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 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 Josefin S.
Photos by Sumira Muis & Chiew Lin May
Hi my name is Josefin. I am from Sweden and I am a student at Spånga gymnasium (a Swedish high school). My four classmates and I have been volunteering at BSBCC (Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre) for 5 weeks from 7 January to 7 February. During that time I have learnt and experienced a lot. I have seen a great variety of animals like macaque and different species of bird. I have even been chased by an orangutan. When we came here, we had spent 18 hours in the air and 24 hours travelling with little to no sleep. The temperature went from minus 2 to 30 plus degrees, so on the first day I started to sweat by the thought of moving.
In my first week I spent three days in the kitchen chopping up and weighing different vegetables and fruits. Every bear gets approximately 4.5 kilograms of food each day. As of now the centre is keeping and rehabilitating 43 bears, so you can imagine the amount of food we prepared in one day. During my time here I have improved on a lot of skills. One being cutting up large quantities of fruits with a big knife. I have also learnt how to use different power tools like a drill machine. To engage the bears and encourage their natural behaviour we built enrichments. For example, making a platform that will make it easier and help them learn to climb, because in the wild they spend a lot of time in the trees, sleeping and hiding from predators. Building the enrichment often involved cutting, sawing, drilling, and some sweat and tears. I can assure you that if you volunteer here, at the end of the day you will feel exhausted but very fulfilled. My buddy and I managed to make two different types of enrichment. The first was a piece of wood about 25cm long that we drilled holes into. In the holes we put dog biscuits, mealworms, honey or peanut butter. In total we made 40 pieces, one for each bear. I was so glad when Om (one of the bears) ripped his piece of wood into a million pieces trying to get to the food, it was exactly what I was hoping for
One thing that surprised me and made me really happy was that the founder Dr. Wong, sat down with the volunteers once a week (if he had the time) and answered any questions that they might have about the bears, the centre, him or any other questions about wildlife conservation. It was really sweet, and you would get some great answers. When I look back at my five weeks here, I smile. I have done and learnt so much. One day we went to get banana leaves and the keepers found coconuts. They cut an opening at the top so we could drink the coconut milk and later they opened it so we could eat the “meat” inside. It was delicious.
In conclusion: if I once more were given the chance to volunteer here, I would pack my bags in a heartbeat and jump on the nearest aeroplane. I highly recommend volunteering here as it will be a life experience you won't forget. You will meet amazing people, learn, see and do stuff you never done before, and most importantly you will see and work with the cutest bear. There is nothing like seeing them lie on their back with their feet up in the air eating a sugarcane or drinking the coconut milk. It just takes your breath away.
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 Mayuko Takeda
Phots by Chiew Lin May & Sumira Muis@APE Malaysia
Hello, I’m Mayuko. I’m 20 years old and from Japan! I’m studying biology in Japan. I wanted to be a volunteer in animal related projects and then my professor told me about BSBCC when I consulted him. This is why I came here.
My daily tasks in BSBCC are preparing food, husbandry work and making enrichment for the bears. My typical day started from weighing the amount of the fruit first and then bear house cleaning. Sun bears eat vegetables. So the smell of their feces was not as bad as I thought. However, my teammate and I had to clean the walls and doors too. It made me tired. If we didn’t clean the night dens carefully, they’ll get sick. So, I did my best!!
I like to make enrichment for sun bears. For example, we put some apples and honey in the Aussie Dog balls which has a hole in there. To make the enrichment harder, we also put leaves and egg cartons in the Aussie Dog balls so it is harder for the bears to get apples and honey. So they can enjoy getting the treats while playing with it
Collecting termites from jungle is also part of the enrichment for the bears. We can see how they use their long tongue to forage. All of the bears are individuals with different personalities. In the case of food, some likes sweet potatoes while others like cucumbers. How could I understand that?? When I cleaned the night dens, I checked what is left. On the other hand, one thing I was worried about was that I was afraid I couldn’t remember every bear’s characteristics within just 2 weeks.
Actually, I have one more reason why I wanted to come here. The reason is that I wanted to know what I desire. To tell the truth, I’ve lost my way. Of course my passion towards animals is undoubted but should I get a job or should I go to university to get a master degree? When I said to Mr. Wong, he advised me that I should choose what I think makes me happy. One day after collecting banana leafs on the way going back to the center and blown by the wind, I thought suddenly this is what I always wanted to do. I want to learn about wildlife and I want to do anything for their well-being. This 2 week volunteering experience would be a chance to reflect on myself again.
Finally, Thank you to all of the people I met here!! Sometime it makes me really happy when they talked to me in Japanese. They are kind and funny. Also they taught me Malay - “saya mau makan”. Actually I felt nervous on the first day because I’m not a English native speaker, but it was groundless apprehensions. I was so excited to volunteer at the BSBCC from the second day.
I had a fulfilling and unforgettable time when volunteering at BCBCC. This is an irreplaceable experience. I swear I’ll come back!!!
Text by Oona Lily Mcginty
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Sumira Muis (APE Malaysia)
My name is Oona and I am a University student volunteer from Bristol in the UK. Initially I chose to come and work with the bears here because my dream is of eventually working as an anti-poaching ranger, to protect endangered animals from poaching, habitat destruction and the illegal wildlife trade in countries all over the world.
Getting the opportunity to experience working in-situ in the jungle for the first time was fantastic, and it was incredibly useful to get to try out working as a keeper in this environment, as I already have at a number of sanctuaries and wildlife rescues at home in England. Learning how the role differs from country to country and having to quickly adapt to the differences in local wildlife and climate was a very valuable skill for me.
Doing quite a lot of art in my spare time was certainly put to good use here as well, as a few days into my work I noticed that there were some partially finished murals that had been started by a previous volunteer on some of the walls between bear houses one and two. With our volunteer co-ordinator’s permission, it was hugely satisfying to be able to then sit for a while in the afternoons to finish them off, refreshing that area of the centre for the bears and workers to enjoy throughout their time there.
Learning first-hand about the specific husbandry of the kinds of animals that I will later strive to protect, as well as the uses of different kinds of enrichment for their care and what the bears gain from interacting with each one was very interesting. Getting the chance to go out into different areas of the jungle with the other keepers to do things like gather natural greenery for their enclosures, as well as learning about their diet and collecting different types of native fruits for the bears to eat was absolutely a highlight of my trip. It was nice as well to see that because of the daily effort put into these keeper activities, living in this environment prior to re-release was not so restricting to the bears’ natural diet, or their instinctive interactions with the sorts of surroundings that they might otherwise encounter in the wild.
More than anything however, I think that having the chance to venture out on my days off from work and witness first-hand some of the deforestation and destruction of the land outside of Sepilok and Sandakan has been the biggest eye opener for me.
It has made me even more determined in committing life to working towards alleviating the necessity of housing rescued animals in protected areas such as these, and further served to ignite my passion for protecting these amazing creatures and all others like them.
So I would like to say thank you to the BSBCC for this incredible opportunity, and as long as you are needed in the world, please never stop doing the wonderful work that you do here for these beautiful animals.
Oona Mcginty, Vounteer. - 2019