Text by Olivia Carleen Phoon
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
I am Olivia Phoon, a 23-year old from Subang Jaya (I can already hear the jokes). I am a second year DVM student at University of Sydney, Australia. As part of my preclinical placement, I spent 2 weeks at the BSBCC.
Armed with very little knowledge about sun bears, non-profit organisations or the local wildlife. I had 2 weeks to learn as much as I could and in return be of some help to them. Within that period, I discovered the bears’ histories, diets, necessities, behaviours and nuances as well as the challenges and threats affecting them. I was made aware of the rescue, rehabilitation and release protocols. As well as the struggles to run and maintain an ethical conservation centre; and the intervening departments involved. On top of that, I was introduced to the beautiful local culture, language, nature and insects. I was immediately attracted to the welcoming and positive attitude held by the BSBCC team. Working closely with a community who is not only passionate about animals, but also diligent, inspiring, caring and funny was an opportunity I will always be grateful for. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I was present when a bear escaped. I witnessed the compassion and determination of the bear care team in the search and recapture of the confused little bear.
Sun bears are curious, sensitive and very intelligent creatures. Their gorgeous, golden-yellow chest mark, black coats and short stature distinguish them from the other 8 bears species in the world. Equipped with a brilliant sense of smell, long tongue and sharp claws, they can be found ripping up termite mounts, tree barks and extracting honey (one of their favourite food), thereby earning them the nickname ”honey bear”. Threatened by deforestation and poaching, BSBCC was founded with a clear set of goal to conserve the vulnerable sun bear population. This involves rescuing and rehabilitating the bears in the hope of releasing them, educating the locals and the world through outreach programs and social media and continuous research in sun bears. As of today there are 44 bears in the care of BSBCC.
During my first week here, I struggled to recognise the 40 bears at the bear house and remembering every bit of information provided. Nonetheless, the bear keepers were always there to remind me and showed me the bears’ distinguishing features. As the oldest and longest-serving bear keeper (and employee), my buddy, David was ever ready to share a snippet of his wisdom and experience whilst protecting us from the thieving macaques during the outdoor feeding time. While we do differ in interests (avid forestry and army folks, he will be your best buddy!), I believe we share similar work ethics (sans banana washing) and the love for the animals. His knowledge in forestry, experiences in the jungle, the ins and outs of the bear house, and admirable work ethics should be cherished and applauded. Roger and Sumira acted as my alternate buddies and I learned so much from them as well as from the other bear care staffs.
While I enjoyed the day to day activities of cleaning, preparing food, feeding and making enrichments, I will always remember the mini road trips to collect banana leaves, dry leaves, ‘ketapang’ sapling, the setting of the live trap, jungle tracking, watching the bears climb trees and eat coconut. Observing the bears interact with each other and the environment, exploring their enclosures and enjoying their enrichments were definitely one of the main highlights of this placement. As a highly curious person, I am very thankful for everyone’s openness to my plethora of bear and non-bear related questions. If I was ever too direct or “unbearable”, I hope you will accept my sincere apologies.
I already missed the bears, the camaraderie, the shared laughter and teasing, the singing and the enriching information shared. Every moment is filled with so much positivity that it helped me forget the problems I was boggled with leaving Sydney. Thank you so much to Dr. Wong for the amazing opportunity, Azzry for arranging my placement and to the bear care team (you know who you are!) for teaching and looking after me. Special thanks to Melynda, Emma and Sara for working and putting up with me. Finally, but most importantly, to my Bjorn Hala family (Rebecca, Mizuno, Jeniur, Andy, Yen Wah and Panda), thank you so much for opening up your home to me and for always being so concern of my well-being. Please take care of little Si Panda for me :)
I hope I will have the privilege to work with all of you again one day. Fingers crossed, by then, Phin would have passed his fence training and be exploring the outdoor enclosure, Ronnie (boy) and/or Bermuda will have the chance to do the same, Debbie and Damai would be successfully released, the trios- Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan would be the next release candidates, Amaco and Kudat will be less stressed out, and my sweet Si Manis will enjoy the rest of her life comfortably with her honey porridge and new hammock. Regardless, I know the bear care team will do their best to nurture and provide the bears with the life they so deserve. I hope the BSBCC team realize that the Bornean sun bears are very blessed to have people like you fight for their place in this world.
For everyone else out there, don’t just be bystanders. Ever sat down and wonder what you can do to help the sun bears? Email BSBCC today and ask to volunteer, donate, adopt or just spread the word about the least known bear species in the world. Every individual has a role to play, so do you.
Lots of bear hugs,