Text by Grace Cheong Wei Yen
Photos by Grace Cheong Wei Yen & Chiew Lin May
Personally, I feel that this experience has opened my eyes to how much work it actually requires to take care of human beings, and how much more these bears need! Coming from an Asian background, the concept of filial piety is constantly reinforced, and now I truly realize how much effort my parents have put into raising me. Besides that, I have been privileged to have a first-hand experience of taking care of the sun bears which are endemic to Borneo only, a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Furthermore, there is no such satisfaction as witnessing a bear finally succeed in doing something that you had a part in!
So if you are seeking to escape the busy city life or to explore your interest in wildlife, or even carry out an internship as part of your program, then this is the place to be! Never mind all the bugs, this is a rare chance to catch a glimpse of other animal species endemic to Borneo like the sacred kingfisher and rhinoceros hornbill, or even Asian pygmy elephants! If I had the chance or time to come back a second time, I definitely would not hesitate.
Text by Angeline Ngu Hong Huong
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hey everyone! This is Angeline Ngu from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. I am a primary school teacher and also a hardcore bear fan. I am really astonished by the adorable sun bears in the forest enclosure during my first visit to BSBCC. Watching the bear sunbathing on top of the tree through the telescope almost melted my heart. No doubt it was love at first sight. Coincidently, I met Dr. Boon who is a bear doctor in BSBCC and she explains all the stories about the sun bears and the details about the volunteer programme. That’s when I made up my mind to spend my Christmas holiday volunteering in BSBCC.
Despite knowing it would be tough working with wild animals, some more need to trek in the jungle, I actually hestitated a little just before departing. But since I am really looking forward to seeing the sun bears, here I am, about to end my two weeks volunteering with a really heavy heart, especially to say goodbyes to all the sun bears when I have just started to recognize them by their characteristics =( And not forgetting the friendly staffs in BSBCC whom I call the bear family.
For me, it is a bittersweet experience working in BSBCC. Let’s first talk about the sw-eeeeett part. It’s a big bear family here in BSBCC where the keepers are like the parents to all the sun bears. You must witness how worried the keepers are when the bears are not feeling well. They would try everything to make sure the bears take their medication. Throughout the volunteering days I had so much laughters with the keepers and all the friendly staffs in BSBCC as we share everything from our family to the bear stories. Not forgetting the Christmas party in Bjorn Hala, the keepers are capable of doing everything from fixing electric fence to cooking. The food they prepared is finger-lickin good! The sweetest part, the keepers constantly checking us volunteers out to make sure that we can handle our tasks and are always there to help whenever we need. We had so much laughters inside and outside BSBCC. Here comes the bitter part. I would say it is really tough taking care of wild animals as it requires a lot of heavy work. It is a great challenge for me to trek through the muddy and slippery ground in the forest especially during rainy season to check the electric fence. A big thank you to my buddy keeper, Mr. Pradeep who always tolerated me and my snail pace when hiking up and down the hill. Carrying heavy objects like food and wood is inevitable in the bear house but the keepers are always ready to help. Overall, all the hard work is worthwhile as long as the bears are happy and healthy.
Volunteering in BSBCC is truly an eye opener. I am privileged to having been able to join medical checkup session on the oldest bear in BSBCC, Amaco who is currently 27 years old with Dr. Boon and Dr. Reza. I was tremendously nervous before that as everyone is worried that he might not be able to pull through the process due to his age. Fortunately, he did and he was recovering well! During the process, I have learnt how to measure a bear’s heartbeat, respiration and body temperature. All this sounds pretty easy until I was inside the clinic and was really panicing because I could not hear the heartbeat even with a stethoscope. Meanwhile, Dr. Reza patiently taught me to first feel the heartbeat then hearing it would be easier. It works like magic! I was also given the opportunity to help Dr. Boon in recording dental details of Amaco and to trim its nails with a mini saw! That is something new! I enjoyed everything throughout the process as I know I would never have the opportunity to experience all these in my life. Not a single day passed by that I did not learn something new while working with the sun bears. Yeap! That is me trying to complete the entire “mission impossible” and I am proud to say MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!
Video by Chiew Lin May
"A good friend listens to your adventures!" - Little Romolina & Logan
Text by Pradeep Gunasegaran
Photos by Chiew Lin May
There is more exciting news about Linggam this month! After a successful integration session with Susie, Kuamut, Manis, Cerah and Jelita, the next steps to releasing Linggam with the five females into the forest enclosure were taken. Linggam and the female sun bears were rotated into Bear House 2 in order for Linggam to undergo his fence training once again after eight years.
On Christmas Eve of 2019, Linggam was introduced into the training pen to recognize the hotwire. On the first day, Linggam only looked outside into the training pen and refused to step into it. He only took the baits that were placed closest to him and consumed the bait in the bear house. He continued to behave the same way for the next two days of his release into the training pen. However, he was a little bit braver each day as he would venture slightly further from the bear house BUT his back legs would still be touching the door of Bear House 2 while he stretched out to take his baits and looked into the training pen. At times he looked into the training pen, he also looked at the food that was ‘out of his reach’.
On Day 4, Linggam completely went into the training pen without having his back legs in Bear House 2. The few days of looking at the other bait that was left far from his reach probably pushed him to venture into the training pen. By being in the training pen, he was also able to see Manis, Cerah and Jelita who were around and that probably calmed him down as he slowly explored the area in the training pen that was closest to the bear house.
The following day, Linggam was showing more of his bravery and he slowly moved further into the training pen. However, his training process on this day was tougher as there were much other stimulation around the training pen. The sound of the chain saw being used by the staff and the wild pig tailed macaque troop definitely startled him a few times as he kept running back into the bear house. Although he appeared scared multiple times, Linggam showed resilience by sniffing the air in the training pen and slowly making his way out again. At the end of the day, Linggam stayed overnight in the training pen and did not come back into the bear house.
Seeing that he has familiarized with training, the next phase of this training exercise was to get Linggam to touch the electric wire. This activity is important as Linggam would need to recognize the electric wire that would be present in the forest enclosure. By recognizing the electric wire, this would ensure that Linggam would not attempt to escape from the forest enclosure. Thus, in order to make him touch the electric fence, food was placed closer to the wire. Linggam approached the food but he did not touch the wire. The following day, the food was then placed directly under the electric wire. Shockingly, Linggam showed that he actually remembered the electric fence. Linggam would sniff the food that was placed underneath the electric wire, move a few steps behind, lower his body to the ground and then reach out for the food with one of his legs. AFTER EIGHT YEARS, he still recognized the electric fence. ASTONISHING!! Majority of us would believe that animals, especially the wild ones, would not have a good memory to remember something like this. There and then, Linggam passed his fence training and was given free access from the bear house into the training pen for him to become comfortable and confident with moving around the two types of pens. By being in the training pen, he was also able to see the forest that he would soon enter to join the five female sun bears.
After twelve days since releasing Linggam into the training pen, on the 4th of January 2020, it was time for Linggam to be released into the forest enclosure. The guillotine door from the training pen to the forest enclosure was initially opened to observe Linggam’s reaction. He was immediately curious as he left the bear house into the training pen. Even though he was curious, he was still unsure about stepping into the forest enclosure. All he did was sniff the air at the door and walk along the fence. Seeing that he was really curious, banana coated with honey was thrown at the front of the guillotine door to motivate Linggam to enter the forest enclosure. He was most definitely aware of the treat that was just within his grasp, but due to his fear he was not able to enjoy it. The frustration built up and Linggam began pushing the furniture in the training pen. After a few minutes of throwing a tantrum, Linggam quickly dashed out into the forest enclosure and quickly gobbled up his reward.
The first bear that noticed his success was Cerah. From a distance, she had a good look at Linggam and she slowly tried to approach him. However, she was unsure about approaching this new individual in the forest enclosure; she moved away and vocalized towards Jelita. As soon as Cerah vocalized, Jelita came and both of them approached Linggam together. As they met, Linggam, Cerah and Jelita clucked at each other. Immediately after interacting, Linggam started moving along the fence of the forest enclosure to explore the environment. Cerah and Jelita just followed his back as Linggam showed that he was not afraid of the forest enclosure. UNBELIEVABLE! Eight years ago when he entered the forest enclosure, it took him a long time to start exploring the environment. There Linggam was entering the pool of water, sniffing the plants, sniffing the trees, and even sniffing the electric wire. As he was exploring, he then met Susie and they started interacting the same way as they did in the bear house. After interacting a while, he continued exploring and foraging for food as well. Soon enough, it was Kuamat who came searching for him and they interacted together for a long time. Once he was done, he continued with his exploration of the forest enclosure. Day 1 of being released into the forest enclosure and Linggam behaved liked he truly belonged there, being all confident. Could it be due to the female sun bears that made him relax and enjoy the natural surrounding? Is it possible that an animal that lives in solitary in the wild could be taught to live like a wild bear in captivity by joining a social group? The outcome was astonishing and today, Linggam is enjoying his days being in the elements of nature and being a sun bear with Susie, Kuamut, Manis, Cerah, and Jelita.
Logan and Giant Forest Ants
Happy Monday everyone!
"Only one of the reasons I love forest home so much!"-Logan
Text by Dr. Yeoh Boon Nie
Photos by BSBCC
2019 was a challenging year to initiate a new line of health care for our bears. Dental health in captive wildlife is a common but easily overlooked health issue. Last year we equipped ourselves with the basic equipment required for dental work.
In the past year, we have conducted a detailed dental examination, scaling and polishing for all resident sun bears. We noticed some positive behavioural changes in bears that received dental treatment. The bears are now confidently eating, smiling and playing with a healthier set of teeth.
You must be wondering why they have such terrible oral health.
Before and after dental scaling:
Sun bear dental check-up. We found one of the female bear had chronic gingivitis and dental tartar with numerous loose teeth.
It is ridiculous to assume that human food is suitable to feed wildlife.
“If Bruno could talk, it would surely say the food I gave was delicious. He ate chocolate,”
What would you do if you were locked in an extremely small and barren cage? Bar biting is one of the stereotypical behaviours developed in some of our bear’s prior to being rescued. This behaviour has weakened the tooth, and eventually has resulted in a tooth fracture. The damage caused on teeth is permanent with the treatment likely to be extraction. Without a functional canine tooth, eating a normal diet is greatly affected.
We are glad that last year we started looking into these issues; pin pointed the problems and scheduled the treatments. The work is ongoing and many dental treatments still require expertise from our vet dentist.
Please support our work. Your donation will be channelled towards purchasing more suitable dental equipment, treatment costs for the bears, and funds to seek expertise assistance.
Text by Nursyahidah Binti Hassim
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hola! My name is Nursyahidah Hassim. I am 25 years old and I am from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. I graduated in Conservation Biology from the University Malaysia Sabah back in 2016. Before volunteering here in BSBCC, I have been working on insects (especially on butterflies) while in university and when I was working at the Poring Butterfly Farm in Ranau. The reason why I came here to volunteer is that I really want to gain new experiences working with mammals. Since I already have experiences working with insects, I also want to experience and learn how to manage mammals. So, I thought that BSBCC is the perfect place for me to go!
On the 5th of Dec 2019, me and my friend, Yen Chi arrived at the BSBCC for our safety induction. We met Lin May (one of BSBCC officer that who is in charge with the volunteer programme) and had our safety induction in the staff room. After we had our safety induction, she showed us around the BSBCC area. We went to the bear house and met all the staff there. All the staff are very friendly and funny. Throughout the volunteer programme, I have gained tons of new experiences. My volunteer session lasted for 2 weeks. Every volunteer was assigned with their own respective buddy (Senior/Junior Keeper). The purpose of having a buddy is that our buddy is the one that will assist us in our work throughout the programme. I was assigned with a junior keeper named Roger. He was helpful, nice, funny and it was really fun working with him. He assisted me with all the works that had been given to me. During the volunteer programme, I have helped cleaning the bear cages, preparing food for the bears in the kitchen, feeding the bears outside (forest enclosure) and inside the bear house, assisted Roger in fence checking, doing integration between bears (between Linggam and Suzie, Kuamut, Jelita and Manis), helping Dr Boon counting bear respiratory rate and making bear enrichments. I also assisted Dr Boon with the bear health check. During the health check, I helped counting the respiratory rate and the heart beat of the bear. It was really fun participating in the bear health check session because I got to observe and feel the sun bear more closely. Moreover, I also got to see Dr Boon performed dental scaling on the bear’s teeth. Making enrichment is also one of the most fun activity to do. It was satisfying to see the bears playing with their enrichment so that they do not get bored inside their den. It was really interesting to see the bears using their long tongue to angle for the food (peanut butter/honey/dog biscuits/leaves) that had been stuffed inside the Aussie ball.
Being involved in this volunteer programme has opened my eyes for the importance of sun bears in our ecosystem. Sun bears search for honey in the forest by tearing up tree trunks that create nesting sites for birds, thus becoming the engineers of the woods. They also help to maintain the fertility of the soil implicitly while digging for invertebrate for snacks. I’m sad that poachers failed to see the value of sun bears in our ecosystem just for the sake of money. I want the world to see the importance of our little engineers in the wood as I did, and I highly recommend people to join this programme.
So, I would like to say thank you to BSBCC for giving me this amazing opportunity to be a part of the Centre as a volunteer. Good luck for the future and see you guys again soon. I miss you guys and the bears!
Video by Chiew Lin May
Sun bears climb trees to forage for food, rest or protect themselves from predators.
Ah Bui is an arboreal bear. You may wonder what is it that makes Ah Bui such a good climber?
Text by Kam Kai Cheng
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hi, my name is Kam Kai Cheng from Ipoh, Perak and I am currently 22 years old pursuing a degree in Public Relations in Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman. It is my honor to serve as a volunteer in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre for two weeks. My reason for joining the voluntary program is to learn more about the Bornean Sun Bears and get step closer towards the nature in Sepilok rainforest. It was an overwhelming experience throughout the weeks in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre as I learned bear habits and their health conditions. Our daily routine in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is to clean the bear house in the conservation centre. The purpose of cleaning the cages is very important as it helps to ensure the bear can live comfortably and in good health. If cages are not properly cleaned, the bears may get unwanted diseases from the bacteria. All of the volunteers are assigned to a buddy which is an experienced keeper. My buddy was Jeniur which is from Kota Kinabalu and his nickname is BoBoii. He is very experienced in this field of work and he always likes to be funny around us. He taught me a lot of things throughout the weeks and it was an opportunity where I can learn from him.
Sometimes, we do get the chance to work in the kitchen, where we need to prepare the food for the bears. The task that we need to do in the kitchen is to ensure that all the bears will get the nutrients and diet they need. Besides that, sometimes we do have the opportunity to do fence checking and outside feedings. Fence checking and outside feeding was very thrilling as we need to walk into the jungle to finish our tasks. We need to make sure that all the fences are running well so that the sun bears can not escaped in to the wild. It is always adventurous to do a jungle walk where we will see monkeys hanging around and insects that we could never see in the city. During my volunteering, all of the bears in the Conservation Centre had a health check with the in house veterinary, so to ensure that all the bears are in good health.
Overall, I can say that the experience and knowledge I gained through the voluntary program will be unforgettable and memorable. It is not something that we can learn in a city or town but in the forest enclosure, the knowledge and experience we can get is unlimited. Therefore, I am glad that I had the chance to experience all these by volunteering myself in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.
Text by Ng Jie Min
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hi, I am Ng Jie Min from Bukit Mertajam, Pulau Pinang. I am currently 21 years old and studying Bachelor Of Communication (HONS) Public Relations in Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman,Kampar Campus. I do love nature and wildlife, so I decided to join BSBCC and serve as a volunteer in this semester break. This is my first time doing volunteering with wildlife and animals. In these two weeks, I learned a lot about the smallest bear in world, which is “Sun bear”. I also helped to clean their cages, feeding, prepare foods, make enrichment, and participated in their health check and did fence checking.
Thanks to have my buddy Pradeep, who introduced me to the sun bears. I now know that every sun bear has their own name and story behind them. In the food preparing sessions, it was complicated because every sun bear has their own food diet. Mostly we need to prepare a lot of fruits and vegetables for the bears, such as bananas, watermelons, papayas, pumpkins, cucumbers, mung beans, dog biscuits, bak choy, sweet potato and coconuts
Sometimes I also joined the keeper to fence check even though it is raining day. Yuckssss, it is muddy and leeches are everywhere! But I still try to face it because I know that this is a valuable lesson that I cannot get to learn in my life anywhere else. Making enrichment for sun bears is the session that I love the most. Enrichments can make those bears happier, exciting and reduce their stress. I did lot of enrichments including making Christmas present for them!
I was also assigned to observe some bears during their integrations. The most unforgettable moments was when Linggam, Susie and Kuamut love to play with each other. They keep pawing and hugging each other to show their love and kindness. I even got to join Ronnie Boy’s release attempt into Pen G in Day 10. I am happy with that because I saw improvement and hard work pays off.
I also was invited and join Dr. Boon Dental Health Check for the sun bears. BJ who is a male sun bear in the centre weighs 38kg. I helped to get its temperature every 5 minutes during the health check and helped it to clean his teeth. I gained new knowledge about sun bear’s teeth and it was fun to learn about their health. We also had a discussion session with Dr.Wong Siew Te who is the founder and CEO of Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. He shared with us his own story and how he met sun bears. He spends his whole life time taking care those wildlife animals. So the name “Sun bears PaPa” really matches him a lot!
One of the tasks that I really enjoyed it was having a communication session with the visitors who come over BSBCC. They ask a lot about the sun bear living style and environment. I have enjoyed this and could tell them what I actually learned here. I also shared with them the experiences of being a volunteer for two weeks’ time in the centre.
Every lunch time, I went to the nearest cafeteria to have lunch. The cafeteria was clean and the boss was friendly. Dinner is usually at the resort Paganakan Dii. The most favourite meal I love here is the lamb chop that cooked in the traditional Paganakan flavour. Yummy Yummy Yummy!
I am a person who is used to live and stay in city areas. So in these two weeks, I learned a lot about nature and got step closer to the nature. I was very happy here because all staff in the working area is so nice and friendly. I promise myself that if I get chance to come to Sandakan again, I will be back to BSBCC to serve as volunteer again. I felt peace of mind when I saw all the sun bears in a peaceful environment. Thanks again to Dr. Wong Siew Te and staffs for teaching me such valuable lessons about wildlife in the 2 weeks’ time.