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
Text by Anna Martinsen
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hello BSBCC Bear Talk Blog!
My name is Anna, I’m 20 years old and have just spend 30 days working as a volunteer at the Bornean Sun bear conservation center. I’m from Denmark, so getting here took a lot of time! In Denmark, I just finished a 1-year dance education and now I’ll be having a gap-year, where I will be working, travelling, dancing, living. I found out about this place because I went here (Sabah) with my mom two years ago, and on the way made a very good friend. Just before I finished my dance education, I found the flyer for the BSBCC volunteer program and decided to just do it..
First week working at the center offered a lot of work in the kitchen! These bears, I tell you, they eat a lot. Chopping up 36 kg of sweet potato or pumpkin, not even to mention the bananas… so many bananas every day. The work in the kitchen is fun when everything is flowing, one person is cutting, another is rinsing, a third is weighing. One time, while I was weighing bananas, a big spider jumped out and onto my shirt. Something you get used to while working here.
Some of the male bears also get porridge with animal proteins, such as cooked chicken, egg, etc. They also get a fair amount of beans, because like human children, they have to eat their greens. They get so excited when they see you with the tray, and even though it is so tempting, you really cannot touch those sweet, furry creatures.
Later on during the first week, we had a presentation from one of the interns, Nathalie and later from Lin May about the sun bears and why we’re doing this work. It was literally heartbreaking to see how people treat these animals. Sun bears are small animals, the size of a big dog, so some locals catch them and keep them as pets. This is bad for several reasons such as:
1) Diet - local people don’t know what a sun bear eats and they feed it like a pet or, if the family is poor, then they’ll feed it with whatever, even with Milo. You can ask about Montoms story.
2) People don’t realize they are wild animals and that they grow bigger and stronger as they become adults.
3) The last thing people might do is poach wild sun bears, is if they believe in traditional medicine and kill it to get the gallbladder, paws, teeth and fur for a variety of uses.
The second week was a bit more “active”. We started a lot of different projects and had a lot of fun. Starting out, the bear house needs to be cleaned daily. This is not as hard or smelly as people make it out to be, but then again I have some experience from working at my aunts farm. First you have to clean out poop, which there’s a lot of, and in a lot of different colors (from their diet). Then we washed out the cage with a lot of water and scrub everything, and finished off with drying the floor.
It’s not just work, work, work. The staff in the bear house are so friendly and fun, so everything becomes more fun. Some of the cages have leaves, logs, enrichment all made/brought in from the staff.
We made a lot of enrichment during 1st and 2nd week. Enrichment is a tool we use to stimulate natural behaviours, like using sense of smell to find delicious food, rip cotton bags apart to get food. A lot of it has to do with using either paws or mouth to get to food in some ways.
While making the enrichment, you’ll get a great opportunity to chat with the keepers (the staff). You talk a lot about what’s different from back home, ask questions about their cultures, things to try, and of course, you learn a bit of Malay. Enrichment can also be sticks or branches, banana leaves and we even went trekking in the jungle for termite nests.
This week and the 3rd also offered bigger projects! In one of the pens they needed to build a platform for the bears to cool down under, play on and use for enrichment. With blood, sweat and tears, we finished the big platform within 1 1\2 weeks! The bears absolutely love the platform now, and they’re often seen sunbathing or playing on it.
During the 2nd and a part of the 3rd week I got to train and observe one of the bears, Sigalung. He is a bear with fear of heights, so we tried to lure him out with food on the platform and then on the steps down to the ground. It was a slow process, but he made some progess. After some observation, Sumira and I decided that the stairs were too steep, and that’s why he is not going down. We talked to my Buddy Keeper (You get “assigned” to a keeper when you start working), Mizuno, and we made some sketches for a ramp that wold make the ground seem less terrifying. We measuared, found supplies and got to work, but just three days after we mounted to skeleton for the ramp, some of the other keepers saw Sigalung on the ground. In his pen. Looking for food. That little jokester played a prank on us, but we still managed to finish the ramp.
During the 3rd and 4th week we still did the usual duties, cleaning, prepping food, building a ramp for Sigalung, but we also got something extra! I got to join some health checks. First one was on a big male, Bermuda, second one was little Chin, third was Mary and fourth was Wan-wan. While doing the check up, as a volunteer, you monitor pulse, respiration and temperature. You also carry the bear from the bear house to the truck and vice versa.
Another memorable health check was Wan-Wan. Wan-wan is 12 years old and has a lot of dental problems, so while doing her dental check, they found out that 7 teeth needed to be extracted otherwise she’d be in too much pain to eat. 7 teeth! Crazy.
This week we also had fun going rambutan picking! It’s like apple picking but with rambutans (like lychees). You get to see the nature, talk with your co-workers and eat rambutans, #perfect. While collecting rambutans, a bird’s nest fell from the tree. A bit later we found the egg and Natalie and I decided to try and rescue the nest, so mama bird could find it.
Before finishing up my rambling about this dreamy work here, I want to mention the people. The people working here all have a heart of gold and are so friendly. We went out to dinners, events, they care about your well-being. If you ever even thought of volunteering, you should do it because of the people!
Biggest, warmest, most loving thanks and bear hugs to everyone here from Anna Banana! I will definitely come back!
Thank you, you’re welcome, goodbye.
Text by Jens Söderlund
Photos by Jens Söderlund & Chiew Lin May
My name is Jens Söderlund! I was really fortunate to be born in Sweden. I can afford almost anything I want and because of that I think it’s my obligation to be helping less fortunate. I have been volunteering at an orphanage in Ghana, that was in 2015. After that I decided to volunteer with some kind of animal next. I talked to Anna Shrotti at a photo/adventure convention. My first thought was that I would be going to Borneo to help the orangutans. She then told me of the sun bears, so I decided to combine the two things. First two weeks I was here at the sun bear center , then I’m going to Sukau to help at the reforestation project.
On the first evening I met Sumira and the rest of the volunteers. We had dinner and Sumira was informing us about the project. The next day this was followed with an induction at the Bear center and we got to meet our buddy keeper that who was going to be the “team leader”. We went on a tour to see the facilities and the surroundings. There is one building separated in two sections, Bear house 1 and 2. Bearhouse 1 is for bears that have not come as far in their training as the bears in bear house 2. When the bears have passed their training they are able to venture outside their cages into the pens. The pens are located in parts of the rainforest so they can adjust to their natural habitat. If the bear learns all the needed skill to survive in the wild, it can be released into the jungle.
The third day was the first day that we worked for real. I started in the kitchen (with three other peeple) preparing the food for the bears. We were cutting vegetables and fruit, and then we portioned it in different buckets. The buckets were tagged so we would know where food would go. The bears are fed 4 times a day, and the volunteers often get to assist the keepers. The feeding is done in the bear house and in the pens. There are two platforms connected by a walk way. These platforms allow visitors to watch the bears in their natural habitat. We also give the bears enrichments which we create, so they learn how to search for food.
Cleaning the cages from food leftovers and faeces from the day before is done every morning. You have do sweep, flush everything, scrub, flus again and finally refill their bin with fresh water and squeeze the water from the floor.
I also helped build a new platform in pen D, slightly raised from the ground. It was build because in there are not a lot of trees in pen D and the bears can’t hide anywhere during the hot parts of the day. The platform is made of ironwood. We started digging holes so we could place 4 big logs of ironwood as posts and then poured concrete to steady them. After that we bevelled two beams in the logs and put three beams on top of them to hold the floor. The second level was build the same way.
I have really liked these two weeks of working and helping the bears, although I know a lot more has to be done. But I think that many small things can build up to a greater good.
On my days off, I got to do my hobby, wildlife photography. I have seen and capture a lot of new and cool animals on this trip.
Text & Photos by Laurelle Cassandra Rooney
Hello there! I am Laurelle Cassandra Rooney, a 21 year old from Tawau, Sabah. I am a second year Zoology student at University of Malaysia Sarawak.
Why did I choose BSBCC and what have I learnt from doing my internship here for the last 10 weeks?
Being an animal lover, I’ve always dreamt about working with animals not only with domestic animals but the wildlife as well. My passion grew bigger as I grew up and I heard of a conservation centre which is the BSBCC. I ended up doing my internship at the BSBCC and it turned out to be the best decision I have ever made. It iwas my first time working with these wild animals and I got to experience hands-on activities with the sun bears. While doing my internship here, I learned that the sun bears are listed as a vulnerable species in the IUCN Red List and they are the world’s smallest bear species.
When I first arrived, I was amazed at how the whole bear house runs with the bear keepers. My daily work routine consisted of cleaning the cages, food preparation, feeding the bear inside the house as well as around the forest enclosures, making enrichments, fence checking and assists in health checks. Personally, my favourite part of the day is making enrichments for the bears. Watching the sun bears eat can also make your day.
We treked into the jungle to find logs and sticks. I manually drilled for the first time in my life, collected banana and dry leaves and logs which we used to mimic the environment of being in a forest enclosure. I had the opportunity to design and make some hanging platforms for the bears to rest and play on. I also had the chance to build a ramp for one of the pens to allow the bears to enter the forest enclosure.
I would like to say a huge thank you to my buddy, Roger, for always helping me and supporting me throughout my internship here in BSBCC. I would also like to thank the other bear keepers which are Azzry, David (longest working staff in BSBCC), Brandon and Adneen, who have helped me while I did my internship here. These people were there for me during my hard times and they always had their way of cheering me up and I would be stress-free just by working with them. We did a lot of projects together from hanging platforms, to building ramps, and preparing enrichments together. They taught me the correct way of handling the equipment when doing our projects.
Working in the bear house has left me with a bunch of memorable experience in my life. I learnt the diet of the sun bears and from what I saw, different bears have different diets and different personalites which makes them cute in their own way. Watching them play with each other is also the best part of the day.
I would like to thank the educational staff for giving me the chance to visit two different places which were Sukau, Kinabatangan and around Sandakan area for the outreach programme. I got the chance to share information about the BSBCC itself and also about the sun bears. By joining the outreach programme, I, myself, gained more knowledge on sun bears and the way of conserving the sun bears and other wildlife.
I want to say thank you to Dr. Wong for the sharing sessions and also for giving me the opportunity to be part of the team even if it is only for 10 weeks.
I came to BSBCC to make a contribution in helping the sun bears in any way possible and I feel like I did. Working with the sun bears made a huge impact in my life and my passion in working and aiding the wildlife grew bigger. I would like to express my gratitude once again to my buddy, the other 3 bear keepers, Azzry, Brandon and Adneen, not to forget David, who helped me throughout my internship here. Thank you so much for the rewarding experience and accepting me as a part of their team. Do forgive me if there were any mistakes that I have done unintentionally. But it is time to say goodbye to the team. Always keep in touch with each other.
Regards from me, Laurelle.
Text By Lydia Wheelers
Photos By Chiew Lin May
Hi, my name is Lydia and I come from the UK. I currently do volunteering at my local wildlife park but have always been interested in helping other animals. After watching many programmes on Borneo’s wildlife and doing research into one of my favourite animals, my heart was set on the Sunbears and suddenly my time was here to help these gorgeous animals.
The first thing I noticed was the humidity and instantly started sweating! The weather is A LOT warmer than in the UK. Volunteering in the bear house was hard work but seeing the bears on a daily basis and learning the different characters of each one made it so much fun. We soon got into a routine of cleaning the cages, preparing the food like professional chefs, feeding the bears and creating enrichments to help stimulate them and make it as similar as possible to being in the wild. Enrichment is very important for these little guys and girls, an example of this was smearing peanut butter on sticks for them to tear apart and lick with their incredibly long tongue! We even got to help create a platform for the bears to climb on and have shelter in the pen. Knowing I have been a part of creating something useful for the bears is such a good feeling.
I was lucky enough to go on two medical checks with Dr Yeoh Boon Nie who cleaned and polished their teeth. The bears also had a physical examination, blood samples taken and even one had their nails clipped. Getting to see the bears up close was surreal but it was truly amazing to be able to assist with making sure they were fit and healthy.
We were lucky enough to have a weekly talk with Dr Wong Siew Te. This was one of the highlights of the trip as we got to talk about any questions we had. Dr Wong is a very down to earth person and I was at ease straight away. He has so much knowledge to share so I learnt an awful lot in this session. His passion for animals was very infectious and has only made my love for these animals grow.
My buddy Adrian and Sumira were always around to help when I needed it and made my experience a lot easier. A MASSIVE thank you to the staff, Paganakan Dii and all the other volunteers for making my first time in Borneo two weeks I’ll never forget!
The month of August meant the start of the volunteering experience for six new volunteers and the start of an easier two week for the keepers who now had 6 pairs of eager hands to help them with everything and anything. The first week started with lots of paperwork and some briefs before the volunteers got to pick their t-shirts for the next two weeks, wearing BSBCC and APE Malaysia shirts ensured everyone can be identified as a member of staff and prevents people misunderstanding why we are closer to the bears than they are. It is also pretty fun picking out which t-shirt you want.
The next day we were straight into the bear house – the place the bears are kept overnight or if they are poorly or in quarantine – and straight into shovelling poop. With the amount the bears eat, the cages need cleaning every morning and as the simplest job, it’s the one you begin with (after a demonstration first, of course). The first week consisted of a lot of cage cleaning and food preparation. The bears get fed four times a day with various different fruit and veg, designed to mimic as closely as possible what they would find in the wild, but with 43 bears it means a lot of chopping up. As one volunteer commented, ‘I’ve spent three hours chopping pumpkin and the ungrateful creatures haven’t even bothered eating it.’ It was fairly obvious after a couple of days that the Sun Bears’ favourite food is anything sweet; they definitely earn their nickname of Honey Bear.
The afternoons were a bit different and involved a bit more creative thought. The majority of the bears sleep inside their cages at night and to stop them getting stressed, they need activities to do before they fall asleep – think the bear version of the games on your phone. This is called enrichment and can be anything you can think of that will keep the bears busy and allow them to develop useful skills for when they are released. The Sun Bears’ best sense is their nose so we sometimes collected sticks to create bundles or plants to make into packets or banana leaves but we would always fill the bundle with something that smelled delicious, a particular favourite seemed to be peanut butter. We also went out to collect them coconuts and some of use even tried to limb the coconut tree just like one of the keepers, albeit much less successfully. Another good way to keep the sick bears entertained was to smear peanut butter on the tyres in their cages and watch them use all their muscles and their extremely long tongue to get it out. We even helped to build a platform in Romolina and Joe’s enclosure to give them somewhere to rest when it gets too hot in the day as their enclosure simply doesn’t have enough shade. Whilst hard work, building a platform was one of the most satisfying tasks because we knew it would be enhancing a bear’s life for a very long time.
As the second week began, everyone was a bit more comfortable with what needed to be done and was able to get it done a bit faster each day. Most of us could even weigh the bananas out without scales having done it so many times. But familiarity is good, it meant that we were starting to understand how to properly look after the bears. It also meant that we had the time to create our own ideas for how to improve the cages for the bears so we went out to the forest to source a log that we could turn into a play area for Amaco to encourage her to stand up and climb.
On top of the daily enrichment, feeding and husbandry tasks, we were also lucky enough to all get to help out with a health check on a bear and most of us helped with at least two, taking the temperature, pulse and heart rate whilst the vet checked the bear over and cleaning its teeth. It was such a privilege to get so close to such a beautiful animal and I finally got to answer my question about the feel of the fur (spoiler: like a coarse dog).
Unsure of what exactly to expect, the volunteering experience at BSBCC consistently exceeded my expectations. The staff who work with the bears truly want what is best for both the bears and their country and are constantly striving to release the bears into the wild as well as educate enough people about the dangers of deforestation and poaching. On top of their core tasks, they make the time to work with the volunteers to make sure they experience all the different aspects of the centre and are enjoying themselves. It was the staff and other volunteers that made the experience so special and I would recommend it to anyone who was thinking about it. Thank you for your time and expertise BSBCC and thank you for having us.
Text By Umadevi A/P Murrty
Photos By Umadevi A/P Murrty & Chiew Lin May
Hey there, I am Umadevi, a 20 years old from Perak. I am a second year Animal Health student at University Putra Malaysia Bintulu Campus.
How did I came here and What BSBCC has done in my life?
Being a nature lover that I would love to live amidst nature and care for the animals and wildlife have always been my peculiar interest and passion since I got into my studies. All I wanted to do was work with wild animals. I completely admire a position in BSBCC because I found something incredibly satisfying about acting in a way that is consistent with my principles. Many people who do voluntary work say that it has helped them to feel more confident in all sorts of ways and fun-filled days with the bears. This boosts my interest level up since I love to learn through hands-on experience. I felt good knowing that I’m doing something for a good cause. So, that’s how I got into here in BSBCC and it is probably the best decision I have ever made. It is my first time working with wild animal that listed as vulnerable species on IUCN Red List, THE SMALLEST BEAR IN THE WORLD-SUN BEAR. Doesn’t it sound so cool ? It’s getting a taste of what you want to do with the rest of your life. Unfortunately my time over here is going to end in a week.
The work here in bear house is heavy duty and it took a while for me to adapt to their hectic schedule. I must say that I’m just so amazed how the whole bear house is run. I believe looking after 43 bears with different behaviors is a huge task and yet the bear house still filled with jokes and laughter. I amazed to work with people who has a big heart for animals. Thanks to the people around me. My internship days typically involved cleaning the pens (oops, getting completely wet with water splashes), food preparation, feeding, checking the electric fences, assist health checks, making enrichments or physical jobs. I particularly enjoyed feeding the bears at the forest enclosure. It’s a great pleasure to watch them enjoying their food happily as well as splashing themselves with water from their water container.
Is that all? When I first came to bear house, I was terrified working in kitchen. I won’t lie, the first week of me being here is like a small kid that escaped from the hustle & bustle of city who doesn’t know anything about preparing food in kitchen. Believe me, I still break a sweat though. But, isn’t there a way that it can be done? What always kept me going was all the lovely bears as well as the cheerful staffs. In fact, things become even more fun as the days passed by.
I would say, creating enrichment for the bears is also very fun and adventure. Trekking into the jungle to find termite nests, collecting banana leaves, logs, sawing a bamboo, manual hand drilling for the first time, adding branches, logs and dry leaves to mimic a forest enclosure in the cage some of the merrymaking time in here. Designing and making a climbing, swinging structure for the three cubs- Romolina, Logan and Joe.
In addition to enriching the sun bears living conditions, I had learned about sun bears in the different stages of rehabilitation and the process of releasing them back into the wild.
On my 6th week here, we managed to construct a structure type enrichment for Kudat and I guess Kudat really loves it.
I was lucky enough to involved in an important part of the process- putting the electronic collar around Boboi, Kitud and Tan-Tan’s neck before release back in the wild. Furthermore, I was given an opportunity to observe Romolina, Joe and Logan’s integration process with another big group of bears. Watching them gets along with each other like watching ‘tom and jerry’ in tv- IT’S ADORABLE !!
ADRIAN DAMSHA, was my assigned buddy. Why his name sounds so weird? This is what was playing on my mind on the first day. Thank you Ady, guiding me and tolerating my childishness throughout my internship. (SABAR ITU INDAH haha). He always used to say that ‘You’re my responsibilty’ HATI-HATI. Sometimes, he reminds me about my elder brother who used to take care of me. 2 weeks prior to ending my internship, we started constructing a ram in training pen-G for Ronnie Boy. Actually, Ronnie had traumatized by the past life and don’t want to go down from the cage. Isn’t it better to make a change ? Aren’t you interested in seeing Ronnie in forest? So, we did managed to accomplished the mission of making a new ram in 2 days with the help of two strong boys of BSBCC-Mizuno and Nizam.
Not forgetting the staffs in BJORN HALA (inc Tylee Lim, Lin may)- bear house. A smile creeps on my face and I don’t know the reason. It’s the first time for me where I need to prepare my meals for myself for so many continuous days and yeah honestly, that’s what I do hate in my internship. This had been challenging but definitely one of the most memorable memories in my life! From zero knowledge of cooking to something better is unbelievable. So much of what is best in us is bound up as a family. The thought of meeting new people in a new place and trying to act mature in an environment I was not sure of scared me. But, after a week everything changed. Endless play fights, sharing moments, playing pirate barrels, chasing each other, lovely dogs- panda and milktea, watching the stars at night, a home that taught me to be more independent, hearing stories, learning from their journey and making memorable friendships. I love having this memories- all those days. Hmmm, I miss Bjorn Hala. I’m so sorry at times I acted childish and hyperactive (mostly all the time LOL). I’m sorry if so ‘ bipolar’ early mornings- but I wish I can overcome that. This family is pure and all I’m wishing is happiness, take care everyone.
Not to forget the educational team, for giving me a chance to visit two different schools around Sandakan for outreach programs. Outreach program plays a major role in raising awareness of conservation of sun bears among kids.
It’s the end of a unique adventure. I wanted to thank each one of you. Thank you Dr Wong for the sharing sessions and the delicious cook as well !
I came to BSBCC to make a contribution, and I feel I did, but the bear house contribution to me was even greater. My 10 weeks here feels overwhelming. As the days went by I started to feel completely at home in BSBCC. If this is what I love, then it will be worth it. The first path I took was the path of internships to help the bears to heal and grow in their natural habitat. Thank you so much for this rewarding experience and accepting me as a part of your team. Thank you everyone for enlightened my days at BSBCC. Do forgive me if there is any mistake that I’ve done unintentionally. But in the end it was time to say goodbye. Keep in touch, big bear hugs. LOTS OF LOVE, UMA.
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.