Text by Alicia Paula Magilin
Photos by Alicia Paula Magilin, Sumira Muis (APE Malaysia), Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Hey there, I am Alicia Paula Magilin an 18 y/old from Sabah, Malaysia. Volunteering in BSBCC twice, I have combined the two events into one blog.
I have always loved to participate or to volunteer in events that involves being ‘behind the scenes’. I am not that type of person who loves being in the spotlight, instead I would rather be the one holding the spotlight for others. This time, I am holding the spotlight for the sun bears.
I had an hour break before I was brought to the bear house by Lin May (Research and Reintroduction Officer). The staffs told me that I can go wherever I want as long as I am in the centre, and so I did. I went to Platform 1. On my far right, I saw black water tanks and the roof of the bear house. “I wonder what are they doing there?” I thought to myself. An hour later, then I knew.
Dec 5th- Dec 22nd 2017
My first day cleaning the night dens, was pretty hard at first. Beads of sweat trickling down my eyelashes and my spectacle frame, having to bear the odour of bear faeces and avoiding stepping on it...which I failed a couple times, also avoiding being ‘barked’ at by the bears. Despite all that, having to be surrounded by bear keepers who are fun, caring, open and easy-going, I managed to adapt quite fast with the surrounding where I will be volunteering for the next 17 days. I even got to celebrate my 17th birthday with some BSBCC staffs that was born on the month of December! The meeting session with Dr. Wong was an honour. He has like a fatherly figure to all volunteers, making sure they eat well, gain enough sleep and to take it easy, you can also ask some advice from him if you have any personal problems.
Feb 5th- Feb 18th 2018
On February 5th 2018, I came back for another two week in BSBCC. I just can’t get enough of the excitement. Having to escape the hustle & bustle of the city and take a break somewhere ‘isolated’ with towering tree canopies, good vibes and 44 rescued sun bears, was a craving well satisfied.
Throughout my two weeks volunteering in BSBCC, my buddy Roger and I have made a total of five enrichments! Roger and I are holding a bridge like enrichment, is specially for Kudat. I observed that Kudat likes to balance on the rope enrichment that we first created when I arrived, which was hung across his night den.
And I guess to fulfil his ‘fun time’, me and Roger decided to create a bridge for Kudat to balance on. And he LOVES IT! We also made enrichment for Bermuda (mainly to get him distracted from pacing) and Amaco (to encourage him to climb a little, and it was a success!).
The main reason why I volunteered in BSBCC, is to use my free time whilst waiting for my high school last exam result. And with that opportunity, I have always wanted to gain hands-on experience and gain knowledge on the cause of the volunteer. Fortunately, I have achieved that in BSBCC!
This experience made me see a bigger and clearer perspective of what conservationists are trying to achieve and facing the obstacles that are unavoidable. The journey to achieve the goals, are neither short nor smooth. I never thought that animal trafficking or pet trade is still a serious subject for conservationists, until my volunteering period in BSBCC. I suppose it is because I have never known or took note of the situation in that field. Volunteering in BSBCC made me realize, kinda like a wake-up call. With the realization, I have started to be more knowledgeable of the endangered species...and unaware of myself, I have even started to be more watchful of what the street vendors are selling in the big market. Not everyone knows the names of the endangered animals and not everyone knows the threats that animals in the wild are facing. As people who know the names and the threats, we should share and educate to our family, relatives, friends and so on.
Most Memorable Moments
I would say my most memorable moments about volunteering in BSBCC, is everything! Walking out from the office door at 8.ooam, rarely you could spot a stunning hornbill gliding gracefully over the centre towards the forest canopy. One of the days where me and the staffs were walking down towards the bear house, David (Bear Keeper) and Andy (Maintenance) saw broken branches from the tree just after the metal signboard, “Ah, that should be from one of the orang-utans.”, Andy said. And it sure shows how strong orang-utans are just by the mere strength of their bare hands. Walking along the whole perimeter of the forest enclosure while carrying a basin filled with fruits, definitely was twice a day mini walkathon especially if you are in charge of the fruits for Pen A (the last and furthest). During lunch break, I ate in the office. Camouflage patterned camera traps were neatly arranged on the table. I was terribly curious and I had to get my hands on the camera traps. Soon, Thye Lim (Centre Operation Executive) came in and asked me to lend a hand to insert the batteries into the camera traps to check if it is still operational. While doing so, he explained to me about the camera traps and how it works. He also showed me a video clip of a wild sun bear, back- scratching against a tree smeared with belacan (a fish paste mix with salt and other herbs). It was SO COOL! After the bear’s afternoon meal was fed and all trays were cleaned, we went back to the office at 5.oopm. My volunteer moments in BSBCC are endless, especially the ‘not everyday’ moments are ones that I will treasure the most.
“We have the smallest species of bears in the world!?”
All these years I have always seen huge brown grizzly bears, black bears, white polar bears and China’s giant panda on TV. Constantly being amazed of their size, strength and thick coat of fur which protects them from the harsh elements of nature. But coming to BSBCC and being told that the Bornean Sun Bear is the smallest bear in the world? Was totally out of my mind. Other than that, sun bears are the only bears the longest tongue which is 20 cm to 25 cm long, and by far the most arboreal bears in the world! Sun bears are mostly known as opportunistic omnivores.
It’s when your country has something that no other place has, it kinda makes you feel proud, right? And it was also an honour to be volunteering alongside people who dedicate their time and energy to rescue, rehabilitate and release the sun bears into the wild, thus providing a second chance for the bears to live a ‘bearful’ life.
Volunteers will be scheduled for 11 to 12 days of ‘work’ in the two week period, about 8 hours a day with an hour of lunch break in between, in BSBCC. For a few, it may need some commitment to wake up early in the morning and eagerly wanting to go back to bed after completing their day in the bear house. For others, it is just a typical day with a little twist. Free roaming orang-utans, unpredictable weather, health checks, stories of the bears, inquisitive volunteers seeking for answers, bear keepers and staffs acquainting with volunteers, tiny mishaps in the kitchen and so on, those are the twists. The unexpected twists makes the repetitive days different from each other. Making permanent and temporary enrichment such as stick paradox, nest ball, fire hose pocket and honey comb, is great for volunteers to expand their knowledge, skills and creativity. With the help of their buddy, an idea from the mind will be an enrichment for the bears. Stereotypical behaviors such as pacing, grooming excessively, self-mutilation for attention is not natural within a bear’s behavior. Creating these enrichment will be able to distract the bears enough to prevent these undesirable behaviors from a rehabilitating bear. Preparing the meals in the kitchen is also another skill that is useful for volunteers who are looking forward to pursue their studies elsewhere from home. The task of cleaning, is also important to let volunteers know the importance of cleanliness in a night den for a bear’s health, and even for the volunteer’s pet(s) too.
Well this is where I end my blog for these two events. The thought of having to volunteer again in BSBCC? Always <3