Text by Anna Martinsen
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hello BSBCC Bear Talk Blog!
My name is Anna, I’m 20 years old and have just spend 30 days working as a volunteer at the Bornean Sun bear conservation center. I’m from Denmark, so getting here took a lot of time! In Denmark, I just finished a 1-year dance education and now I’ll be having a gap-year, where I will be working, travelling, dancing, living. I found out about this place because I went here (Sabah) with my mom two years ago, and on the way made a very good friend. Just before I finished my dance education, I found the flyer for the BSBCC volunteer program and decided to just do it..
First week working at the center offered a lot of work in the kitchen! These bears, I tell you, they eat a lot. Chopping up 36 kg of sweet potato or pumpkin, not even to mention the bananas… so many bananas every day. The work in the kitchen is fun when everything is flowing, one person is cutting, another is rinsing, a third is weighing. One time, while I was weighing bananas, a big spider jumped out and onto my shirt. Something you get used to while working here.
Some of the male bears also get porridge with animal proteins, such as cooked chicken, egg, etc. They also get a fair amount of beans, because like human children, they have to eat their greens. They get so excited when they see you with the tray, and even though it is so tempting, you really cannot touch those sweet, furry creatures.
Later on during the first week, we had a presentation from one of the interns, Nathalie and later from Lin May about the sun bears and why we’re doing this work. It was literally heartbreaking to see how people treat these animals. Sun bears are small animals, the size of a big dog, so some locals catch them and keep them as pets. This is bad for several reasons such as:
1) Diet - local people don’t know what a sun bear eats and they feed it like a pet or, if the family is poor, then they’ll feed it with whatever, even with Milo. You can ask about Montoms story.
2) People don’t realize they are wild animals and that they grow bigger and stronger as they become adults.
3) The last thing people might do is poach wild sun bears, is if they believe in traditional medicine and kill it to get the gallbladder, paws, teeth and fur for a variety of uses.
The second week was a bit more “active”. We started a lot of different projects and had a lot of fun. Starting out, the bear house needs to be cleaned daily. This is not as hard or smelly as people make it out to be, but then again I have some experience from working at my aunts farm. First you have to clean out poop, which there’s a lot of, and in a lot of different colors (from their diet). Then we washed out the cage with a lot of water and scrub everything, and finished off with drying the floor.
It’s not just work, work, work. The staff in the bear house are so friendly and fun, so everything becomes more fun. Some of the cages have leaves, logs, enrichment all made/brought in from the staff.
We made a lot of enrichment during 1st and 2nd week. Enrichment is a tool we use to stimulate natural behaviours, like using sense of smell to find delicious food, rip cotton bags apart to get food. A lot of it has to do with using either paws or mouth to get to food in some ways.
While making the enrichment, you’ll get a great opportunity to chat with the keepers (the staff). You talk a lot about what’s different from back home, ask questions about their cultures, things to try, and of course, you learn a bit of Malay. Enrichment can also be sticks or branches, banana leaves and we even went trekking in the jungle for termite nests.
This week and the 3rd also offered bigger projects! In one of the pens they needed to build a platform for the bears to cool down under, play on and use for enrichment. With blood, sweat and tears, we finished the big platform within 1 1\2 weeks! The bears absolutely love the platform now, and they’re often seen sunbathing or playing on it.
During the 2nd and a part of the 3rd week I got to train and observe one of the bears, Sigalung. He is a bear with fear of heights, so we tried to lure him out with food on the platform and then on the steps down to the ground. It was a slow process, but he made some progess. After some observation, Sumira and I decided that the stairs were too steep, and that’s why he is not going down. We talked to my Buddy Keeper (You get “assigned” to a keeper when you start working), Mizuno, and we made some sketches for a ramp that wold make the ground seem less terrifying. We measuared, found supplies and got to work, but just three days after we mounted to skeleton for the ramp, some of the other keepers saw Sigalung on the ground. In his pen. Looking for food. That little jokester played a prank on us, but we still managed to finish the ramp.
During the 3rd and 4th week we still did the usual duties, cleaning, prepping food, building a ramp for Sigalung, but we also got something extra! I got to join some health checks. First one was on a big male, Bermuda, second one was little Chin, third was Mary and fourth was Wan-wan. While doing the check up, as a volunteer, you monitor pulse, respiration and temperature. You also carry the bear from the bear house to the truck and vice versa.
Another memorable health check was Wan-Wan. Wan-wan is 12 years old and has a lot of dental problems, so while doing her dental check, they found out that 7 teeth needed to be extracted otherwise she’d be in too much pain to eat. 7 teeth! Crazy.
This week we also had fun going rambutan picking! It’s like apple picking but with rambutans (like lychees). You get to see the nature, talk with your co-workers and eat rambutans, #perfect. While collecting rambutans, a bird’s nest fell from the tree. A bit later we found the egg and Natalie and I decided to try and rescue the nest, so mama bird could find it.
Before finishing up my rambling about this dreamy work here, I want to mention the people. The people working here all have a heart of gold and are so friendly. We went out to dinners, events, they care about your well-being. If you ever even thought of volunteering, you should do it because of the people!
Biggest, warmest, most loving thanks and bear hugs to everyone here from Anna Banana! I will definitely come back!
Thank you, you’re welcome, goodbye.
As for today, BSBCC got another visit by a group from Community Learning Centre (CLC) and HUMANA School of Luang Manis, Sandakan. The group of 37 students and 5 teachers of Indonesians and Malaysian nationality were divided into 2 groups and were guided by two EE Unit officers to the observation platforms. The students were intrigued by the sun bears; the behaviors, small physical and persona of the bears captured the heart of the students. It is a really nice platform to share knowledge with them; the officers were asked with lot of questions from them, which were gladly answered. Thank you for visiting us, CLC and HUMANA School Luang Manis.
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
Today we got another visit from kindergarten students; this time it is from Tabika KEMAS Kg. Sangau, Kinabatangan. A small group of 4 kids and 7 parents and teachers, this group has been guided to watch for the bears on the platform. Beside of watching bears, there were also several attractions that happen to be view-able at the platforms; a pit viper coiling around the twig of a tree and sting-less bee hive near to platform 2. A really interactive session with them, we are happy to spread the stories and information about the wildlife to the visitors.
It is getting to the October of 2019, where lots of schools already planning their visit to lot of places to fill their post exams period or school holiday. BSBCC also included in the list and anticipating lots of schools visit during this time of period; it is a good way to spread the information about the sun bear for the children and also public in general. This time, BSBCC entertain a visit from Tabika KEMAS Kompleks Polis, Sandakan accompanied by several parents to the centre. A hectic moment though with visitors also coming to the centre, these children enjoy watching the bears roaming around in the forest enclosure. Indeed, this is the way we should shape our generation to love the wildlife and nature.
Text by Jens Söderlund
Photos by Jens Söderlund & Chiew Lin May
My name is Jens Söderlund! I was really fortunate to be born in Sweden. I can afford almost anything I want and because of that I think it’s my obligation to be helping less fortunate. I have been volunteering at an orphanage in Ghana, that was in 2015. After that I decided to volunteer with some kind of animal next. I talked to Anna Shrotti at a photo/adventure convention. My first thought was that I would be going to Borneo to help the orangutans. She then told me of the sun bears, so I decided to combine the two things. First two weeks I was here at the sun bear center , then I’m going to Sukau to help at the reforestation project.
On the first evening I met Sumira and the rest of the volunteers. We had dinner and Sumira was informing us about the project. The next day this was followed with an induction at the Bear center and we got to meet our buddy keeper that who was going to be the “team leader”. We went on a tour to see the facilities and the surroundings. There is one building separated in two sections, Bear house 1 and 2. Bearhouse 1 is for bears that have not come as far in their training as the bears in bear house 2. When the bears have passed their training they are able to venture outside their cages into the pens. The pens are located in parts of the rainforest so they can adjust to their natural habitat. If the bear learns all the needed skill to survive in the wild, it can be released into the jungle.
The third day was the first day that we worked for real. I started in the kitchen (with three other peeple) preparing the food for the bears. We were cutting vegetables and fruit, and then we portioned it in different buckets. The buckets were tagged so we would know where food would go. The bears are fed 4 times a day, and the volunteers often get to assist the keepers. The feeding is done in the bear house and in the pens. There are two platforms connected by a walk way. These platforms allow visitors to watch the bears in their natural habitat. We also give the bears enrichments which we create, so they learn how to search for food.
Cleaning the cages from food leftovers and faeces from the day before is done every morning. You have do sweep, flush everything, scrub, flus again and finally refill their bin with fresh water and squeeze the water from the floor.
I also helped build a new platform in pen D, slightly raised from the ground. It was build because in there are not a lot of trees in pen D and the bears can’t hide anywhere during the hot parts of the day. The platform is made of ironwood. We started digging holes so we could place 4 big logs of ironwood as posts and then poured concrete to steady them. After that we bevelled two beams in the logs and put three beams on top of them to hold the floor. The second level was build the same way.
I have really liked these two weeks of working and helping the bears, although I know a lot more has to be done. But I think that many small things can build up to a greater good.
On my days off, I got to do my hobby, wildlife photography. I have seen and capture a lot of new and cool animals on this trip.
Finally a ray HOPE for sun bear!!
The 2nd International Symposium on Sun Bear Conservation & Management is held from 25th to 26th September 2019 that saw over 80 delegates from different range countries consisted of government, NGOs, industry representatives,conservation managers and field researchers joining together in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.
The symposium was hosted by Sabah Wildlife Department, Danau Girang Field Centre and Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. Thank you to everyone who presented, attended and helped out to make this symposium a resounding success with the ultimate goal to implement Global Status Review and Sun Bear Conservation Action Plan 2019-2029 and ensure that sun bears would be protected against extinction.
By BORNEOTODAY REPORTERS
KOTA KINABALU: International and local scientists, government officers as well as NGO players convened for the past two days at a local hotel here to identify major recommendations for the conservation of the Malayan sun bear in Sabah.
These will be included in a State Action Plan, just a few months after three other plans, for the proboscis monkey, the Sunda clouded leopard and the Bornean banteng, were approved by the State Cabinet.
For the next two days, Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) are jointly organizing the 2nd International Symposium on Sun Bear Conservation and Management.
Experts from the region will present updates on sun bear population status in the different species range countries such as Cambodia, India, Indonesia (Sumatra and Kalimantan), Lao, Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam and West Malaysia, said Dr Wong Siew Te, CEO of BSBCC.
“Several open forums will present the opportunity to discuss some critical issues on sun bear conservation such as poaching and trade; sun bear release, translocation and monitoring; sun bear captive breeding; implementation of Global Status Review and Sun Bear Conservation Action Plan; and ex-situ research prioritization,”he said.
“On the second day of the symposium, we will present to the different stakeholders the several recommendations we plan to include in a Sun Bear Action Plan for Sabah.”
ProfessorBenoit Goossens, DGFC director said they hoped to come up with a long-term vision for the future of the sun bears in the wild in Sabah.
“Uncontrolled hunting of sun bears for Traditional Chinese Medicine, pet trade and habitat loss and fragmentation are considered to be the major threats to the survival of the sun bear in Sabah,” added Professor Goossens.
“It is therefore critical to increase effectiveness of enforcement on the ground, improve the intelligence of the different government departments, and establish connectivity between sun bear populations in the state.”
For the past year, the Sabah Wildlife Department has worked with its partners to produce conservation action plans for most of the Schedule 1’s (Totally Protected) terrestrial species.
Last May, the State Cabinet adopted the proboscis monkey, Sunda clouded leopard and Bornean banteng action plans 2019-2028.
The Elephant Action Plan and Orangutan Action Plan 2020-2029 are being finalized, and focus is now on producing the Sun Bear Action Plan 2020-2029.
“It is crucial that those three new plans are adopted and implemented by the Sabah state government as they are backed by scientific research and expert opinions as well as input from industry leaders and several government departments,” added Professor Goossens.
The Technical Working Group Meeting on the Sun Bear Action Plan and the 2nd International Symposium on Sun Bear Conservation and Management were funded by BSBCC and DGFC.
The organizations that contributed to the two-day technical working group meeting on the sun bear action plan were Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department, Sabah Foundation, Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, Danau Girang Field Centre, WWF Malaysia, TRAFFIC, Animals Asia, Free the Bears and Sunway University.
Text & Photos by Laurelle Cassandra Rooney
Hello there! I am Laurelle Cassandra Rooney, a 21 year old from Tawau, Sabah. I am a second year Zoology student at University of Malaysia Sarawak.
Why did I choose BSBCC and what have I learnt from doing my internship here for the last 10 weeks?
Being an animal lover, I’ve always dreamt about working with animals not only with domestic animals but the wildlife as well. My passion grew bigger as I grew up and I heard of a conservation centre which is the BSBCC. I ended up doing my internship at the BSBCC and it turned out to be the best decision I have ever made. It iwas my first time working with these wild animals and I got to experience hands-on activities with the sun bears. While doing my internship here, I learned that the sun bears are listed as a vulnerable species in the IUCN Red List and they are the world’s smallest bear species.
When I first arrived, I was amazed at how the whole bear house runs with the bear keepers. My daily work routine consisted of cleaning the cages, food preparation, feeding the bear inside the house as well as around the forest enclosures, making enrichments, fence checking and assists in health checks. Personally, my favourite part of the day is making enrichments for the bears. Watching the sun bears eat can also make your day.
We treked into the jungle to find logs and sticks. I manually drilled for the first time in my life, collected banana and dry leaves and logs which we used to mimic the environment of being in a forest enclosure. I had the opportunity to design and make some hanging platforms for the bears to rest and play on. I also had the chance to build a ramp for one of the pens to allow the bears to enter the forest enclosure.
I would like to say a huge thank you to my buddy, Roger, for always helping me and supporting me throughout my internship here in BSBCC. I would also like to thank the other bear keepers which are Azzry, David (longest working staff in BSBCC), Brandon and Adneen, who have helped me while I did my internship here. These people were there for me during my hard times and they always had their way of cheering me up and I would be stress-free just by working with them. We did a lot of projects together from hanging platforms, to building ramps, and preparing enrichments together. They taught me the correct way of handling the equipment when doing our projects.
Working in the bear house has left me with a bunch of memorable experience in my life. I learnt the diet of the sun bears and from what I saw, different bears have different diets and different personalites which makes them cute in their own way. Watching them play with each other is also the best part of the day.
I would like to thank the educational staff for giving me the chance to visit two different places which were Sukau, Kinabatangan and around Sandakan area for the outreach programme. I got the chance to share information about the BSBCC itself and also about the sun bears. By joining the outreach programme, I, myself, gained more knowledge on sun bears and the way of conserving the sun bears and other wildlife.
I want to say thank you to Dr. Wong for the sharing sessions and also for giving me the opportunity to be part of the team even if it is only for 10 weeks.
I came to BSBCC to make a contribution in helping the sun bears in any way possible and I feel like I did. Working with the sun bears made a huge impact in my life and my passion in working and aiding the wildlife grew bigger. I would like to express my gratitude once again to my buddy, the other 3 bear keepers, Azzry, Brandon and Adneen, not to forget David, who helped me throughout my internship here. Thank you so much for the rewarding experience and accepting me as a part of their team. Do forgive me if there were any mistakes that I have done unintentionally. But it is time to say goodbye to the team. Always keep in touch with each other.
Regards from me, Laurelle.
Sabah Sun Bear Action Plan Technical Working Group Meeting is happening now!
The sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) is the smallest bear species in the world and is threatened by hunting, pet trade and habitat loss.
Sun bear is currently classified at “Vulnerable” on IUCN’s Red List and listed as a Totally Protected species in Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.
This meeting is to discuss and develop a 10 years action plan to ensure the long term survival of the sun bears. Lets working together to save sun bears!
Stay tuned for more updates!