Text by Fiona McInally
'The volunteer placement at Sepilok in Borneo, is spilt into 4 rotations around the centre and my group were lucky enough to do the Jungle Trekking for our first rotation. Before we all started work, we had a talk from Wai Pak, who works for the BSBCC about the Sun Bears they have, which most of us had not heard about before , and we were told we had the opportunity to help at the BSBCC in the afternoon on the Jungle Trekking rotation. Myself and the other 2 girls in my group, Georgie and Kate, were really keen to get involved and help look after the Bears that we knew so little about.
It was quite a upsetting when we first went to see the Sun Bears, it is always sad to see animals in captivity when they should be in the wild, knowing many of them may have been mistreated and it was also sad to see that the BSBCC was in such need of upgrading. However, it was also really inspiring to see the work that the people at the BSBCC were doing to try and help the Sun Bears and improve their lives and also to hear about the plans for the new centre, fund raising for which was well underway.
From the first day working at the BSBCC we got stuck in to trying to make a difference, by clearing out the current building of all old equipment, furniture and cleaning out the Sun Bear cages. It was really hard work but also so rewarding to see the difference we could make. We so enjoyed working at the BSBCC that Georgie and I went back there to help out on some of the days we had off later in our placement and also got a collection going for a new fridge for the BSBCC to store the Bears food. We had been told that the Sun Bears really like sweet things, especially honey, and when we next went to the supermarket we picked up fresh fruits, dried fruits nuts and a few other treats we thought the Sun Bears would like to try (the really love the breakfast cereal Honey Stars!).
It was so nice to see the Bears enjoying new things and we wondered what else we could to make life a little more interesting for them. The Bears had some coconuts to play with but near whilst walking to the centre one day, Georgie and I saw some Bamboo that had fallen over and we thought this might make some interesting play items for the Sun Bears. With the help of one of the rangers at Sepilok, we cut the bamboo into lengths and took them up to the BSBCC - it was a great success and it was clear the Sun Bears relished having something new and interesting to play with and pull apart. Watching them made us wonder if we could make something even more interesting to provide enrichment for the Bears and bamboo seemed the ideal material for making a ladder. We had seen some disused rope on an old climbing frame at the from of the BSBCC which we managed to get down (with a bit of daredevil ladder antics of our own) and with the help of the same wonderful ranger, we cut several length or bamboo (about a foot long each) and cut holes at each end, through which to thread the rope. We tied knots below each rung to hold them in place and slowly made a ladder long enough to stretch the diagonal width of the largest Sun Bear cage.
From the moment the Bears saw the rope being tied up in the top corner of the cage, it was clear to see how curious they were, reaching out to try and touch the rope and sticking there noses through the neighbouring cages to smell what was going on! Once the rope was secure, we left the cage and let some of the Bears in - and what a wonderful sight! At first they were tentative but it did not take them long to start climbing, chewing, swinging and generally having a great time. It was clear after watching the Sun Bears with the ladder for 20 minutes that it was not going to last a long time, but the reward of watch the Sun Bears enjoying the ladder was worth making it several times over! It was so rewarding to help make a difference to the Sun Bears. As with all animals it is so important to provide them with enrichment when they are in captivity and I so hope that other volunteers are as inspired as we were with the work of the BSBCC that they continue to think up new ways to provide the Suns Bears with the stimulation they need.'