Text by Emma Pettersson
Photos by Sumira Muis (APE)
My name is Emma Pettersson, I am 18 years old, from Sweden. I study animal care in Stockholm and I´m in my final year of a 3-year education. I got the opportunity to volunteer at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre through a scholarship from my school and it is also a part of the internship that is included in my education. I left Sweden, along with my classmate Sara, to volunteer for 5 weeks.
Before I came to Borneo I had never visited Asia, experienced high humidity or worked in this kind of heat before. Everything was new to me, not only the climate but also the culture, the food and so forth. I was a bit nervous before coming here. I wasn´t sure what to expect or how to behave towards the staff. As soon I got here however, I realised that when it came to the people, there was nothing to worry about. They were all very nice and welcoming, and they made me feel comfortable. The climate on the other hand, did the opposite and I have been running around looking like a “sweaty tomato-face” for weeks. It was totally worth it though!
The daily routines at the BSBCC included feeding, cleaning and making enrichments for the bears. The work was challenging at first and the staff kept asking me if I was OK, because I probably looked like I was going to pass out at any moment. I quickly got used to the routines (not the heat though) and slowly started to learn the names of the bears. The part I enjoyed the most was making enrichments and watching the bears play with them. Once I spent enough time in the bearhouse I started to see the different behaviours and characteristics with each individual bear and it made it even more fun to create special enrichment for them. Sara and I got to make our own enrichment and decide which bear we wanted to give it to. Our enrichment was made out of bamboo and had treats hidden inside it. We also made smaller enrichments daily, such as nest balls, where we tied a bunch of leaves around a core of treats into a ball.
We only have a few more days at the centre before we have to go back to Sweden, it´s crazy how fast 5 weeks went by. It has been an honour to work alongside the bearkeepers and the rest of the staff at the BSBCC, who all do an amazing job. It has been my pleasure to get to know the people and the bears during my time here, hopefully I have made some friends. Even though it was extremely sad to hear about the bears´ backgrounds and the traumatic experiences they´ve been put through, the atmosphere in the bearhouse remains positive. I didn´t know much about sun bears before I came to Borneo but during my time here I´ve come to appreciate them and have learned a lot, they are truly amazing animals. Unfortunately, I haven´t been able to get to know all 44 bears as well as I would have wanted, there just wasn´t enough time. However, I did get to see many different personalities and that each individual is different. Huge shout-out to the staff at BSBCC for doing everything you do and for being so positive and passionate about your job, I found it inspiring to see how much you care. Hopefully the BSBCC can continue to educate the public and make a difference for the bears for many years to come. Thank you for these amazing 5 weeks, I will bring many great memories with me back to Sweden.