Text by Sajidah Khadijah Meor Mohammad Fared
Photos by Sajidah Khadijah Meor Mohammad Fared & Chiew Lin May
Hi! My name is Saji (short for Sajidah Khadijah) and I’m a first year veterinary student from University Putra Malaysia. I am a self-proclaimed nature lover and an aspiring wildlife enthusiast. I am truly, truly stoked (and GRATEFUL) to be given this opportunity to do my industrial training at BSBCC. I could barely contain my excitement and the urge to explore everything around me during my 2-weeks stay and thus, I’ve compiled a list of the things I did and experienced throughout this journey.
9 First Things I Did & Never Regretted: -
1. hopped on a plane to Borneo for the sake of the world’s smallest (and CUTEST) bears alive! This is my first time volunteering in BSBCC and hopefully not my last <3
I get that they’re cute but they ARE NOT naturally domesticated to become pets! Kudos to BSBCC for giving these rescued Bornean sun bears a second chance at being rehabilitated back into the wild.
2. encountered orang utans, elephants, macaques and of course sun bears all within the same day (there are other animals worth mentioning as well but these are the most common creatures you are bound to meet/hear/get peed on during volunteering hours! One time, I was doing a forest feeding with my buddy keeper and a macaque peed on me as it was perching on top of a tree. I already smelt bad (because of perspiration) so I didn’t really mind. Disclaimer: these wild animals are of course just for see, not for touch!
3. visited the centre’s bear cemetery, which is located in a pretty good spot surrounded by the lush canopy of the forest and unbeknownst to the public. It was a very poignant moment for me as I paid my respects. They were gone, but not forgotten. Rest in peace dear ones.
4. did enrichments for the sun bears. This serves as a way for them to cope with the stress or boredom of being in captivity for a long time. Some of the bears here will never be released and it’s due to the fact that they have found security within the walls of the bear house. They are afraid and reluctant of stepping out of their comfort zone and so, it is vital that we provide them with enrichments to nurture their natural behaviour such as foraging, digging, clawing, climbing and such. I was assigned to take care of Amaco with the guidance from my buddy, Adneen. He is the oldest bear in the centre as he is about 26 years old. I’ve been told that their typical lifespan in the wild is about 15-18 years but because they are well taken care of when in captivity, they can reach up to 30 years of age!
Each of the bears have their own personality and as for Amaco, he is the typical “orang tua” or old man in the bear house. He’s a picky eater, doesn’t really want to stand up on his 2 hind paws and so my buddy built this structure that would help Amaco to stand up and at the same time, forage for special treats (hint: bananas and mealworm. Yum)
This structure was built by my buddy. I stuffed the Aussie dog ball with some bananas, egg carton, ginger leaves, meal worm and a drizzle of honey for Amaco’s enrichment.
This was literally taken on my first day of volunteering. It felt nice to just mingle about with the other volunteers as we made enrichments for the bears.
I sliced some apples and placed them onto a sack cloth and dusted some curry powder on it. This is a form of sensory enrichment in which the bears will be able to sniff out the curry and try to get the apples from the sack.
5. assisted a team of veterinarians performing a health check on Logan, one of the trio of the youngest bears in the bear house. I basically helped my buddy keeper to carry the sedated bear to the Sepilok Orang Utan Clinic where they conducted the check-up and tooth extraction. Also, I attended the check-up on a 13-year-old male orang utan named Ceria on the next day. Thank you so much Lin May for allowing me to attend these 2 sessions as I could get a glimpse of what wildlife veterinarians do! <3
6. extracted incisors from a dead dog! This was one of the most exciting things I’ve experienced as a vet student so far. Basically, Dr Anwar and Dr Serena from Singapore were assisting us on how to extract canine teeth because some of the bears here have poor dental hygiene because of their diet and so the residential vet will need to perform dental care for the sun bears.
7. learnt to become more competent in the kitchen. Meal preparation for 43 bears is tough as heck! From weighing the food, to chopping and slicing and rinsing them clean and even boiling them, I honestly salute the keepers for being able to do this efficiently, even without having extra helping hands on some days.
The bears are fed with an omnivorous diet which mainly consisted of starchy vegetables and fruits like bananas, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and carrots. They are also given local fruits such as rambutan and langsat. Some bears are fed chicken meat and boiled eggs to increase their body condition scoring because they are too skinny.
My biggest achievement was being able to chop the watermelons, sweet potatoes and pumpkins and I even deboned the chicken once! For someone who spends minimal time in the kitchen, volunteering at BSBCC has surely changed me for the better.
8. my buddy taught me how to saw wood!! It was frustrating at first because I wasn’t getting through with the sawing but Adneen and Roger showed me that perseverance do go a long way and so, I managed to saw wood for one of the enrichments. HOORAY! After sawing the wood, we drilled holes onto them and I stuck some bits of apple into the holes and smeared peanut butter all over. The wood pieces were either thrown overhead into the bear enclosure or I went in and placed the wood on the hammock or on the floor for the bears to play with.
Okay so these are the peeps who taught me so many invaluable things while working in the bear house: Adneen (my buddy), Roger, Azzry and Brandon. They have guided me through cleaning the enclosures, forest feeding, meal preparation and my favourite part which is making the enrichments.
This is by far my favourite enrichment, Stuffed Log. It was fun sawing wood but let’s face it, I am no where near to becoming a lumberjack.
9. went cave hiking and cruising at the Kinabatangan River! I had a day off so I hired a local guide to take me out for some insane adventure time! Gua Batu Tulug and Gua Gomantong are must-visited places!
Full time job: Veterinary student.
Part time job: Dora the Explorer
Shot taken at the peak of Agup Batu Tulug
Archaeological findings of coffins from the old age.
The Cave of Wonders (aka Gomantong Cave). It is the most popular site to find bird’s nest in Sabah.
In a nutshell, I’m glad I spent my semester break here in Borneo. It truly is a beautiful place imbued with the natural rainforests, humble and kind local people and home to the cutest bears alive.
Shot taken behind Bjorn Hala (staff quarters) and where I had built my temporary nest for 2 weeks. Thanks again for having me BSBCC! <3 <3 <3