Text by Olivia Nord
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hi, my name is Olivia and I am a student from Sweden doing my internship as a volunteer here at BSBCC. I have only been here for less than two weeks but it is honestly been one of the coolest and most interesting things I have ever done. Partly for the knowledge that your work here is important and that it makes a difference to these incredible Sun Bears that are so important for the environment. Since the BSBCC main focus is to release as many Sun Bears as possible back to the wild. But also because you have the chance to join the amazing work that the keepers and the staff do for the bears every single day, making sure that they are well taken care of. My favourite thing to do was making the enrichment because it made the bears so happy and entertained. The process of making it was long but very fun because of all the creativity, and at the end it was worth the hard work since the time it took playing with them took longer than the time making it.
If I had the chance to prolong my stay here I definitely would and I recommend everyone to experience this amazing journey!
Text by Niklas Wellerfors
Photos by Chiew Lin May
My name is Niklas Wellerfors and I am a student from the school Spanga gymnasium in Sweden. I am doing my internship here in Borneo taking care of the sun bears. This is a very rare opportunity I have been given that not too many people are able to experience. This is a once in a lifetime experience and I am truly grateful for it. Sadly we are being sent home early because of certain circumstances. You could call it unlucky, but as I see it, I am still lucky that I even could be here for the time I was. I got so much out of it even with the lack of time. It is really crazy being able to see the rainforest and not only that but also taking care of the animals that live in the rainforest. The thing I like most about the sun bears is each bear is very different, they all have their own personality just like humans. Some bears are small and cute, and some bears are big and feisty. Some bears absolutely love carrots while some bears would really prefer pumpkin. Some bears sit like a human eating food and some bears climb up somewhere to eat. Each bear has a different sun mark. My favourite bear is Bermuda, he is big and feisty, and really likes to eat. Over the short time being here I noticed stuff like this while feeding or cleaning and it is like you slowly get to know each bear. Even though the time was too short to learn every name of the bears, I got to learn some of their personalities. Not only that, but I also got to know the staff here which are really funny and helpful. Before coming here, I knew very little about sun bears but now I know the importance of helping them. It is so great to even help a little in saving these small, cute bears and knowing I did something for them feels so good. I would really recommend everyone reading this to volunteer at BSBCC or just do something small like spreading the message of the sun bears situation.
Text by Hafsa Mohamed Ahmed
Photos by Chiew Lin May
My name is Hafsa and I did my internship as a volunteer at BSBCC. At first I had a bit of a hard time adjusting to the climate, food and the work here. But never in my life have I been so well taken care of, at every corner I had someone I could ask for help or just to converse with. Being here made me realize the important work they do for the sun bears and for the people who come and visit the centre. Prior to this trip I had little knowledge about the sun bears and how important it is to preserve them. Now I have learnt that by preserving them you make a difference for all wildlife here in Borneo. I am so grateful for having the opportunity to learn and grow as a person here and now I know that I want to do this type of work for the rest of my life. Thank you so much for your hospitality and kindness, BSBCC! I will be back soon!
Text by Cameron Watson
Photos by Chiew Lin May
When I started my volunteering at BSBCC, I had no idea quite how quickly these 2 weeks would fly in. It has been a great experience in all regards, from the beauty of the animals themselves to the camaraderie of the team and of course how rewarding the actual work is. If anyone is an animal lover or has a concern for conservation and an urge to do something about it, then I couldn’t recommend this program more.
My only real concern before starting was that this would be a bit of a fad and that the volunteers would be given fairly petty cleaning jobs, while the keepers actually got on with the real work. This was far from the case! We were very much in the thick of the work from beginning to end which is exactly how it should be. You will work up a sweat on a daily basis. The day begins with more functional tasks such as preparing food and cleaning the bear house, before the afternoon which brings more creative enrichment work to encourage the bear’s natural behaviours. This is a great day split as you really get a bit of both and the pace is never too slow.
The staff here are all very supportive and great banter. The keeper I was paired with – Danny – was amazing at showing me the ropes but also at explaining the reasoning behind the things they were doing, which was amazing. Being told the thinking behind each activity really highlights how what you are doing is making a difference in a bear’s rehabilitation, whether it be the different meals prepared to fit the individual bear’s diets, or the way the enrichment toys we make parallel what the bears would encounter in the wild.
This brings us on to the focal point and most rewarding thing at BSBCC – the bears themselves! There is no better feeling than watching a bear demolish an enrichment you have just put together and knowing that this is bringing them one step closer to release into the wild. During my time I was lucky enough to see and record Sika – a young 2 year old – taking her first steps out of the bear house and into the outside world. Before being rescued and brought to BSBCC, she had been kept illegally in a cage in a house and watching her take her first step outside is a moment that will stay with me forever. It felt truly special to be a part of. It is moments like these that will make your time at BSBCC truly worthwhile and beautifully emotional. You will leave, like me, with a better awareness and an urge to do more.
I would therefore recommend this program to anyone who’s not afraid to put in good work that will actually make a difference. You will get attached to the bears and learn their names and personalities. Hearing that the centre plans to release 4 bears this year brings a smile to my face and makes all the work worth it. It’s a great program for the volunteer, but a better one for the bears themselves.
Text by Astrid Mofjell
Photos by Chiew Lin May
My name is Astrid Mofjell, I am 21 years old and I’m from Sweden. I’ve always had an interest in nature and wildlife. The last couple of years I have read so much about animals going extinct, animals in captivity etc. I really wanted to help but did not know how. After spending two weeks working at the BSBCC (Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center), I really feel like I have made a change. I have had the privilege to help sun bears adapt to a better life and I really recommend more people come here and help the sun bears.
All the volunteers are staying at an accommodation called Paganakan Dii. It is really beautiful there and you have the opportunity to cook your own food if you want to. If you are quite lazy like me, you can buy food at the cafeteria. The food is really good, and you get a lot of food for a cheap price.
At 7:30 in the morning we leave the accommodation to go to the BSBCC and we start to work
At 8:00 in the morning you either work in the kitchen preparing all the food for the bears or in one of the bear houses cleaning cages. When all the food is prepared and the cages are clean, we help to feed the bears too.
At 12:00 p.m. we have a lunch break for one and a half hours. After you have eaten your lunch you have a lot of time to go and look at the sun bears from the platforms if you want to. Here you can watch the bears play, eat, rest and even climb trees.
I think the funniest part of the day is after lunch because then it is time for enrichment. Then we get to be more creative which is very fun. Enrichment is a process which aims to encourage the bears natural behaviour. Most often we create toys with food hidden inside so the bears really have to make an effort to get to the food.
We will finish work at 5:00 p.m.
Working alongside the staff here has taught me so much about sun bears and also a lot about myself. If I had the opportunity to stay for a longer period of time I would. The staff here are really nice and they always make sure that you feel safe. We have shared so much laughter and the mood is always good here. The staff are really kind and they are happy to answer any questions you have.
Each bear has a different story about how they ended up at the BSBCC. Almost every one of them have been kept illegally as a pet. Their stories really touched me and it made me realize how important the work they do here really is. Even though their stories are really sad, it was really nice to see the progress of the work they have done here.
It made me so happy when the staff told me that this May, four of the bears at the center are going to be released into the wild again. I am so inspired by the people working here, the things they do really works and hopefully even more bears can be released soon.
It feels really good to be a part of the solution and I will remember this for the rest of my life.
Text by Ludwig Gassner
Photos by Ludwig Gassner, APE Malaysia & Chiew Lin May
Hi! This is my short story about my trip and work at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). I am Ludwig Gassner and I´m 18 years old. I live in Sweden and I am currently in my last year of studying to become an animal caretaker. When the opportunity arose that I could have an internship here in Borneo I could not turn it down. This was supposed to be an experience of a lifetime and it really was. We have been through and learnt so much, so I do not even know where to begin.
We are 5 volunteers that came here from Sweden. We are all in the same class at school, so we were good friends even from the beginning. We all flew here together, and the flight was very long because we are from Sweden so it took about 24 hours to get here. I believe that was the longest any of us had ever flown before. But eventually we got here, and we were, as most of the volunteers here, staying at Paganakan dii. Our first day when we got here, we got to rest. It was much needed after the jetlag and the long trip. The next day we got to follow our two volunteer coordinators and they helped us to get a small introduction of the BSBCC and all the staff. They helped us to get settled and went grocery shopping with us. The first week of working you really had a lot to take in. All the routines, names of the bears and staff was a great deal of information to memorize and remember. We all got our own keeper and mine was Adneen. He was the one that was going to keep an extra eye on me and to give me different tasks that we needed to do.
A normal day in the bear house usually looked like this:
In the morning you always prepare the food for the bears and clean their cages. You need to feed the bears 3 times a day and you clean the cages once every morning. In the afternoons we usually feed the bears and make enrichments.
The founder of the centre is Wong Siew Te (Dr. Wong) and lucky for me I got to meet him, and not only that but we had sessions with him every week where we could ask him questions and he told us about the centre, the project and how it all started. He was extremely nice and incredibly down to earth, and it has been a pleasure listening to him talking about his work here. A true inspiration.
He told us all about why he keeps the bears the way he does and how it all works, and this is what I learnt:
The point of the centre is to conserve and increase the Bornean Sun Bear population. There are two subspecies of sun bear and the Bornean sun bear is one of them, and they only exist here in Borneo. That is a big reason why the species is so threatened by extinction and that is a reason why the BSBCC was founded in the first place. The purpose of the centre is to conserve the sun bears by rehabilitating them so they can get reintroduced into the wild. Wild Sun bears live in the rainforests of Borneo and it´s difficult for the bears to survive because of the competition of other animals and all the threats they may face. Bornean Sun bears suffer from poachers, pet keeping, deforestation, gallbladder extraction and other natural predators. The Sun bears that exist at the BSBCC have either suffered from people keeping them as pets or poachers killing their mothers when they were cubs. Sometimes people find these orphaned cubs and keep them as pets, and that´s when the problems start. Most of the bears at the center have been kept in a small cage their whole life so they don´t know about the outside world or the forest. That´s when something called stereotypical behaviours start. They are predators so they naturally have big territories that they patrol. Then when they are locked up in small cages that are not even close to the size they need, they pace. Pacing is a common stereotypical behaviour that the bears do when they cannot express their natural behaviours for example, having large territories. So that´s where the centre comes in. They can´t just put a pet kept bear that has spent it´s whole life in a cage directly into a big rainforest environment. The bear wouldn´t know what to do and it would get extremely stressed and do all kinds of unpredictable behaviours. That’s why the bears get to live in a pretty small cage first and move up to bigger ones once they show signs that they are ready for it. Then after they have shown in the big rainforest enclosure that they have all the right attributes and skills that a bear needs to survive, they can be released into the wild.
And that is what I have learnt during my time here at the BSBCC.
Thanks to all the staff and the people that made this possible. And a special thanks to Dr. Wong for letting us come here and giving us the chance to help his centre. Also, a special thanks to my buddy Adneen and for my second buddy Roger.
Text by Tindra Spennare Jacobssen
Photos by Tindra Spennare Jacobssen & APE Malaysia
Hello! My name is Tindra, I am from Sweden and I am 18 years old.
I study animal care at my school Spånga gymnasium and will graduate in a few months. Four of my classmates and myself got the opportunity to be volunteers at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre thanks to our school. We have now been here for five weeks as a part of our internship.
Before I knew about our school’s internship abroad, I had honestly never heard about Sun bears or even the island Borneo, but I have always been interested in conservation and rehabilitation of wild animals, so I did not want to miss such an experience.
During these five weeks I have weighed hundreds of kilos of fruits and vegetables, cleaned a lot of cages and gotten sweaty like never before. We have been going on trips to find banana leaves where we also got to try fresh coconut juice. We went on a walk into the jungle to find termite nests and got attacked by leeches.
My buddy Jeniur and I worked on a project together with my friend and her buddy. We improved a platform in an outside enclosure as an enrichment for the bears and to make them more visible for the visitors. We carried a lot of logs and it was really heavy, but all that was in my head was “do it for the bears”, and that really pushed me.
I also got to know the keepers and staff at the centre, they have been very friendly and funny since day one. The funniest moment from these weeks was from when we taught each other words in Malay and Swedish.
I have gained so many new memories and I have learnt so much during these weeks that it is hard to know what to include in this blog post, a thousand thoughts are going through my head right now. But if you are reading this and are thinking about volunteering at BSBCC, I really think you should!
I want to say thank you to the staff at BSBCC and APE Malaysia for making this volunteer experience the best possible and I hope to see you again in the future!
Text by Eva Wiktoria Wikström
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hello! My name is Wictoria, and I am 19 years old. I come from Sweden, and I have been volunteering here at BSBCC for 5 weeks with 4 of my classmates as a part of our internship in school, where we are studying to become animal caretakers. During these weeks, on the other side of the world, I have learned so much about so many things, and I am very glad that I got the chance to experience this.
When we got out from the airport in Sandakan, after our almost 24 hour long journey, we were hit by the gazing sun, and I quickly realized that the upcoming weeks weren’t going to be easy. Working in 30oC when you are used to the Swedish winter with 0oC is very hard, and the first week was very rough. Everything was so new, and the hot weather in combination with the jet lag and the language barrier (I really struggled with my English at first), made everything more difficult, but everything got easier as time went on. I quickly got into the routines, and I got to know the keepers fast, which made everything better. We have been laughing and joking a lot, and they are all very easy to talk to.
Except for the daily routines such as preparing food, cleaning the cages and feeding all the bears etc., we all got one project each to work on with our buddy keeper. I got to help with the integration training with the three bears Phin, Wan-Wan and Mamatai, so that they could share cages (without fighting) instead of staying alone. I helped to observe the bears, and every minute for half an hour, I wrote down each bear’s behaviour. We did this almost every day for a few weeks, and it was very fun and unique – especially to see Wan-Wan and Mamatai spend the days together during my last week here. You really get to see the bear’s different personalities while working so close to them.
I also really enjoyed making enrichments for the bears. Spending just one hour making small, simple enrichments using fire hoses, leaves, dog toys and things like that, can keep the bears entertained for double the time. In this case, you can really say that even the smallest things can make a big difference.
Thank you to everyone at BSBCC, both the staff and bears, for making this possible. This is an experience I will never forget, and I am very happy that I got the chance to do this. I will bring so many memories back home to Sweden. Volunteering is a good and simple way to help endangered species, and since not many people have heard about the Sun bears and their conditions, I now feel like I have a responsibility to spread the word about them and make people more aware of these amazing bears.
Text by Kiara Rose Jasmin Villacrez
Photos by Kiara Rose Jasmin Villacrez & Ape Malaysia
Tja tja bloggen! That is a typical Swedish way to begin a blog post. My name is Kiara and I have spent 5 weeks at BSBCC as part of my high school curriculum together with 4 other classmates. It has been THE experience. I have never been to Asia before so that is a big achievement. To also have had the opportunity to help the conservation of a vulnerable species sounds too good to be true for me. It is so much more rewarding to be behind the scenes and do the same hard work the bear keepers are doing instead of just watching as a visitor. Many friends got the idea that I was getting very comfortable and was on vacation. While I had a great time, it was no vacation. Still, I would gladly choose volunteering over vacation any time.
For the first days I was nervous, but I quickly got to know all the welcoming staff and got into the routine of it all. It has been eventful, and the time has passed very fast. During my stay here I have been working together with my buddy keeper, my friend from the same school as me and her buddy keeper. We worked together with other keepers on a project to improve the platform in one of the outdoor enclosures. The project consisted of logs being added to the platform in order to give the bears more opportunities to climb, dig and explore the logs and the whole area of the platform. We carried big logs from the forest to the platforms and used drills to secure them to the platform and to a pillar we put up. The purpose of the project was both as an enrichment for the bears and to get them to be more visible to the visitors. The centre work much with eco-tourism so it is an important part as well. The project involved much hard physical work but the outcome was worth it. Many keepers helped and the teamwork was dope. Sessions with Dr Wong, the founder of BSBCC, was also included which was amazing. He had the answers to all of our questions, and we had a really good time.
During my time at BSBCC I have cleaned many cages, made many enrichments, carried many logs and laughed many times. I have contributed to the rehabilitation and welfare of the bears at the Sun Bear Conservation Centre, it’s amazing to say it and it is an amazing experience everybody should consider. While vacation is fun, and sometimes much needed, volunteering is another level of fulfilment.
Thank you BSBCC staff and my buddy keeper, Mizuno!
Photos by APE Malaysia
Curious. Explore. Love. Brighten their day!
Hammock Amok Project in Hanoi Wildlife Rescue Center, Hanoi, Vietnam!
Enrichment improves the quality of life of animals in captivity, by promoting natural behaviours and instincts. There was also great progress made with this Hammock Amok Project. Together with APE Malaysia and Air Asia Foundation, they work tirelessly to provide the most stimulating enrichment for the animal’s well-being and provide the best care. Needless to say, the animals are very thankful for their special treat!
Million thanks to APE Malaysia for giving BSBCC this opportunity to join this Hammock Amok Project. It was a fantastic experience!