Text by Nithisha Nair
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hello, I’m Nithisha, a 20-year-old student carrying out my internship for the Animal Health and Production Diploma Course based in University Putra Malaysia, Bintulu Sarawak Campus. I come from Selangor, and have been in Borneo for the better part of 2 years. I have always loved animals and volunteering, but this is my very first time working with our astonishing sun bears.
My 10 weeks being an intern in BSBCC has been nothing short of thrilling, educational and adventurous. I have gained so much, much more than I can ever repay, and so much so that I am eternally grateful.
I’m certain that I’ll be reminiscing about all the adventures I encountered, from hiking up forests to retrieve termite nests for the bears, to observing the progress of the cubs. Even talking to kids about sun bears during outreach programs. I have learned to use tools I’ve never had the chance to use, make enrichments that I once thought only existed in imaginations, and find amusement in the small things life has to offer.
I’ve been apart of the transfer of the cubs, their fence training, and their release to the forest enclosure. I got the chance to assist several health check-ups, I got to learn and memorise which bears get what supplements, their nutritional needs, who gets the egg yolk and who doesn’t, got to play chef with foods so that the bear who won’t eat would eat again and I’ve got to make so many different types of enrichments. And with that I’ve learned to use the power drill and saw like there’s no tomorrow. None of this would have been possible without the amazing bear house team, and definitely, the buddy assigned me who ensures I get to experience all there is to do.
My 10 weeks here has grown me so attached to the bears, even watching a bear eat could give me so much joy, especially when a sick bear falls back to routine eating habits, almost makes me jump in joy. I’ve come to love the bears, and I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t, they all have their own specialized characteristics and traits. Each with their own quirk to brighten up your day.
I have been treated like family from the day I stepped into BSBCC and Bjorn Hala (local volunteer accommodation). I think It makes you feel like you’ve found your home away from home. They take care of you like one of their own here, I have to applaud the team for their wonderful hospitality, they are always ready to satisfy your curiosities and lend a hand when needed. BSBCC couldn’t have hired a better team than the one they currently have!
Thank you so much for this chance,
This will definitely not be the last I see BSBCC and its jovial team!
‘How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so difficult’-winnie the pooh
Text by Nithisha Nair (Intern student, University Putra Malaysia Bintulu Campus)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
And so, the journey begins for the three new musketeers- Joe, Romolina and Logan- into the bear house after patiently getting through their days in quarantine.
Romolina, being the oldest of the three was kept as a pet before being handed over to our centre. Whereas Joe was found alone in the forest when he was three months old. A person then sent Joe to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park. The youngest of the three, Logan, was found on a Lokan River near a village who separated from his mother as she crossed the river leaving him behind. He was taken care for a few months by the person who found him before being sent to our centre. These three musketeers, being as young as they are, are nothing short of curious, explorative and energetic.
Due to the lack of space in the bear house, this group of sun bears ended up extending their stay a little longer than expected. But with the release of Boboi, Kitud and Tan-Tan on the 14th this month, new room opened up to welcome our trio.
The week started off with enrichment preparations for the sun bears. Lengths of firehose were used to construct a ‘zig zag firehose’ as well as a wooden structure that the trio will be able to use to climb and play.
This recreational enrichment will go a long way in diverting the sun bear’s attention from the stress they might face through switching homes. Besides that, we also extended our measures and collected barks, dead wood and sacks of dry leaves to be put into their cages for a more forest-like feel. The bears will also be able to dig their claws and teeth into the barks in search for ants and termites. Termites nests were also brought from the forest for the trio to feast on.
Two dens were transformed and decorated to the best of our abilities to give the bears as much of a natural environment as we could, dry leaves, tree barks, ginger leaves and termites nest were all placed in the dens alongside structural enrichments.
Then the long-awaited day finally comes and the cubs were ready to be brought to the bear house. Translocation cages were used to transport them from quarantine to the bear house. Prior to the transfer, they are lured into the translocation cages by quarantine keepers using diluted honey. Then they are weighed before being put on to the car to be brought down to the bear house.
The transfer started off with Romolina, who was no trouble at all to lure into the translocation cage and was quite calm throughout the journey. After Romolina’s transfer, Logan was next. Eventhough Logan was no fuss to get into the translocation cage, he seemed pretty anxious on his way to the bear house. Honey water and bananas were provided upon arrival to eradicate any stress caused by transportation.
All the other bears seemed very alert and peculiar to the arrival of these cubs but did not cause a commotion of any sort, which was great as any vocalization would’ve rendered the cubs more stressed. After the two bears settled down, they enjoyed exploring in their dens and was nothing short of curious and adventurous, sniffing every corner and climbing every angle. They also foraged through the dry leaves for bananas and tore through tree barks in search of insects to feast on.
After ensuring the two cubs were okay, we proceeded with a health check for the last cub, Joe. The health check was done in quarantine with a hand injected anaesthesia by Dr. Boon whilst being distracted with honey. After Joe was unconscious, a full health check was carried out to ensure that the sunbear is well and healthy. Joe was then brought into the bear house and put into a separate den until he was fully conscious and able to join in on the fun.
Once Joe was concious, the three cubs didn’t waste any of their time before exploring all three dens together. They foraged through dry leaves and dead wood, climbed ladders hung on the den basket as well as on the gates of the den, and rolled around the dry leaves goofily with one another.
The cubs will have to go through integration as well as fence training before their debut in the forest enclosure. The cubs can frequently be seen exploring their surroundings and playing around with one another, their playful yet explorative behaviour is one we hope they keep throughout their rehabilitation journey. Here’s wishing good luck to these cubs in their journey before being released to the wild, good luck musketeers!
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 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 Susantie Saliman
Photos by Susantie Saliman, Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Henlo! Santie here and you’re about to read about my magical life in BSBCC.
Well, first and foremost, just like any other folks, I had no idea on how my 10 weeks internship at BSBCC would change me into a whole new person when first applying. BSBCC was the one and only agency that I applied for, and it turned out that I had got the placement. Hooray!
So a little bit about myself, I am a 21 year old, 2nd year Zoology student at the Malaysia Sarawak University (UNIMAS) from Kota Belud, Sabah. I am a voluntary animals’ slave, naughty, spoilt, loud and outspoken girl, who was here for my 10 weeks of industrial training. So let’s start off with….
My Buddy Keeper
My internship life here wouldn’t be as fun as I experienced without my Buddy’s guide. His name is Mizuno Merek Men, people call him Awin. He’s the strongest keeper in my point of view. He is muscular – physically and mentally (HAHA). By working alongside him, for 10 weeks, I gradually get stronger as days passed by. He taught me on how to deal with working life, hence matured me in many aspects. He trained me to become tougher. Awin became a very big influence to my new addiction of body fitness. He gave me courage to keep moving on when I was about to give up, as well as always being there when needed. He became a super-protective brother of mine and the only staff member that I cried to a lot. Even though I’ve thanked him multiple times, I still need to thank him again, for providing me the never-ending support, care, comfort, attention, hospitality and all. Without him, I would still be my old weak self.
Working environment and Staffs
From the moment I stepped into the centre until the very last day of working, I received excellent hospitality that I never experienced anywhere before. I couldn’t ask for more. The first day of work even felt like I had been working there for years.
The staff at BSBCC are wonderfully friendly and were always ready to share their stories with me. I adore every one of them. They’re very well experienced and worth more than gems. Some people look down on them because some of them didn’t get the chance to attend higher education, but I never looked at them that way. I treasure these peeps in my treasure box inside my heart.
To be honest, working here can be very tiring. I witnessed some volunteers and interns being so exhausted. This wasn’t the same for me. Maybe I was just too passionate, hence I did everything voluntarily because I know everything done was all for the sake of the bears. The fact that I was working in a joyful environment with all days filled with laughs and fun, made me enjoy this kind of fatigue. Even during the last day of work, I still wanted to work the next day. It was so heart-breaking to leave these big-hearted peeps behind.
This is the best part (and teary). I never imagined how working close to big mammals would feel. But thank God, fate brought me here and I got to experience working close with the adorable, smallest bear species in the world. I got to know them more – anatomically, behaviourally, as well as their personalities, diet, and all.
I loved every single bear including the ones in the quarantine area, even though I never worked close with them. All of them deserve to get loved hence, I have no specific favourite bear. From Amaco, Panda, Chin, Along, Simone, Kudat, Noah, Nano, Wawa, Dodop, Mary, Boboi, Kitud, Tan Tan, Sunbearo, Loki, Ronnie girl, Montom, Susie 2, Kala, Rungus, Ah Lun, Julaini, Fulung, Ah Bui, Bermuda, Ronnie boy, Phin, WanWan, Mamatai, Om, Sigalung, Cerah, Jelita, Susie, Kuamut, Manis, Linggam, Kina, Sika, Soo, Logan, Romolina, and Diana. I love them all.
I wish someday, they’ll all get back to the wild where they belong. The thought of not being able to see them closely, no longer feeding them, breaks my heart. 10 weeks at BSBCC is more than enough for to become strongly attached with the bears. How much I wish they know that I love them and that I want them to live the happy life that they’re supposed to.
Outreach – Education Team
Besides working at the Bear House, I also got involved in outreach programmes on two occasions with the Education Team. I also assisted visitors at the observation platform several times. The hardest part for me here is that, I am really bad at talking and persuading people, especially the locals. It’s a sad fact that foreigners were more interested in the conservation effort of sun bears compared to the locals. On the other hand, through outreach programmes, I got to know many new big-hearted people from conservation sectors and I enjoyed exchanging stories with them.
Last but not least, I stayed at the staffs’ house called Bjorn Hala for a month and a half (6 weeks). By staying here, I learned to live in a moderation and became attached with some of the staff who also live here - Mizuno, Boboi, Becca and an intern from University Science Malaysia (USM), Ummu Atiyyah. These gems had cooked me meals throughout my stay here (because I’m a lazy cooker) hence, results in me being so clingy with them.
To sum up, I had a very wonderful time throughout my internship period here. Working at BSBCC hasn’t only taught me about working life and conservation. It taught me what life is and how to deal with it – strong and maturely. I am beyond grateful for being given the opportunity to work at BSBCC and meeting lots of new people who are gems to me. Even though I am no longer working at the centre, I will never stop spreading awareness to the world. The bears and the people here will always be in my heart. Thank you BSBCC ♥
Text by Amanda Wilson
Photos by Amanda Wilson, Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Heyyo everyone! I’m Amanda Wilson, 22, and I’m here to talk about my experience volunteering at BSBCC. I’ll be entering my final year in University of Malaysia Sarawak under the programme Animal Resource Science and Management or better known as Zoology. For a period of 10 weeks, I experienced more adventures than I ever expected whilst interning at BSBCC. When asked about how I got to know about the centre, I am actually a local from the nature city of Sandakan. I was born in Kota Kinabalu and raised in Sandakan since a very young age. So, I’ve visited more than a couple of times and heard a lot about the wonderful things the people here are doing for the world’s smallest bears. I’ve always wanted to volunteer at the centre and be part of the work they are undergoing. That’s how I decided to volunteer at BSBCC as part of my Industrial Training.
Before I started volunteering, I was way too nervous about working, but from day 1, the staff at BSBCC were nothing but warm, kind, friendly and welcoming. I felt like I had another family here at BSBCC. It was so heart-warming to work with like-minded people, people who have big hearts for animals. I am touched by how much the Bear Care Team are so passionate, loving and caring towards these bears.
The centre stands on 4 main goals which are Education, Welfare, Rehabilitation and Research. Throughout my volunteer days, I am grateful to have been able to balance time working within the Bear House and also with the Education Team. On a daily basis, our work comprises mainly of husbandry works, from cleaning cages to feeding the bears, fence checks, pool cleaning and maintanence works. The fun part would be going jungle trekking into the forest to look for termite nests, collecting banana leaves and making various enrichments for the bears. From food-based enrichments, making dry cages, sensory and also structural enrichments. It didn’t take me long to adapt to the tasks at the Bear House as everything was properly managed and scheduled on time.
I also love feeding the bears in the outdoor enclosures as I love seeing them enjoy their time in the forest. That would be another attraction at the centre as visitors could see the bears in their natural environment. When the staff challenged us volunteers to recognize all the bears, I thought it was impossible but now I could say I can almost successfully tell them all apart from each other. Since working at the bear house, I learnt a lot about the sun bear’s behaviours and the different traits as well as personalities each bear has. I personally think sun bears are such precious creatures and wish more people would learn about these forgotten bears.
I feel so lucky to have been able to care for them, work so closely with them and even looking at them, as it made me so happy, especially when they’re enjoying the life that the people here at BSBCC is working so passionately to provide for these precious bears. The work that these people are doing here is incredible. No matter how tough the work is, they do it all so wholeheartedly.
To be honest, the work here is very physical. Nevertheless, I have never felt discouraged as a girl but more encouraged by the staff around me, who are always there to urge me on and guide me through. From sawing ironwood, working with hand drills to carrying sacks full of coconut husks, I’ve done everything with ease. Thanks to the time I’ve spent here, I got the chance to build my stamina and train my strength. Not only did I learn to work with hardware tools, I surprised myself everyday by my own capabilities. I’ve learnt underestimated myself too much before this, working here has made me braver and eager to look forward to new task everyday. Although the work here is heavy duty, I never felt drained as the Bear House is always filled with happiness and laughter thanks to the people around me.
As a local, I feel disappointed and devastated that not many of our local people know of the existence of the world’s smallest bears. Though I am hopeful that the efforts done through all the outreach programmes will someday be fruitful. During my time at the centre, I got to participate in 3 various outreach programmes and events. I was lucky to be able to participate in events held in Sandakan and also go for outreach programmes held at schools outside of the district.
As volunteers, each of us were assigned to a buddy keeper. Here’s a shoutout to the best big brother and my partner in crime, Mizuno Merek Men and Susantie Saliman (UNIMAS coursemate). Theres nothing my buddy keeper couldn’t do and I am ever so thankful for he has always been so caring and motivating towards us. He pushed us to be better and put his trust in us to carry out bigger tasks which gave us confidence.
Also to all the staffs especially the ones in the Bear Care Team, without them, my days would be dull. I saw the sincerity and passion they have for these bears. I felt the love and joy they have for what they are doing. I am happy to begin venturing into conservation work through volunteering here at BSBCC. Working with the Bear Care Team will always be one of my most cherished moments in life. They showed me passion, determination, professionalism, dedication, hardwork and team work. Conservation work is not always easy but with the right team, no matter how small, no task will ever be big enough.
Big thanks to Dr Wong Siew Te, for always making time for our weekly volunteer meeting session despite his busy schedule. I’ve learnt a lot through sharing his own experiences and knowledge not only about sun bears and the centre, but practically about everything we could talk about. Also to the Education Team, thank you for guiding me and encouraging me throughout my participation in various outreach programmes. Talking to visitors on the platform has also helped me overcome my fear of talking to people. It was amazing to be able to engage with the public and educate not only other people but my ownself about sun bears, wildlife conservation and just nature in general.
Thank you so much ! You all are beyond amazing <3
I will cherish every memories and will surely come back in future. Cheerio!
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 Alicia Paula Magilin
Photos by Alicia Paula Magilin, Sumira Muis (APE Malaysia), Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Hey there, I am Alicia Paula Magilin an 18 y/old from Sabah, Malaysia. Volunteering in BSBCC twice, I have combined the two events into one blog.
I have always loved to participate or to volunteer in events that involves being ‘behind the scenes’. I am not that type of person who loves being in the spotlight, instead I would rather be the one holding the spotlight for others. This time, I am holding the spotlight for the sun bears.
I had an hour break before I was brought to the bear house by Lin May (Research and Reintroduction Officer). The staffs told me that I can go wherever I want as long as I am in the centre, and so I did. I went to Platform 1. On my far right, I saw black water tanks and the roof of the bear house. “I wonder what are they doing there?” I thought to myself. An hour later, then I knew.
Dec 5th- Dec 22nd 2017
My first day cleaning the night dens, was pretty hard at first. Beads of sweat trickling down my eyelashes and my spectacle frame, having to bear the odour of bear faeces and avoiding stepping on it...which I failed a couple times, also avoiding being ‘barked’ at by the bears. Despite all that, having to be surrounded by bear keepers who are fun, caring, open and easy-going, I managed to adapt quite fast with the surrounding where I will be volunteering for the next 17 days. I even got to celebrate my 17th birthday with some BSBCC staffs that was born on the month of December! The meeting session with Dr. Wong was an honour. He has like a fatherly figure to all volunteers, making sure they eat well, gain enough sleep and to take it easy, you can also ask some advice from him if you have any personal problems.
Feb 5th- Feb 18th 2018
On February 5th 2018, I came back for another two week in BSBCC. I just can’t get enough of the excitement. Having to escape the hustle & bustle of the city and take a break somewhere ‘isolated’ with towering tree canopies, good vibes and 44 rescued sun bears, was a craving well satisfied.
Throughout my two weeks volunteering in BSBCC, my buddy Roger and I have made a total of five enrichments! Roger and I are holding a bridge like enrichment, is specially for Kudat. I observed that Kudat likes to balance on the rope enrichment that we first created when I arrived, which was hung across his night den.
And I guess to fulfil his ‘fun time’, me and Roger decided to create a bridge for Kudat to balance on. And he LOVES IT! We also made enrichment for Bermuda (mainly to get him distracted from pacing) and Amaco (to encourage him to climb a little, and it was a success!).
The main reason why I volunteered in BSBCC, is to use my free time whilst waiting for my high school last exam result. And with that opportunity, I have always wanted to gain hands-on experience and gain knowledge on the cause of the volunteer. Fortunately, I have achieved that in BSBCC!
This experience made me see a bigger and clearer perspective of what conservationists are trying to achieve and facing the obstacles that are unavoidable. The journey to achieve the goals, are neither short nor smooth. I never thought that animal trafficking or pet trade is still a serious subject for conservationists, until my volunteering period in BSBCC. I suppose it is because I have never known or took note of the situation in that field. Volunteering in BSBCC made me realize, kinda like a wake-up call. With the realization, I have started to be more knowledgeable of the endangered species...and unaware of myself, I have even started to be more watchful of what the street vendors are selling in the big market. Not everyone knows the names of the endangered animals and not everyone knows the threats that animals in the wild are facing. As people who know the names and the threats, we should share and educate to our family, relatives, friends and so on.
Most Memorable Moments
I would say my most memorable moments about volunteering in BSBCC, is everything! Walking out from the office door at 8.ooam, rarely you could spot a stunning hornbill gliding gracefully over the centre towards the forest canopy. One of the days where me and the staffs were walking down towards the bear house, David (Bear Keeper) and Andy (Maintenance) saw broken branches from the tree just after the metal signboard, “Ah, that should be from one of the orang-utans.”, Andy said. And it sure shows how strong orang-utans are just by the mere strength of their bare hands. Walking along the whole perimeter of the forest enclosure while carrying a basin filled with fruits, definitely was twice a day mini walkathon especially if you are in charge of the fruits for Pen A (the last and furthest). During lunch break, I ate in the office. Camouflage patterned camera traps were neatly arranged on the table. I was terribly curious and I had to get my hands on the camera traps. Soon, Thye Lim (Centre Operation Executive) came in and asked me to lend a hand to insert the batteries into the camera traps to check if it is still operational. While doing so, he explained to me about the camera traps and how it works. He also showed me a video clip of a wild sun bear, back- scratching against a tree smeared with belacan (a fish paste mix with salt and other herbs). It was SO COOL! After the bear’s afternoon meal was fed and all trays were cleaned, we went back to the office at 5.oopm. My volunteer moments in BSBCC are endless, especially the ‘not everyday’ moments are ones that I will treasure the most.
“We have the smallest species of bears in the world!?”
All these years I have always seen huge brown grizzly bears, black bears, white polar bears and China’s giant panda on TV. Constantly being amazed of their size, strength and thick coat of fur which protects them from the harsh elements of nature. But coming to BSBCC and being told that the Bornean Sun Bear is the smallest bear in the world? Was totally out of my mind. Other than that, sun bears are the only bears the longest tongue which is 20 cm to 25 cm long, and by far the most arboreal bears in the world! Sun bears are mostly known as opportunistic omnivores.
It’s when your country has something that no other place has, it kinda makes you feel proud, right? And it was also an honour to be volunteering alongside people who dedicate their time and energy to rescue, rehabilitate and release the sun bears into the wild, thus providing a second chance for the bears to live a ‘bearful’ life.
Volunteers will be scheduled for 11 to 12 days of ‘work’ in the two week period, about 8 hours a day with an hour of lunch break in between, in BSBCC. For a few, it may need some commitment to wake up early in the morning and eagerly wanting to go back to bed after completing their day in the bear house. For others, it is just a typical day with a little twist. Free roaming orang-utans, unpredictable weather, health checks, stories of the bears, inquisitive volunteers seeking for answers, bear keepers and staffs acquainting with volunteers, tiny mishaps in the kitchen and so on, those are the twists. The unexpected twists makes the repetitive days different from each other. Making permanent and temporary enrichment such as stick paradox, nest ball, fire hose pocket and honey comb, is great for volunteers to expand their knowledge, skills and creativity. With the help of their buddy, an idea from the mind will be an enrichment for the bears. Stereotypical behaviors such as pacing, grooming excessively, self-mutilation for attention is not natural within a bear’s behavior. Creating these enrichment will be able to distract the bears enough to prevent these undesirable behaviors from a rehabilitating bear. Preparing the meals in the kitchen is also another skill that is useful for volunteers who are looking forward to pursue their studies elsewhere from home. The task of cleaning, is also important to let volunteers know the importance of cleanliness in a night den for a bear’s health, and even for the volunteer’s pet(s) too.
Well this is where I end my blog for these two events. The thought of having to volunteer again in BSBCC? Always <3
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.