We are glad to be a part of the 12th Borneo Bird Festival that is happening from October 22nd to 23rd, 2022 at the Rainforest Discovery Centre, Sepilok, Sandakan. The Borneo Bird Festival is a celebration of the magnificent birds of Borneo and aims to create greater awareness of nature conservation, promote birding tourism and create a platform to showcase the optics and camera equipment used for nature watching activities. Various activities are held during this two-day event, such as workshops and talks from experts, guided birdwatching walks, colouring contests, drawing competitions, bird photo contests, booth exhibitions of wildlife conservation from different organisations and many more.
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 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.
Text and Photos by Shannon Samuel
I am a Zoology student from Western Sydney University in Sydney Australia, ever since I was a kid I have wanted to make a difference to the life of everyone, my love has always been the love of animals, a good friend of mine reminded me when I got down that I was the ‘voice for the voiceless’, animals have no voice when their home or family is getting destroyed they can’t yell and scream and say stop. If they can’t who can, my aim is to make the lives of many magnificent animals better in particular the lives of these beautiful sun bears happier.
Previously I had volunteered in Borneo at the Sepilok Orang-utan centre however after visiting the BSBCC multiple times I was adamant to come back and volunteer with the Bears. I spent two weeks in Borneo at the BSBCC working with these amazing creatures.
The duties and activities ranged from pouring porridge to cleaning the enclosures to doing education, and enrichment. There were many exciting and wonderful adventures to be had. I loved the enrichment time after lunch in the afternoon, I found it fun to think up ideas to challenge the bears. I loved that it challenged me to think of enrichment that would take the bears a while to destroy. I loved the hands on creating that it involved. It was so much fun to give the bears the enrichment after giving them their dinner, I could have stayed and watched them for hours.
I had the wonderful experience to involved during the second week of the program in some conservation education, this is what I love, I hope that one day I can be doing conservation education and research as a career, these are the things that I have trained for my whole life. It would excite me to able to talk to the visitors of the BSBCC and encourage them to make donations or sponsorships as well as shed some light into the conservation of the Bornean Sun Bear, it was a wonderful experience to be able to complete in a place I love so much.
I loved the two weeks that I spent volunteering in the BSBCC so much, it is a life changing and a once in a life time experience, to have the insight into the world of bears is something astonishing. I have made so many new and grand friends on this experience and it is one of the many reasons why I want to come back many times in the future.
Text and Photos by Shirley Soh
I’m very blessed to have the opportunity to complete my internship for 14 days at BSBCC, although it is just a short period of time, but every moment that I spent here at BSBCC is so memorable. The cute and cuddly Sun Bear, the green and enchanting forest and not to forget all the kind and friendly staff have make my stay here in BSBCC unforgettable. I’m a 3rd year vet student and the reason that I chose BSBCC as the place for my internship is first, because I have always been having interest in wildlife especially in conservation programs and second, because it is closed to my hometown.
From the first moment that I saw the Sun Bear I could totally understand why people would catch them and keep them as their pets, their cute and cuddly features make them looked so adorable. Illegal pet trade are the main threats to the Sun Bear population besides habitat loss and illegal poaching.
During my period of internship here at BSBCC our daily activities include fence checking, cleaning, preparation of feed, feeding, and making enrichment for the bears. To be honest, for the first few days the task is quite challenging and tough especially for a small girl like me, but looking at the bright sight I get to have a free workout session every day and as I get used to the daily routine, things became easier and easier. Not to forget all the friendly and funny staff here that help to make my days brighter, for every day is filled with joy and laughter.
Although I have not learn a lot about the conservation work, but just by being closed to these wonderful creatures are more than enough for me. And yes, 14 days is just too short for an internship/ volunteering period. Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to thank BSBCC for accepting me here for my internship as well as to all the staff that help me out a lot during my period of internship. I hope that the establishment of this place would create greater awareness and to educate the public about our Bornean Sun Bear.