5 May 2020

We’ve been working with HUTAN Education Awareness Programme (HEAP) for over a decade, helping to develop a strategic plan for their learning programmes alongside HEAP coordinator, Bam Abulani. 

HEAP work with schools across the Sabah region of Malaysian Borneo, educating young people about the importance of the rainforest and the wildlife within it. Although these young people live very close to the forests, education is vital to helping them learn more about its value and ensuring positive attitudes to its conservation. Our work with HEAP is therefore a crucial part of our work preventing the extinction of species like orangutans.

Two of our Conservation Education and Engagement staff, Jo and Bella, got the opportunity to visit the HEAP team in Borneo to learn more about their educational outreach programme and to identify ways that Chester Zoo could help them develop it further.


Bella – Assistant Team Manager for Zoo Rangers

We went out to Borneo to observe and work alongside our partners HUTAN and their education team. It was great to see how they had been getting along with the strategic plan written in 2017 and see which areas they needed further support with.

One of these areas was their work with younger children and the interactivity they use in their sessions.  As something that we’re very passionate about ourselves at the zoo, it was really interesting to observe their sessions and get involved in multiple areas of their delivery, using our expertise to help run workshops and to assist with skills and resources.

Knowing we were going to be working on active delivery and with young people, we had brought a game that we use here at the zoo that their team would be able to use in the schools they work with. This consisted of a large board game style mat and board pieces that could be used to tackle topics such as deforestation, wildlife corridors, reforestation and rainforest levels. After a run through at a team meeting, the mat was then used in a school where it was well received by the students and the staff. I really enjoyed seeing some of the younger HEAP staff come out of their shell and become more confident in their delivery.


We also had the most amazing opportunity to experience the Kinabatangan River and all its wildlife. For me personally, this was a highlight, as this was our opportunity to see why we do what we do. Why we come to share our knowledge and skills with the HEAP team and why I am so proud to work for Chester Zoo. We were able to see all aspects of the HUTAN team at work from the education team, to the orangutan and swiftlet conservation teams and the fantastic, hard-working reforestation team that hope to plant up to 30,000 trees a year in reclaimed palm oil plantation land, creating wildlife corridors joining up the areas of forest.

We also got to see both the artificial nest boxes that Chester Zoo had helped put up a few years ago for the hornbills (being used by a Rhinoceros hornbill) and the rope bridges connecting the forest across the river tributaries. These are the amazing real life stories that as Zoo Rangers, myself and the team, talk about every single day. So to see the real life work that people end up supporting in person is a fantastic story to tell back in the zoo.

It was an incredibly eye-opening and enjoyable experience that I’ll never forget and am proud to say I have made real friends in Borneo. They are a fantastic team and I hope to return.

Jo – Education Officer

My bags were packed with everything I’d need for a rainforest adventure.  I was off to Malaysian Borneo, along with my colleague Bella, to offer support and guidance to our field partners in evaluating and developing their outreach education provision.

This year, the HEAP team embarked on their first ‘Mega Conservation Programme’, taking their conservation education programme out on the road to the west side of Borneo to deliver their conservation message.  We spent the first week touring around 3 separate high schools in the region. The team did a full day of presentations and exhibits in each of the schools, teaching about the wildlife of Borneo and the habitats the animals live in. The enthusiasm and passion of the presenters was clear.  Each event culminated in a ceremony where the head teacher from each school planted 2 trees at the front and a sign saying they were partnering up with HEAP to become a school that will help save the environment.  At one of the schools, we were honoured with an invitation to join in with this ceremony.  For the students, I think the highlight of each ceremony was the arrival of the orangutan mascots, who did a great job in the sweltering heat!

Besides visiting other schools in the Kinabatangan region, we also met the HUTAN Junior Ranger group and introduced them to our Chester Zoo deforestation game.  The children were excited to receive posters, handmade for them by our own Junior Rangers, and then they performed songs in return for us to record and bring back.

The trip culminated in a large meeting where all the teams’ ideas, future delivery plans and elements of the future strategic plan were put on paper. It was great to see them all so excited about the future and to start potential links with their Junior Rangers and our Junior Rangers.  Knowing that the work we did will help HUTAN and the HEAP team to continue spreading the conservation message far and wide definitely made the jet lag worthwhile!

Back at Chester Zoo, in my role as an Education Officer, I can now talk more confidently about deforestation and the positive impact of sustainably produced palm oil on the environment but also on the people I met.  Sharing really life stories helps the topic ‘come alive’ for students and this really helps to build that connection with animals and people on the other side of the world.

Find out more about the work we do in Borneo with HUTAN to find solutions to wildlife challenges that benefit both humans and wildlife alike here