Text by Gillian Gabriel
Photos by Gillian Gabriel, Jerlyn Joan Jenius (APE Malaysia) & Chiew Lin May
For the first and foremost, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself. Hi! My name is Gillian Gabriel or you can call me Gee. I am currently in the final semester of my degree. Each final year student of University Malaysia Sabah (UMS) was required to finish their final semester by completing an internship program. My major course is Conservation Biology. With the three and a half years of studying Conservation Biology, I decided to do my internship at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). I discovered BSBCC from the website and you can tell that it was love at first sight. I got really curious about how they handle the sun bears and I was quite fascinated with the positive feedback given by the previous volunteers. I also thought to myself that this is a great opportunity to expose myself into the real life world as a conservationist. So, I decided to experience it on my own and lucky me, I was accepted!
Professional and friendly, yes that’s my first impression on BSBCC management. All the staff are really friendly, playful and they would never make you feel left out. They are also quite professional. Although I was assigned with my own buddy keeper, Bithrenley, the other staff were willing to teach, guide, and educate me as well.
I thank my buddy keeper for teaching and guiding me during my internship. Never once did he get angry at me for not catching up real quick. In fact, he taught me one by one and he never put me under pressure. I had a great time working with him. He has a great way of explaining things easier for me to understand. He is also funny and is really caring. They told me that the buddy keeper is in charge of our safety and our work progress. And I personally think that my buddy keeper did a pretty great job, he took his responsibility really well.
Sun bears? Honestly, they are ten times more adorable in real life than what you have seen posted on any social media or website. One of my favourite things to do is to feed them. The way they hold the food and chew it, is so adorable! I consider myself lucky because I got to see them face to face. My favourite sun bear is Simone, a female bear who loves climbing, observing, and relaxing. I consider her as the most obedient bear in BSBCC. My buddy keeper and I decided to make enrichment for her; we called it ‘The Flying Boat’.
I am so amazed with the final product and truly thankful to my buddy keeper for assisting, guiding and helping me. From the above picture, the word ‘boat’ is used because the structural shape of the product resembles a boat. The product was installed at the top of the cage to which the term ‘flying’ is used because this provides the bear to view things from a higher place.
The kitchen. For the first few weeks, I admit that I was quite slow. There are a lot of things going on in the kitchen. And it is really important to note down every single thing because you would not want to ruin a single menu. However, as the weeks passed by, I kind of got used to it. I almost memorized half of the schedule, although I often made a simple mistake, I still congratulate myself for doing a great job.
Another thing that made my internship ten times better was the other volunteers and intern students. I got to meet and live with them (at Paganakan Dii) and I got to share experiences with them too. Although I got to only spend a few weeks getting to know them, I had a great time. Besides, they are really down when it comes to seeking a new adventure.
I was also assigned to do behavioural research on one of the female bears, named Panda. I would spend two hours of my working day, observing Panda. And I tell you, she is really adorable! I think I might have gotten crazy because at some point I hoped she could talk. At least I would have someone to talk to during the observation.
Working was fun up until a virus outbreak happened; it was on the 18th of March in 2020 when a Movement Control Order (MCO) took place. People were restricted from going out of their houses and were advised to practice social distancing. This was the time when less staff were required to come to work and intern students were advised to stay at home, following the rules given by the higher authorities from UMS. At that point, staying at home was the best choice to flatten the curve and to minimize the risk of getting the virus.
However, the adventure did not just stop there. The other intern students and I moved to Bjorn Hala. Every evening, the intern students, Vincent and Ezi, the rest of the staff and I spent the time by making enrichment. And we always prepared different types of enrichment. We also shot videos as part of the assessment for the donation campaign and we included Sunny, BSBCC’s mascot, in the video.
Apart from making enrichment every evening, our supervisors, Wawa and Pradeep, also gave me a task to do at home. I prepared a report about the bear I was observing, Panda. I found a lot of interesting reviews and studies that I could relate to. One of the things I discovered was that the enclosure complexity and natural environment is really important. Now I understand why we prepared different types of enrichment every day. It’s like a toy and entertainer to them to keep them from getting stressed out!
Bjorn Hala has a special place in my heart. I agree 100% to the phrase “It is not about the places, it’s the people”. Despite the virus outbreak and staying miles away from my hometown and family, Bjorn Hala made me feel like I was home and I never felt alone. Boboy, Mizuno, Danny, Becca, and Wawa were like my family in Bjorn Hala. They are really funny, caring, crazy and they are pretty good at cooking as well. Thank you for feeding me, sharing with me your funny, creepy, and sad stories. I will forever cherish you guys!
To conclude my 12 weeks of internship program, I came to the realisation that there is a lot of exciting and interesting things going on while working at BSBCC. I cannot explain it with words and I bet you cannot even imagine it. From going to the forest to find termites, to staying 24/7 working at home, I learnt a lot of things and that is all coming from the people around me. It was an honor to be a part of the team and to witness and experience a lot of things. I hope that one day our paths will cross again and I get to experience another adventure working with wild animals!
I thank you BSBCC for being a hero to sun bears!