrounding seas, which are off-limits to the public.
Next to a stunning beach on Talang-Talang Besar Island is the Turtle Conservation Station, where comfortable accommodation for visitors is available, complete with a kitchen, dining area and two well-maintained portable toilets located near the station.
You must obtain a special permit from the Sarawak Forestry Department (SFD) to visit the islands, where turtle landings, sometimes more than 20 at any one time, are common in the evenings.
During the peak nesting season – from May to September – you’ll come across many Green, Hawksbill and Olive Ridley turtles. The Leatherback, however, has not been seen since 2000.
To raise awareness and protect the turtles, the SFD has introduced conservation programs, such as the Sea Turtle Adoption program.
Hands-on tasks include managing the turtles’ egg production, hatchling management, nesting, tagging and data recording – all of which are led by the national park’s warden, Tonny Ganyai, and his team members.
Before partaking in the activities, you’ll be required to attend a briefing that highlights issues such as various threats to the turtle population, like fishing trawlers, and the methods involved in protecting the marine species, such as some 2,500 reef balls that have been planted around the Talang-Satang National Park.
You’ll also be assigned to patrol the beach on Talang-Talang Besar Island to mark the creatures’ nesting sites with a long stick after they leave, unearth the soft, ping pong-ball-sized eggs from the buried nests and place them in buckets to be transported to the hatchery where the eggs are buried in 70-centimeter holes, which you’ll be required to dig. The holes are also numbered and recorded.
For more information, call 082-610 088 (Sarawak Forestry Department), email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit sarawakforestry.com
Working with orangutans at the Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary (Sabah)
Established in 1964, the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center – occupying the lush 4,300-hectare Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve in Sandakan – is renowned for rehabilitating orphaned baby orangutans.
Managed by Sabah’s Wildlife Department, the center attracts numerous tourists and professional researchers alike, allowing them to watch the orangutans up close in their natural habitat.
Visitors are restricted to the sanctuary’s boardwalk, which leads to a viewing gallery, offering a vantage point to view the feeding platform where the rangers feed the orangutans with milk and bananas twice a day.
Long-tailed macaques can also be seen during the feeding period, which amuses many visitors although not so much the orangutans.
Although the sanctuary’s main task is to rehabilitate orangutans, it sometimes offers public education programs on conservation, research and assistance for other endangered species, such as the rhinoceros.
Some orangutans are known to be very familiar with people; however, you’re not encouraged to touch them, despite their shy and gentle characters.
The more mischievous ones may even try to grab your camera or hat, but it’s not a good idea to try to retrieve your “stolen” item(s) by wrestling one of the 200-pound beasts. For a fee, you can serve as a volunteer at the sanctuary and perform tasks on a rotation basis. It must be stressed, though, that a high level of fitness is required
You also need to be open-minded and malleable when working with various groups of volunteers from the sanctuary’s different departments.
Sometimes, you’ll be monitored by the center’s staff but for some of the tasks, you’ll be expected to carry them out independently.
Among the highlights are learning to manage juvenile orangutans at the Outdoor Nursery and baby orangutans at the indoor nursery-cum-clinic.
You’ll also participate in a field survey on the orangutan population and other small mammals found at the Sepilok Reserve; and take care of rescued Borneo Sun Bears.
For more information, log on to sabah.gov.my/jhl/
Saving marine life at Pom Pom Island (Sabah)
The Sabah-based Tropical Research and Conservation Center (TRACC) strives to provide “a voice on behalf of sharks, turtles, coral reefs, whales, dolphins and the marine environment”, according to the NGO’s official website, adding, “Educating the public about the ocean is an important part of our advocacy.”
TRACC has conducted the Sabah Shark Survey, developed action plans to protect sharks, introduced a project to protect the highly endangered small-river sharks and a runs a volunteer diving program, which includes activities such as soft and hard coral planting.
Head to the picturesque Pom Pom Island (a one-hour boat ride from Semporna, Sabah) and enjoy TRACC’s highly adventurous and fun-filled volunteering program.
You must possess top-notch swimming skills to partake in conservation activities in the clear emerald waters, whose biodiversity is being damaged by indiscriminate blast fishing.
Thankfully, TRACC’s endeavors have managed to protect several marine species, such as coral reefs, turtles and sharks.
The NGO’s volunteer dive program also offers you a chance to learn, or refine, your diving skills, with lessons led by highly experienced, PADI-certified diving and snorkeling instructors.
Volunteers, together with TRACC staff, release and monitor fish in the area in the hope of increasing their numbers, using fish aggregating devices such as recycled water bottles, netlon, canvas and treated concrete structures.
Three diving sessions take place every day, while night-diving sessions are also held regularly.
At some of the diving sites, you’ll easily spot gray reef sharks, eagle rays and manta rays. The awe-inspiring whale sharks, meanwhile, are prevalent from April to June.
For more information, email email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://tracc-borneo.org
Managing strays at LASSie (Langkawi)
The Langkawi Animal Shelter and Sanctuary’s (LASSie) aim is to take in, rehabilitate and care for neglected, abused and needy animals.
The non-profit organization, which also manages the charitable Langkawi Island Animal Clinic that conducts
sterilization programs to reduce the number of stray cats and dogs, is helmed by volunteers.
With its two professional in-house vets, the clinic, however, is constantly on the look out for veterinary students or qualified vets who want to serve as volunteers.
Many professional vets and regular folk (including tourists) have dedicated their time during their stays in Langkawi, serving as volunteers for the LASSie clinic and shelter, which primarily houses dogs due to the ongoing difficulty of finding new homes for them in Langkawi.
You can also opt to sponsor one or several of these loveable animals, to enable them to receive some extra love and attention!
LASSie also collaborates with designers and artists to offer a range of products that are available at its retail stores in Penang and Langkawi, with all proceeds channeled to other local shelters and SPCAs.
For more information, visit langkawilassie.org.my