Text by Sajidah Khadijah Meor Mohammad Fared
Photos by Sajidah Khadijah Meor Mohammad Fared & Chiew Lin May
Hi! My name is Saji (short for Sajidah Khadijah) and I’m a first year veterinary student from University Putra Malaysia. I am a self-proclaimed nature lover and an aspiring wildlife enthusiast. I am truly, truly stoked (and GRATEFUL) to be given this opportunity to do my industrial training at BSBCC. I could barely contain my excitement and the urge to explore everything around me during my 2-weeks stay and thus, I’ve compiled a list of the things I did and experienced throughout this journey.
9 First Things I Did & Never Regretted: -
1. hopped on a plane to Borneo for the sake of the world’s smallest (and CUTEST) bears alive! This is my first time volunteering in BSBCC and hopefully not my last <3
I get that they’re cute but they ARE NOT naturally domesticated to become pets! Kudos to BSBCC for giving these rescued Bornean sun bears a second chance at being rehabilitated back into the wild.
2. encountered orang utans, elephants, macaques and of course sun bears all within the same day (there are other animals worth mentioning as well but these are the most common creatures you are bound to meet/hear/get peed on during volunteering hours! One time, I was doing a forest feeding with my buddy keeper and a macaque peed on me as it was perching on top of a tree. I already smelt bad (because of perspiration) so I didn’t really mind. Disclaimer: these wild animals are of course just for see, not for touch!
3. visited the centre’s bear cemetery, which is located in a pretty good spot surrounded by the lush canopy of the forest and unbeknownst to the public. It was a very poignant moment for me as I paid my respects. They were gone, but not forgotten. Rest in peace dear ones.
4. did enrichments for the sun bears. This serves as a way for them to cope with the stress or boredom of being in captivity for a long time. Some of the bears here will never be released and it’s due to the fact that they have found security within the walls of the bear house. They are afraid and reluctant of stepping out of their comfort zone and so, it is vital that we provide them with enrichments to nurture their natural behaviour such as foraging, digging, clawing, climbing and such. I was assigned to take care of Amaco with the guidance from my buddy, Adneen. He is the oldest bear in the centre as he is about 26 years old. I’ve been told that their typical lifespan in the wild is about 15-18 years but because they are well taken care of when in captivity, they can reach up to 30 years of age!
Each of the bears have their own personality and as for Amaco, he is the typical “orang tua” or old man in the bear house. He’s a picky eater, doesn’t really want to stand up on his 2 hind paws and so my buddy built this structure that would help Amaco to stand up and at the same time, forage for special treats (hint: bananas and mealworm. Yum)
This structure was built by my buddy. I stuffed the Aussie dog ball with some bananas, egg carton, ginger leaves, meal worm and a drizzle of honey for Amaco’s enrichment.
This was literally taken on my first day of volunteering. It felt nice to just mingle about with the other volunteers as we made enrichments for the bears.
I sliced some apples and placed them onto a sack cloth and dusted some curry powder on it. This is a form of sensory enrichment in which the bears will be able to sniff out the curry and try to get the apples from the sack.
5. assisted a team of veterinarians performing a health check on Logan, one of the trio of the youngest bears in the bear house. I basically helped my buddy keeper to carry the sedated bear to the Sepilok Orang Utan Clinic where they conducted the check-up and tooth extraction. Also, I attended the check-up on a 13-year-old male orang utan named Ceria on the next day. Thank you so much Lin May for allowing me to attend these 2 sessions as I could get a glimpse of what wildlife veterinarians do! <3
6. extracted incisors from a dead dog! This was one of the most exciting things I’ve experienced as a vet student so far. Basically, Dr Anwar and Dr Serena from Singapore were assisting us on how to extract canine teeth because some of the bears here have poor dental hygiene because of their diet and so the residential vet will need to perform dental care for the sun bears.
7. learnt to become more competent in the kitchen. Meal preparation for 43 bears is tough as heck! From weighing the food, to chopping and slicing and rinsing them clean and even boiling them, I honestly salute the keepers for being able to do this efficiently, even without having extra helping hands on some days.
The bears are fed with an omnivorous diet which mainly consisted of starchy vegetables and fruits like bananas, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and carrots. They are also given local fruits such as rambutan and langsat. Some bears are fed chicken meat and boiled eggs to increase their body condition scoring because they are too skinny.
My biggest achievement was being able to chop the watermelons, sweet potatoes and pumpkins and I even deboned the chicken once! For someone who spends minimal time in the kitchen, volunteering at BSBCC has surely changed me for the better.
8. my buddy taught me how to saw wood!! It was frustrating at first because I wasn’t getting through with the sawing but Adneen and Roger showed me that perseverance do go a long way and so, I managed to saw wood for one of the enrichments. HOORAY! After sawing the wood, we drilled holes onto them and I stuck some bits of apple into the holes and smeared peanut butter all over. The wood pieces were either thrown overhead into the bear enclosure or I went in and placed the wood on the hammock or on the floor for the bears to play with.
Okay so these are the peeps who taught me so many invaluable things while working in the bear house: Adneen (my buddy), Roger, Azzry and Brandon. They have guided me through cleaning the enclosures, forest feeding, meal preparation and my favourite part which is making the enrichments.
This is by far my favourite enrichment, Stuffed Log. It was fun sawing wood but let’s face it, I am no where near to becoming a lumberjack.
9. went cave hiking and cruising at the Kinabatangan River! I had a day off so I hired a local guide to take me out for some insane adventure time! Gua Batu Tulug and Gua Gomantong are must-visited places!
Full time job: Veterinary student.
Part time job: Dora the Explorer
Shot taken at the peak of Agup Batu Tulug
Archaeological findings of coffins from the old age.
The Cave of Wonders (aka Gomantong Cave). It is the most popular site to find bird’s nest in Sabah.
In a nutshell, I’m glad I spent my semester break here in Borneo. It truly is a beautiful place imbued with the natural rainforests, humble and kind local people and home to the cutest bears alive.
Shot taken behind Bjorn Hala (staff quarters) and where I had built my temporary nest for 2 weeks. Thanks again for having me BSBCC! <3 <3 <3
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 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!
Text by Megan Katie Noblett
Photos by Megan Katie Noblett & Chiew Lin May
There are three things you need to know about Borneo before you volunteer with BSBCC. It is hot. It is humid. There are a lot of bugs. As someone best suited to the cold and who can barely cope with a British summer and has a deep dislike bordering on phobia of things that have too many legs (aka anything more than six) I did actually get asked the question by my mother why on Earth I was going to a place so hot, so humid and full of creepy crawlies that literally set my skin crawling; the answer – the bears.
I am a zoology graduate and also earned a masters degree in Anthrozoology (the study of human-animal interaction) and was fortunate enough to conduct my research project on Moon bears in China. Even before this, bears have fascinated me and it is on my bucket list to work with each of the eight species or at the very least see them in their natural habitat. But I didn’t want to volunteer with BSBCC just to tick a species off my list but because I was deeply impressed with the vital work Dr. Wong and his team are doing. I have followed the organisation for a few years and finally had the time to take the 16 hour plane ride to Borneo to work with BSBCC and see the Sun bears.
Upon arrival I was met with the heat, the humidity and the bugs (so many bugs) but I quickly forgot them and even embraced them as I was set to work cleaning cages, preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner for 43 bears (they each eat 5kg of food a day so as you can imagine, there is A LOT of food), doing fence checks, helping with public education and making enrichment.
Enrichment was definitely the most enjoyable part of being in the bears houses. Making nest balls (peanut butter, bananas, apples and spices wrapped up in a nest of twigs and leaves), hosepipe honeycombs (fake beehives made from old fire-hoses stuffed with peanut butter, bananas, apples and spices) Sun bear burgers (two egg cartons strapped together around leaves with – you guessed it – peanut butter, bananas, apples and spices) and giant ice pops made from fruits and veg for the Sun bears to enjoy on a hot day. We spent hours carefully crafting these items to watch the bears rip them into pieces a matter of seconds. However, it was most certainly worth all the hard work to see the enjoyment the bears got from seeking out the sweet treats.
The highlight of the trip was working with one particular bear, Sigalung. Being kept illegally as a pet since cubhood until his rescue in 2014, Sigalung was a little afraid to step out of his indoor den into the forest enclosure and I was tasked with trying to get him to go outside and observing him as he did. We laid food and yummy treats like peanut butter and honey to appease his sweet tooth and day by day we moved the treats further down the platform and the steps leading to the enclosure. The first day I observed him, I could clearly see how tense and even frightened he was. He would stretch out as far as he could whilst still keeping his back two paws in doors to reach his food. He would make a quick grab of the food and took it inside so he would have to exposed more than necessary. At one point a butterfly flew at him and he startled so badly he ran back inside. We persevered and each day Sigalung became braver and braver (I think the peanut butter helped a lot) until he was walking out onto the platforms as soon as the doors opened and even ate outside. It was wonderful to see how this bear was overcoming his fears and I hope he will progress further until he can enjoy the forest enclosure with his bear friends.
It was my first time in Borneo and stayed on my own there for a month, but never felt lonely. The keepers and all the staff at BSBCC and APE Malaysia along with my fellow volunteers are wonderful friendly people who are quick to welcome you to the Sun bear family. They have really looked after me, making me laugh and patiently answered all my questions (mainly, ‘which bear is that again?’).
Sabah is a truly gorgeous place. Not only did I get see one of my favourite animals up close but I was surrounded by the beauty of Borneo and all the magnificent creatures that call it home. Geckos, Sunbirds, Flying lemur, Monitor lizards, Giant flying squirrels, baby Macaques, Giant fruit bats, Pygmy squirrels, a whole host of butterflies and dragonflies were only some of the many animals I was able to see in the wild just by looking around the centre and my accommodation. The experience has been truly magical and something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I am a tutor of Animal Management at a FE college back in England, teaching 16 – 19 year olds all about animal biology, husbandry and conservation. It is the type of experience I have had at BSBCC that I can use to encourage my students and inspire them in their own careers in the wildlife and conservation sector. I would encourage anyone to volunteer with BSBCC; even with the heat, the humidity and, yes, the bugs – the bears are so worth it and I will miss them all a lot.
Text by Priya Colville
Photos by Chiew Lin May
My name is Priya Colville and I am from Scotland in the UK. I had just finished studying animal collections with conservation when I started my two week volunteer placement at the centre. Having seen lots of documentaries about Borneo and its wildlife I knew that I wanted to volunteer and that it would help expand my knowledge of in-situ conservation work. After searching through the internet I came across the BSBCC, discovering the story of how it began and with the great reviews from other volunteers I knew it was somewhere I wanted to volunteer at.
Once I arrived I quickly realized the heat and humidity was something I had never experienced but luckily never struggled with that much throughout the two weeks. After arriving at the airport I was introduced to Mark from Ape and my dorm mate Celeste, both were incredibly friendly and easy to talk to, already making me feel at ease. I then met Sumira from Ape and some of the team at the centre to complete my induction before starting. The two weeks went very quickly but I enjoyed every second of it. Some of the best parts included being involved with the Oms annual vet check, learning more about the conservation strategies in Borneo from Dr Wong and the staff and being able to make and distribute the enrichment by collecting the dead logs filled with termites from the jungle, creating Sigalungs snack stick and the digiripipes and observing the bears interact with the enrichment such as Panda with the barrel the scared Amaco due to the noise.
Having decided to travel to Borneo for two weeks without knowing anyone and limited contact with people from back home I never felt lonely due to the incredibly friendly people including those at the BSBCC, from APE, from Paganakan Dii and Celeste. Everyone was so willing to help us enjoy ourselves and making sure we had no problems that there was nothing bad to say about the whole trip. I got to experience a conservation project in Borneo like I had wanted and in my off days explore other animal sanctuaries and see the diverse wildlife including the red leaf langurs at the Gomantong Caves that traveled above me in the canopies.
The whole trip is unforgettable and definitely something I would recommend to everyone and I can’t thank the staff enough for the fantastic time I have had including my buddy Brandon who helped me throughout my time at the BSBCC and always had a smile on his face no matter what. I hope to come back and experience it all over again. Termia kasih.
Text 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!