Text by Avril Lim Shu Ting
Photos by Seng Yen Wah
“There’ll be a lot of hiking to do. We hiked almost every day.”
Well, that didn’t deter me from applying for my internship at BSBCC. In fact, I was so over the moon about it as I am an outdoor person and one of my pastimes is hiking. Yes, we hiked a lot indeed. It may sound tiresome, but the fact that my stomach would start rumbling every 3 to 4 hours usually turned me off when I was all pumped up for work. (*Inserting a laughing-while-rolling-on-the-ground emoji*)
“Only if we understand, can we care. Only if we care, we will help.
Only if we help, we shall be saved.” - Jane Goodall
One of my dreams is to be involved in any conservative efforts; however, most places require certain payment to do so, and I had no idea that BSBCC offers scholarships for Malaysians to participate in volunteering programs. During my internship with my coursemates, we had an opportunity to speak to the founder and the CEO of BSBCC himself, Dr. Wong. He is truly inspirational and his immense love for wildlife is unfathomable. During our talk, Dr. Wong mentioned the quote above which to this day, is still imprinted in my heart deeply. I lived my dream for two weeks and what a way to contribute to the conservation and rehabilitation of sun bears albeit a little!
Meeting the sun bears
Wildlife is feral and human intervention should be as minimal as possible. On the first day, I was terrified but at the same time in awe to have seen the sun bears at such a close distance. Their claws are long and sharp and their canine teeth, needless to say, could just rip you apart. As I was volunteering there, my fear gradually faded away as I learnt more about their behaviour and some amusing attitudes, like how Kudat, the sun bear, would bring his feed to his basket and eat it to his heart’s content while lying on his back.
“Amaco is the oldest bear here. He has never set a foot in the earthy ground.”
Amaco, the 29-year-old bear, was brought up in captivity and he has ever since feared of the outside world. To him, the cage is the safest place for him. Seeing his long claws and him walking abnormally with his claws curving towards the ground, I could somehow feel the pain he is going through. Everyone is required to make an enrichment project for the sun bears and at first, I wanted to make something huge like a hammock for my favourite sun bear, Sigalung, who is known for his muscular upper body and eating his favourite feed on his back like a baby. On second thought, I should help Amaco to improve his life quality, to alleviate his suffering even though it is not much. Therefore, my buddy, Jude, and I built a scratching board for Amaco to “trim” his claws. I named it Modified Scratching Board as we put some feed beneath the wood planks to encourage him to scratch the board for a transitory pleasure. HE DID IT!
Truly, I had an amazing adventure and experience volunteering here. My eyes are opened to the wonders and efforts in conservation and rehabilitation. The firsthand experience is absolutely remarkable, as it is not mere popcorn and National Geographic channel. Lastly, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to all the bear keepers, the staffs and Dr. Wong for providing me with such a wonderful opportunity and guiding me throughout my internship. Thank you! <3 (That’s less than 3. Such is love.)
Text by Aminah Saudah Mazidah binti Zulkefli
Photos by Aminah Saudah Mazidah binti Zulkefli & Seng Yen Wah
Living as an "Aminah" is a bit complicated when it comes to making life decisions because this girl right here always has another thought (or what ifs) stuck on her mind. But as she grows up, she learns to be confident in anything she does. Well, here she is, sharing a story about how she ended up volunteering with BSBCC — the best of the best internship experience she ever had.
Hello! It's me, Minah, another volunteer from DVM UPM who broke into tears on the last day of the internship because I don't want to go back to Selangor yet. The very first reason I wanted to volunteer at BSBCC was because I looooove outdoor activities (hiking, trekking etc.) a lot. So the first thing that came into my mind was doing outdoor activities and I was like, "Wahh, this must be good for me, I think I'm gonna like it". And yes! I love it so much to be there, at BSBCC. It was hard to describe how content I was for the whole one week working (read: volunteering, but I really feel like I was their staff HAHA!) there. Another reason was that I have very little exposure towards wildlife animals and their conservation, so I thought BSBCC could be the kickstarter for me to gain experience and knowledge in the field.
What I was really grateful for while being there doing my internship was knowing the staffs, Dr Wong, Dr Boon, bear house team, and for sure, the bears. I learned so much from them, the academic and life value aspects — friendship, teamwork and perseverance. Working in the bear house with the team has taught me a lot of these things, and I will treasure them (the lessons, the people and the bears) for the rest of my life. I could not express my gratitude toward all of them in any other way rather than praying that He will repay every one of them at BSBCC for their kindness, sincerity and selflessness. May He ease your way and ours as well.
Text by Muhammad Farid Imran b Muhammad Rafidi
Photos by Seng Yen Wah
Hey its Farid here ! I am a 3rd year student of Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and I just finished my 2 weeks of internship at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.
Here I would like to share why BSBCC should be your first choice for your upcoming internship. Being a student, it is undeniable that we all are looking for a place that can provide allowance, meal and in a location that is a stone’s throw away from our house. Sadly, all these 3 things are not going to be provided here. But upon stepping into the center you will realize that these were not going the be your priority anymore.
First and foremost, all the staffs here are very friendly. Who would have thought that I would find a bunch of people here whom I can proudly call my family. My buddy here is David who is a senior staff at BSBCC. He is very funny and full of knowledge. Any question you asked, he will find a way to answer it nicely. Apart from that, here in BSBCC there is no age barrier. This means that everyone will be treated fairly and nicely including the new interns. Even you are new here, you still can make jokes with them and have dinner together. To be specific at a steamboat restaurant in which you will never forget about it. You want to know why? Go and apply your internship here then you will know why.
Secondly, the internship program here is well structured. Before you start working, Pradeep who is the Bear Care Officer a.k.a. your big brother will plan everything for your internship program. You will get a timetable which contains your daily task. Apart from that, you will have a few sessions with Dr Wong, Dr Boon and Pradeep. All these sessions were a golden opportunity for me to ask as many questions as possible to answer all my inquiries. You also will have a chance to do health checks for the bears and fecal floatation tests. In short, your time here is full with activities.
Last but not least, the presence of Dr Wong who is the CEO here will bring magic in your life. Trust me just by hearing his story on how he managed to build this center from scratch, your motivation to achieve anything in your life will boost up drastically. I still remember that he said success only requires patience and perseverance. This makes me realize that everyone has a chance to succeed in their career.
My last words are DO YOUR INTERNSHIP AT BSBCC NOW !!!!
Text by Muhammad Faiz b Mohd Fikri
Photos by Seng Yen Wah
Hello, the name’s Muhammad Faiz Bin Mohd. Fikri or just Faiz and I am a vet student. My groupmates and I just finished our 2-week internship at BSBCC during our semester break in March. Along the course of our internship, we learned a lot of things and for the first time we were able to practice certain veterinary skills on field. We had the opportunity to conduct several procedures upon Kina (a suspected pregnant female bear) such as X-ray, ultrasound, health check, teeth scaling and we also recorded her body measurements. Dr Boon our resident vet also taught us how to do an internal parasite diagnostic test which is the faecal floatation procedure using fresh faeces we collected and also thin blood smear procedure. Luckily all the test results turns out to be negative!!! This is an indicator of how good the animal husbandry practice here.
All the activities we did were an eye-opening experience for me and it ignited my interest to become a wildlife veterinarian. All these are possible with the help of what I can call 'BSBCC family' where every member helps, nurture and educate each other in putting everything they can do in the best interest of the Bornean sun bear. Among the activities we did was preparing different types of enrichment for the sun bears which varies from food base enrichment to structural enrichment. We also did routine cleaning and feeding, fence checking, health assessment and so on. Interestingly, the diet of the bears here was luxurious with a vast variety of fruits and vegetables for the purpose of providing a wholesome diet.
Besides those activities, the other things that was done perfectly was the learning process or information transfer among the BSBCC team and also to the visitors and the volunteers like us. The information transfer process here really drew my attention as it made me realize the urgency of educating the public regarding the Bornean sun bear or any other wildlife. The most important resource you can employ to bring about change in this world is education. At the time being, it is very shocking for me that the Bornean sun bear is one of those least studied bear species. In short, what I can say is we need more of these establishments and more people with determination, passion, perseverance, and knowledge for a better world for both animals and humans.
Text By Seng Yen Wah
Photos By Jude Ailton George, Julamih bin Jainuddin & Seng Yen Wah
Our little Luna is growing up! Luna is a captive-born sun bear cub born on 20th May 2021 in BSBCC. Her mother, Bintang, is a seven year old adult female bear. On day 8, we noticed that Luna was less active than had previously been observed. After a quick check, we found Luna had a low body temperature, severe ear injuries and a skin infection. Due to this, we decided to separate Luna from her mother. We started to hand raise her and she only weighed 0.353kg at this time. After eleven months of day and night care, she had finally grown to weigh 18.85kg !
Luna has come a long way. We take Luna for a walk in the forest every day, where she learns and acquires skills. Luna shows her bear instinct and great potential like a wild sun bear. At the same time, Luna also has a deep bond with her surrogate mothers (cub keepers). And hence, we started introducing Kipaku, Itam, Betung, and Kukuton to Luna, as they could be her companions later. In the wild, sun bears are mainly solitary. However, integration can encourage positive behaviour in bears as they learn from each other.
It was not easy for Luna because that was the first time Luna had met other bears. Kipaku, Itam and Betung are sub adult bears. But three of them have different personalities. As a result, their friendship turned into a different outcome.
Kipaku is the youngest male sun bear in BSBCC. He is a playful and cheeky bear. He likes to wrestle with others, and he always wins with his size and weight.
When Kipaku first saw Luna, he was full of curiosity and chased after Luna. But his excess passion makes Luna feel he is rough which Luna does not like. When Kipaku plays with her and she will continue growling and huffing. Kipaku would initiate a play fight with her by sniffing, chasing, soft biting her but she cannot stand any of them. So there is always a chase and a run happens every time they meet.
Itam is the largest but friendliest bear in the group. When we first started integrating Luna and Itam, Itam showed her interest in getting to know little Luna and was always looking for and sniffing her. She approached Luna tenderly.
However, Luna began to greet Itam, pawing at Itam's face several times. But Itam remained patient and tried to get close to her. But Luna is too shy and ran around to avoid Itam.
Betung is a curious and observant bear. She likes to observe what is happening around her. But Betung is not keen on playing with others. So when she met Luna, she just came over and sniffed her, then she started to explore the environment and enrichment.
As a summary of the story of Luna making new friends, Luna prefers to be alone. She does not mind being around others, but it is okay to leave her alone. Her friends are getting to know her more and more, so they will give her space, and carry on with their own businesses. Sometimes they also get naughty with Luna. When Luna does not want to put up with that, she would warn them and stay away from them. Luna may need more time to make new friends. Perhaps, one day she can become good friends with them.
As well as Luna making friends with Kipaku, Itam and Betung,Kukuton also joined the group. Here is the story about Kukuton. Kukuton is a seven years old adult male bear. From 2015 to 2019, he was kept as a house pet in Kampung Taginambur, Jalan Belud, Ranau in Kota Belud. The owner claimed that she wanted to save Kukuton from being sold, and she had no intention of keeping him as a pet, but, as she was busy with her family, it took her four years to hand Kukuton over to the authorities. During that time, Kukuton was confined in a small cage. He was officially handed over to SWD on 13 September 2019. She paid the fine two years later when she admitted the offence under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 and was fined RM15,000 rather than be jailed for four months. Kukuton arrived at the BSBCC on 8 January 2022. Compared to his age, his body is small. He weighs just 18kg. The prolonged captivity has led to Kukuton exhibiting self-inflicted stereotypic behaviour. Integration is best for Kukuton to help reduce this negative behaviour. This is because the best enrichment of a bear is another bear.
Kukuton has shown a positive side in making new friends. He was usually timid and stayed in the corner, but he bravely took a step to get closer to others in the integration. He approached the others slowly and carefully. Kukuton can often be seen sniffing the others secretly. He usually starts to play fight with others. But the way he plays is rough, and only Kipaku could hold on. Sometimes, Itam and Betung also join the fight. As the days passed, the others slowly embraced him. And now, he seems to get along just fine with everyone else.
So lovely to see Luna and Kukuton finally have a group of companions. Luna and Kukuton can now be seen wandering around in the exercise pen with Itam, Kipaku, Betung. Their integration is fantastic. Now, they share their historical moment! We hope they will grow and learn all together. They are not too far from the next stage of the rehabilitation programme in the bear house. They are absolutely looking forward to moving to the bear house soon and seeing the forest again!
Text by: Sufiah Umaira' bt Noor Kamal Azlin
Photos by: Sufiah Umaira' bt Noor Kamal Azlin and Seng Yen Wah
After 2 years spending our industrial training online.. finally we’ve got the chance to do it physically. And choosing BSBCC is the best choice I must say! Two weeks being here is NOT ENOUGH. I learned a lot from all of the experienced workers & I’ve never felt any pressure from them. It was all fun and full of excitement to learn something new from them. Plus, all the staffs there were very welcoming & very friendly. I was amazed on how they took care of the sun bears’ welfare, giving the freedom for them to express their natural behaviour and Wawa (the sun bear) is now living happily in Tabin! We learned so much about the sun bears' behaviour, life cycle, current issues. I just love how the staffs introduced each of the sun bears based on their behaviour, the physical appearance while we were still struggling to recognise each of them.. but of course I recognise my favourite bear, Amaco, the legend! I really hope I can see him again soon if I get the chance to volunteer here again!
Being the buddy to Roger, together with Faiz was fun. Roger is a very well-experienced person, spent 7 years there in BSBCC. He always says, “Come on oyaa, tunjukkan wanita itu bukan lemah” while I’m struggling to saw the bolt nut. I learned a lot of survival technique from him too. We also built a “4-tyres-swing” for Joe, Logan and Romolina as a structure enrichment. Faiz was so happy when Pradeep showed him a video of Romo climbing the tyres, it was a success! It felt great to contribute something to the sun bears. The most fun part is when we made various fruit flavoured ice blocks with bananas, papayas, apples, & honeydew. It looks so yummy but unfortunately they are for the sun bears .
If I were asked what is the best part volunteering here, I would say doing the health check for Kina who was initially suspected to be pregnant. It was my first time to observe the procedure of a health check on a wildlife animal conducted by resident veterinarian Dr Boon. Dr Boon and the staffs taught us how to take the temperature, respiratory rate, heart rate and measurements of certain body parts. She also taught us how to interpret the X-ray and ultrasound images while Wawa elaborated more on the computed radiography. Other than that, we finally learned how to do simple flotation and thin blood smear (after 2 years studying it…). Never thought thin blood smear was that difficult but after a lot of practicing, finally we got the right technique!
In summary, we learned a lot here in BSBCC. I will miss working here with the very sporting staffs David (commando), Roger, Oliver, Pradeep, Logan, Mizuno, Ivan and others. Also, listening to Dr Wong’s story on how he open this centre (adore how passionate Dr Wong is not only towards the sun bears, but all animals generally), feeding the sun bears while listening to the history of the place and to make food-based enrichment while having a sharing session. I am very thankful for this opportunity. Thank you so much, BSBCC.
Text by: Fairuz Hafizah bt Md Yusoff
Photos by: Seng Yen Wah & Fairuz Hafizah bt Md Yusof
Growing up, I have always found myself fascinated with wild animals. Something about them just strikes me as out of this world yet still very much grounds me to the absolute beauty of nature. Fast forward and I'm setting foot into my degree years in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, ecstatic to finally get the chance to work with these magnificent creatures. I didn't have a plan per se, but I did have a rough picture; essentially of me gliding through the semesters and then skipping to the part where it's all rose-coloured, Steve-Irwin-like scenes. Alas, Covid barged in and said otherwise. Online studies had me dissociating from the idea of actually becoming a veterinarian, much less one practicing in the wild. That being said, I was looking forward to finally going for my first internship, wildlife at that, and getting as much exposure as possible.
Choosing an industry was more nerve-wrecking than I thought. I had concerns of regrets, but upon landing in Sandakan, I knew, applying to BSBCC would not be one of them. My friends and I were treated with such warmth and camaraderie throughout the times we were in their hands. Everybody was such a delight. Being so driven too, I could actually feel the love and passion they have for their work; they inspire me so. One of my favourite revelations there was that in loving animals, these wild creatures especially, there is so much more to it than just pats and kisses. Sometimes the best we could do for them is what we do from afar. The serotonin may not come from hugging sun bears, but seeing them thrive in the wild, living their best life definitely does the trick and is more than enough. You're doing amazing, BSBCC! I can't thank you enough for those two weeks. All the times we spent together will be cherished dearly. Rest assured, I will be waiting for our next encounter in the future. See you again!
Text & photos by Seng Yen Wah
The story begins from...
One day, a person found a bear cub alone in the forest at Kg. Kipaku, Tambunan. He was just three months old. The person sent him to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park on the 12th of April, 2018 and he arrived at BSBCC on the 22nd of January, 2019. This cub was named Joe. When he arrived he was in a healthy condition. He is four years old now.
Due to the long periods of being kept in captivity, Joe appeared tame and attached to humans. He suckles his hind paws when he requires attention and does it more frequently when he sees humans. When kept in captivity, wild animals cannot behave as they do in the wild, leading them to develop negative stereotype behaviour.
Fortunately, Joe meet Logan and Romolina and they grew up together. This has been important for Joe to help him recover from trauma, put his past behind him and reduce his stereotype behaviour. From the beginning, Joe was a shy bear. Logan is the playful bear who always takes the initiative to play fight with Joe. Once they start to play, they can be playing non-stop! Compared with Logan, Romolina seems less interested in joining their play. Sometimes she will play too, and it is entirely up to Romolina. Integrating with Logan and Romolina enriched Joe’s life. He is no longer alone and now has friends! Joe has become open and clear. He knows how to make friends with others. Now he takes the initiative to play fight with his playmates. Joe has a good personality bear and is always tolerant of others.
On the 30th of April, 2019, Joe took his first step into the forest with Logan and Romolina. It was the first time Joe saw the forest outside. He was hesitant and afraid to go out. After the keepers encouraged him with treats he slowly explored the forest. He has adapted well to his forest home and has made good progress slowly learning and developing the skills needed for survival in the wild. Joe seems to know how to enjoy the forest’s life. He spends most of his day foraging. He searches every corner of the forest so that he never misses out on any food. After being busy foraging, he will choose a place to rest and sunbathe! Any place will become his favourite place to sunbathe. He likes to cover up his face when he rests. Even though he is covering his face you still can easily spot him!!
It is heartwarming to see Joe is improving every day. He is always bright and alert. With his kind character and innocent eyes, Joe can easily grab your heart. We hope Joe will gain more skills in the forest and become like a wild bear.
Text by Anastasia Ting Jia Lei
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
He peeked out of the door which separated the brightness of the greenery outside from the dim concrete walls within. After a few moments of hesitation, Chin made up her mind to leave her friend behind and pass through the door into the daylight, where she could explore around, bask under the sun, climb trees, and just enjoy her life. Amaco stared after her, sniffing curiously. Intrigued yet daunted by the world beyond the concrete walls he was used to, he had no intention to leave his comfort zone.
The guillotine door with rust spots slid down, blocking his view and plunging him back into the gloom he was familiar with. He turned away as loneliness engulfed him. Unsure what to do, he wandered to his usual spot and plopped down clumsily.
Time for a nap.
I watched this scene before me with mixed feelings. Amaco, a 29 years old Bornean Sun Bear, has never set foot in a forest where he belongs, and this is all because of humans' wrongdoings. After 18 years of being caged up in Tamaco Plantation, he has grown accustomed to the comfort within metal bars and dares not venture out into the forest. Pity welled up within me. How I wished I could do something to help him!
Then, an idea popped into my mind. If he wouldn't go into the forest enclosure, why don't I bring the forest to him? With that thought in mind, I strode up to my buddy, David Tahir, and shared my project idea with him.
I was warned, though, that Chin would destroy all the plants I add to Amaco's cage as they often share the same cage. Nonetheless, I was quite stubborn. I researched and asked around for the types of plants suitable for a dim cage like Amaco's. For example, fishtail palms, begonias, mosses, etc. Eventually, I settled on bird's nest ferns as they are easy to find, non-poisonous, low-light tolerant, and moisture-loving.
Mizuno, upon hearing about my plan, said, "Jom!" And just like that, my buddy and I followed him out of the bear house, through the territory of Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center, and down a long stretch of road to reach a plantation where ferns hung abundantly from the palm trees. We harvested several ferns and carried them back to the bear house.
Seeing my indecisiveness regarding how to plant the ferns, Roger guided me and helped me tie the ferns to logs. Two weeks before the end of my internship at BSBCC, I asked for the keepers' help to 'install' the ferns in Amaco's cage.
When we were done, I took out the foul-smelling frog juice (a type of fish bait) and lathered the areas around the ferns with it. As Amaco LOVES that juice, I was hoping that he would associate the ferns with it and grow to like the ferns.
But things went a little differently than expected.
Unable to reach the frog juice on the cage bar, Amaco lost his temper. With an annoyed grunt, he reached out his forelimb, and with a powerful tug, he wrenched the fern away from the wood.
The next day, to my delight, Pradeep shared with me that Amaco cradled the leaves of the fern as he slumbered at night! Then, I thought, why not just provide him with more ferns to keep him entertained and happy?
Again, Mizuno picked up a knife and led us back to the plantation for another fern-hunt. We found a gigantic fern, which Mizuno harvested with some difficulties. When we added the fern to Amaco's cage, he sniffed and clawed at the fern, searching for ants hiding within its roots.
Although planting the ferns in the cage for the long term would be ideal, it is quite an impossible task. Nevertheless, I am glad that this enrichment had given Amaco a good time, however short it lasted.
Text by Anastasia Ting Jia Lei
Photos by Anastasia Ting Jia Lei & Seng Yen Wah
I was often met with the question, “Why would you apply for an internship at a place where you won’t be paid?” I can only say I have no regrets at all. The experience I gained from BSBCC was invaluable and immeasurable in monetary form. I gained skills such as setting up camp and foraging for termites in the forest; I was able to be up close and personal with the bears during their health checks; I learned more about the zoological behaviors of sun bears; etc. Working with these bears was a dream come true for me. I might not be allowed to interact with these amazing creatures, but just being in their presence fulfilled me. Contributing to wildlife conservation is a greatly meaningful deed, which I am glad to have partaken in.
Some might judge the way this center is run, but there rarely is anyone who can achieve what Dr. Wong and his staff have achieved. It is easy to criticize from an outsider’s viewpoint when no one other than the BSBCC staff truly understands the difficulty the center is facing. A little less judgment, and a little more support, can greatly reduce the worries burdening the center. What BSBCC has done and is doing, is amazing and inspiring, especially in a country where limited attention and resources are allocated to wildlife conservation.
Honestly, the first time Dr. Wong called me into his office for a talk session, I was extremely shocked. I had initially thought of him as a busy and distant person, being the CEO of a wildlife conservation center. On the contrary, he is surprisingly friendly and engaging. He welcomes anyone with a passion for wildlife conservation and helps to nurture their love for wildlife. He provided me with the opportunity to learn from him and encouraged me to pursue my passion in the conservation field, despite my limited experience in this field. For that, I am immensely grateful.
As someone socially awkward, I cannot be more grateful to Adneen and Roger for brightening up my days at BSBCC, although I might be a pain in the neck at times. I greatly appreciate Dr. Boon’s, Seng Yen Wah’s, and Pradeep’s patient replies to my incessant questions, even though some of my inquiries might have been ill-thought-out. I would also like to extend my gratitude to David, and Mizuno, who gave me guidance throughout my internship. And thank you, Ivan, Oliver, Jude, and other BSBCC staff for assisting me whenever I needed help.
Amid my upcoming graduation and job search, my future is full of uncertainties. But one thing’s for sure ── I will be back to volunteer.