April 9, 2013
One of the question laid in my volunteer’s application form was, “What do you expect to learn by the end of the program?”
That was two months ago. Frankly speaking, I knew nothing of managing, ecology or morphology of neither sun bears nor anything about them except for a general fact they are the smallest species of bears in the world. I went on volunteering for experience, for knowledge, to simply drop that barricade bricks of limited knowledge and take in information in, to discover more through volunteering under 6 weeks.
Welcomed by Gloria and Dawn on the first day! To be introduced to Thye Lim that gave induction on routines in the bear house and safety procedures to follow. In the bear house, formally introduced to David, Beyri, Lin May, Julian, Tommy and Azzry. Everything and everyone was new to me, and astonishing to know out of all the volunteers, I was the second volunteer from Sandakan to be volunteering there.
Daily tasks that revolve around the sun bears are food preparation, cleaning cages, feeding and making enrichments. With routines, practice to be efficient in those tasks gets easier. Trust me when I say that cleaning the cages were not difficult. It was built equipped with water basin and a basket for the bears to sleep. With their diet that consists dominantly by fruits, their faeces are not that smelly, amusingly the faeces are colour-coordinated sometimes.
It was a privilege, to be in very close proximity with the fluffies and cuties. It was a great opportunity to know more about the sun bears more than books can offer from the staffs. Throughout the period I was lucky to observed and be there for ‘little miracles’. The moment when Rungus stepped outside of fenced forest enclosure in Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) for the first time, followed by her group mate Natalie, Julaini and Ah Lun. Integration between Bongkud with other sun bears such as Rungus, Natalie and Julaini as well as Fulung. The youngest sun bear, 8 month-old Damai climbing tall trees and got used to sleeping on trees. These little ephemeral joys are so important for the sun bears as well as the centre, because these are phases that prepare them and nurture their natural skills to survive in the wild by climbing trees, foraging and digging into soil and logs; a chance for each of them to ‘be a sun bear’.
It was challenging and entertaining making enrichments for the bears. It was challenging by training up muscles I never thought I have by carrying heavy stuffs, unbolting and bolting, carrying bamboos, walking up a long distance around the forest enclosures and so on. It was one of those days I can proudly said “Yes people, I cut tyres.” The staffs and we volunteers made so many enrichments ranging from 2 different swinging tyres, 2 hammocks, swinging log, bamboos stuffed with fruits, a big water basin and more. The entertaining part was where sun bears played with them. It was enjoyable; having Fulung do a Cirque du Soleil stunt while swinging on the rope of the tyre swing. Mamatai is one of our favourite sun bears in the centre. With her cute stumpy figure, she tried to climb on the swinging log and to rest there is just pure adorable, even hopped inside the tyre swing!
Have a photo together with the other volunteers on my last day – Jeo Soon, me, Amanda and Thomas.
It was a blessing, to meet incredible staffs. Right from Wong, to staffs Gloria, Wai Pak, Dawn, Thye Lim, Lin May, bear keepers David and Beyri, general workers Julian, Azzry and Tommy as well as volunteers who walked in to help the centre. They have been the backbone of the centre; taking responsibilities to care the welfare for the bears, and they have been a great help in guiding me throughout the volunteering period. They made volunteering so much enjoyable rather than a burden. They are dedicated staffs, as well as lovely friends.
It was like a mini travel pocket, getting to know volunteers who came from around the world in one similar aim like mine. Both Steve (UK) and Ann (Belgium) carried young spirits, never dimmed or hesitated in getting their hands down and dirty making hammocks and swinging logs. Amanda Pauli (US) and Thomas (UK) are wonderful people who dedicated their career helping out children, utilising their break by volunteering around. Lee Jeo Soon (Korea), a to-be vet doctor; does not mind breaking a sweat making enrichments under the hot scorching sun. Louise, a great company to be for everyone and surprisingly enjoyed cutting tyres the most. I had fun with everyone; get to know them more from their respected countries.
These respected staffs are dedicated to their work to bring this developed centre a safe haven for the rescued sun bears. Not only for saving their population an endangered species, but a second chance to live. They top that off with tasks creating a global awareness of the little known bears. What they do need aside from funds and donations are the local volunteers. At first I thought it was a privilege and unique to be one of the first locals to volunteer. Now that I think about it, local people should take part by volunteering to not only aware the existence of this species in our beautiful Borneo land, but to acknowledge them, protect them by being against poaching or body parts trade, and be in any way of help to tell, share, spread word. By being hands on and practical to conserve at the centre, locals will be more impacted and realize that one man’s action could do so much to help.