Text By Khairunnisa binti Mohd Faisal
Photos By Khairunnisa binti Mohd Faisal, Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Hi there! I’m Aniss, an intern student from Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang. Choosing BSBCC as my internship placement is one of the bravest decision I have ever made. A week before I flew to Sandakan, I had a major mental breakdown because I was so anxious since I will be so far away from home and I literally had neither friends nor family in Sandakan. “Will I survive working in the middle of jungle?”, “How if I only managed to make it halfway?”, “How can I go back to Kuala Lumpur if homesick hits me?”, “Who will help me if I’m in a big trouble?”. So many things lingered on my mind and I felt so terrible to leave Peninsular for 2 months.
As I arrived in Sandakan, I was warmly greeted by BSBCC staff. I felt so happy and safe to be around them. On my first day of working, it was really tiring since I had to digest a lot of things about the working ethics, the bear’s diet, bear’s behavior, pen names in the forest enclosure and the bear’s name. I started to doubt my ability of working in BSBCC as I felt like it’s such a huge responsibility to take care of the bears.
As time goes by, I never thought that I will be super happy and enjoy working for the bears. BSBCC makes me have a clearer vision of how ‘conservation’ really works. In BSBCC, I got the chance to experience a lot of things that I have never done before. I got to clean the bear house, prepare their daily feeding, make enrichment for the bears, join bear’s health check, go hunt for termite mound, explore the forest while find logs for structural enrichment and join educational program. And I never expect that I’d able to recognize some of the bears after working 2 months in here.
Thank you so much to my Bjorn Hala family (Boboy, Natalie, Becca, Mizuno, Wawa, Dr. Boon, Andy, Laurelle and Saji – including Lin May and Thye Lim). Ever since my first day in here, I’ve always feel like home. I will never forget each of the fond memories that we all had together. I had a wonderful moment of us singing together after work, going around the town during off day, eating steamboat at Sim Sim, food hunting at night, cooking while karaoke-ing together, hiking during off day, watching movies, singing to patriotic songs in the car, chasing the dogs and sharing life experience with each other. Honestly, I believe that these are the people that I’m going to miss the most once I’m back to KL.
Here’s my buddy, Adrian. On our first met, he didn’t talk much but as time goes by, he’s becoming the most annoying person I’ve ever met hahahaha. Thank you Adrian for taking care of me for these 2 months and taught me a lot of stuffs about sun bears. Honestly, you’re such a really good buddy and I’m really happy to have you as my assigned buddy. I’m sorry for being a clumsy, annoying, mischievous and talk active buddy. I will always remember everything that we have done for the bears throughout my internship in BSBCC. Please don’t miss me when I’m gone HAHAHA.
A week before I’m leaving BSBCC, we built a new ramp for Panda release. A huge thank you to Adrian for helping me out to build this ramp. Without him, I won’t be able to make it happen. Also, thank you to Ijam and Boboy for being a part of this project as well! J To Ijam and Boboy, you both are the funniest human being I have ever met. Thank you for cheering me up throughout my stay in here. Even though you both can be really annoying sometimes, I truly enjoyed having you guys around.
I’m sure I’m going to miss the moment we hunt for banana leaves together. It was so fun being in a car ride with you guys. While enjoying the scenery around Sepilok, they shared a lot of stuffs about their childhood. It’s so good to listen how each of us being raised with a different background.
Farewell party before leaving BSBCC. Thank you Mizuno for helping us out to cook for our farewell party. I feel very reluctant to leave this place. 2 months of internship feels so short for me. I really wish I could extend my internship period in BSBCC.
Sometimes, taking a one brave step could be one of the best things you have ever done in your life. It’s such a blessing to be here. I never regret my decision choosing BSBCC as my internship placement. Even though I don’t really like getting messed up in the middle of jungle, this has turned out to be the best memory I have ever had in my life. To my favourite bear (Jelita), I hope I’ll get to see you again one day. If God wills, one day I’ll come back to Sandakan to take care of the bears again. Thank you so much BSBCC for having me. Love, Aniss Faisal.
Text By Lydia Wheelers
Photos By Chiew Lin May
Hi, my name is Lydia and I come from the UK. I currently do volunteering at my local wildlife park but have always been interested in helping other animals. After watching many programmes on Borneo’s wildlife and doing research into one of my favourite animals, my heart was set on the Sunbears and suddenly my time was here to help these gorgeous animals.
The first thing I noticed was the humidity and instantly started sweating! The weather is A LOT warmer than in the UK. Volunteering in the bear house was hard work but seeing the bears on a daily basis and learning the different characters of each one made it so much fun. We soon got into a routine of cleaning the cages, preparing the food like professional chefs, feeding the bears and creating enrichments to help stimulate them and make it as similar as possible to being in the wild. Enrichment is very important for these little guys and girls, an example of this was smearing peanut butter on sticks for them to tear apart and lick with their incredibly long tongue! We even got to help create a platform for the bears to climb on and have shelter in the pen. Knowing I have been a part of creating something useful for the bears is such a good feeling.
I was lucky enough to go on two medical checks with Dr Yeoh Boon Nie who cleaned and polished their teeth. The bears also had a physical examination, blood samples taken and even one had their nails clipped. Getting to see the bears up close was surreal but it was truly amazing to be able to assist with making sure they were fit and healthy.
We were lucky enough to have a weekly talk with Dr Wong Siew Te. This was one of the highlights of the trip as we got to talk about any questions we had. Dr Wong is a very down to earth person and I was at ease straight away. He has so much knowledge to share so I learnt an awful lot in this session. His passion for animals was very infectious and has only made my love for these animals grow.
My buddy Adrian and Sumira were always around to help when I needed it and made my experience a lot easier. A MASSIVE thank you to the staff, Paganakan Dii and all the other volunteers for making my first time in Borneo two weeks I’ll never forget!
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Huge Thanks to Anton Ngui for the generous donation of rambutan fruits to help the rescued sun bears. These enrichment rambutan branches treat makes the bears cherished. They love this surprise moment!
Thank you for your support again, Anton!
Please continue to support us by adopting, donating, spread the word or buy a gift of love https://www.bsbcc.org.my/adopt.html
Video by Chiew Lin May
Meet the magnificent animals on earth...Sun bears!
Illegal hunting and pet trade has directly affected the sun bear population numbers. The time to act is now! Please help to save the sun bears from extinction.
Visit www.bsbcc.org.my for all the latest news and find out more about how we are working to protect sun bears.
The month of August meant the start of the volunteering experience for six new volunteers and the start of an easier two week for the keepers who now had 6 pairs of eager hands to help them with everything and anything. The first week started with lots of paperwork and some briefs before the volunteers got to pick their t-shirts for the next two weeks, wearing BSBCC and APE Malaysia shirts ensured everyone can be identified as a member of staff and prevents people misunderstanding why we are closer to the bears than they are. It is also pretty fun picking out which t-shirt you want.
The next day we were straight into the bear house – the place the bears are kept overnight or if they are poorly or in quarantine – and straight into shovelling poop. With the amount the bears eat, the cages need cleaning every morning and as the simplest job, it’s the one you begin with (after a demonstration first, of course). The first week consisted of a lot of cage cleaning and food preparation. The bears get fed four times a day with various different fruit and veg, designed to mimic as closely as possible what they would find in the wild, but with 43 bears it means a lot of chopping up. As one volunteer commented, ‘I’ve spent three hours chopping pumpkin and the ungrateful creatures haven’t even bothered eating it.’ It was fairly obvious after a couple of days that the Sun Bears’ favourite food is anything sweet; they definitely earn their nickname of Honey Bear.
The afternoons were a bit different and involved a bit more creative thought. The majority of the bears sleep inside their cages at night and to stop them getting stressed, they need activities to do before they fall asleep – think the bear version of the games on your phone. This is called enrichment and can be anything you can think of that will keep the bears busy and allow them to develop useful skills for when they are released. The Sun Bears’ best sense is their nose so we sometimes collected sticks to create bundles or plants to make into packets or banana leaves but we would always fill the bundle with something that smelled delicious, a particular favourite seemed to be peanut butter. We also went out to collect them coconuts and some of use even tried to limb the coconut tree just like one of the keepers, albeit much less successfully. Another good way to keep the sick bears entertained was to smear peanut butter on the tyres in their cages and watch them use all their muscles and their extremely long tongue to get it out. We even helped to build a platform in Romolina and Joe’s enclosure to give them somewhere to rest when it gets too hot in the day as their enclosure simply doesn’t have enough shade. Whilst hard work, building a platform was one of the most satisfying tasks because we knew it would be enhancing a bear’s life for a very long time.
As the second week began, everyone was a bit more comfortable with what needed to be done and was able to get it done a bit faster each day. Most of us could even weigh the bananas out without scales having done it so many times. But familiarity is good, it meant that we were starting to understand how to properly look after the bears. It also meant that we had the time to create our own ideas for how to improve the cages for the bears so we went out to the forest to source a log that we could turn into a play area for Amaco to encourage her to stand up and climb.
On top of the daily enrichment, feeding and husbandry tasks, we were also lucky enough to all get to help out with a health check on a bear and most of us helped with at least two, taking the temperature, pulse and heart rate whilst the vet checked the bear over and cleaning its teeth. It was such a privilege to get so close to such a beautiful animal and I finally got to answer my question about the feel of the fur (spoiler: like a coarse dog).
Unsure of what exactly to expect, the volunteering experience at BSBCC consistently exceeded my expectations. The staff who work with the bears truly want what is best for both the bears and their country and are constantly striving to release the bears into the wild as well as educate enough people about the dangers of deforestation and poaching. On top of their core tasks, they make the time to work with the volunteers to make sure they experience all the different aspects of the centre and are enjoying themselves. It was the staff and other volunteers that made the experience so special and I would recommend it to anyone who was thinking about it. Thank you for your time and expertise BSBCC and thank you for having us.
Text by Khairunnisa binti Mohd Faisal (Intern Student, University Science Malaysia)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Seeing the bears live freely in the forest is such a blessing. That’s what I hoped to see for one of my favorite bears, Panda. Once the bear has passed the fence training, they will be released to the forest enclosure. Now, Panda has passed the fence training and it’s time for her to go out and enjoy the beauty of the forest. We did an enclosure cleaning a few days before Panda is released to pen E.
On the first day of release, Panda spent her time observing the pen by sitting inside the cage and looking through the guillotine door. During this early stage of release, we arranged the food nearby the cage so that she is aware that there is food in the pen. Some of the nearby prepared food is eaten by her but she did not have the courage to go out from the cage yet.
On the next day, we arranged her food slightly further from the cage so that Panda will go out to the pen. Finally, two of her front limbs were out when she was trying to grab the food. However, the ramp in cage 12 was too steep which cause Panda a little bit insecure to go down further to avoid slipping to the bottom of the ramp.
After a few days of training, whenever the guillotine door is opened, Panda directly went out and sniffed the food on the ramp which she was aware that there is food outside. We put the food far from the cage as we wanted her whole body out from the cage. Unfortunately, the ramp was too short for her. Panda able to grab the prepared food just by lengthen her body and lick the peanut butter by using her super long tongue.
During the ongoing observation, there is once when Panda’s whole body was out on the ramp when she was observing the environment. It indicates that Panda started to feel comfortable with the surrounding and she felt safe to be outside the cage. However, both of the ramp used in cage 10 and 12 were not suitable for her release. Ramp on cage 10 is too short and the ramp in cage 12 is too steep for her to go out. Now, we are working on changing the ramp structure. We hope that this project will work for her as we want to see Panda going around freely in the forest.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Due to the limited trees in one of our forest enclosures, we plan to construct a new platform structure to give the bears a cool, shady place during hot summer days. The platform structure will be a favourite for the sun bears, being the site for snoozes, foraging and wrestles. Through this platform structure, the bears will have enough space and the freedom to do as they please.
The team will focus on designing and carrying the iron wood (hardest wood), building the foundation, mixing cement, chiselling, sawing and hammering…plus some digging! It is brilliant and fun for everyone who takes part!
Despite the hot weather, they did a great job. They showed a value for teamwork and a strong sense of humour. When the construction was finished, staff and volunteers added on some enrichment –like dead wood, and a climbing structure so that the sun bears have plenty of opportunities to exercise - it encourages their natural behaviour and stimulates their body and mind. The sun bears can continue exploring and make as much mess as they like!
The vital work, which has changed BSBCC’s sun bears lives, was made possible by volunteer donations and the effort of numerous compassionate volunteers from around the world. Thank you to all your support, it really does make a difference and BSBCC could not have achieved this without your help.