Text By Lim Hui Wen
Photos By Seng Yen Wah
I am Hui Wen, a 19 year old Malaysian currently studying Anthropology at University College London (UCL) in the UK.
I learnt about BSBCC through the Roots & Shoots Malaysian Award program, endorsed by Jane Goodall, a program which encourages Malaysian Youth to connect to the environment through volunteering at various organizations. Previously, I volunteered at a turtle sanctuary at a small island called Lang Tengah off the East Coast of Malaysia, right next to Redang Island. Having enjoyed learning a lot about turtles and their environment, it piqued my interest in volunteering with other animals. Hence, for my next volunteering opportunity, out of the many organizations offered, I chose to volunteer at BSBCC and spend three weeks of my summer here in Sabah because I want to learn more about the sun bears life as well as how a conservation center functions. Right now, I am at the tail end of my three weeks here and so far my experience here has been phenomenal.
Just by volunteering here, my knowledge of the sun bears, their behaviour, and the conservation center now exceeds the informational plaques scattered around the visitor center. From the questions I have asked Dr Wong and the others working here, one of the many things I now know is the role of the government and the laws regarding sun bears and other endangered animals. On top of that, I also know the history and habits of some of the bears as well as their personality.
Volunteering here, I thought that I would only be doing some basic work such as working in the kitchen, cleaning the bear house, and making enrichment to entertain the bears. I never would have imagined that I will get the amazing opportunity to observe and assist in the health check-up of a sun bear, recording Jelita’s pulse, temperature and respiration, while the doctors clean a wound behind her ear.
Though I will be sad to leave the sun bears and the people here who have helped me learn the ropes and accompanied for the past few weeks, I will not be sad leaving the leeches behind! (I really hate leeches). This invaluable experience has allowed me to do things that I would have never seen myself doing – Jelita’s health check-up – but has more importantly reminded me to conserve and respect the environment we live in, as well as to strive and protect the environment and the creatures that live in and rely on it.
Text by Megan Katie Noblett
Photos by Megan Katie Noblett & Chiew Lin May
There are three things you need to know about Borneo before you volunteer with BSBCC. It is hot. It is humid. There are a lot of bugs. As someone best suited to the cold and who can barely cope with a British summer and has a deep dislike bordering on phobia of things that have too many legs (aka anything more than six) I did actually get asked the question by my mother why on Earth I was going to a place so hot, so humid and full of creepy crawlies that literally set my skin crawling; the answer – the bears.
I am a zoology graduate and also earned a masters degree in Anthrozoology (the study of human-animal interaction) and was fortunate enough to conduct my research project on Moon bears in China. Even before this, bears have fascinated me and it is on my bucket list to work with each of the eight species or at the very least see them in their natural habitat. But I didn’t want to volunteer with BSBCC just to tick a species off my list but because I was deeply impressed with the vital work Dr. Wong and his team are doing. I have followed the organisation for a few years and finally had the time to take the 16 hour plane ride to Borneo to work with BSBCC and see the Sun bears.
Upon arrival I was met with the heat, the humidity and the bugs (so many bugs) but I quickly forgot them and even embraced them as I was set to work cleaning cages, preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner for 43 bears (they each eat 5kg of food a day so as you can imagine, there is A LOT of food), doing fence checks, helping with public education and making enrichment.
Enrichment was definitely the most enjoyable part of being in the bears houses. Making nest balls (peanut butter, bananas, apples and spices wrapped up in a nest of twigs and leaves), hosepipe honeycombs (fake beehives made from old fire-hoses stuffed with peanut butter, bananas, apples and spices) Sun bear burgers (two egg cartons strapped together around leaves with – you guessed it – peanut butter, bananas, apples and spices) and giant ice pops made from fruits and veg for the Sun bears to enjoy on a hot day. We spent hours carefully crafting these items to watch the bears rip them into pieces a matter of seconds. However, it was most certainly worth all the hard work to see the enjoyment the bears got from seeking out the sweet treats.
The highlight of the trip was working with one particular bear, Sigalung. Being kept illegally as a pet since cubhood until his rescue in 2014, Sigalung was a little afraid to step out of his indoor den into the forest enclosure and I was tasked with trying to get him to go outside and observing him as he did. We laid food and yummy treats like peanut butter and honey to appease his sweet tooth and day by day we moved the treats further down the platform and the steps leading to the enclosure. The first day I observed him, I could clearly see how tense and even frightened he was. He would stretch out as far as he could whilst still keeping his back two paws in doors to reach his food. He would make a quick grab of the food and took it inside so he would have to exposed more than necessary. At one point a butterfly flew at him and he startled so badly he ran back inside. We persevered and each day Sigalung became braver and braver (I think the peanut butter helped a lot) until he was walking out onto the platforms as soon as the doors opened and even ate outside. It was wonderful to see how this bear was overcoming his fears and I hope he will progress further until he can enjoy the forest enclosure with his bear friends.
It was my first time in Borneo and stayed on my own there for a month, but never felt lonely. The keepers and all the staff at BSBCC and APE Malaysia along with my fellow volunteers are wonderful friendly people who are quick to welcome you to the Sun bear family. They have really looked after me, making me laugh and patiently answered all my questions (mainly, ‘which bear is that again?’).
Sabah is a truly gorgeous place. Not only did I get see one of my favourite animals up close but I was surrounded by the beauty of Borneo and all the magnificent creatures that call it home. Geckos, Sunbirds, Flying lemur, Monitor lizards, Giant flying squirrels, baby Macaques, Giant fruit bats, Pygmy squirrels, a whole host of butterflies and dragonflies were only some of the many animals I was able to see in the wild just by looking around the centre and my accommodation. The experience has been truly magical and something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I am a tutor of Animal Management at a FE college back in England, teaching 16 – 19 year olds all about animal biology, husbandry and conservation. It is the type of experience I have had at BSBCC that I can use to encourage my students and inspire them in their own careers in the wildlife and conservation sector. I would encourage anyone to volunteer with BSBCC; even with the heat, the humidity and, yes, the bugs – the bears are so worth it and I will miss them all a lot.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Million thanks to Anton Ngui for the support and kind fruits donation for the rescued bears. We would not be able to provide this without your help.
Sun bears love tasty fruits! This is where you can help them. Every gift gives these bears the love they really deserve.
You all make the difference!
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Each rescued sun bear that has arrived at BSBCC were previously kept locked in cages and would try to bite the bars to find their way out; this has caused them to suffer from severe dental disease. Inappropriate diet in the pet trade can also lead to long term dental damage. Dental disease is an often overlooked threat to the comfort and health of bears.
BSBCC organised a workshop about the “Sun Bear Dental Case” on 20-23 Aug 2019. It was a real honour and privilege to have amazing guests from Singapore Zoo, Dr. Ali Anwar and Dr. Serena Oh from Wildlife Asia Veterinary Services (WAVES) came to share their experiences with veterinarians and us about how to detect and treat dental problems in the bears. The workshop focused on animal dental anatomy, dental charts, dental radiography techniques, and periodontal diseases.
Three sun bears: Diana, Logan, and Kudat were chosen to receive treatment for dental radiography and dental extraction. Through receiving these dental care treatments, it will improve the wellbeing and health of the bear.
Thank you Dr. Anwar and Dr. Serena, we will make sure their health continues to improve and they are able to enjoy their nutritious food. See you again!
Video by Chiew Lin May
"Excited to be in forest where was surrounded by tall trees, green grass and everything wild!" - Noah & Dodop
Text by Natalie Lian Qian Wei (Intern Student, University Science Malaysia)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hello everyone! Today I am going to tell you a story about a little bear making friends. Her name is Romolina, she is one year old. She is tiny, but definitely mighty (Romolina is a grumpy bear! Roar!). Not forgetting to mention that she has two friends, Joe and Logan. They live together in forest enclosure.
But first, we must know that sun bears live solitary in nature, and we can only find sun bears together during the mating season or when a mama bear takes care of her baby. Here in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), helping sun bears to make friends (also known as integration) helps to encourage healthy bear behaviour as the bears can learn from each other of essential skills, conserve space (as we already have 43 bears!), and reduce stress. Before this, little Romolina was already integrated with the other sub-adult sun bears, which include Wawa, Mary, Dodop, Noah and Nano. The integration process was done in an indoor enclosure. However, when they were released to the forest (outdoor) enclosure, Romolina could not live with them harmoniously. This might be due to problems such as territoriality, difference in body size (Romolina has a relatively small body size, which is not good for play-fights), or Romolina’s independent personality. This left a scar in their relationships that needs to be healed.
Therefore, it gave us a mission: Help Romolina to be friends with the other bears again. Each integration session was to be carried out for 30 minutes, in the indoor enclosure of Bear House 1.
It wasn’t an easy process. Besides her bestfriends Logan and Joe, Romolina would run around, growl, huff and bark whenever the other bears approached her.
Anyway, here is a brief summary of Romolina’s interaction with the other bears she was to be integrated with:
Noah is a friendly and playful bear. During integration, Noah would approach Romolina. He chased and wanted to play with her. Little Romolina avoided Noah but there was once, Romolina was “caught” by Noah. Noah bit her in a playful manner. We were pleased that Romolina did not fight with Noah!
As for Nano, during integration, Nano was not interested to approach Romolina and was just minding his own business. Moving on we will talk about her integration with Wawa. Although Romolina would react negatively when the other bears approached her, Wawa is a brave bear as she would still try to approach Romolina. She would go to Romolina slowly, with her head bowed down. Even though Wawa was not aggressive to her, Romolina would still avoid her.
Dodop rarely approached Romolina. However, something happened between Romolina and Dodop during an integration session - A fight! The cause of the fight was an accident, though. Noah was chasing Romolina around the enclosures to play with her, Romolina panicked, ran around and unintentionally, ran into Dodop. A fight then happened between them. We then had to stop the fight rapidly using a bucket of water and a fire extinguisher.
As for Mary, integration did not go well between them too. Romolina would barked and growled at Mary. There was once, Mary attempted to bite Romolina too.
During the sessions, we observed that Romolina avoided all of the bears. She would stay on top of the enclosure, away from the others. Our integration mission in the indoor enclosure thus came to an end. Anyway, let’s hope for the best for little Romolina! Perhaps, one day she will be able to be friends with the other bears again.
BSBCC has been once again invited to open up an exhibition booth for an event organized by Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC) Sepilok, the RDC Fruit Fiesta 2019 on 24th and 25th August. Informative booths from several government and non-government agencies (POS Malaysia, Sabah State Library, National Anti-Drugs Agency, Malaysian Prison Department, Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Parks, Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Programme (HUTAN-KOCP), and Sabah Parks) along with fruits, food and beverages stalls were also set up for the event. It was a good opportunity to promote RDC and awareness to the public, especially on the environment and how to care for them. Activities such as RDC Stamp Game was a huge hit as the visitors will have to collect stamps from different booths and will ended with sharing on Waste Segregation and Eco-bricks by the Junior Rangers before receiving mystery gifts (reusable containers or Eco bags). Thanks again for the invitation, RDC! #BSBCC #EEunit #RDC #RainforestDiscoveryCentre #Sepilok #Sandakan #Sabah #Borneo
Two groups of kindergarten students visited BSBCC on the 24th of August 2019; the first one is from Tadika Sakilan Desa, Sandakan with 50 students and the second is Tadika Tunas Impian from Beluran with 32 students. They were given an informative talk and Q&A session for the students and then were provided with opportunities to watch the bears from the platform. It is really lovely to see the kids expressing their feelings and reactions upon seeing the cute bears walking around and doing their things in the enclosures. Thanks for the visit to both Tadika Sakilan Desa and Tadika Tunas Impian for visiting us.
Text by Jana Grunwald & Michael Bohne
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
We are Jana (37) and Michael (49) from Germany. Last year we have decided to take a break from our office working routine and go traveling together. As we do not only want to be tourists in the countries that we visit we have searched for animal welfare organization in Malaysia that we can support and found that the BSBBC has very good reviews. The decision to come here was made quickly and even though we have never had anything to do with bears, we are big bear fans by now. This is not only thanks to the bears, but also thanks to the keepers and all the staff that are doing a fantastic job here at the sunbear center. We truly enjoy our time in such a friendly and cooperative atmosphere.
On the first day in the center we already learned that bears are big eaters. We spent hours washing, cutting and weighting fruits and vegetables for them. No wonder, it takes such a long time - there are 43 hungry mouths to be fed and they enjoy four feeding times a day. Watching them eating and enjoying their food makes our heart melt. If there is something especially yummy, all the bears will fall on their back and eat the treat with all four paws up. We can hardly take our eyes away from this cute moment and it happens that the keepers have to remind us to move on.
We soon realized what a strenuous job the bear keeper team does every day. All keepers are in very good physical conditions and we admire them for their strengths. Each day is packed with demanding work: whether it’s cleaning the cages, preparing the food, walking under the midday sun to feed the bears or going out into the wild with the machete to collect fresh leaves and plants for enrichment. Luckily everybody has a lunch hour that is indeed one and a half hours long - time to rest and eat. We could feel how our energy comes back. Also for us humans the food is important.
However not all the tasks that we do at the center are physically hard. On the third day we were invited to assist Dr. Boon with the health check of one of the female bears called Susie 2. We felt very privileged to be part of the team that afternoon and assist a medical check on a sun bear.
We also enjoyed being part of the re-integration of two bears called Wan Wan and Mamatai. These two ladies where once sharing a forest enclosure but ended up fighting with each other. After some time of separation the team has now started to re-introduce them. As the door was opened we carefully observed them and were happy that the first session went on without any fight or need to intervene. We hope, that the two ladies re-establish their friendship and can soon scroll the outside together.
Another activity that we enjoyed a lot was observing the fence training of a bear called Panda. She gets animated with sweet fruits to leave her well known enclosure and to learn in a different enclosure that the fence has electricity and that it is best to not touch it. On the first two days that we saw her she was too afraid to leave. Only the head and the two front paws went out to grab the treats that were within her close reach. The two back paws stayed firm in the old enclosure, no matter how seductive the fruits on the other side where. However with the time she gained confidence and got brave enough to step out of her enclosure with all four paws. What a big achievement. We were very excited for her. Now she is walking pretty confident in the fence training enclosure. Today she could finally get all the sweet fruits that we laid down for her. At the end it seems to be all about the food.
World Elephant Day is celebrated yearly by various agencies and communities on the 12th August in hopes to instill awareness and increase the efforts of saving the wild elephant population. As the stakeholders in Ulu Muanad has been long establishing the harmony between human and elephant conflict, the organizers of World Elephant Day for Beluran Division: Earthworm Foundation (formerly known as The Forest Trust) and Project Seratu Aatai organized the event there on the 20th August 2019. It was a successful event joined by IOI, IJM and Wilmar Plantation, Sabah Wildlife Department, Forever Sabah, Borneo Eco Film Festival, and WildAsia. Various activities and programmes were conducted, such as exhibition, colouring competition, sports, Zumba, creative creation using reusable and recycle materials, films screening,and invited panel speakers giving their insights for the issues raised by the stakeholders. Thanks again for the invitation and opportunity to learn more about our endangered Bornean elephant! #EnvironmentalEducation #BSBCC #ProjectSeratuAatai #EarthwormFoundation #WorldElephantDay