Text and Photos by Garnette Nawin
Hello everyone! My name is Garnette Nawin. I’m a 20 year old Sarawakian from East Malaysia. I am from Miri, Sarawak and I’m currently doing my second year of Diploma in Animal Health and Production. It was funny at first when I got lost searching for the BSBCC here in Sepilok, Sandakan, because everything that I had imagined was not as expected. Gladly my supervisor, Thye Lim, never got tired of me asking questions, and just by describing the entrance of BSBCC through the phone, he had successfully showed me the way to the visitors centre. I was so anxious and nervous as it was truly my first experience to be so far away from my hometown doing an internship about the Sun Bears. I was greeted by two very friendly staffs from BSBCC, Rahim (also my housemate) and Fairo, upon my arrival. They showed me around the visitors centre and the staffs’ office and had made me feel like home already. At that time Wong, the CEO and Founder of BSBCC, was not around so the other intern students and I got a short and interesting briefing by Tee Thye Lim, our supervisor in doing the internship programme. He introduced about the background of the centre and also showed us around the Bear Houses.
I got more excited when I got to meet two of the international volunteers which were Tom and Rica, the lovely couple that always warmed my heart with their sweet smiles and guidance. Although I only had the chance to work with them for a few days, they had already made me excited as I’d never had the feeling of working together with adults as a team. What more to say when they are from the other side of the world. Silly me! Haha!
Then, the most exciting part was when I got to see the bears at the observation platform. I have no idea that they existed in Borneo. All I knew was mostly about the Orang Utans and Monkeys. Yes, that’s all I knew. As it was the first time seeing the bears it made me ask multiple questions to Thye Lim and he kindly explained almost everything about them to me. Knowing that I would get the chance to work with the bears the next day had got me more excited. Haha!
Same goes to Lin May as the Researcher and the Reintroduction Officer. As far as I know, she would always be there when I have to consult her with questions and information. To sum it up, all of the staffs here at BSBCC act as a big family and would always be there first when you have any problems. Also, of course safety and healthy are always the “top” ranking being applied when we carried out our work. Work hard, play hard!
Working at the Bear House with the keepers and also workers that were under the bear care unit taught me a lot of unexpected knowledge. I got to know the behaviours and especially the personalities of each bears. Although there are only 35 rescued bears at the moment, I still had difficulty recognizing certain bears from a distance when I was at the observation platform as they have similar body size. Besides that, unlimited enrichment activities are given to the bears, whether it is in the form of food or the opposite way. The centres mission is to let the bears learn by themselves and our job is to provide them with as many things as possible. Each and every bear also have their own proportions of porridge and supplement. This is needed for the particular bears that have a health problem or injuries or wounds.
Working with the supervisor and the other staffs has taught me about punctuality and being disciplined in carry out every day work, even from other aspects. Of course, excuses are totally not allowed! Being here at BSBCC helped me so much in improving my communication and language skills, especially in English. Not just in the form of meeting other international volunteers and countless visitors every day, but in the form of how to approach them and greet them with a warm and sincere smile.
Being here as one of the intern students taught me countless of amazing experiences and not to forget that the challenges were more than I had expected. But for me, that was the fun part. The longer I have stayed here, the more that I have taught myself that there is much more to learn and to learn despite the activities and work being conducted are almost the same every day. Lucky me having got the chance to discover the BSBCC’s website on the internet where it is just one click away! Gaining the precious experiences here has made me wonder that the period of only 10 weeks is not close to enough.
Before saying goodbye, let’s share with you guys some photos I’ve taken during my time at BSBCC!
Working here was not easy, challenges were much to face but I can guarantee there is super extreme fun that awaits you! Grab the precious chance to work with the staffs here in taking care of the bears then spread the news everywhere you go! If I were to tell you about all my experiences during my time here at BSBCC, I could go on for countless pages. Do it for the bears as they have the right to live in the wild again in the future.
Text By BSBCC
Photos By BSBCC & Scuba Zoo
Finally able to breathe true freedom in the wild…
Just before Christmas 2010 baby cub Natalie was rescued from illegal pet trade and sent to Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) on December 23rd. It was claimed that she was found alone and abandoned by her mother. However, we suspected that her mother was killed by poachers and she was captured and illegally kept as a pet.
A 5 year old adult female beautiful Natalie built up her survival skills, independence and learned to behave like a wild sun bear. Her improvement in her survival skills in the forest enclosure has been excellent. She became an exceptional climber and tree nest maker. After learning in BSBCC for five years Natalie is ready to be released back to where she belongs – the forest. The ultimate goal of BSBCC is to return rehabilitated sun bears back to the wild and on Sunday May 17th, 2015 it was time to follow this goal; BSBCC started the journey to release Natalie back to the protected forest. Previous to her journey she was fitted with a satellite collar to keep track of her even after her release. In order to transport the sun bear to the forest as far as possible we choose to use a helicopter. After a long discussion, Wong decided that the helicopter model Layang-Layang Aerospace Sdn Bhd (BO105) was the suitable for our purposes because it could fit transportation cage.
This is the FIRST time that a captive sun bear got reintroduced to its natural habitat in Sabah using a helicopter and is monitored post release with the help of a satellite collar. Natalie is ready to live a new life as a truly wild sun bear in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve. The experience she has gathered throughout her 5 years at the rehabilitation centre will help her explore her true home in the core area of Tabin Wildlife Reserve. The core area encompasses 120500 hectares and is a pristine rainforest with no human disturbances but lots of big trees, fig trees and a variety of wildlife.
It was a challenging day. All hopes and prayers were solely for this release activity to go as smoothly as planned. The release team’s preparations already started at 3pm on May 16th, 2015 at the bear house of BSBCC when Sabah Wildlife Department vet, Dr. Laura Benedict started the sedation process. A full physical health examination showed that Natalie was completely healthy at 45kg of weight. Dr. Laura Benedict inserted a microchip into Natalie’s body.
Natalie was then moved to her translocation cage. Natalie’s journey started on a WRU truck to Wildlife Department Quarter Lahad Datu in the east of Sabah, two hours from BSBCC. Natalie was kept in the translocation cage overnight close to the veterinarians, the WRU team and the team of BSBCC. She was under constant observation and fed with water, honey and banana. Natalie seemed to be stressed in the translocation cage, but freedom was just around the corner.
The team woke up early in the morning on May 17th 2015, and got ready at Tabin Headquarter at 6.30 am. After a full assessment, the weather was considered safe for the helicopter to land at Tabin Headquarter. Once the helicopter arrived, the operation was split into three different trips. With the first two trips the team entered the mud volcano of Tabin to evaluate and identify the most suitable release site.
At 10.17 am, it was Natalie’s turn to be flown to Tabin mud volcano
Once Natalie arrived, the team set up the translocation cage in the correct direction for release. Dr. Laura Benedict conducted a final check, to ensure that Natalie was ready to enter her new home!
A 20 m rope was tied to the sliding gate of the cage. The team stood 15 m away from the translocation cage.
As soon as the door of her cage was opened, Natalie straight headed into the forest. She explored everything, sniffed the air of Tabin and assessed her new environment before disappearing into the tall tree canopy of the forest. Tabin Wildlife Reserve has welcomed her into a new protected home. The emotions running through the forest while watching Natalie enjoying her newfound freedom are un-describable. A heart-warming moment filled with tears of joy.
Wildlife Rescue Unit team, Tabin Rangers, BSBCC team and Scuba Zoo Filming Crews in Tabin Headquarter. Thanks for all your support in helping sun bear and release work.
Natalie! Stay healthy, happy and keep growing gracefully!
You will always be in our hearts!
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Montom, is a three years old male sun bear. The name “Montom” means black in Dusun language and his personality matches his name. He arrived at BSBCC on January 21st, 2015. He was surrendered by his owner who had been keeping Montom as a pet at Kampung Melangkap, Kota Marudu. Montom’s owner reported to the Wildlife Rescue Unit that their dog chased away his mother and abandoned Montom. He was then taken and kept as a pet for a year. Just like a human, this behavior is very unlikely as a sun bear mother is very protective of their offspring and would not leave her infant alone at such a young age. Montom has lost the important time he needs to learn from his mother so he can become an independent wild sun bear.
During the quarantine period Montom was so alert with his surroundings and he would stay high up on the enrichment platform. He also would bark when he saw our staff around. He enjoys his quiet time and does not like any disturbances. Despite his young age, Montom showed amazing courage as he overcame his fear and quickly adapted to his new environment over the last three months. Montom has a big appetite and his favorites are banana, papaya, watermelon and honey. With his nutritious diet, he is getting physically stronger.
After Montom finished his quarantine period, he was moved to a larger exercise den which is equipped with enrichment tools such as dry leaves, green leaves, and old logs to learn all the necessary survival skills such as digging, natural food selection and climbing.
Montom is a highly inquisitive young sun bear. Once he stepped into the exercise den he climbed up a climbing structure right away and was very curious about it.
Little by little he ventured around the exercise den. Enrichment is vital for sun bears in our centre. This enrichment helps to provide positive wild behaviour and avoid stress. Montom is very happy here and every day he will get involved with the various enrichment activities. He particularly likes the Aussie dog ball, where he will try to explore how to access the food and honey!
He has spent a great deal of time in the exercise den. Montom’s survival skills have been developing rapidly. Montom continues to do well and has developed new skills during his rehabilitation.
This year, BSBCC has received two orphaned sun bears. Montom is one of them. A victim of sun bear pet trade which has also caused him the loss of his mother. We will continue to help Montom develop the skills needed for his return to the wild. The next step for him is he will be introduced to Susie, a female sub-adult sun bear and will slowly join a big group of bears, then step into the forest enclosure. So stay turned!