Text by Alicia Paula
Photos by Chiew Lin May
This is my third time in a row for the past 3 years of volunteering in BSBCC, things are ever-changing, and I am experiencing a lot of new things. One of the new things is the new Platform 2. In 2018, heavy rain and strong wind blew down few big trees and Platform 2 was severely damaged by the fallen trees. When I came back this year and went to BSBCC for the safety induction, I instantly went up to the new Platform 2 to check it out, and it looked pretty good! The other new thing that I noticed, are the number of new staffs that have joined the BSBCC family. Having more bear-keepers certainly helps especially in Bear House 1, outside feeding and kitchen tasks. Talking about tasks, the new bear diet and the list of food distribution among 15 pens, definitely made me take a few steps back…LITERALLY! The ‘Food Quantity’ table is huge, with four feedings in total. Their diets are categorized into fruits, leafy vegetables, starchy vegetables and others (dog biscuit). The food distribution now is more detailed and more complex than before, all differently accommodating to the bear’s nutritional needs. Amaco and Wan-Wan have their own tray of soft foods, only a handful of bears gets porridge and some of them gets cooked chicken, while the rest of the bears get fruits, veggies, and sprouted mung bean. The task to distribute the fruits into 15 buckets is quite confusing at first, but with the help of my buddy, Mizuno, I managed to get a hang of it in just a couple of days. Making and distributing enrichments such as ice block, roll-treat, and egg carton are always a getaway to have a chit-chat with the staffs and volunteers together.
Me and my buddy Mizuno, also made an enrichment for Panda and Chin to play with. We made an enrichment called ‘Rolling Log’, by propping up two inverted ‘V’s and shoving a long metal bar through the log. Placing the log with the metal bar onto the inverted ‘V’, to make it turn when it is clawed and rolled by the bears. Me and Mizuno smeared some peanut butter onto the log, so the bears could use their strong long claws to roll the log. Surprisingly, both bears completely demolished the log off the metal bar in less than 3 days. I figured it’s because the trunk of the log was wet through and could easily fall apart.
Other than duties in the bear house, I was given the chance to participate in bear health checks along with Dr. Boon, Lin May, and Pradeep. It was my first time assisting in the health check, so I took my time to observe the procedures to carry out the health check. I was first assigned with taking and writing down the temperature of the bear every five minutes and was told to notify them when the temperature has any drastic changes. Lin May wanted me to learn how to use the stethoscope to count the bear’s heartbeat. It was really hard to find the heartbeat’s rhythm, and I gave up after some time. Pradeep and Lin May assured me that it is challenging to pinpoint the bear’s heartbeat, in a room filled with beeping sounds and the sounds of the small polishing machine on the bear’s tooth. After that, I returned the stethoscope to Pradeep, and continued to take temperature from the bear.
I also got the chance to join Dr. Boon, to assist her in neutering some cats and dogs in SPCA Sandakan. I joined her twice, first time is with Dr. Boon and Andy, second time was with Nithisha. We mainly helped her with passing the tools and preparing medications, while she did the neutering surgery on the cats and dogs. Observing the procedure was definitely not for the weak stomach. After injecting the anaesthetics, some of the cats threw up. The neutering also involved stitching, and being very generous with the alcohol solution as a disinfectant.
Another thing that I noticed, is when all the BSBCC staffs brought their own food container to eat for lunch. On my first day of volunteering, I had to go and grab lunch at the cafeteria because I did not prepare any food for lunch to be kept in my container. On the next day, I slowly started to make a commitment to cook for lunch, its either I cook the night before or wake up early the next day to prepare it early in the morning. Me not being a morning person, I prepared my lunch the night before. Another method of packing lunch is when eating out for dinner. Every time Thye Lim and Lin May went out for dinner together with the Bjorn Hala family, they would always bring a basket with their food containers inside. When ordering, they would also order food for lunch to be eaten the next day, and they would also ask the hawker to pack the food into the container, instead of using plastic or styrofoam container. Other staffs also brought their own container to pack their lunch, whenever they feel a little lazy to cook it. After seeing that, I got inspired of how they are contributing their efforts to reducing plastic waste in everyday doings. The next dinner that we had together, I brought my own container as well. Knowing that my lunch from the restaurant is not plastic or styrofoam packaged, made me feel really good. Even though my actions are small, it is better than no contribution at all.
~ Self-reflection ~
Coming back to BSBCC to volunteer for the third time, allows me to comeback to myself after a year of continuing my studies. I am a person that really loves outdoor adventures and always having craving to enjoy what the Earth provides. Having my hands and eyes on my laptop and my phone for most of the time, is really straining to the eyes and not really a good way to replace free time with electronics.
Volunteering in BSBCC does not only gets me distracted from my phone, but also helped me to build some muscle strength and stay in shape. I could carry a bag of sweet potato in each hand, carrying it up from outside the bear house and walking all the way up to the kitchen, without dropping or dragging the bag on the floor. Volunteering in BSBCC also teaches me about not being afraid with our common invertebrate visitors, such as the Pill-millipede and the Tractor-millipede. With some help, I managed to gain confidence to let these cute and harmless invertebrates to crawl onto my hand. It definitely tickles at first, but soon got used to it.
Along with the friendly and easy-going staffs of BSBCC, really made the experience more worthwhile. Random laughing moments everywhere I go, even at the simplest things. The day never goes by without something to talk or to laugh about. For some examples, Kala is still being sensitive and does not want to return into her night den, one of the staff found a blood python near Quarantine area, young macaques managed to come into the bear house and stole a lot of dog biscuits, a free-roaming Orangutan chilling on top of the training pens of Bear House 2, and many more. What is there to regret when gaining volunteering experience in BSBCC, nothing!