Text & Photos by Myles Storey
I decided to work as a volunteer at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre because I am considering wildlife biology as a career and I wanted to gain some experience of working in conservation. Before I arrived, I did not know what to expect. I was afraid that I would not be allowed to do much because of my lack of experience. However, after three weeks of volunteering, I was amazed to have had the chance to work and help out in such a noble organization. The three things I enjoyed most about volunteering at the BSBCC were the environment, the people, and the work that we did.
Although I was born and raised in Sabah, I was never really exposed to our beautiful rainforests. While working with BSBCC, every day, I worked in our rainforests and that was truly enchanting. On top of that, I was lucky enough to see many of the rainforest’s wild inhabitants. Some mornings you could see hornbills soaring the sky and some evenings you could see flying foxes flying around the trees. I saw semi-wild Orang Utans, Pit Vipers, Squirrels, birds, long-tailed and pig-tailed macaques, and a lot of different kinds of insects. With a passion for wildlife photography, I was in heaven. One day, while searching for damaged termite nests, we stopped by at a small waterfall in the middle of the jungle. It was a fun and memorable moment that I got to experience with some of the keepers.
Another aspect of working with BSBCC that I am truly grateful for is the people I got to meet. I had the chance to work with some very passionate, knowledgeable and committed people. All the bear keepers are really friendly and fun to be around, but when it comes to work, they can be very serious and hard working. One time, a tree branch fell and broke the fence of an enclosure with seven bears. When we found out, every single keeper and maintenance worker stopped what they were doing and rushed to the scene. I witnessed a great team working together to solve a major problem. They eventually managed to lure the bears back to the bear house and the issue was resolved the next day. I even got to find out about some of the keepers backgrounds and stories of how they started working with the organization. I gained information that I can hopefully use when trying to get into conservation.
I have to admit, cleaning the cages was a bit icky sometimes. However, I really enjoyed caring for the bears and making their lives more comfortable. When not cleaning cages, we were preparing fruits and vegetables. In the afternoon, we would make ‘toys’ for the bears for an activity called enrichment. The aim of the activity is to give the bears something to do and to occupy their time. We made bamboo feeders, PVC pipe feeders, hammocks, and used food balls. What is even more exciting, you get to see your creation being appreciated by the bears. It is also interesting to see the different attitudes and behaviours of each bear. Although 3 weeks is really not enough time to form any bonds with the bears, I was able to understand some of their characters and form some attachments to certain bears. On my last day, I was lucky enough to witness, Gutuk (one of the oldest bears), step out of his cage for the first time since they got him 3 years ago. It was a great achievement for him, and I could see the delight on everyone’s face.
I was sad to leave, but happy that I got to contribute in an amazing field and gain experience as an assistant bear keeper. I feel confident to say that this volunteer experience was one of the highlights of my teenage life. I am deeply grateful to the people who made this experience possible and I would definitely recommend anyone who is interested in conservation and wildlife to give this program a go. You won’t be disappointed. Where else are you going to get the opportunity to work with the smallest bears on earth and an extremely committed team in one of the most beautiful rainforest environments?