Text and Photos by Lam Jia Ern
Coming from the small town of Sandakan itself, the well-known Nature’s City, I never learned to appreciate the beauty of it when I was younger. I was never an outdoors-y type of girl back then. I used to always hide in the shade, complain about the heat & bugs and never one to get down and dirty. Ever since I left out of the country to pursue my dream in becoming a veterinarian, I slowly began to miss the serenity and tranquillity of being surrounded by Mother Nature and all of its breath-taking scenes. Volunteering at BSBCC gave me the opportunity I needed to reconnect to my roots and truly appreciate what Mother Nature has to offer.
First day on the job, and I was introduced to everyone, with Lester being one of the very first, showing me the ropes. Being the awkwardly shy person that I am, I rarely talk to new acquaintances, making it hard for me to “fit it” and come out of my shell, but the bear house staffs instantly made me feel welcomed and kept pestering me to talk, allowing me to feel as though I was part of their little family. There was never a dull moment whenever I was with them. My 2 weeks there, filled with jokes and laughs, flew by in a blink of an eye. As they say, time flies when you’re having fun, and I most certainly did.
In the short amount of time that I was there, I was full of admiration for the keepers’ dedication towards the bears. Regardless of the time of day or location, they will do whatever in their power to rescue or help a bear in need. Their awe-inspiring devotion became something that I aspire to be like when I enter the workforce.
Before getting the experience of working with wild animals, the consequences of keeping them as pets never came to mind, but after being able to witness the heart-wrenching impact it has on the animals, I stand firmly against it. It not only affects them physically, but also psychologically, with many of them showing abnormal/stereotypic behaviours. Keepers try to keep the bears busy by providing them with various enrichments, ranging from stuffing short rubber hoses with peanut butter and dog biscuits to filling up gunnysacks with goodies like a piñata, but it all depends on whether the bears are willing to spend their time on it.
To get the full gist of the behind-the-scenes work it takes to care and rehabilitate a wild animal, you would have to volunteer. You’d never get to witness the amount of blood, sweat and tears, put into the process of rehabilitation to the point where they would be suitable to be released into the wild, by just being a tourist. Volunteering at BSBCC truly made me understand a lot more about sunbears and the work it takes to revive their “inner bear-liness” after living as pets for so long.
I left with 2 weeks of incomparable experiences, unforgettable memories and people of which I am proud to say that I have worked with and to call my friends. During my time there, I managed to catch glimpses of the magical little moments that made all the time, energy and effort worthwhile. If given the chance again, I will jump at the opportunity in a heartbeat. So, thank you to everyone for accepting me into the program and making my time there an experience of a lifetime.