The HUTAN Environmental Awareness Program or HEAP intends to strengthen the impact and effectiveness of the other HUTAN units by raising awareness and by encouraging behavioral changes in the people in Sabah.

In Sabah, environmental education is readily available in urban areas but is sadly lacking where it could have the most impact, in rural communities. After all, rural communities are usually the “ones living next to nature” and have the most potential effect on it. In 2003, several HUTAN researchers decided to create a team dedicated to increase awareness of environment conservation issues in the Lower Kinabatangan. Initially, we would organize educational events on an ad hoc basis. By 2007, we had decided to extend our scope of activities to schools and communities throughout Sabah. First, we gathered environmental education activities that could be utilized by the “HUTAN Environmental and Awareness Program” (HEAP).

With the support of the Chester Zoo Education Department, we developed an Education Master Plan detailing our education long-term goals and how to achieve them. HEAP’s objectives are: to raise awareness amongst communities in Sabah about the importance of orang-utans (and other wildlife) and the need to protect their environment; to convey an understanding of how to manage and protect wild orang-utan populations (and other wildlife) and their natural habitat; and to motivate the younger and older generations to act to conserve wildlife and fragile habitats.

With HEAP, HUTAN offers high-quality free environmental education programmes (sanctioned by the Sabah Education Department) to primary and secondary schools throughout Sabah. Each programme is tailored to it specific audience and includes indoor activities (presentations, exhibitions, educational games, quizzes, puppet shows, essay and drawing competitions, etc.) as well as outdoor activities (e.g. camping, jungle trekking, tree planting, boat safaris, etc.). HEAP has also developed and produced exhibition materials (posters, videos, artifacts) used during major expositions and displays organized regularly across the State. In 2009, HEAP established an “Education Campsite” in Sukau for outdoor activities with local schools. The campsite welcomes up to 30 children at a time.

HEAP also introduced the concept of “Junior Rangers” in Sukau where kids of the community are following a 5-year long curriculum about environmental management and protection. This model was so successful that several schools in Sabah have requested HEAP to assist them in developing a similar initiative. Every year HEAP activities reach more than 10,000 people, primarily students and teachers from primary and secondary schools in rural villages and in oil palm plantations. We also reach the general public in larger cities via exhibitions and presentations during festivals and conferences, radio programmes, TV documentaries and newspaper articles.