I recently returned home from nearly a month volunteering at the BSBCC...I'm proud to say that I am a member of Wong's "Fellowship of the Bear" since I was fortunate enough to assist with moving the bears into their new home. My trip was fascinating. eye-opening, fulfilling and emotional, and yes, I still have my cleaning calluses to prove I was there! I really had no idea what to expect when I arrived, and was determined to be very flexible and just go with the flow of things.
My first glimpse of the new bear house was thrilling...and the forest enclosures are unrivaled among any zoo or sanctuary. How can you do better than the bears' natural habitat? These enclosures will not only provide the long-term resident bears with the physical and psychological stimulation that they need, but will be vital to the rehabilitation of potentially releaseable bears back into the wild.
My first few days in Kota Kinabalu (capital city of Sabah) were spent helping to gather supplies and meeting the staff of LEAP, who are all incredibly dedicated to helping Wong realize his future vision of the Centre. We then drove the six hours to Sandakan, which provided me a unique opportunity to see the land and people of Sabah, along with astounding vistas of the endless palm oil plantations, literally as far as I could see in every direction. Of course I have seen these images many times, but nothing compares with a first hand view.
One of the very first things I saw on my arrival at Sepilok was a hornbill flying overhead...seemed like a good omen. Over the next few days our fellowship assembled and we met the vet staff who would be in charge of the bear exams, all very warm and welcoming. We met to discuss the best plan of action and took a closer look at the new bear house. As with any new building, last minute adjustments were required, but we proceeded on schedule and moved all twelve bears in the next three days. It was amazing to see that, even though the bears were dutifully cautious on recovery, sniffing thoroughly and tapping their claws on the unfamiliar surfaces, they quickly began climbing and settling into their new dens. Now my days were filled with feeding, cleaning, providing lots of daily enrichment and monitoring bear behavior, which I find extremely fascinating. We also learned that in some cases humans and bears have different ideas of what "bear proof" actually means. I think PVC might mean "probably very crunchy" to a bear and of course the new waterers MUST have been intended to sit in and take a bath! I was amazed at how much the bears enjoyed the water...thus began our "shower days". After a spray with the hose, they wrestled and played all afternoon.
We were also able to integrate two of the males and two groups of young females quite quickly, which helped to keep the bears calm and minimize pacing. We wanted them to be very comfortable and secure with the dens before providing access to the outdoor enclosures. As you've seen in previous blog entries, they were so comfortable that they did not want to go out at first! We had to remind ourselves that most of these bears had been captured for the pet trade as cubs and had most likely not seen the sky or felt the earth under their feet for a very long time. We had to operate on "bear time", not human time. I was lucky enough to see one male and one female venture out before I had to return home. Now I miss my new friends and think of them every day. Sensitive and cautious Om, a strong and beautiful male bear in his prime. Playful little Surya, still so like a cub....quiet little Manis, standing on her hind legs with front paws folded under her chin as she gazes at the trees she will climb soon. And Ah Chong, the largest male, with his serene face and passionate love for any and all food. These bears, and all wild and captive sun bears, need our help. Spread the word, tell people about the blog and the amazing work being done at BSBCC. Public awareness is crucial...now, on to Phase 2!
Maria came to us with a very special background: she is the senior veterinary technician at Oakland Zoo. I first met her personally at the Wildlife Conservation Network Wildlife Expo, San Francisco in 2008. She wanted to help us in any which way that she possibly could during that time. At that time, what I have was a plan to set up BSBCC, we not even has the fund to build our first bear house. Her passion and interest on sun bear grow pretty much since then. We have been in contact for more than a year and finally she made it. She came to volunteer at the time when we need her most during the bear moving to the new bear house on April. Maria volunteered with us for a month. She has been very helpful and I am very thankful for her help and her interest and passion to help sun bears. Thank you Maria!