Text by Lucie Muddell
Photos by Jacquelyn Jepiuh
I fell in love with the sun bears when I first visited BSBCC in 2019. I’d applied for the volunteer programme during that trip, and within a few weeks had been accepted by Ape Malaysia for the April 2020 project. Unfortunately, Covid got in the way of my plans, and it was only in July 2023, over three years and four rearranged placement dates later, that I could finally get back to Borneo and begin four weeks working with the team at BSBCC.
Volunteering in the Bear House has been so rewarding and it felt like everything I did had a direct impact on both the bears and the staff – from checking the fence and having the privilege to walk through the forest enclosures (which usually meant being covered in mud, climbing fences or avoiding flooded areas – all part of the fun!), to helping with providing daily supplements, the feeding walks in the lush forest, prepping all the many kilograms of food, making enrichments for the bears, cleaning the cages and being around the wonderful keepers who have helped me learn so much about BSBCC and the bears themselves. I’ve even managed to learn all the bears’ names and have improved some (still very basic) Malay! The team have been so welcoming and I will be forever grateful for the time they have spent helping me learn so much.
My enrichment project was made for a bear called Kudat – my buddy David and I collected wood from the forest and made a swing which David very skillfully attached to the roof of Kudat’s den. Kudat was very clever in swiping the food off the swing to get it all at ground level when he first saw it, but a few days later I saw him resting his front paws and head on the swing with his back legs resting on a branch below. We then used the tactic of throwing his enrichment directly above the swing to help him gain confidence using it and he happily climbed up, laid back on the swing with his back paws holding on to the rope, then leisurely took the enrichment through from the roof. It was really lovely to watch him get his confidence and use his intelligence at the same time.
I have so many highlights from my time at BSBCC but one that will definitely stay with me forever is having the privilege to help out at a health check for Dodop. I held her head during intubation (sun bear heads are very heavy!), held her legs and paws whilst blood was taken, took her temperature and listened to her heartbeat, whilst helping the team move her into various positions. It was very special to be so close to her and to be able to touch her soft, wiry fur. Huge thanks to Dr Boon and Jude for explaining everything that they were doing during her health check.
I would thoroughly recommend coming to volunteer with the sun bears at BSBCC – the past four weeks have flown by so quickly and I’ve loved every second especially getting to know the bears’ distinct personalities, each of which are as unique as their chest marks.
The bears, the staff, my fellow volunteers and the beautiful rainforest have made this the most fulfilling adventure and I’m hopeful that I can come back one day to volunteer again. I think I’ll be experiencing Severe Sun Bear Withdrawal for a long time once I’m back in England!
Text by Yu Endo
Photos by Yu Endo & Sumira Muis@APE Malaysia
My name is Yu Endo and I’m from Japan.
I volunteered at BSBCC for 4 weeks and learned many things about sun bears. I learnt alot about environmental enrichment, this is an account of what I learnt and how we thought of and ultimately used the enrichment at BSBCC.
I was surprised at how often we came up with new ideas for enrichment; we brainstormed different ideas for enrichment every single day. I was interested in using enrichment not only to reduce stress but also to enhance the sun bear’s natural behavior. For example in the photo the enrichment was designed so that the bear will rip apart the logs looking for peanut butter, this mimics behavior that the bear would have in the wild.
I also noticed how we used the enrichment differed depending on the individual. After observing the individuals behavior we tailor made the enrichment to suit its personal needs. After the enrichment was introduced we evaluated how effective it was by observing how the individuals interacted with it, this helped us to ensure that the enrichment was effective in achieving the desired behavior.
In addition to enrichment, I experienced a variety of things, talking with Mr. Wong, helping training the sun bears to return to the forest and so on. I really enjoyed observing the sun bears; they are very interesting and fun animals!
I’ m not good at English, but staffs at BSBCC helped me many time. Thank you very much! It was a very good experience for me. I hope to visit BSBCC again in the future.
Text by Timothy Ng Cheuk Fung
Photos by Sumira Muis@APE
My name is Timothy Ng and I’m studying to be a Veterinarian at The University of Melbourne. My 2 weeks here at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) was filled with excitement, as well as countless learning opportunities. It is definitely an experience for all wildlife enthusiasts.
By the end of the first day, our brains were saturated with information and facts about sun bears, thrown at us by the friendliest team of people that work at the centre. The staff were excellent teachers, and there was bearly any language beariers. Within the next few days, we were quickly taught a wide variety of skills that allowed us to work like bear keepers: food preparation, feeding, cleaning, and installing enrichments.
However, the learning experience didn’t simply end there. Throughout the programme, we ventured out beyond the scope of the Bears and their enclosures. As many might know, bear husbandry does not only include activities that directly correlate to the bears. It also requires knowledge, for example, on the bear’s habitat. Therefore, we were also able to learn about other interesting matters, such as where to find termite mounds, other animals that share the rainforests with the bears, how the animals interact, the plants in our surrounds, and how to build enrichments.
The heat, humidity, and downpours made tasks much more challenging. Fortunately, the work environment created by passionate staff, and the frequent visits from free roaming wildlife made our work much more bearable.
Although its only for 2 weeks, I’m very grateful to be able to take part in BSBCC’s mission to improve the bear’s welfare and help in the rehabilitation process. I highly recommend this programme to anyone who is eager to learn, and wouldn’t mind getting a few leeches on them.
Text by Emma Pettersson
Photos by Sumira Muis (APE)
My name is Emma Pettersson, I am 18 years old, from Sweden. I study animal care in Stockholm and I´m in my final year of a 3-year education. I got the opportunity to volunteer at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre through a scholarship from my school and it is also a part of the internship that is included in my education. I left Sweden, along with my classmate Sara, to volunteer for 5 weeks.
Before I came to Borneo I had never visited Asia, experienced high humidity or worked in this kind of heat before. Everything was new to me, not only the climate but also the culture, the food and so forth. I was a bit nervous before coming here. I wasn´t sure what to expect or how to behave towards the staff. As soon I got here however, I realised that when it came to the people, there was nothing to worry about. They were all very nice and welcoming, and they made me feel comfortable. The climate on the other hand, did the opposite and I have been running around looking like a “sweaty tomato-face” for weeks. It was totally worth it though!
The daily routines at the BSBCC included feeding, cleaning and making enrichments for the bears. The work was challenging at first and the staff kept asking me if I was OK, because I probably looked like I was going to pass out at any moment. I quickly got used to the routines (not the heat though) and slowly started to learn the names of the bears. The part I enjoyed the most was making enrichments and watching the bears play with them. Once I spent enough time in the bearhouse I started to see the different behaviours and characteristics with each individual bear and it made it even more fun to create special enrichment for them. Sara and I got to make our own enrichment and decide which bear we wanted to give it to. Our enrichment was made out of bamboo and had treats hidden inside it. We also made smaller enrichments daily, such as nest balls, where we tied a bunch of leaves around a core of treats into a ball.
We only have a few more days at the centre before we have to go back to Sweden, it´s crazy how fast 5 weeks went by. It has been an honour to work alongside the bearkeepers and the rest of the staff at the BSBCC, who all do an amazing job. It has been my pleasure to get to know the people and the bears during my time here, hopefully I have made some friends. Even though it was extremely sad to hear about the bears´ backgrounds and the traumatic experiences they´ve been put through, the atmosphere in the bearhouse remains positive. I didn´t know much about sun bears before I came to Borneo but during my time here I´ve come to appreciate them and have learned a lot, they are truly amazing animals. Unfortunately, I haven´t been able to get to know all 44 bears as well as I would have wanted, there just wasn´t enough time. However, I did get to see many different personalities and that each individual is different. Huge shout-out to the staff at BSBCC for doing everything you do and for being so positive and passionate about your job, I found it inspiring to see how much you care. Hopefully the BSBCC can continue to educate the public and make a difference for the bears for many years to come. Thank you for these amazing 5 weeks, I will bring many great memories with me back to Sweden.
Text by Sara Boberg
Photos by Sumira Muis
My name is Sara, I am 19 years old and from Stockholm, Sweden. I am in my final year studying animal care and I got the opportunity to come to Borneo and volunteer at BSBCC through my school as an internship/scholarship for five weeks. It is definitely a decision I don’t regret! This experience has been one of the most challenging things I have ever done, but also one of the best. The warm weather and humidity is not easy to handle for a Swede and combined with the work is sometimes hard. But knowing that I get to help the bears and take care of them makes it all worth it and after a while, you get used to constantly being sweaty and red in the face.
The work every day is usually very similar due to the set daily routines. We either work in the bear house or in the kitchen, which means cleaning cages or preparing food for the bears. Other than that, we feed the bears inside and outside, make enrichments for them or other activities such as collecting banana leaves for the bears. The enrichments consist of hiding fruit in leaves or fire hose with peanut butter or honey. This is good for the bears because they have to use their nose and try to find the food, encouraging their natural behaviour. This will help them learn to find food in the wild. We usually make enrichment every day in order to stimulate the bears and keep them entertained.
It is so much fun to watch the bears play with their enrichment and you can tell they appreciate it, which makes the work really rewarding. I have fallen in love with sun bears, even though I didn’t even know they existed before I came here. They are such incredible animals, they’re so playful, intelligent, and adorable. Have you ever seen a sun bear eat a coconut? It is the cutest thing you will ever see in your life. After a few weeks, I had learned their names and their different personalities and I feel like I have really gotten to know the bears. It is so tragic that the reason why there aren’t a lot of sun bears left in the wild is because of us humans.
I am really impressed with the staff working at BSBCC, their dedication and everything that they do to help the sun bears. They really want what’s best for the bears and do everything they can to rehabilitate them and take care of them in the best way possible. Everyone is extremely friendly and helpful and they make work so much more fun. Right from the start we were welcomed into their team and it has been great getting to know everyone. They were always considerate when we weren’t used to the heat and needed breaks sometimes and they taught us everything we needed to know about the bear house and the bears, which was really nice. The staff and the bears are definitely what I will miss the most about Borneo, and I will be so sad to leave everyone.
Even though it has been tough from time to time, with the heat, the hard work and when I had the flu for a week, it has been the most amazing time and it was so worth it. The ups and downs and all I have experienced here have made me grow as a person and I know that I can handle more than I think. During my five weeks here, I have learned so much about animal rehabilition, this country with its culture and people and the importance of hard work. I am super grateful to my school for sending me here and to BSBCC for doing an amazing job for the sun bears!
I will miss everyone so incredibly much and I hope I can come back and visit soon! :)
Text by Bronwyn Nyrie Watkins (APE Volunteer)
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Kudat is an adult male bear, who was taken from a mini zoo along with Panda, an adult female, where they had been displayed as giant pandas and fed them a chicken in every day. However due to the limited area of forest enclosure in this Centre, Kudat has to stay in bear house for two years. This just led to it being all the more emotional watching Kudat be retrained to touch the ground and go outside, as we knew he could, it was pure fear that kept him inside.
For the month that I was volunteering at BSBCC, I was part of the group that observed Kudat in the training pen. This was probably the most rewarding part of my whole time with the bears, as not only did we watch his reactions to the outside, we were also able to move the food (used as incentive to come outside) around depending on where we wanted him to go or how far he could actually stretch. The lines of fruit radiating from his door were a visual display of his improvement. The other rewarding aspect was that we could see him walking more like a bear, with no unnatural stretching to keep his feet in the door to his night cage. Before the fence training, Kudat had been stressed, resulting in pacing and worrying his fur until he had bald patches on his legs and head, but now his fur is starting to grow back, making him look more like the beautiful sleek bear that he should be!
Kudat stepping down onto the ground was a perfect goodbye present for me, as I could see the difference just spending half an hour every day with a bear does for their confidence. I hope that when I come back, I will be seeing Kudat out in the enclosures outside!
Text by Alex O’Keefe
Photos by Seng Yen Wah
My volunteer experience at the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Center (BSBCC) had been phenomenal to say the least. There were a multitude of activities and jobs I was assigned to do at the BSBCC to benefit the sun bears wellness and spread awareness on their behalf. In total, I was able to intern there for six weeks.
One of the project as an intern I participated in was to make a dog house for a pregnant mother dog. While this wasn’t necessarily geared toward the sun bears, the BSBCC does its part to help a variety of animals. Over the course of two weeks we gathered recycled wood, cut it and screwed it together. We built a frame using the selected wood, then acquired a few roles of old rubber hose. (At the BSBCC, they try and use recycled materials as much as possible implementing sustainable methods of action daily). Following the completion of the frame we tightly wrapped each individual hose piece around the wood frame.
Upon delivery, Momo (the mother) was scared and apprehensive at the new structure we placed next to her. However, she quickly took a liking to her new home! She was originally sleeping on a piece of cardboard so naturally this new structure would give Momo and her puppies more protection and a sense of security.
Simultaneously along with the doghouse, I helped build a large bear platform for outside pen E. We started by finding and cutting four large pillars of wood to an equal length. Then we measured four locations for where the wood posts would stand. Once the locations were decided, we imbedded the posts into the holes through careful and meticulous work. This was done using a combinations of gravel, dirt and water which would solidify around the posts and make cement; thus bolstering the posts in an upright position. More wooden planks were cut and nailed to the original four beams. Screwing the nails into the Belian wood (the wood the structure was composed of) was hard work. Unbeknownst to me at the beginning of the project, Belian is the densest tropical wood in the world! Regardless of using an electric drill, getting in just one nail was hard work. The nail drill would often smoke terrifically billowing out large puffs of smoke due to our inability to impact the wood’s thickness. However, over time progress was made. Some finishing touches like adding varnish to the wood were completed and through a team effort our final structure was completed.
My favorite project I was able to work on was to get a sun bear named Sigalung into Pen G (an outside enclosure). As easy at this may sound, just getting Sigalung into the training pen (which was an enclosure connected to his inside area) took well over a year! Through various days of coaxing Sigalung out with food and above all honey, he eventually took his first steps into Pen G. (I have written a more detailed account of Sigalung’s journey in a blog posted on the BSBCC website if you are interested. It’s called “One Small Step for the Sun Bear Center, One Giant Leap for Sigalung!”).
Amongst the projects I helped with were the daily activities to provide enrichments for the bears. Enrichments are toys or objects made to increase the bear’s mental and physical prowess while allowing the bears to practice habits and utilizes physical features they would normally use in the wild. Most enrichments will have bits of honey or food to entice the bears into using them. Materials are often pulled from the forest and or are recycled equipment. Some enrichments include but are not excluded to nest balls (plants tightly wrapped together containing food), ice blocks, dog toys, termite mounds and bamboo pieced that hang from the enclosure.
Here are some old rubber hoses cut up and wrapped around each other. They are held down using screws and placed in the center are smidges of honey and banana. The bears will use their long claws to pry the tightly wrapped ball open then extract the food using their elongated tongue. Fun Fact: The entirety of a sun bear’s tongue can grow up to 25-30 cm!
I thought it appropriate to finish off this reading with a picture of many of the people I worked with over the duration of my stay in Borneo (I’m the one with the sun bear head on). Words cannot describe how lucky I was to meet all of them. Not only is working hard for the bears a gratifying experience but it’s also simply fun!
For those reading this, if you are interested in contributing to the conservation of sun bears check out the BSBCC website. There are lots of way to help sun bears even if you can’t travel all the way to Borneo!
It’s amazing what a small group of people in Malaysia, Borneo are doing to save sun bears.Though I played a meager role in the grand scheme of their endeavors to conserve these amazing creatures, I at least feel I have played a small but important part.
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Kicking off this month, we focus on more enrichment activities! Enrichment is one of the important key aspects for rescued sun bears in rehabilitation and plays a huge role in the volunteers work. Spending time in the forest is not always easy, but we are always grateful to the volunteers who spend their time and skills to help sun bears. The bear care team will tell you what volunteering life is like on a typical day in Borneo as a sun bear assistant, and why volunteers play such an important part in contributing to the causes. It will never be the same experience twice, but that is all the more reason to keep volunteers coming back to BSBCC!
It feels like it had only just begun! Groups of volunteers were split into smaller working groups with bear care team leaders and were assigned to varied tasks. Everyone has been busy working alongside the volunteers to complete the maintenance, construction and making enrichment project. Volunteers learnt as much as they could and soaked everything in. The team’s constantly were coming up with new ideas to stimulate and challenge these rescued sun bears. Volunteers got their hands dirty and ended up with stinky clothes!
Team A’s Project
(Azzry, Sumira, Chee Yoong, Georgia and Sophie)
The team built an “Olivia Tower” inside the forest enclosure of Pen E. In Latin, the meaning of the name Olivia is Olive, a symbol of peace. This Olivia Tower is specially made for one of our rescued adult female sun bears, Chin. It is her playground. The variety of climbing frames is for helping Chin to build strength and she can also take a sweet nap. This tower helps to stimulate Chin’s natural behavior in the wild. They can observe how Chin makes her way into the forest for her daily rehabilitation process. The teams focus was on building, mixing cement, and digging!
The team carried the hardest wood (i.e. Iron wood) with foundations been dug, installed the woods and vanish the wood to avoid termites. When it comes to sun bears, the tower structures have to be sun bear proof! It is amazing to see the creativity they build.
Many thanks to Team A for working hard in the sun and rain to get the Olivia Tower finished in time. The team was very enthusiastic and created a great learning environment. Again, big thanks to our awesome volunteer, Barbara Katsifolis, for your donation and supportive voice for the sun bears.
Team M’s Project
(Mizuno, Batrisyia and Alexander)
The team focused on building a rustic-looking house for Bjorn Hala’s dog – Momo. The wooden house will serve as a safe den for Momo to deliver and raise her puppies. They made it out of recycled iron wood and made sure they provided the puppies with enough space to eat, play and sleep. The wooden house will keep them warm and cozy. The team has worked tirelessly to spread love for Momo. It was brilliant fun for everyone who took part! Congratulations! On July 15th, 2017 Momo gave birth to two cute puppies. Momo looks quite happy inside her little home!
Team R’s Project
(Roger, Syaqil, Simon and Shannon)
This team is helping to design and build an essential access walkway outside the perimeter of Pen A and Pen K. The old walkway was facing deterioration and was muddy. They will construct a new walkway with durable material to ease the access for staff to the outside perimeter to observe, check or feed the bears. This project involves lots of sawing and hammering. Doing whatever else is useful!
Team B’s Project
(Brandon, David, Athirah and Lawrence)
Cleaning and general upkeep of the enclosures is an important task for us. It is challenging to maintain structures in the Bornean rainforest. The team makes sure the sun bears have a comfortable and safe forest enclosure to use by taking good care of their living spaces. Thanks to the dedication from the team who got the project done.
All teams also engaged fantastically with the enrichment activities! We had so much pleasure observing these sun bears as they rolled around and were quite playful with the enrichment created by volunteers and staff. The juvenile bears enjoy rotating through a list of toys. There is nothing more rewarding than discovering some enrichment that lights up the day of sun bears!
Photos shows the difference types of enrichment:
The volunteers have fallen madly in love with each of the sun bears. They were a hardworking, dedicated bunch from all walks of life! They worked tirelessly to provide these bears with the needs to survive and had many laughs. We can see that each project offered a very difference experience and was unique. Enthusiasm was always high and we were able to achieve great goals to save the forgotten bear - Sun bear. Knowing that we have made a big difference…
Sumira, Syaqil, Athirah, Batrisya, Chee Yoong, Laurence, Shannon, Simon, Sophie, Georgia, Kimberly Louise and bear care team, thanks for being a part of our enrichment project! Good job team! A loud cheer for all your efforts!
Text and Photos by Barbara Katsifolis
Hi. My name is Barbara and I am a travel agent from Melbourne, Australia.
I volunteered at the BSBCC in Sandakan for two weeks in February 2017 and not one day goes by where I don’t think back to my placement. I have so many wonderful memories and learnt so much.
I visited the Sun Bear Centre as a tourist a couple of times and I remember clearly telling my local guide that I will be back to take part in the volunteer program. Four months later I found myself in gumboots with a hose in my hand in the bear-house, sweating profusely.
The whole experience was incredibly well managed by the dedicated local Ape Malaysia staff. Sumira and Mark on the ground in Sandakan are just wonderful and there was nothing we could not approach them for. Ape Malaysia has a fantastic process in place to make sure volunteers are well prepared and understand what this placement is all about.
The same goes for all the staff at the centre. I wished I could speak at least enough Malay to follow the conversations because there was always laughter in the room. Everyone was very easy going but at the same time incredibly dedicated to the purpose of the centre. I felt welcome the minute I walked in and not long after I was just one of the team.
One of the biggest challenges for me during the two weeks was to remember names and I do apologise if I don’t mention everyone I have met. It’s because I just can’t remember them all but I will come back and try harder next time.
The same goes for the bears; 44 bears are a lot even though they all have distinctive chest marks. Two weeks just wasn’t enough for me to remember them all. Thank you to the keepers and Sumira for patiently showing me again and again at feeding time who was who.
We spent most our time in the bear house and someone asked me the other day, “Was it heart breaking?” It’s a valid question. I would have rather seen these beautiful animals out there in the forest where they belong but I came well prepared and with a purpose to support the staff in creating the best possible environment for the bears that cannot be released into the forest at this stage.
I must say that I was just so impressed how the whole bear house was run. It’s a huge job to look after 44 bears and everything that goes along with it, and yet there were smiling faces all around and there was always time for a little joke. I am not an expert on wildlife behaviour but I am sure the bears pick up on this positive attitude around them. Of course, many of them show typical stress behaviours which relate back to their traumatic periods while being kept as pets prior to being rescued. Apart from that the atmosphere was mostly that of contentment.
After the first few days we understood the daily routines, and started to have more and more time to concentrate on creating enrichment items. These range from structures that make the bears more comfortable, to toys out of bamboo, wood and old fire hoses which are donated to the centre. Every bear has a different personality and respond differently to enrichment items. Therefore a lot of thought goes into the creation of various structures and some of them may not turn out to be as appreciated by the bears as we hoped.
After spending so much time with the bears, I did start to have a bit of a weak spot for Gutuk who has very poor vision and spends a lot of time on the ground, while other bears climb up into their hammocks to have a rest. One of our bigger enrichment projects was to build a “bear bed”. The idea was to encourage Gutuk to step off the floor and use this bed rather than the concrete floor.
In theory, it was a great idea and we were very excited to put it into action. After a little while of investigating I did catch Gutuk once with all 4 legs on the bed.
However, in the end I think the bed turned more into a toy for Chin who is Gutuk’s companion and one of the most playful bears. He had a great time standing on top trying to rip it into pieces.
Sometimes the simplest things are the most successful and I think piling up lots and lots of dry leaves in Gutuk’s cage was probably more successful than building a nice piece of furniture. Staying as close to nature as possible seems to be a good approach to keep in mind.
There is a lot of trial and error when making enrichment items. The staff are open to any suggestions and will help the volunteers turn any idea into a workable option.
In fact, the most memorable moments were the afternoons we all spent together crafting for the bears. It showed how much can be achieved as a team and it was just so much fun having everyone together joking around while being incredibly productive.
I would like to thank Dr Wong and all the staff at BSBCC for inviting me into the team for a short while and for Ape Malaysia who facilitate such a wonderful program.
As a travel agent specialising in responsible tourism, I have made it my goal to educate as many of my clients as possible about what a good volunteer and wildlife experience should be. I am super keen to return once a year to the BSBCC and encourage people to participate with me.
As travellers, we must start to play a role in protecting the last remaining rainforests we all crave to see and support some of these amazing people that just don’t give up and put their heart and soul into wildlife rehabilitation and conservation. You are all wonderful role models and I can’t wait to come back. In the meantime, I will talk about my experience back at home and hope to raise a little awareness about sun bear conservation.
See you all in 2018.
That tree better still be there. 😉
Text by Monika Lapka
Photos by Chiew Lin May and Seng Yen Wah
My name is Monika and I'm 24 years old from Australia. I worked as a zoo keeper with mainly giant pandas for 3 years before I decided to quit my job to travel around Asia volunteering at a number of different animal conservation organisations.
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is the third organisation I have volunteered at since starting my travels. I found out about BSBCC during an Advancing Bear Care conference in Vietnam a few years ago, where I met Dr. Wong the founder and CEO of BSBCC. I spent 1 month volunteering at BSBCC and loved every second! I have learnt so much about Bornean Sun Bears, their husbandry requirements and the steps needed to successfully rehabilitate and release them into the wild. I am very grateful to have worked and helped such a beautiful centre who's main priority is definitely the welfare and survival of the species. Dr. Wong and his amazing team are doing an outstanding job for the sun bears.
I felt apart of the keeping team straight away, feeling very appreciated and respected.The keepers and staff that I worked with were extremely friendly and incredibly funny, always making me laugh. The amount of care and passion that the keeping staff have for the bears is very inspirational.
Manual labour and cleaning makes up most of the daily tasks. Cleaning the dens every morning can be quite challenging especially when the weather is very hot and humid. But it doesn't matter that you get all sweaty and smelly because what really is important is giving these beautiful rescued bears a lovely and clean space to spend their time.
One of my favourite parts of the day is making enrichment. A definite highlight was actually the first day when all the keeping staff, interns and volunteers gathered together in the afternoon to make enrichment for the bears. Everyone was sitting around making nest balls out of vines we collected earlier and egg carton sandwiches filled with ginger leaf and bananas. It honestly felt like a big happy family all talking and joking. It was a very heart warming moment for me, I felt apart of something special and a family away from home.
Another highlight was making one of my enrichment ideas come to life for one of my favourite bears, Bermuda. I got the idea from a picture I saw of a similar type of enrichment but for elephants! I thought a mobile, like what hangs over a baby's cot, could potentially be fun and mentally stimulating with the items attached rotating 360 degrees around above the bear. One of the staff, Tommy, helped me put it together and I had an absolute ball making it with him. We called it Bermuda's Lullaby and it turned out exactly as I imagined it in my head. It also looked very neat and pretty, very important I know, especially when a bear is potentially going to destroy it in seconds. We installed it in his den with a few peanut butter and honey smears in the PVC pipes and Bermuda loved it! Swinging it around and grabbing for the PVC pipe. It was wonderful to see that he enjoyed Tommy and my creation so much.
In my final week volunteering I was fortunate to see 2 new arrivals Kina and Sika. 2 tiny little bears that had been rescued and brought to BSBCC for a new start and potentially be released back into the wild in the future. Sika is only 6 months and Kina a year old. I had made firehose cubes before and one of the staff members, Lin May, asked me to make one for the new arrivals. I ended up making a loose cube which turned out to look like a ball. It wasn't until the day after the arrival of the 2 bears that Lin May showed me a video of Kina playing with the ball I'd made! Kina was rolling it around, lying on her back biting it, scratching at it and throwing it with her mouth. It brought tears to my eyes seeing this tiny little bear who had been stolen away from her mother and kept as a pet, in an environment far from her natural habitat being able to feel joy and start feeling more comfortable to settle into her new home. This was the most rewarding experience for me.
The biggest thank you to Dr. Wong Siew Te and the staff at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre for having me volunteer at their beautiful centre!
Volunteering at BSBCC has been an amazing experience that I will remember forever. I have absolutely fallen in love with Sabah, it is such a magical place that I plan to return as soon as possible. I have met some of the kindest, generous and absolutely hilarious people here in Borneo, making life long friends. I was truly sad to leave and say goodbye to what felt like home. The work, passion and determination that the BSBCC team have for sun bears and their conservation is truly inspirational! Keep up the amazing work and I will return soon to finish my Sabahan training!