Video by Chiew Lin May
Find out what BSBCC is doing to help create a future for sun bears.
Text by Amanda Wilson
Photos by Amanda Wilson, Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Heyyo everyone! I’m Amanda Wilson, 22, and I’m here to talk about my experience volunteering at BSBCC. I’ll be entering my final year in University of Malaysia Sarawak under the programme Animal Resource Science and Management or better known as Zoology. For a period of 10 weeks, I experienced more adventures than I ever expected whilst interning at BSBCC. When asked about how I got to know about the centre, I am actually a local from the nature city of Sandakan. I was born in Kota Kinabalu and raised in Sandakan since a very young age. So, I’ve visited more than a couple of times and heard a lot about the wonderful things the people here are doing for the world’s smallest bears. I’ve always wanted to volunteer at the centre and be part of the work they are undergoing. That’s how I decided to volunteer at BSBCC as part of my Industrial Training.
Before I started volunteering, I was way too nervous about working, but from day 1, the staff at BSBCC were nothing but warm, kind, friendly and welcoming. I felt like I had another family here at BSBCC. It was so heart-warming to work with like-minded people, people who have big hearts for animals. I am touched by how much the Bear Care Team are so passionate, loving and caring towards these bears.
The centre stands on 4 main goals which are Education, Welfare, Rehabilitation and Research. Throughout my volunteer days, I am grateful to have been able to balance time working within the Bear House and also with the Education Team. On a daily basis, our work comprises mainly of husbandry works, from cleaning cages to feeding the bears, fence checks, pool cleaning and maintanence works. The fun part would be going jungle trekking into the forest to look for termite nests, collecting banana leaves and making various enrichments for the bears. From food-based enrichments, making dry cages, sensory and also structural enrichments. It didn’t take me long to adapt to the tasks at the Bear House as everything was properly managed and scheduled on time.
I also love feeding the bears in the outdoor enclosures as I love seeing them enjoy their time in the forest. That would be another attraction at the centre as visitors could see the bears in their natural environment. When the staff challenged us volunteers to recognize all the bears, I thought it was impossible but now I could say I can almost successfully tell them all apart from each other. Since working at the bear house, I learnt a lot about the sun bear’s behaviours and the different traits as well as personalities each bear has. I personally think sun bears are such precious creatures and wish more people would learn about these forgotten bears.
I feel so lucky to have been able to care for them, work so closely with them and even looking at them, as it made me so happy, especially when they’re enjoying the life that the people here at BSBCC is working so passionately to provide for these precious bears. The work that these people are doing here is incredible. No matter how tough the work is, they do it all so wholeheartedly.
To be honest, the work here is very physical. Nevertheless, I have never felt discouraged as a girl but more encouraged by the staff around me, who are always there to urge me on and guide me through. From sawing ironwood, working with hand drills to carrying sacks full of coconut husks, I’ve done everything with ease. Thanks to the time I’ve spent here, I got the chance to build my stamina and train my strength. Not only did I learn to work with hardware tools, I surprised myself everyday by my own capabilities. I’ve learnt underestimated myself too much before this, working here has made me braver and eager to look forward to new task everyday. Although the work here is heavy duty, I never felt drained as the Bear House is always filled with happiness and laughter thanks to the people around me.
As a local, I feel disappointed and devastated that not many of our local people know of the existence of the world’s smallest bears. Though I am hopeful that the efforts done through all the outreach programmes will someday be fruitful. During my time at the centre, I got to participate in 3 various outreach programmes and events. I was lucky to be able to participate in events held in Sandakan and also go for outreach programmes held at schools outside of the district.
As volunteers, each of us were assigned to a buddy keeper. Here’s a shoutout to the best big brother and my partner in crime, Mizuno Merek Men and Susantie Saliman (UNIMAS coursemate). Theres nothing my buddy keeper couldn’t do and I am ever so thankful for he has always been so caring and motivating towards us. He pushed us to be better and put his trust in us to carry out bigger tasks which gave us confidence.
Also to all the staffs especially the ones in the Bear Care Team, without them, my days would be dull. I saw the sincerity and passion they have for these bears. I felt the love and joy they have for what they are doing. I am happy to begin venturing into conservation work through volunteering here at BSBCC. Working with the Bear Care Team will always be one of my most cherished moments in life. They showed me passion, determination, professionalism, dedication, hardwork and team work. Conservation work is not always easy but with the right team, no matter how small, no task will ever be big enough.
Big thanks to Dr Wong Siew Te, for always making time for our weekly volunteer meeting session despite his busy schedule. I’ve learnt a lot through sharing his own experiences and knowledge not only about sun bears and the centre, but practically about everything we could talk about. Also to the Education Team, thank you for guiding me and encouraging me throughout my participation in various outreach programmes. Talking to visitors on the platform has also helped me overcome my fear of talking to people. It was amazing to be able to engage with the public and educate not only other people but my ownself about sun bears, wildlife conservation and just nature in general.
Thank you so much ! You all are beyond amazing <3
I will cherish every memories and will surely come back in future. Cheerio!
Text by Tara Sofia Jadwani-Bungar
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Bermuda, Mizuno tells me, is the biggest bear the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). Yet he barely comes up to my nose when he stands on his hind legs. Across from him is Wan-Wan, a female with the loveliest pink nose. She eats bananas delicately, removing the peel with her claws before sliding the banana fruit into her mouth. They are the first two bears I meet at the BSBCC.
I’m Tara, a 19 year-old university student from Melbourne, Australia and my stint at the BSBCC was my first time in Borneo. I’m studying to be a vet and would like to someday work in “conservation medicine”. Volunteering at the BSBCC introduced me to working in that sector.
The first day at BSBCC was slightly overwhelming (in a good way) because everything we were doing was new. Myself and two other overseas volunteers, Sienna and Imogen, went through a series of inductions that ensured we knew all the safety precautions and rules for the Bearhouses. You’d think this would be boring but simply being at the centre is so novel that everything seems exciting and interesting.
I learned so much about the bears – from their diet to their behaviour and their relationships – that my head was practically bursting with sun bear facts for two weeks. Some of this information came from a two-hour Q&A session the interns and volunteers had with Wong, the founder of the BSBCC. The most exciting part of this session was learning about the future of the BSBCC (can’t spoil it for the rest of you, though). The bearkeepers themselves are pretty incredible people and they showed me the everyday work that goes into running the centre and keeping up with the bears. They can get pretty creative when thinking up new enrichment for the bears.
The volunteer programme was really well-run, too. There was a great balance between routine and variation. Our days would start at 8:00am with feeding the bears breakfast (rice porridge). This would be followed up with cleaning the indoor enclosure or kitchen duty (chopping up fruit and vegetables for the bears and cleaning the kitchen area). Then we’d head out to feed the bears in their outdoor enclosures. By then, it was usually lunch time (12:00-1:30pm) which was spent in a lovely air-conditioned room. Afterwards, we’d take care of afternoon feeding. This was a bit more of an adventure as we’d often be followed by a very bold troupe of macaques. They’d regularly try and swipe the bears’ food. Back at the Bearhouse, we’d build enrichment activities before feeding the bears dinner and tidying up. Home time was 5:00pm on the dot.
Building enrichment was my favourite part of the day. Partly because it was really interesting to see what we could come up with to entertain/stimulate the bears. It was also when I got to talk to the keepers and the other interns and learn more about the bears and Borneo. Brandon, one of the keepers, and his buddies were building a firehose spider web for Along’s indoor enclosure. Imogen, Sumira and I made balls out of firehoses for the cubs in quarantine. Boboy spent quite a few days on a platform for the newest bear cub, Romolina. One afternoon, a group of us led by Mizuno walked in the surrounding rainforest searching for termite nests for the bears. I’m happy to say I did not get a single leech bite during my stay.
On some days, we’d head out in the ute (pick-up truck) to collect banana leaves, weeds and vines for enrichment. This was one of my favourite activities because I got to see more of the outskirts of Sandakan. Also, Mizuno’s driving was great. On two occasions, Imogen and I manned the education desk in the souvenir shop and I spent some time on the observation decks talking to visitors. Watching the bears from those viewing platforms was quite different from seeing them in the bearhouse. Funnily enough, I only realised how cute they were when I saw them from the visitors’ perspective. They had seemed cute before but I’d also learned to see them as individuals and hadn’t had the time to really coo over them.
Another memorable experience was assisting the vet and bearkeepers during a health check. Linggam was sedated and brought out to the examination table to have a wound on his leg checked. I helped take his measurements and his pawprints (inked and stamped just like ours).
My fortnight at the BSBCC was one of the happiest I’ve had. Despite it being a centre for bears, it was the people at the BSBCC who made my trip. Everyone, from the bear keepers to the local interns to the education staff, was kind, welcoming and open to questions. Most of all, their love and respect for the bears was clear in all their work. Thank you, in particular, to Sumira, our project coordinator, for being not only a teacher and guide but a wonderful friend.
My time at the BSBCC also showed me how difficult conservation and rehabilitation is. How do we know when a bear is ready to be released? How can we teach a bear that has never been in the wild and has never had mother how to be a bear? How can we release bears when there’s hardly any habitat to release them into? All these questions hang over the BSBCC and every other conservation effort. I don’t think there’ll ever be a perfect, full proof answer for any them. We can only do our best to heal the damage we’ve done. Some would say that that is very pessimistic but it’s quite the opposite. The people at the BSBCC are realistic but also hopeful and very dedicated. They’re problem solvers and they believe that they will find a way. They have to if they’re going to save Sun Bears.
A visit from SK. Rancangan Suan Lamba to BSBCC today. There are 34 students with their teacher involved in this visit. The students were given presentation on sun bear by Ms. Risnayati. Before they went to the observation platform to see the sun bears roaming in the forest enclosure, they were given mini tasks to test their understanding on sun bear from different topics about sun bear. This activity encourages and develops creativity in the students as well as to increase the understanding on sun bear. We hope that students and their teachers enjoyed their time at BSBCC learning about sun bears and the environment.
Yesterday (11th April 2018), BSBCC education team together with Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and Wildlife Rescue Unit visited SMK Pangiran Galpam, Sandakan the last school for the wildlife conservation awareness and education programme (Series 1) 2018 for Sandakan district for this month. Various activities were carried out including exhibition, talks, environmental games and wildlife documentary video show. All of the students enjoyed their time learning about the environment and wildlife species.
Today, BSBCC has teamed up with our partners (Wildlife Rescue Unit, Sandakan Borneo Bird Club, and Sabah Wildlife Department) to SK Sri Melanta Jaya for as part of our Wildlife Conservation Awareness and Education Programme. Educational booths were set up, with activities such as presentations and mini-games were done to spread the awareness to the schoolchildren.
Yesterday was the second day of our outreach programme around the Sandakan district for this year. BSBCC education team together with HUTAN-Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Programme, Wildlife Rescue Unit, Sandakan Borneo Bird Club and Reef Guardian gathered at SK Sg Kayu, Sandakan. We set up booths at the school open hall to share the informations to the students. Each organization gave an inspiring talk to students on our knowledge and our ongoing effort to save wildlife in Sabah. About 600 students from Year 1- Year 6 participated in the whole programme.
On the 23rd to 25th of March 2018, an International Orangutan Run was held in Sandakan in conjunction with “World Wildlife Day, 2018”. The event aims to spreads awareness about the plight of Orangutans as well as to encourage the public to learn about orangutans and conservation efforts of wildlife in Sabah. A few activities were held during this event and BSBCC was grateful to be part of this event. The activities including a run, talks, an exhibition and performance by local artistes. It was a good opportunity to join this event as it helps us to spread the word about the world‟s smallest bear, the sun bear, to the public especially the younger generations.
BSBCC‟s educational booth was set up at the Harbour Mall Sandakan for public visits. There were also booths from other organizations : Sandakan Borneo Bird Club, HUTAN-Kinabatangan Orang-Utan Conservation Programme (KOCP), IOI Group RSPO, Sepilok Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre (SOURC), Sabah Wildlife Department and Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU).
A group visit of 12 children from different primary schools in Sandakan to BSBCC. They are a part of the International Environmental Education Exchange Programme through Video Conferencing, where they will do a presentation by the end of the programme with school children from another countries and exchange knowledge on what they have learned through video conference.
Thanks again for including BSBCC in your programme! ☀🐻
A visit from Pusat Tuisyen Cerdik Minda visited BSBCC today. There are 80 students with their teacher involved in this visit. The students were given presentation on sun bear by Ms. Gloria. Before they went to the observation platform to see the sun bears roaming in the forest enclosure, they were given a task to test their understanding on sun bear from different topics about sun bear. This activity encourage creativity in a child as well as to increase their understanding on sun bear. The children together with their teachers enjoyed their time at our Centre learning about sun bears and the environment.