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 and Photos by Shannon Samuel
My name is Shannon Samuel and I am in my final year of my Zoology degree at Western Sydney University in Australia.
What do you call a once in a life time chance that happens more than once in your life? I call it magical. In July 2017, I had to opportunity to volunteer at the BSBCC for two weeks. This is the second year in a row that I have had the opportunity to volunteer at this amazing centre and the fourth year in a row that I have been able to travel to Malaysia and visit the centre.
The volunteer opportunity is one of the most life changing experiences I have had in my life. I have had made lifelong friends at the centre and call the bear family at the BSBCC my second family, my home away from home. When I go home to Australia I spend most of my time dreaming about what I would be doing if I were in Malaysia at the Sun Bear Centre.
Each year I visit the centre things change, more bears more staff members and new opportunities to explore. Each day of the program when we did the morning or afternoon feeds I loved looking over the forest enclosures and seeing the different bears and the fun and games that they would have. Whether that was Sunbearo and Loki having fun together or Fulung up a tree, each day was different and the more time I spent in the forest the more I was learning.
One of my favourite parts of the working day was enrichment time, some days
we would go and collect materials in nest balls and end up covered in dirt because I would fall as I was having too much fun and I have no balance, other days it would be watching the boys trying to get bamboo down off the tree realising the bamboo that was cut was in fact from the middle of the tree. Each day was different and every enrichment was received differently by the bears at the centre. Some bears enjoyed a challenge while others liked to sit back and relax in the hammocks, it was so much fun learning what each bear preferred.
I have been blessed to be able to have the change to come and volunteer at the centre, my dream since I was a little girl was to make a difference in this world and I hope that with the work at the centre even if I help for a short period of time I hope that I can help the bears and others to make a positive change in this world for the better of all of us.
Text By Peter Lowe
Photos By Sumira Muis
I am Peter Lowe, 66 years of age, retired chef/catering manager/restaurant manager. I am British and have resided in Prague, Czech Republic for the past 22 years and this is now my home :-):-)
I have had a love for animals from a very young age and I wanted to be either a Zoo Keeper or a vet. However I realised this required a great deal of study/expense and I was not the best student. At this time I became fascinated with Borneo and it's unique fauna and eco system, especially the wild men of Borneo = the Orangutan :-):-)
One autumn evening in 2015 I was surfing the net when I spotted an advertisement for volunteering at Melaka Zoo helping to care for the Primates for 2 weeks and 2 weeks volunteering on the Kinabatangan river, helping to clear previous logging areas of undergrowth, clearing creepers etc. from newly planted fruit trees, planting fruit trees, spotting wildlife from the river, recording the species No's and the map co-ordinates, helping in the community.
I contacted the agency concerned and got a placement for the month of March 2016. Whilst volunteering at Melaka Zoo I helped care for the Malaysian Sun bears there and fell in love with these delightful bears:-) The final day in Borneo we visited the Orangutan Centre, The Rain Forest Discovery Centre and the Bornean Sunbear Conservation Centre. Whilst at the BSBCC I had the good fortune to meet briefly with Dr.Wong, the founder of the centre then later, at lunch, most if the team from Ape Malaysia and I vowed, my health and stamina permitting, I would return to volunteer at the BSBCC in 2017 :-)
I'm now into the second week working at the Borneo Sunbear Conservation Centre. The work can be hard and messy however it is so rewarding = it is a privilege to work with these very special bears, the smallest and, in my opinion, the cutest bears in this World plus the people at the BSBCC are very special = welcoming, positive, kind and full of enthusiasm and it is catching :-):-):-) I just love being here, being given the opportunity to have this very unique experience and to learn so much. Absolutely priceless.
The volunteers stay near to the BSBCC in accommodation overlooking rain forest. The views are spectacular. There is a restaurant, sun deck and hammocks for relaxation. The volunteers have their own cooking facilities, western style toilets, showers with hot water and a washing machine!! They are driven to the BSBCC daily, leaving the accommodation at 7.45 each morning to start work at 8.00.
The work will sometimes be hard and messy and will include weighing out each bears morning feed of rice according to their diet weight requirements. Preparing the fruit for the morning feed = weighing, washing and then weighing the fruit for the individual pens, scrubbing, cutting and cooking sweet potatoes and sweet corn to kill any pesticides etc. and to enhance the smell for the bears. Cleaning out the bears night cages, washing the food trays and identification tags, checking the electric fences, feeding the bears in the enclosures/cages.
Lunch is from 12.00-13.30. In the afternoon work will include preparation and weighing the afternoon food trays for the bears, work on enrichment for the bears. The aim of enrichment is to stimulate the bears to make them stand and climb, use their sense of smell, use their claws, teeth and long tongues. This can be pieces of bamboo drilled with holes, filled with rice, honey, peanut butter, then suspended in the bear's sleeping den with rope or more elaborate structures using fire hose and fallen wood found in the surrounding rain forest. The bamboo is also cut from the surrounding rain forest.
The team here at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre are wonderful. By volunteering you are guaranteed to learn a lot and at the same time have great fun and be working for a very worthwhile cause. Do not hesitate = volunteer with BSCC :-):-)
.Text and Photos by Estee Lim Siew Teow
Sun bear is not a pet, not for cuddle nor taking any close up photo with ... this is the only way to take photo with sun bear like below.
I was ex volunteer for BSBCC four years ago ...prior that I had no idea about sun bear this type of species, and their existing in Borneo as well , like many other Malaysian !!
I was introduced to BSBCC and to Mr Wong by my old classmate, we came to this centre together as volunteers for two weeks ! At that time there was only four staff in BSBCC, including Mr Wong, plus few volunteers and 20 sun bears. To be honest I had great time and experience working at the Bears house, on the same time came to know more about sun bears and other wildlife in Borneo !!
Four years later (2016) I came to visit to BSBCC and be one of the volunteers again during my six months sabbatical leave, I have witnessed a huge transformation of BSBCC before and after it open to public. The centre even have second viewing platform, what an exciting news !! Congratulation to Mr Wong and good job to the A team.
This time I was not involved in Bear house to care for sun bears, coz they had enough volunteers in the bear house and I was here only for short period !! On the other hand, it was a good sign to show that more young people are involving in voluntary work at BSBCC.
I was allocated to education team with Gloria , Jeremy and Inna ...All of them are friendly, nice and helpful !!! Learning a lot during the time at the viewing platform when they talked to people about the individual sun bear and the centre.
I felt comfortable to answering questions for the visitors after few times I was at the viewing platform with Gloria and Inna. I also managed to operate the spotting camera and help visitors to take closed up photos of sun bears.
I was lucky to be able to involve in the 3rd year ROR festival (Borneo Rhythms of Rimba Wildlife Festival). My first time to teach people how to make paper craft .... first craft to make a sun bear
During my volunteering time at BSBCC, I managed to make a 2 day one night trip to Kinabatangan river and Gomantong cave on my day off, to see the wildlife and back to nature.
Time flies my short period volunteering time at BSBCC end quickly...I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to Mr Wong and his team members for having me at BSBCC.
I hope I will come back again in the near future ...
Text and Photos by Jessica Prestage
My name is Jessica Prestage, I'm 18 years old and I am from England. I have just completed a two week volunteering programme at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sandakan. I finished school in May and I will be starting university in September. During this break, I wanted to make the most of my long summer holiday by volunteering somewhere new, that would allow me to learn about a different country and the conservation systems there. I looked at the opportunities available with a travel gap year company called 'Oyster'. They have a lot of varied projects, but working with sun bears stood out as the most interesting. At first, I was unsure whether I would be able to travel to Borneo for this project, as it requires a long journey - in total, over 15 hours on a plane. But I decided that I could not pass up the chance to come out here and spend two weeks working with the team to care for, monitor and learn about sun bears. An opportunity like this may not come round again, so I selected this project and started booking it.
On my first day working at the centre, I was shown around with the other volunteer, Jackie. We were both part of the volunteer programme organised by APE Malaysia. Soon after our tour, we started working; the days followed a schedule, which rotated in order to allow everyone to help with different aspects of the bear house. In the morning, the tasks included husbandry (cleaning the cages), which was separated into bear house one and bear house two, preparing food in the kitchen and fence checks. This also meant that every day we worked with different team members, allowing us to get to know each other and work together. The afternoons consisted of creating enrichment; enrichment is what is used to engage the bears' natural instincts of climbing, foraging and exploring. There were a wide range of materials that we had available to create enrichment, such as old fire hoses, donated by local fire stations, tyres, logs and branches, and bamboo. I enjoyed creating the enrichment, but personally I found the dry cages the most rewarding form of enrichment. Creating a dry cage involves laying a bed of dry leaves, collected the previous day, and adding logs and branches to mimic a forest environment. We also added log feeders, which is simply a log with holes drilled into it, each filled with treats. The normal treats used in enrichment to entice the bears to investigate and engage with it are honey, peanut butter, bananas, dog treats and banana leaves. These have strong smells, added to which the bears enjoy them - consequently the enrichment is regularly destroyed in order to access every crumb of food! The dry cage is my favourite enrichment because as soon as the bears are let back into the cage, they start exploring, digging and ripping open the logs. Dog treats and mealworms are scattered in the leaves to encourage foraging, which is often the first thing they do. It is rewarding when the bears do this as it shows that they still have their instincts and have a high chance of being released back into the wild.
In this photo, Mark and myself are creating a log feeder for the dry cage we created for Wan Wan. The reason for the cameraman also featured in this photo is that for two days we were filmed creating enrichment, for a series called Bornean Rangers. The idea of this is to show the process of rehabilitation at the centre and demonstrate how volunteers can help.
Working as part of the team here was a fantastic experience - as a volunteer, initially I was worried that I would slow the work down and be in the way, but I was quickly just another member of the team. Everyone was very welcoming, and I felt accepted as a team member and a friend. Although I was the only English person on site, everyone was eager to talk to me, asking questions about England and finding out about me. In the first few days, I struggled to adapt to the heat; this meant that I had to have regular breaks and drink a lot of water. Everyone kept an eye on me and checked on me, asking if I was okay, which made me feel comfortable and looked after. I knew that if I did have a problem, I could talk to them. However, I did not have any problems throughout the project - the team are friendly, funny and always up for a laugh. This made my time here more enjoyable, as I was getting to know people and making friends, whilst working with the bears.
This photo was taken after we had created a dry cage for the two cubs in quarantine - the pose is 'bear style'! I love this photo because it shows the funny side of the work, the celebration after an achievement. We laughed a lot whilst working, always finding time to mess around (sensibly) between chores.
This was taken the same day, on our way back down to the main bear house. We had our expert driver in front, Roger, three passengers, (WaWa, Jackie and myself), and the engine was Azzry, pushing us down the slope. This may have been a less sensible idea, as we didn't quite manage to turn successfully at the bottom of the slope
During my two weeks at the conservation centre, I got to know most of the bears. Initially, I memorised the names based on which cages they were in, but as the two weeks progressed I learnt more about each bear. Their chest marks are like our fingerprints; each one is unique and can be used to identify the bear. The size, shape and colour can vary. However, some of the older bears do not climb so much, so they are recognised by their faces and behaviour more than the chest marks. I found it interesting as I got to know more of the bears, as they are all so different. Knowing their personalities made it possible to create enrichment for specific bears to try to engage them for as long as possible. Naturally, I had a favourite; but doesn't everyone? I became fond of Along, as he was always sitting on the hanging log or hammock in his cage, watching what was going on. He's a handsome bear, and as with most of the bears in the centre, I hope that he will be released into the wild in the near future. Some of the older bears cannot be rehabilitated, but I can't imagine a better place for them to live than here at the centre. The staff are incredible and the facilities are brilliant; the bears have all they could ask for and more. I am so lucky to have been able to spend time here with such passionate people, who care so much for the future of these bears and other wildlife that is at risk due to human presence and actions in the natural environments. I have learnt a lot during the project and I hope to return someday to see the progress here and to see my friends again!
I cannot thank the BSBCC enough for giving me this opportunity. It's been an unforgettable experience, with amazing people. Good luck for the future and I hope to see you again soon!
Text and Photos by Lee Jia Wei
Tomorrow? Oh boy, how time flies! Just a flurry of constant diggings at the bearhouse and suddenly I'm going off real soon! Suddenly 20 days doesn't seem that long at all, haha!
Being able to volunteer here was honestly, such a blessing from the start. Initially BSBCC had so many interns and volunteers, that they couldn't afford to take in anyone else until September! However, I was determined to volunteer here, and finally a chance came - an intern student pulled out, and I was given the opportunity to be at the place I wanted to be! When I was told I got accepted, I was literally running around the entire top floor of my house, as if I struck a goal in football, haha!!
How is volunteering in BSBCC? I would say it was exactly I imagined it to be! We did so many things in a day, that lunch break became a luxury, and sleep was heaven, haha!
Everyday, as I am staying in the volunteer hut 'Bjorn Hala', I would wake up and make breakfast with my fellow housemates, and around 7.30am, we would go off to BSBCC. We'll clock-in and start work at 8am when we reach there.
First, we will see which job we are assigned to. On some days, we help to clean the cages. I love how this particular chore tends to bring some people out of their comfort zone, as we have to deal with bear poop and leftover food scraps! In my opinion, cleaning the cages is the toughest of the day's work, but once you finish cleaning a cage and it's squeaky clean, you'll have such a wonderful sense of achievement when you realize the bears would feel comfortable too!
Also, we have to check the electric fences, just to make sure there are not foreign matter obstructing its current. This is also fun, as I get to enter the bear jungle enclosures! (They made sure there aren't any bears in the enclosure first before me and a staff went in) I got to see the jungle environment the bears explore in the day and it was great to see how big it was!
Then there is another job - the kitchen. I love being in the kitchen! Here, we help prepare the bear's daily meals. From cooking porridge to washing, slicing, measuring and dividing fruits and vege - it is a blast for me!
Other side chores in which everyone helps everyone to do include feeding the bears in the bear house, feeding the bears out in the enclosures:-
Making enrichments (stuff in which bears can play with):-
Finding materials needed for enrichments:-
(Ginger leaves, dried leaves)
(Logs and sticks)
(Trekking to find termite nests)
(Bamboo and banana leaves)
And of course, giving the bears their enrichments!
Some of the small enrichments we make include:-
Fire hose feeders,
Fruity ice blocks, aussie dogs (a sturdy ball with food in it) and Kongs (small rubber toy in which food can be inserted in it); and the big enrichments we make include hammocks, wooden structures and structures made from the fire hose. Usually in the afternoon, we will work as a team to prepare the enrichments, and give them to the bears in the late afternoons to play.
In overall, in my opinion, volunteering here is a "daily routine filled with surprises". Sure, you know what to expect every single day, but there are so many aspects on what you actually DON'T expect, that makes your days different from the other. Like there was one day, a huge liana plant toppled from the top of a huge tree, and blocked our walkway. We have to cut and remove all the liana in the afternoon, and boy, some of the liana were spiky!
Also, we had to scare some cheeky macaques away because they were blocking the walkway. I also got to see the bear who is going to be released this month, Lawa, in her nest on a tree in her enclosure!
On some days, we get sessions with the founder of BSBCC, in which he was eager to share his knowledge with all of us. I was really happy I finally got to meet him in person as I am going to do the same course as him in university next year!
Not only that, I got the chance to go onto the platforms and talk with the visitors about the sunbears!
As an added bonus, I got to see three cubs – Boboi, Kitud and Tan-tan - being released into the wilderness for the first time. They have never set foot in the forest, and, seeing them slowly tapping the wooden ramp, putting their first paw onto the ground and hearing the staff proudly announce that “they have touched the ground!” felt like I was part of the Apollo 11 mission, except it was the phrase “one small step on the jungle, one giant leap for bearkind”! ^-^ I was really beaming with pride, as when I first came here, they were all still undergoing fence training and playing with one another. On that day, I saw these three bear friends help each other overcome their fear of the unknown, and took their first step onto the soil and grass - they looked so happy!! ^^ One day, I bet, they’ll be roaming in the forest of Tabin once again, back to where they belong.
Boy, I learnt so many incredible things here. I saw how humanlike the bears are! It was so surreal realizing that I am working with bears the first time I stepped into the bearhouse. Seeing them climb everything reminds me of myself when I climb everything in playgrounds! They are so curious, and so intelligent too. Seeing them figure out what to do with their enrichments really made me feel, "Wow, how similar they are to us!" And every bear had his/her own unique behavior and facial features, just like humans, that my initial thought of recognizing the sunbears via their chestmarks dissipated as quickly as it came. Chin always is having so much fun playing with wood, Along is always curious at my washing brush, Kitud loves to stand and watch you, Linggam loves your sincerity, Simone loves to try everything, Cerah and Jelita are friendship goals.... It resolidified my thoughts - We are all animal. We are all equal. No being is superior to the other. Why do us humans put ourselves higher than every other being? The mere fact is we are all the same. We are all breathing. We are all, Life.
And the people. Oh the people! They are probably the definition of "smells like team spirit!!" They ARE team spirit. Everyone in the bear house helps each other like no one else. Not one is selfish. Everyone, literally EVERYONE, is as friendly as anyone can get. At first, as I am from Penang (West Malaysia), I felt a little left out as I wasn't too fluent in Malay and couldn't exactly express what I wanted to say. As the days went by I slowly got used to their way of speaking and now "apa-apa saja yang mereka bilang pun saya tau bah" :D We had so much fun together after work. They took me out for Hari Raya, watch a movie, have a bbq party together, grocery shopping, tour the orangutan center, eat outside, hear a talk given by Mr. Wong in Sandakan city, and Mr. Wong even brought us to his house to try the food he made himself! It doesn't feel like a routine when I'm around them - they will crack the silliest jokes and tell the most amazing stories, experiences, even randomly throw in incredible facts, and anime. Oh yes, and I've met so many people who studies/studied about the environment like I do - in which in Malaysia, we are a rare breed! Haha! Think this volunteering opportunity is serious? Yes, everyone takes the work seriously. But the atmosphere around the people? Not!! They'll make any serious atmosphere disappear in an instant! This is the power of Sabahans!
Will I come again? Are you kidding me? Of COURSE! I can't wait to see more and more bears released into the wild, and more bears rescued and rehabilitated. A LOT of the public think this is only a "center" and what they don't know, is that ALL bears are RESCUED and are given a second chance to go back into the wild. I really want to see them released back into the Bornean rainforests, where they belong, and I know they are going to continue doing a great job at this, as long as they stay true to their mission. :)
I'm not sure if he minds this, but I'm going to quote a particular staff because this sentence has such a positive impact on me:-
BSBCC Staff: "I'm going to quit this job, when there is no need for it anymore."
Me: *thinks sadly that he means that when the sunbears are extinct* "What do you mean no need for it anymore?"
BSBCC Staff: "When there are a lot of sunbears in the wild, and they are not even endangered anymore."
This is hope. And I'm hopeful for the sunbears.
This is a dream. And they are driving it.
I expect big things from you guys ;)
Text and Photos by Wong Chung Li
BSBCC is a place where I have lovely experience for both my volunteering days and my school tour. Back when I was still a student from Yu Yuan Secondary School on 2013, I had a precious chance to visit BSBCC with my classmates along with teachers before it was opened one year later. It’s a fruitful and fabulous tour as we could see the bears which we have never seen. In addition, the staffs were telling a lot of interesting facts to us and the ways we can conserve these cute creatures. At that time, I hope that I could do something for the bears.
However, I have postponed the plan until three years later. It’s my summer vacation of my university, so I decided to join BSBCC as a volunteer for a month. On my first induction, I was given instructions and rules I have to obey. This boosted me up and I really can’t wait for it to be started.
Ok! I have to drive 10 miles daily from home to work on early morning. As volunteer, I was offered a chance to stay in Bjorn Hala, a staff house which accommodates some staffs and volunteers but it’s a bit crowded then. On morning, we are assigned to different works according to the schedule but usually we have to prepare the foods or do fence checking first. Fence checking is an inspection of the voltage of our fences surrounding the forest enclosures and confirmation of the bears staying in the forest. We have to remove some branches trapped between the fences which lower the voltage. After that, we back to bear house and do our following works. Sometimes, I was assigned to clean cages. At first, I felt that the faeces and the dirt in the cage smelled unpleasant. After one month of “training”, I can say loudly that I can endure and get used to it already haha!
In cleaning cages, I learned that the faeces of the bear reflect what they eat and the different behaviour of different bears. A few naughty bears love to distract and disturb me from the neighbouring cages and when they grab the things, I can barely get it back due to their overpower strength. In doing kitchen works, I also learn of what bears eat every day and some special diet for some bears.
After preparing the second meal of porridge, we will go outside feeding. Outside feeding enables me to see bears playing in the forest in a short distance and have trained my stamina on carrying buckets of fruits and walk on the forest. When feeding is done, we will do some enrichment for the bears. Bears do pacing while they stress out. Some may injure themselves by doing so. The purpose of doing enrichment is to reduce their pacing behaviour and somehow encourage their climbing and foraging skills. I really enjoy this activity. It gives me a sense of achievement when the bears play it and try to suck the foods out.
After coming here, I start to differentiate each bear by looking at its appearance other than its unique chest mark. I also understand how complex the process of placement of bear from integration to fence training to forest enclosure and finally release is. The release of bear requires a lot of energy and money but it allows the bear to enjoy the wild again. Our bears all have sad past when they were still cubs. So I really hope that they can live happily afterwards.
Mr Wong, the CEO & Founder of BSBCC is a kind and knowledgeable wildlife biologist who has studied sun bear for 20 years. He always shares his stories and experience with us during his free time. He has a lot of books inside the office and he can always remember where the information comes from. His stories of building up the BSBCC and sacrificing his personal life are really inspiring. Other than sun bear, Mr Wong study birds well too. After I tried his foods, I believe he will become a famous chef if he didn’t become a wildlife biologist.
I would like to thank all the staffs, especially the bear keepers and maintenance team which I always work with (Forgive me for not mention the names one by one). Given my limited ability to speak Malay, they can still communicate with me well. They are so friendly and patient in teaching me the ways to use some equipment. We have chit-chatting a lot and know about each other well. I also love to listen to their working experience and other stories.
I would like to give credits to Lester, my buddy. This is because he really helps a lot and provide professional advice to me on doing our enrichment called “Swing Along” for one of our bear called Along. As I know, Along still hasn’t stepped on our enrichment yet haha. Besides, he is a funny guy and always influent in atmosphere. Without him, we always feel like we lack something. At last, I would like to say that it’s a great honor to work along with you guys and being a part in helping sun bear. Thank you!
Text & Photos by Nicola Chin
My two weeks at the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre could be described in many ways: hard work, eventful, fun, enriching, etc. Ultimately, it was a wholesome experience I have absolutely no regrets about, and I’d like to tell you about what I did there, and why it was worth it.
Full days of work were the norm, with a large range of tasks that went towards maintaining the facilities both indoors and outdoors (cleaning and fence checks), keeping the bears well-fed and occupied (food preparation, feeding and enrichment, more on that later), as well as other projects that would go towards improving the lives of everyone at the centre. Tiring as they were, me and the other volunteers could go away each day knowing that our work there made a difference.
Among my favourite tasks as a volunteer was enrichment, which involves fashioning objects for the sun bears to interact with, be it a bamboo shoot filled with tasty fruit, or a bed of dried leaves to forage through. Enrichment gives the bears things to do, and teaches them to use their senses and bodies like they would in the wild, which was always fun to watch! My other favourite project was getting to decorate the bear house walls, upon the request of Lin May, one of the bear care staff. As someone who loves art, it was wonderful to be given the opportunity to contribute to the centre with my drawing skills. I painted a series of bears engaged in different enrichment activities, and sketched some more bears in the kitchen; these were then painted by Lester, another one of the BSBCC staff.
Sun bear murals
Design by me
Painted by Lester,Sabine and David
Education was another important part of the programme. I learned loads about the sun bears, their troubles at the hands of poachers, and their role in the Malaysian forests, and through an educational booth set up in the centre, us volunteers were able to impart our knowledge to the visitors there. This was difficult, because many of the visitors were simply not interested, but it was rewarding whenever someone adopted a bear, or even just went away knowing one more fact about sun bears.
The bears themselves were an interesting bunch! A handful to take care of, they were a delight nevertheless, and the bears’ individual personalities revealed themselves with time and observation. I found that it was best when I appreciated the bears as animals with wild instincts, for both their benefit and mine. But it’s admittedly hard not to call them cute when you see one lying on its back, licking the piece of peanut butter filled fire hose it has cradled in its paws!
The BSBCC team members were helpful, friendly and dedicated; it was clear that they took their respective roles as sun bear carers seriously, as shown by their attention to detail, and how they made sure that us volunteers knew what we were doing every step of the way. Our programme facilitators from APE (Animal Projects and Environmental Education) were very much the same, and I appreciate the effort they put into taking care of me, and ensuring the programme was well organised.
I joined the volunteer programme as a gap year student looking for a project, and came away glad that as a local Malaysian, I was able to play a part in the BSBCC’s mission. The efforts of the team come from noble hearts, and I would highly encourage other Malaysians to try out this volunteer programme for themselves!
Text and Photos by Julia Riverstal
Hi, my name is Julia Riverstål I am currently 18 years old and I am from Stockholm, Sweden.I am on my final year at an animal care program in Sweden at Spånga Gymnasium. It is thru my school that I have got this amazing chance to see and actually be a part of the amazing work that they do at the Bornean sun bear conservation centre for a total of 5 weeks.
In April 2015 I visited the centre for 4 days with a few others from my school and it is totally stunning to see the progress that some of the bears have been doing in less than 10 months! When I was here the first time some of the cubs were still in quarantine and to see them high up in the trees at the big bear house is just the best receipt to understand that the centre is really making a difference!
My Swedish immune system have unfortunately not handled the Bornean flora of bacteria so good so I have been sick a lot and sadly I had to stay at home for some time. But even if i were sick and had to stay at home I could still help the centre with translating a Swedish TV program about Sun bears, so at least I could do something. I have never felt so appreciated and welcomed at another place and all of the staff at the centre is just outstanding in their way of showing their appreciation and kindness to the volunteers.
Some of the things that you do is routines and are pretty much the same every day, you clean the cages, prepare the food and feed the bears. But even if you do this every day it is never the same, one day the cage is almost clean and the next day it is filled with enrichment or you just have to clean a cage where there has been a complete poop party, haha! With the feeding, both inside and outside you get a perfect chance to see that everything is good with the bear, not being interested of food is a big indicator that something is wrong. Of course it is just a blast to see the bears playing around trying to crack coconut or to see them lie on their back eating sugar pipes. In the afternoon you focus on doing enrichment and if you ask me this is the most fun thing to do, to build or make something that will keep the bear busy for a while. It is not as easy as it seems, there is a lot of things you have to keep in mind when doing this. First of all it has to be safe for the bears to play with and then you have to adjust the enrichment to the bear that you are going to give it to and I can tell you that it is a lot of different personalities in those bear houses. The last week we got to be a part of BSBCC´s educating program, I was able to talk to visitors and spread the word about the sun bears situation and what they do at the centre. Educating the people is just as important as talking care of the bears in the bearhouse and it felt really good and surprisingly I met a whole group of Swedish people!
My time at the centre has been amazing, it has been a roller coaster journey for me as a person but it has opened my eyes and given me perspective that has enriched me as a person! I have would not have changed it for anything and if someone is given the opportunity that I was given, take it, you will not regret it!
I want to thank my school, every staff member of the centre and the sun bears for this amazing journey!
A big Swedish brown bear hug from me!
// The pale, chubby and red faced volunteer ;) <3
Text and Photos by Emelie Siippainen
My name is Emelie and I am a student from Stockholm, Sweden. I study animals so that I can become an animal keeper one day. My school gave me the opportunity to travel to Borneo and volunteer at the BSBCC and off course I took that chance! Ever since I was a little kid I loved animals, actually the first job I ever wanted was being a farmer because I wanted to milk all the cows. That dream soon developed into a life of loving animals and being an environmentally conscience person.
The first day at the sun bear center I was super nervous but very excited. But after meeting the BSBCC team I felt much better and quickly realized I was finally there, for the amazing bears. I got used to the daily routine quickly and started to learn the names of all the bears. During the first days the work was a bit challenging and very physical, but after a couple of days things got easier and easier. I got to do everything from cleaning the indoor enclosures to giving the bears porridge, fruit and corn, like a real bear keeper. In the afternoons we were working on enrichment projects. I loved the enrichment project time, I found it fun to come up with ideas and use my imagination to challenge the bears. After giving the bears the enrichment, I could have stayed and watch them for hours! It was so much fun being a volunteer in Borneo!
Also the climate was a huge change for me; Borneo is hot and very humid, whereas in Sweden it is cold and grey. And the food is so different. But just to be able to come to a country, live there and be a part of different culture is amazing! Everyone is so friendly and happy all the time, there is never a dull moment. I absolutely want to come back and met everybody again, and especially the bears. The work that is being done at the BSBCC is not easy and it is not cheap, the entire team has to deal with pessimists that are questioning them and the work that they are doing all the time. But their purpose is to preserve the sun bear and to educate the public about them.
I spent 5 weeks in Borneo at the BSBCC working with these amazing animals. I have learned so much, not just about the sun bears but also about conservation work and what I can do to make a difference. It is a once in a lifetime life changing experience. I have met so many wonderful people and I had a blast working with the staff at BSBCC.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank BSBCC for having me as a volunteer and the staff that helped so much during my period of volunteering. I hope that Centre will create greater awareness and educate the public about the sun bear.