Hi! My name is Jaike. I'm from Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and I had the opportunity to work for six weeks as a volunteer at the BSBCC. And I can tell you, they were 6 great weeks! If you are thinking of doing voluntary work with animals, don't hesitate and come along!
For me, the choice of becoming a volunteer 'something with endangered animals and somewhere in a forest ' was very clear for me since a long time. I wanted to help out where help was needed, and at the same time gaining experience working with animals, it just wasn't clear to me where and what exactly. When I read about the BSBCC, I knew instantly that this was the place I was looking for: a group of very dedicated people who not only take care of previously captured sun bears, but also make sure they enquire enough skills to be released into the wild again and 'dehumanise' them. And if that is not enough, they also actively teach local communities about the importance of preserving the natural habitat of sun bears and all the other species that live in primary and secondary forest (and cannot live only in oil palm plantations which are sadly enough covering the biggest part of Borneo). And there is even more! The place is build from scratch and with knowledge gained by doing years of research - both processes still going on as we speak - by Siew Te Wong, a dedicated biologist who has the capacity to pass his enthusiasm and dedication through to his crew.
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 basic maintenance is a daily routine: chopping 57 kilos of fruit and 16 kilos of vegetables, preparing four huge pots of rice porridge, and feeding the 31 sun bears, indoor and outdoor (there are also two very young sun bears, but only two staff members may take care of them). And there is of course the cleaning of the cages. This fills about the whole morning, the feeding also a part of the afternoon.
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!
In the weeks following, I participated in two completely different big projects.
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!
The second project was the observing of young sun bear Damai. She had to do an integration training to socialize her with a group of five other females and one male of the same age (two to four years old, Damai being the youngest) ánd a fence training. Since both trainings were successfully completed, she can go outside to a big outside enclosure with the six others to climb in trees, play around, and learn new skills to eventually use in the wild. The result of the observing can be read on Damai's blog elsewhere on this website, which I had to write.
Another fun day was the day a filmcrew came to make a documentary about the BSBCC. Sabah’s 2011 beauty queen presented herself as a volunteer-for-a-day, doing all the daily maintenance we (and maybe you?) have to do. With a tiny role for me being interviewed, broadcasting on national TV in August 2014.
What else can you expect?
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.
Now this is a view of sun bears you only get to see as you work in the BSBCC, and not as a visitor
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!