Earth Expeditions
Orangutan gazes into forest
Tarsier mother and offspring cling to stem
Male proboscis monkey on branch
Pig-tailed macaque with penetrating stare
Long-tailed macaque in tree
Juvenile Asian elephant
Orangutan mother and infant swing through trees

Course Overview

Study Borneo’s primate denizens, including the orangutan. Develop new ways to engage communities worldwide in primate conservation.

Nestled in the Malay Archipelago, tropical Borneo has captured the imaginations of explorers and naturalists for centuries. Borneo is the third largest island in the world and home to remarkable cultural and ecological diversity. Borneo’s primate community is exceptionally rich—the Earth Expeditions course site along the Kinabatangan River in Sabah (East Malaysia) is home to ten primate species, including proboscis monkeys, which occur only in Borneo, two species of leaf monkey, two species of macaque, gibbons, as well as the large-eyed, nocturnal tarsier and slow loris. Of greatest conservation concern is the orangutan, which occurs naturally on only two islands in the world, Borneo and Sumatra, and is under increasingly severe pressure, primarily from habitat loss. Researchers have projected that the orangutan, the only great ape in Asia, may completely vanish from the wild within two decades.

Partnered with the Woodland Park Zoo, we will join researchers from the NGO Hutan and the Danau Girang Field Centre, and villagers of the Kinabatangan region who are responsible for model community-based efforts to preserve orangutans, Bornean pygmy elephants, and other species. In addition to becoming familiar with primatological field methods and their applications, students in the course will work with local groups and develop new ways to engage communities worldwide in saving orangutans and other wildlife. Possible field studies include: social behavior of primates, habitat selection, census methods, impact of forest fragmentation and reforestation, and the use of social networks in great-ape conservation campaigns.

Prior to and following the field experience in Borneo, students will complete coursework via the Dragonfly Workshops' Web-Based Learning Community as they apply experiences to their home institutions.

Course Themes

  • Primate conservation
  • Introduction to the ecology of Southeast Asian rainforests
  • Inquiry-driven learning
  • Community-based conservation and participatory education
  • Public engagement in science

A typical Earth Expeditions day in Borneo is likely to include:

  • Study at field conservation sites
  • Lectures
  • Student-led discussions of key course topics
  • Engagement with local communities
  • Open inquiries
  • Journal writing


Straddling the Equator, the island of Borneo is divided between Malaysia and the Sultanate of Brunei in the north, and Indonesia in the south. Borneo’s unique plants and animals helped inspire the great 19th century naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace to formulate his theories on natural selection, concurrent with, but independent of, Darwin’s. Today, Borneo remains remarkably varied with more than 30 ethnic subgroups, some of the most species rich coral reefs on Earth, and a host of notable species such as Storm’s storks and flying frogs. Borneo is also under serious threat from a number of human activities including logging, mining, and large-scale rubber and palm oil plantations.

One of the principal reasons which induced me to come here was, that it is the country of those most strange and interesting animals, the orang-utans, or "mias" of the Dyaks.

- Alfred Russell Wallace, 1855

Planned Sites in Borneo

Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary

The Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary consists of approximately 27,000 hectares of fragmented forest along the banks of the mighty Kinabatangan River. We will work with the Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project (KOCP), founded in 1998 by Drs. Marc Ancrenaz and Isabelle Lackman of Hutan, a French non-governmental organization, in collaboration with the Sabah Wildlife Department. KOPC is run by trained staff from the nearby village of Sukau and has been the source of significant data regarding the ecology and behavior of wild orangutans in secondary forest habitats. KOCP seeks to restore harmonious relationships between people and the orangutan and supports local socio-economic development compatible with habitat and wildlife conservation.

Danau Girang Field Centre

Located in the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, this modern research facility, directed by Dr. Benoit Goossens and supported by Cardiff University and the Sabah Wildlife Department, is surrounded by a mixture of lowland dipterocarp forest types, ranging from primary forest to disturbed secondary forest, in a matrix landscape that includes significant human impact including villages, small-scale agriculture, and oil palm plantations. It is thus an ideal location to study wildlife and the effects of anthropogenic habitat alteration on biodiversity.

See Earth Expeditions students featured in Danau Girang's July newsletter The Jungle Times!

(Course locations are subject to change.)

Dragonfly Workshops Web-Based Learning Community

Upon acceptance into the program, students will join instructors and classmates in Dragonfly Workshops' collaborative Web community to complete pre-trip assignments. After returning home, students will continue to work in their Web-based community through early December to develop projects initiated in the field, discuss assignments, and exchange ideas. All students should expect to spend two to three hours a week contributing to their Web-Based Learning Community from their home or school computer. Navigating the Web platform is easy--it's designed for people with no prior computer experience. To learn more about this unique Web experience, visit

More Information

For more information on the admissions process, physical requirements, and more, please visit Admissions and/or FAQs.

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Course Details

Notes from the Field

Earth Expeditions, Borneo

Boating to an orangutan field site, Kinabatangan River, Borneo

Lindsey Stegh

Middle-School Science Teacher from Glendale, Arizona

"My experiences with Project Dragonfly have cultivated a passion for inquiry-based, outdoor learning that I never knew I had. Considering the courses I have participated in, the experiences I have shared, the places I have traveled, and the lessons I have learned... I am fully prepared and excited to venture into a new chapter in my career - leading learners through experiences in nature's classroom outdoors."

Program Costs