What does it mean to be a volunteer at the BSBCC?
Of course, the longer you stay, the more you learn, and the more chance you have of experience some great things.
The afternoon is mostly used for enrichment: making climbing structures for the indoor cages or devices that make the feeding more exciting for the sun bears, or collecting leaves, broken termite nests or big logs of wood in the forest. Or you will go to the visitors-platform to give information to the tourists while watching the sun bears. But the other volunteers who were here the last two weeks of my stay (Sim and Jodie & Georgie) will probably tell you more about it, so I will tell you about my first four weeks, when I was the only volunteer.
In the second week of my stay, sun bear Natalie wounded herself pretty bad on the sole of her paw. The vet was called, and after an anaesthesia-shot, she was lifted from her nest into the cage into my arms to carry her to the table so the doctor could clean the wound. Can you imagine: 35 kilo of thick black fur with paws and head lying on my shoulders! Sadly enough I don't have a picture to proof it, but since then this beautiful lady stole my heart! And she is not only the most beautiful sun bear, she is also very clever ánd a candidate to be released into the wild. Read her story elsewhere on this website!
The first one was making a gigantic hammock for the outside-enclosure for sun bear Kudat. He has a small enclosure for himself because he cannot socialize in a group (which is in fact quite normal, because they are solitary animals). To make this enclosure more exiting, we made this hammock to give him more climbing opportunities and provide some shade on the forest-floor. The making took four of us about a week, and a lot of sweat, bruises and muscle-pain! Not to speak of the hanging of the 90-kilo structure!
By working 'backstage' and staying in the resort, you definitely have the chance of seeing a lot of Sabah's wildlife. Orang utans, macaques, squirrels, hornbills and kingfishers, beautiful butterflies, cobras and vipers, water monitor lizards an small lizards, weird looking insects and colourful birds (the owner of the resort, mr. Johnny, can tell you all about them!), and I was lucky to see and be sniffed at by two baby-pygmies elephants who were in quarantine at the next door Orang utan center.
By going into the jungle with some of the staff members you learn about the spirit of the forest, about iron trees and the fruiting of dipterocarp trees, about the sound a black cobra makes, about the traces bearded pigs leave and how a gibbon sounds and many things more, and learn some Malaysian along the way.
By eating dinner made by Wong you will have the best meal of your whole Asia trip, wow, that man can cook! Ask for the recipe of his fish in babana leaves! And going with some crewmembers to, for instance, a Chinese or an Indian restaurant, or to the night market in Sandakan makes you feel less a tourist but more in union with the place.
But every upside has its downside. Yes there are musquitos and leeches. Yes, it's very hot and humid. And yes, the meals at the resort are very western orientated without any chilies in the rice or noodles (or beans in tomato-sauce for breakfast, yuk!). What meals are concerned, the opinions differ though, I didn't like it much, but others loved it. Sometimes Mr. Johnny or his wife or mother gave me something of their Chinese meals though, which were much better. And after 9.00 p.m. there is nothing to do anymore, so without company it can be a little bit boring in the evening. But there are pretty much always other guests, and some of the staff of the resort likes to chat or have a drink with you.
For me, this amazing experience has ended. I will start a journey through Borneo in a few days. I made many new friends, and want to especially thank Lin May, Thye Lim, Azzrye, Mizuno, Tommy, David, Rizan, Gloria and Inna and last but not least Wong to make this an experience I will never forget! (But with this remark I don't mean that many others of the crew weren't remembering able, everybody was great, so also thanks to all of you!) Tarima kasi!