Text by Shuma Noda
Photos by Shuma Noda & Chiew Lin May
Hello, I am Shuma Noda. I am a university student in Japan.
I love animals, especially I have a great interest with mammals in wild. I would like to work in a job related to conserving wildlife in the future.
I knew about BSBCC because of my teacher. He introduced me that BSBCC has a volunteer program, and I joined two weeks program.
There were many works to do for bears at BSBCC such as preparing meals, feeding, cleaning and maintaining their enclosures, making enrichment. Each work was simple, but I realised how important those works are for conserving sun bears.
I learnt a lot from doing volunteer at BSBCC. For example, the role of sun bears in Borneo and how important they are for their surrounding environment. However the number of bears has been decreased by human beings and how serious it is. At BSBCC, giving bears different types of enrichment every day makes them not getting bored but also those are good tools for training them to release back into the wild.
The introduction with Mr. Wong was my highlight. He taught me four rules for wildlife conservation, study, education, animal welfare and ecotourism.
BSBCC is the great facility for wildlife conservation. Having Mr. Wong at the head of the list, the staff at BSBCC study a lot and give a lecture to educate people about bears. Also they aim to improve animal welfare for bears using many types of enrichment and well-designed enclosures. There are two observation platforms, so tourists who visit BSBCC can see the bears just like in wild.
I really appreciate all the staff members so much. They tried to understand my poor English, helped me and taught me kindly when I could not understand. Also they asked me to play football and badminton after work, so I could come out of my shell with everyone faster than I thought.
They are serious about bears and its conservation as a pro. If you are interested in conservation or thinking to have a job related to wildlife, I strongly recommend you to join the volunteer program at BSBCC.
Text by Peter Lowe
Photos by Peter Lowe & Chiew Lin May
Hi I am Peter Lowe, 68 years of age, living in Prague, Czech Republic. This is my third placement at the BSBCC and hopefully not my last🙂
Many people ask "why do I return?". The reasons are many!! I always come in March when the days in Prague are still short and mainly dull and cold, compared to the sun, heat and, mainly, blue skies of Sabah.
This is enhanced by the feeling of love, joy and dedication one gets from Dr.Wong and his team at the BSBCC. It is a joy and a privilege to be part of their team.
Brilliant way to start the day to be greeted with smiles of welcome that beat the brightest rays of sunshine. Dr. Wong's team and my fellow volunteers give me the will, energy and inspiration to return, plus of course the stars = the Bornean Sun Bears. They are absolutely adorable ☺I never leave with dry eyes and always have it in my heart to return 👍 plus each day I learn so much both from the team, my fellow volunteers = where they come from, their hobbies, cultures etc. and the bears = their habits, characters and how they have grown/changed over the years. These are just some of the many reasons why I return to this very special project ☺ I feel like I am coming home 👍☺
This year my fellow volunteers are,2 from Sweden Natalie and Milla,2 from UK = Pip and Jane, Shuma from Japan and Fang from Taiwan, an interesting mix of both ages and nationalities👍
After our initial induction with Azzry, Bear Care Co-ordinator and Sumira, Project Co-Ordinator, we went to the area outside the Bear House to meet the staff and to guess who is our respective "buddy". This year my buddy is a new member of staff, Adneen, who cares for the eldest bear,Amaco,27 years of age(this is quite a remarkable age when you consider they are the same as a dog,1 human year =7 Sun Bear years!!!) So Adneen has the eldest bear and the eldest volunteer =yours truly as his buddies.👍😊
Afterwards I helped Adneen make an enrichment for Amaco=putting peeled bananas with peanut butter spread on them(his favourite)wrapped in ginger leaves then tied, sprinkled with curry powder(the bears find this smell irresistible)which we then put inside a plastic drum with holes drilled in it large enough for Amaco's paw/arm to fit in. We then suspended the drum in his sleeping den at his head height. He has had problems with his upper spine/neck and had become lazy to stand up. This enrichment is designed to encourage him to stand to get his treats out of the barrel. It was 100%successful as he emptied the barrel !!👍😊
Adneen and I then designed a ladder using rope, lengths of fire hose, nuts and bolts, for Amaco with the intention to suspend some of his favourite foods at different heights, so he will use the ladder to climb and stand on his hind legs to get to them. Much to our delight his has been a complete succes.
Thank you all who make these experiences possible and the wonderful work you do, you are all so special and bring so much happiness to so many !!! I plan to join you all again in March 2020 !!! To anyone considering partaking in this APE Malaysia project DO IT !! You will not regret it. Yes it is hot, at times messy, hard work. However you will always remember the fun you will have plus this amazing, unique experience. Maybe, like me, after being part of this project you will want to return more than once !!
Text by Jane Leonora Kostelnyk
Photos by Jane Leonora Kostelnyk & Chiew Lin May
I visited Borneo for the first time in 2018 on a tour which included a visit to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. I have always loved bears but had never heard of sun bears until I came to the Centre. I was saddened to learn that the sun bears are an endangered species facing extinction and I picked up a brochure about volunteering opportunities here, which prompted me to apply to volunteer at the Centre for two weeks. I was somewhat apprehensive because I am older than the average volunteer and have a desk job, so physical work on a daily basis isn’t something I’m used to! Spurred on by my desire to do something to try to help the plight of the sun bear, though, I went ahead and applied for a place on the programme.
I am very pleased that I did so because I love working with the sun bears. They are very cute, as the photos demonstrate, and each has his/her own personality. I am not yet able to recognize all the sun bears but I can identify some of them. Everyone at the Centre is friendly and welcoming and willing to answer the numerous questions I’ve asked! There is a good team spirit here and it is clear that all the staff here really do care about the well-being of the bears.
The volunteers are given a variety of jobs to do and I have even acquired some new skills along the way! Never before have I done any carpentry, but during my time here I have helped (with guidance and patience from the bear keepers) to construct a structure designed to help one of the bears overcome his fear of leaving the bear house and step into the forest enclosure. It is very fulfilling to be involved in helping the bears in this way. The bears have all been kept as ‘exotic pets’ or by unlicensed mini-zoos in appalling conditions in the past, so they require a large amount of rehabilitation and help to enable them to acquire skills to help them survive in the forest.
Each afternoon the volunteers are involved in creating enrichment for the bears. This could involve wrapping pieces of fruit sprinkled with curry powder inside a parcel of leaves to encourage the bears to develop their foraging skills, or it might involve finding dry leaves for those bears who have not yet plucked up courage to leave the bear house to enjoy the sensation of walking on a natural surface. Any suggestions the volunteers have for enrichment are welcomed by the staff at the Centre, so there is the chance to be creative!
To anyone who is interested in wildlife and wants an experience in an exotic setting, which is both worthwhile and enjoyable, I would wholeheartedly recommend signing up as a volunteer with the Centre – whatever your age or background. It will be an unforgettable two weeks.
Text by Chen Fang, 陳昉
Photos by Cheng Fang & Chiew Lin May
後記：在志工的兩周裡面有兩天休息日，其中一天先去了旁邊的紅毛猩猩中心，之後和同行的志工參加了fireflies trip，另一天到了Rainforest Discovery Centre看到很多很多從來沒看過的鳥或是動物，我相信喜歡大自然的人一定會很熱愛這裡的一切的!!
Text By Emily Tan Yu En
Photos By BSBCC & APE Malaysia
Hey everyone! I’m Emily Tan Yu En, 17 from Penang, Malaysia and I just graduated from high school. I am waiting for my SPM results and I have 3 months before entering university. I came across this volunteering programme as my parents got to know about it from Mr Wong. Even though I’m a Malaysian, I’ve never been to Sabah before and I was really excited about this programme. I am no stranger to sun bears as I saw one in a mini zoo in Peninsula Malaysia. There are two sun bears in that enclosure and you can tell from their facial expression that they’re not being treated well in the zoo. Their enclosure is really small and they only get contact with each other. That was the first experience with sun bears.
My volunteering programme starts from 5th of January until 18th of January and there are five more volunteers at that time but I’m the only one who has a two week placement. I’ve experience a lot of first experiences throughout the project. For my two weeks in the bear house, I get to clean the cages, work in the kitchen, do enrichments for the bears and also a lot of funny moments like getting stuck in the mud after collecting banana leaves , falling in the drain because of a flood , a piece of wood fell on my foot and a lot more. I also get to build a swing for the cub with my buddy, Brandon and Ieda. The volunteers from Ape Malaysia are really nice and I really had a great time with them. We played card games every night and we laughed a lot.
After finishing the two weeks volunteering time at BSBCC, I went back to Penang and soon returned to Sabah as a volunteer for as I missed it so much! Unlike January, this time there’s no other volunteer and I will be staying at the staff house ( Bjorn Hala ). I get to work in the kitchen for three weeks and also do some enrichment. I think I consider myself lucky because this time I get to work at the platform and also outreach to Lahad Datu. I get to know more about the hard work that all the staff have done for the bears and the efforts by the keepers in the bear house.
I’m really grateful that I get to work with all the staff and I am able to observe the sun bears at close quarters. They’re really cute and I’m still amazed by their size, behaviour and a lot more. I’m also really pleased that I was able to join the health check of Mamatai and Diana. I enjoyed outside feeding the most as I was able to have a closer look at the bears eating the fruit and I also get so lucky one time that I saw two bears climbing the same time.
I realised how important the staff in the centre are to the bears after working with them for 5 weeks. All the keepers treat the bears sincerely and they taught me a lot about sun bears. I appreciate all the efforts given by the staff and also all the knowledge about the bears. I also want to thank my housemates at Bjorn Hala for taking care of me and taking me everywhere around Sandakan. All the lame jokes from the keepers really help and thanks to all the keepers in the bear house for treating the bears so sincerely. I’ll sure miss the time working with all of the bears and the staff.
Text by Chung Chyi Wei
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Hello, I’m Chyi Wei, a postgraduate student in sensor technology at Cambridge University; hence, the two weeks I spent volunteering at BSBCC was very different to my usual discipline and offered an interesting insight into animal conservation. Moreover, as a Sabahan living abroad, it was a nice reintroduction to the unique local culture and people.
Working in the bear house makes apparent the care, effort and planning that go into the centre—the meticulousness and intricacy of which are definitely overlooked from a visitor’s experience alone. It was fascinating to listen to the team describe each bear in anthropomorphic traits (my particular favourite is the severity of forehead wrinkles to tell between Julaini, Rungus and Ah Lun), and to learn of the harrowing stories of their past. Daily work consists of feeding the bears (four times a day), cleaning cages, preparing food and enrichment activities; morning tasks are allocated on a rota basis, so there is something different to look forward to each day. There is constant emphasis on the importance of enrichment for the stimulation and well-being of the bears; I like the creative and innovative ways the team employ in using recycled or organic materials to create food-based and structural enrichments—each of these has a deceitfully complex name, like Stick Paradox (basically a bouquet of twigs hiding peanut butter, for which sunbears have an insatiable appetite, in the middle). I was also fortunate enough to participate in a health check for Soo (where I learned of the many biological, genetic topics yet unknown and unstudied about sunbears, e.g. blood type), and an integration observation for Chin (to determine if this very solitary bear—even by Sun Bear standards—was ready to join an established sub-adult group of eight).
Lastly, my volunteering experience wouldn’t have been half as enjoyable if not for the friendly and welcoming team at BSBCC and APE Malaysia. Many, many, many (this is probably still insufficient) thanks to Sumira (for her expert insight into the field, tales of her interesting career and nuanced discussions on Asian-Western cultural differences); as well as to Azzry, Brandon, Fianilee, Lin May, Mizuno, Roger, Susan, Thye Lim and Wah Wah (for sharing their stories and knowledge, and not screaming at me once). Thanks!
Text by Tara Sofia Jadwani-Bungar
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Bermuda, Mizuno tells me, is the biggest bear the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). Yet he barely comes up to my nose when he stands on his hind legs. Across from him is Wan-Wan, a female with the loveliest pink nose. She eats bananas delicately, removing the peel with her claws before sliding the banana fruit into her mouth. They are the first two bears I meet at the BSBCC.
I’m Tara, a 19 year-old university student from Melbourne, Australia and my stint at the BSBCC was my first time in Borneo. I’m studying to be a vet and would like to someday work in “conservation medicine”. Volunteering at the BSBCC introduced me to working in that sector.
The first day at BSBCC was slightly overwhelming (in a good way) because everything we were doing was new. Myself and two other overseas volunteers, Sienna and Imogen, went through a series of inductions that ensured we knew all the safety precautions and rules for the Bearhouses. You’d think this would be boring but simply being at the centre is so novel that everything seems exciting and interesting.
I learned so much about the bears – from their diet to their behaviour and their relationships – that my head was practically bursting with sun bear facts for two weeks. Some of this information came from a two-hour Q&A session the interns and volunteers had with Wong, the founder of the BSBCC. The most exciting part of this session was learning about the future of the BSBCC (can’t spoil it for the rest of you, though). The bearkeepers themselves are pretty incredible people and they showed me the everyday work that goes into running the centre and keeping up with the bears. They can get pretty creative when thinking up new enrichment for the bears.
The volunteer programme was really well-run, too. There was a great balance between routine and variation. Our days would start at 8:00am with feeding the bears breakfast (rice porridge). This would be followed up with cleaning the indoor enclosure or kitchen duty (chopping up fruit and vegetables for the bears and cleaning the kitchen area). Then we’d head out to feed the bears in their outdoor enclosures. By then, it was usually lunch time (12:00-1:30pm) which was spent in a lovely air-conditioned room. Afterwards, we’d take care of afternoon feeding. This was a bit more of an adventure as we’d often be followed by a very bold troupe of macaques. They’d regularly try and swipe the bears’ food. Back at the Bearhouse, we’d build enrichment activities before feeding the bears dinner and tidying up. Home time was 5:00pm on the dot.
Building enrichment was my favourite part of the day. Partly because it was really interesting to see what we could come up with to entertain/stimulate the bears. It was also when I got to talk to the keepers and the other interns and learn more about the bears and Borneo. Brandon, one of the keepers, and his buddies were building a firehose spider web for Along’s indoor enclosure. Imogen, Sumira and I made balls out of firehoses for the cubs in quarantine. Boboy spent quite a few days on a platform for the newest bear cub, Romolina. One afternoon, a group of us led by Mizuno walked in the surrounding rainforest searching for termite nests for the bears. I’m happy to say I did not get a single leech bite during my stay.
On some days, we’d head out in the ute (pick-up truck) to collect banana leaves, weeds and vines for enrichment. This was one of my favourite activities because I got to see more of the outskirts of Sandakan. Also, Mizuno’s driving was great. On two occasions, Imogen and I manned the education desk in the souvenir shop and I spent some time on the observation decks talking to visitors. Watching the bears from those viewing platforms was quite different from seeing them in the bearhouse. Funnily enough, I only realised how cute they were when I saw them from the visitors’ perspective. They had seemed cute before but I’d also learned to see them as individuals and hadn’t had the time to really coo over them.
Another memorable experience was assisting the vet and bearkeepers during a health check. Linggam was sedated and brought out to the examination table to have a wound on his leg checked. I helped take his measurements and his pawprints (inked and stamped just like ours).
My fortnight at the BSBCC was one of the happiest I’ve had. Despite it being a centre for bears, it was the people at the BSBCC who made my trip. Everyone, from the bear keepers to the local interns to the education staff, was kind, welcoming and open to questions. Most of all, their love and respect for the bears was clear in all their work. Thank you, in particular, to Sumira, our project coordinator, for being not only a teacher and guide but a wonderful friend.
My time at the BSBCC also showed me how difficult conservation and rehabilitation is. How do we know when a bear is ready to be released? How can we teach a bear that has never been in the wild and has never had mother how to be a bear? How can we release bears when there’s hardly any habitat to release them into? All these questions hang over the BSBCC and every other conservation effort. I don’t think there’ll ever be a perfect, full proof answer for any them. We can only do our best to heal the damage we’ve done. Some would say that that is very pessimistic but it’s quite the opposite. The people at the BSBCC are realistic but also hopeful and very dedicated. They’re problem solvers and they believe that they will find a way. They have to if they’re going to save Sun Bears.
Text by Ng Kang Yew
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Hi I'm Ng, a typical Malaysian who lives in a big city known as Petaling Jaya, and also working as landscaper.
Many of my Friends used to travel out of the country to enjoy their vacation time and explore new places. As our leave is so limited, no wonder most of us like to spend this precious time to take a leisure tour and take fancy photos. Hmm. But me, I was looking for some different. What if I was able to contribute some of my time towards helping society? Wow. A hero dream huh? With this idea in mind and great opportunities in front of me, I came across the Sun Bear Programme.
I'm not that strange to Sun Bears as a I have visited ones before in a local zoo. The memory of them is still very vivid; a little sun bear put in a bare steel enclosure and he is all alone. This was my very first experience with a Sun Bear.
Back in Nov 2017, my friend and I come across an eco film fest in Publika, where we had the chance to watch a film from Dr. Audrey as well as talk to her afterwards. She suggested for us to have a look into the Sun Bear Centre, and yes, both of us signed up to the program.
“Do you have a chance to cuddle or pet the Sun Bear?” I believe this question will always be the top pick QnA for every single volunteer who wants to work with Sun Bear Programme.
Unfortunately, it is a no within this Sun Bear Programme to have contact with any of the bears both for volunteers, and even permanent staff in the bear house. We give no chance to have any body contact with bears. This measure is not cruel, but back with a very solid reason. These bears are meant for wild. Therefore, it will be more appropriate to leave them alone, to learn and be independent and free from human disturbance. We are not to build relationships with bear, who are meant to be released back to wild once they are fit and ready.
What we experience in the Sun Bear Centre is amazing. You have no idea how the staff dedicate their time and effort to ensure this little fragile bear, is eventually able to live within their natural settings and teach them the basic skill to sustain their life in the wild. From day one, we are already asked to remember those tricky names for each bear. You know what? For me they all just look the same. And to be honest, I couldn’t even recognise each of the bears until the end of the programme.
As a volunteer, you should honour yourself as a bear carer. You not only clean their poop, wash the cage, prepare the food, feed them with dedicated diet meal as if you were a mum, you also have to make them enrichments ,or so pet toys, that aim to enhance their skill and stimulate their natural behaviour. The satisfaction that arises when the bear starts to explore and play with your enrichment, is tremendous. And you can tell they are happy with it. I got my opportunity to make two enrichments for the bears and it feels amazing when these bears spend time with your enrichment. Their cuteness will sure dissolve your heart.
The staffs over the Sun Bear Centre are awesome too. You sure do get entertained by them because they will pop out with many spontaneous jokes in no time and thus lighten your days. They have been so helpful the whole time as well. If there are any questions and assists needed, they will help you selflessly. There are too many stories to share and I really am thankful for everything they have done for us to make us as part of their family.
So, will you spend your next vacation for a cause? You choose it.
Ng Kang Yew
Text by Jonas Bolin
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
My name is Jonas Bolin and I am 18 years old and live in Sweden. I am right now studying to become an animal keeper and will graduate this spring. I was one of the lucky few to get the opportunity to do my internship at bsbcc which I am so grateful for. This trip was going to be the biggest adventure of my life and I could not be more excited about it. However, this was one of the most incredible journeys I have ever imagined and I was planning to gather so much experience.
I am right now at the end of my internship at bsbcc which of course is very sad, but when I look back at my time here I could not resist to smile. These five weeks has been so incredible and I have earned more experience than I could imagine. However, the first two weeks was mostly focused of learning the routines for me. It is always so many new things to learn wherever you go and when they told me to learn all the bears names and identify them I thought they were crazy. I thought it would be hard enough to learn the names of the staff. But after the first two weeks I started to learn all the different behaviours and the characteristic things among the bears, which was a pretty cool feeling if you ask me. But all this was thanks to all the keepers that had patience with me and told me that we learn by mistakes which made me try until I succeeded. It is so inspiring to see all these hard working people and see how much they care for Sun bears. They have taught me a lot about Sun bears and its importance to the ecosystem here in Borneo and what we have to do to make sure they can survive in the wild. I cannot thank these guys enough and I wish them the best of luck in the future because they are some of the best people I have met in my hole life. One moment I will remember for a long time is meeting the founder of bsbcc Dr. Wong Siew Te. He is such an inspiring man who care so much for the animals and their environment. I have a feeling that he has started something big that will lead to a new level of animal caretaking in many places of the world.
So during my weeks I have as I said gathered so much experience. I have so much work experience which I will bring me for my whole life and my future carer. What is more is that I have gathered even more life experience during this trip which has made me a new person, I can handle so much more than I thought before. I will use all this experience my whole life and make sure to always remember this adventure. But most of all I will remember all the friends I have found down here, even if we cannot make sure that we will see each other again I will always have them in my mind. Of course I will miss the bears as well and they will always have a special place in my heart.
So this adventure was not what I was expecting, it was so much better. I will therefor thank BCBCC and APE Malaysia for making this dream come true. I will miss everything so much and I am really looking forward to see what this centre can become in 10 more years.
// Jonas Bolin
Text by Sofia Lundegårdh
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
My name is Sofia Lundegårdh, I am 18 and from Sweden. For my entire life I have known that I want to work with animals, which is why I chose to study animal care and am now in the final year of my 3 year education. It was only recently that I found more interest in animal rehabilitation, so when I got the opportunity to volunteer at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre thanks to a scholarship from my school I was so happy I almost could not believe it. Therefore, as part of the internship that is included in my education, I travelled to Borneo for 5 weeks together with my classmate Jonas.
It was my first time ever going to Asia and working in such a warm and humid climate, which took some time to get used to after coming directly from the snow in Sweden. Sometimes it got tough, but the staff was great at making sure that were okay and considerate when you needed breaks. In the end, knowing that what I did was to help the bears made all the work very rewarding.
The daily routines at the BSBCC consisted of cleaning cages and preparing food for the bears which was given to them both inside the bear house as well as the outside forest enclosures. One of my favourite things to do, however, was making enrichments. Every day all the bears had to be stimulated to keep them entertained and encourage their natural behaviours to help them learn about the forest. Enrichments were usually made out of whatever materials we had available such as leaves, sticks and fire hoses and filled with hidden treats like peanut butter or honey. But we also got the chance to test our creativity and make something bigger and more advance, in my case a hammock and a ramp! Later watching the bears play with whatever you gave them always made me happy, but I also began noticing the different behaviours and characteristics between individuals. Before I came here I did not know much about sun bears, but their charming and unique personalities made them the most wonderful animal that I have ever worked with. It saddens me deeply that their backgrounds are filled with so much trauma caused by humans after having been kept as pets under horrible conditions.
As I slowly got to know the bears, I also got to know the staff of the centre. Everyone has been so friendly, welcoming and helpful from the very start, and working next to them has taught me a lot about animal rehabilitation as well as given me insight into the operation of the work place. I also found it incredibly inspiring to see how passionate, dedicated and caring for the bears all the keepers are.
I really do not want to go home yet, but these 5 weeks have gone by way too fast. I am so grateful for my school sending me here, as this experience has been one of the best things I have ever done in my life, and though I am sad to leave I also made so many great memories. To the staff of BSBCC, thank you all so incredibly much for everything you do for the bears and for everything you did for me during these 5 weeks. I am already planning my next visit here, as I definitely want to come back in the nearest possible future!
Lastly, I would like to share a quote from Jane Goodall that I was shown by Dr Wong. It has meant a lot to me during my time here and will continue to inspire me for the rest of my life, so I hope that it might do the same for anyone else who reads this: “Only if we understand, can we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help, shall they be saved.”