Text By Manuel Baumgartner & Sophie Baumgartner
Photos By Chiew Lin May & Sumira Muis@APE Malaysia
We are Manuel and Sophie from Switzerland and are currently travelling for 6 months. We will be in Borneo for 7 weeks. We are mammal watchers in our free time and are out in nature whenever we can. We are especially looking for bears and cats, but we are enjoying every single surprise that nature gives us.
Since last year we do not only want to observe animals, but also try to be more and more active in conservation. We wanted to learn more about the reintroduction process, be physically active, and because we love bears, the BSBCC volunteer program was perfect for us.
We were impressed by the organization of the team and how well the processes work: It doesn't seem easy to us to look at all these unique bears with unique needs! We were very happy to work with the nice, interested and helpful team. It was especially important for us to learn more about the reintroduction process and its conditions. We also wanted to have the opportunity to ask critical questions. Dr. Wong, the founder of the BSBCC, took a lot of time for us to ask all our questions and we were very grateful for this exchange and for all the things we learned.
It was nice that we were soon able do a lot of work and work close to the bears. If you observe well, you can learn a lot about the behavior and the different characters. Unfortunately, we also saw what the consequences of a long captivity can be and how important the enrichments can be.
We wish all bears that have the opportunity to be released, to be free and to see, sniff and experience the wonderful wilderness of Borneo in peace.
Thanks a lot to the whole team for this good time full of laughter and a lot of sweating.
Text by Celeste Kara Lequigan Chalk
Photos by Celeste Kara Lequigan Chalk & Chiew Lin May
Hellllo, my name is Celeste Kara Lequigan Chalk and I was fortunate enough to spend two magical weeks at the BSBCC from the 6th of June to the 17th of June this year, 2019. I consider the title to be a summary of my experience. I signed up for this programme on a whim and without any previous experience with animals, let alone such incredible animals like the sun bears! My time here has been so surprising in the best way- I was prepared for the sun bears and my love for them, but I was not prepared for the love I felt instantly for the BSBCC team. As cheesy as it sounds; it’s not just the sun bears, the staff at the BSBCC and the APE team radiate a warmth and sunshine that reflects the animals they work tirelessly for everyday- it’s contagious!
I made an effort to speak to as many of the staff as I could and I never felt unwelcome or uncomfortable- on the contrary, from the first day I immediately felt an ease about this new environment that I was diving head first into. Without fail, every staff member that I had the pleasure of speaking with- either directly or indirectly- exuded a glowing passion for their work, the bears and the cause. It was truly inspiring- I’m leaving the team and this beautiful place in the world more informed and excited to spread the word! Save the sunbears! Be a thoughtful and selfless person on this planet.
My favourite quote is: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is ever going to get better, it’s not”- and the whole team at BSBCC and APE couldn’t embody this value any better if they tried.
I had the ever patient and curious Brandon for a buddy- his kindness and smile was such a reassuring familiarity to have everyday and I appreciated his guidance and willingness to teach us. Then there were Mark and Sumira- our incredible program coordinators who were there everyday as a friend and support when we needed it, filled with boundless knowledge to share and stories to laugh over. There are FAR too many staff to call out by name as all of them filled my heart with joy! There was an array of tasks that we had the great fortune of carrying out, like; creating enrichment, observing the bears, preparing the food and even cleaning the cages! All of the tasks and every moment was devoted to one sole focus- the sun bears! What a pleasure it was to be surrounded by such like minded people with a common goal and passion for this!
I was fortunate enough to spend these two wonderful weeks with Priya, my knowledgeable roommate who was always so generous with her wisdom of the animals! Together, we got to experience and assist in not one, not two, BUT THREE vet checks! Wow, how lucky are we!? It was an incredible experience and Dr Boon was so patient and willing to explain exactly what we were doing and why- even to a Psychology student like myself! It was amazing watching her teach the other staff and build up their confidence in carrying out those duties with the bears.
I was expecting to be sad writing this but instead I’m only overwhelmed with happiness and gratitude for the experience and memories. I’m leaving with a full heart- and a full stomach. As Winnie the Pooh said (a secret Sunbear according to Thye Lim): “how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”. It’s not geoodbye, it’s jumpa lagi!
Text by Priya Colville
Photos by Chiew Lin May
My name is Priya Colville and I am from Scotland in the UK. I had just finished studying animal collections with conservation when I started my two week volunteer placement at the centre. Having seen lots of documentaries about Borneo and its wildlife I knew that I wanted to volunteer and that it would help expand my knowledge of in-situ conservation work. After searching through the internet I came across the BSBCC, discovering the story of how it began and with the great reviews from other volunteers I knew it was somewhere I wanted to volunteer at.
Once I arrived I quickly realized the heat and humidity was something I had never experienced but luckily never struggled with that much throughout the two weeks. After arriving at the airport I was introduced to Mark from Ape and my dorm mate Celeste, both were incredibly friendly and easy to talk to, already making me feel at ease. I then met Sumira from Ape and some of the team at the centre to complete my induction before starting. The two weeks went very quickly but I enjoyed every second of it. Some of the best parts included being involved with the Oms annual vet check, learning more about the conservation strategies in Borneo from Dr Wong and the staff and being able to make and distribute the enrichment by collecting the dead logs filled with termites from the jungle, creating Sigalungs snack stick and the digiripipes and observing the bears interact with the enrichment such as Panda with the barrel the scared Amaco due to the noise.
Having decided to travel to Borneo for two weeks without knowing anyone and limited contact with people from back home I never felt lonely due to the incredibly friendly people including those at the BSBCC, from APE, from Paganakan Dii and Celeste. Everyone was so willing to help us enjoy ourselves and making sure we had no problems that there was nothing bad to say about the whole trip. I got to experience a conservation project in Borneo like I had wanted and in my off days explore other animal sanctuaries and see the diverse wildlife including the red leaf langurs at the Gomantong Caves that traveled above me in the canopies.
The whole trip is unforgettable and definitely something I would recommend to everyone and I can’t thank the staff enough for the fantastic time I have had including my buddy Brandon who helped me throughout my time at the BSBCC and always had a smile on his face no matter what. I hope to come back and experience it all over again. Termia kasih.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Huge thanks to Balai Bomba Dan Penyelamat Sandakan with the help of Ketua Balai Bomba, Tuan Jimmy Lagung and his team for donating fire hoses to sun bears!! Fire hose provides wonderful enrichment to sun bears! We will going to making difference types of fire hose enrichment for the bears to enjoy!
They have a fire hose pocket for digging, bear balls to play with, honey comb to promoting naturalistic behaviours, simple braided browser for swing, hammock made a great support for laying and SO much more!
The bears bark a big thanks for the new gift and making their day special!
What can we possibly make with this fire hose - lets see lot of cute pictures!
Video by Chiew Lin May
Sniffing, Tapping, Rolling….
Panda, the sun bear has been enjoying lots of love from our volunteers and keepers doing everything they can to help Panda enhances her foraging skills.
Loud bear bark thank you go out to APE Volunteers Celeste Kara Lequigan Chalk and Priya Colville giving the sun bears an opportunity to express their natural instinct !!
Want to make a difference?
For more info on becoming a volunteer visit www.bsbcc.org.my
Text By Mandy Lee
Photos By Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Hi I’m Mandy Lee from Taiwan. I am 36 years old and I am a freelance English tutor/translator.
Wildlife and traveling have always been my greatest passions. This is my second time visiting/volunteering in Sabah, but the very first time volunteering in BSBCC.
Before this project, I didn’t really have a chance to spend enough time understanding sun bears behaviours though back in 2014 I was with APE Malaysia creating some enrichment for the sun bears in Laos Zoo. Back then, all I knew was they love honey and they are relatively shy.
A fortnight has gone really fast. For my first week, I was assigned doing husbandry works and feeding the bears in different pens in the mornings; making enrichment for the bears and collecting materials for enrichment activities in the afternoons. As for my second week, my tasks mainly are preparing foods for the bears in the mornings and making enrichment for the bears in the afternoons. I found all these works interesting because when cleaning the night dens I was given a chance to observe their faeces and the scatters of enrichment. Through putting these little pieces of information together, I tried to picture what the bears probably had done the previous night. When preparing the foods for the “babies” (Forgive me if I started calling them babies because I’ve grown to love them more and more each day), I was also given a chance to understand their daily diet – carrots and leafy veggies are good for them not only because they are full of good nutrients but also because the fibres serve dental cleaning purpose.
There is never a dull moment. One of my favourite routines of each day is going out collecting materials for enrichment activities in the afternoon – we collected banana leaves, green mangoes, coconuts and branches, brought them back to the bear house and made enrichment props. Since the bears are the experts of smelling, sometimes we put different spice powders on the branches or we hid apple, banana pieces and peanut butter in parcels made with bamboos or cardboards to stimulate their ability forage for foods. Sometimes we went into the woods looking for termite nests and gave them to the bears as well because invertebrate is also one of the main sources of food for the bears in the wild. Watching the bears digging the termite nests looking for termites, using their claws to eat the foods or simply just lying there chilling out always put a smile on my face J
There are many wonderful things volunteering in BSBCC. To name a few, first is surely the professional team of BSBCC and my dear coordinator, Sumira. The staff and officers are so caring and lovely. They took me in as part of the big family right at the beginning; I didn’t even have time to be nervous about a new environment. Whenever I had questions, they were always there patiently for me. The second wonderful bit is definitely getting up early in the morning sitting in the outdoor kitchen enjoying my morning cup while watching the sunrise and listening birds chirping at volunteer accommodation. Being in an outdoor symphony concert every morning, what more could one ask for in life?
Last but not least, the weekly volunteer talk with Dr. Wong Siew Te will also be one of the many unforgettable moments in my life, for my past volunteering experiences, I never had a chance to have a deep conversation to the founder or the head of any animal conservation centre. Dr. Wong is charismatic and also very patient and down to earth. I remember the first talk with Dr. Wong, I was asking him that for me as an individual and a person with no zoology background, how could I raise public awareness of wildlife wellbeing and spread the words of the importance of conservation to people surround me. He was also curious about why I have been volunteering in animal conservation so many times as an Asian. I was getting quite emotional when he started explaining to me patiently and provided me some of his experiences hopefully this could help me to spread the words for the voiceless ones (the bears and other animals).
I would like to quote Dr. Wong’s words at our first volunteer talk to end this dairy.
“Getting emotional is a good thing, because that means you care for something.”
I really care about wildlife wellbeing and I shall do my part as an individual to speak for them.
Terima Kasih gila to all my Cikgu in BSBCC.
Text by Milla Milanovic
Photos by Chiew Lin May
My name is Milla Milanovic, I’m 18 years old and I’m from Sweden. I study animal care and I’m now in my final year of my 3 years of education. Thanks to my school I got the opportunity to come to Borneo to do my internship/volunteering at Bornean Sunbear Conservation Center. Before I came here I had never been to Asia before and I didn’t know a lot about Borneo or the sun bears so I was not sure what to expect. I knew that the weather here was very different from the weather in Sweden. I knew that it could get very warm and humid here but I was still surprised and I don’t really think you can prepare yourself.
Volunteering at BSBCC is very sweaty and a lot of hard work but also very fun. The routines that we did on a daily basis were things like cleaning cages in bear house 1 & 2, feeding the bears and of course making enrichment which is something that is considered really important here. Enrichment is something that you make for animals to stimulate their minds and so they can perform their natural behavior.
The enrichment that we usually did could be, for example sticks that we tied together and then put a bit of peanut butter between the sticks. If the animals don’t get to do their natural behaviors then they will easily get depressed, aggressive but first of all they will get stressed and then they can evolve stereotypical behaviors like pacing, which mean the animal is walking back and forth on the same place. Stereotypical behaviors means the animal is performing unnatural behaviors. By making different kind of enrichment every day and letting the sun bears to be in their big enclosures, helps the sun bears to do their natural behaviors like using their claws to rip things and to climb, taste and to smell and search for food. That is also one reason why the bear keepers here throw and spread out the food, which consist of different kind of fruits and vegetable.
These five past weeks have been incredible fun and educational, and I have learned so much and it have been fun to getting to know all of the 46 bears and there different personalities, and you can even see that they all have different favorite foods. These past weeks went by so fast but that only means that I have had a good time. I am so grateful that I got this opportunity to volunteer at BSBCC and to work with all of the nice and friendly bear keepers. Thank you for these five past weeks and I hope I can be able to come back in the future.
Text by Nathaly Velarde
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hello my name is Nathaly Velarde and I’m from Sweden. I will graduate in 2 months from Spanga Gymnasium. Every year my school sends 4 volunteers to Borneo for an internship so we can gain experience, knowledge of how a zookeeper works. Which I’m so thankful for and I hope they keep sending more students to Borneo so they learn everything we have learnt about sun bears and rehabilitation.
When I was told that I will be one of the lucky student to do my internship in Borneo I got really happy. Since I was born in Bolivia I got really interested in rehabilitation because I found similarities like how poaching works, and the rainforest is disappearing. I got to learn a lot from Dr. Wong Siew Te when we had the question session where he told us how we have to think and act. His wise words will stay with me forever and I want to make a change in how Bolivia is handling the animals and help as much as I can.
These past 5 weeks have been so much fun, I have learnt a lot about sun bears which I will pass on the information to people in Sweden and Bolivia so they know how important and cute they are. Before coming here, I didn’t know what to expect, I’m shy with new people but after spending a few days at the center I already felt comfortable and I’m thankful that the staff at the center are always happy and nice.
Something I learnt a lot about is enrichment before I came here I already knew the importance of giving enrichment to animals in captivity but the meaning “enrichment” is more valuable here and I love that. Everyday we try to make enrichment for the sun bears so they have something to play with and does not feel bored.
I want to thank BCBCC and APE Malaysia for doing an amazing job. I really loved these 5 weeks here in Borneo and im really thankful for my school that gave this big opportunity.
Good luck and I hope I can come back again.
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 !!