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Text by Mae Elliessa Shaifubahrim
Photos by Mae Elliessa Shaifubahrim & Chiew Lin May
My first experience volunteering at a conversation centre
Prior to joining the volunteer program at the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), I had little affiliation or experience with wildlife or the conservation industry. I signed up to volunteer at BSBCC for two weeks to learn about a species endemic to my homeland. In these two weeks I discovered a lot about the sun bears (Helarctos malayanus euryspilus) but the thick of my takeaway from this experience was becoming aware of the importance of the work they are doing at the centre, not just for the bears but especially for the bigger cause of conservation and ecosystem/world/livelihood balance.
A day in the routine of a bear keeper
Volunteers are gently integrated into the routine of an extensive list of tasks conducted daily to observe the bear house upkeep and care for the bears’ wellbeing- both physical and mental. The keepers do a lot- food prep, cleaning, feeding, enrichment contraptions, building pens etc. to care for forty-three bears is no small feat.
My favourite task would be food prep: preparing a wide (and very very large) assortment of food for the bears’ daily intake. Nothing like a store filled with kilos upon kilos of food washed, cut, weighed, some cooked, and assorted for to-be very happy bears. The next morning we sweep and clean the same weight in poop. There is nothing like it.
I have the utmost admiration and respect for the eight keepers at BSBCC. Seemingly shy and reserved at first, they turned out to be quite a cheeky bunch. The keepers conduct their work with much integrity and were a joy and pleasure to get to know, learn from, and to work with.
Getting to know the bears
In my time at BSBCC I learned to identify a few individual bears by their appearance and behaviour. Each bear have their own particular black spotted-yellow chest mark. I found myself quite drawn to Simone who spends much of her day sitting on top of her water container to observe keepers and passersby as they go about their business. I was often entranced by what her thoughts could be like as I observed her, and she observed me.
Björn Halla // People
For the duration that I was volunteering, I lodged at “Björn Halla” (translated from Swedish to mean “Bear Cave”). A very modest keep that houses some of the staff of BSBCC. It is in this house that I got to know better and was taken by the varied personalities of the people of BSBCC. I witnessed the meticulous care and regard BSBCC in-house vet, Boon takes toward animals. There was one night Dr. Wong (founder of BSBCC) arrived at the house with a nest of two baby squirrels that had been blown away by the night’s heavy rain. I was low-key jumping in my seat at the novelty of the situation while everyone else seemed to behave as if it were absolutely normal. So chill.
I sat with Pradeep at the dining table for enlightening conversations in regards to conservation, wildlife, and even his house cats. The rest of the house are a varied collection of lovely personalities and goofs Yen Wah, Rebecca, Andy, Mizuno, and Jeniur. With housemates like these I hardly had a dull moment in the house. I highly recommend staying with at the staff house if it is available- it is one of the facets of this trip that enriched my experience here even more so.