Text by Jenny Wong Jenn Ney
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Min Yi and I from the Universiti Sains Malaysia were some of the first volunteers at the BSBCC. Our volunteer programme was cut short from 8 weeks to just a little over 5 weeks (30 days). It might be a brief amount of time to achieve anything.
What can you do in 30 days?
You could be a bear housekeeper who cleans the bear house, sweeping up enormous bear scats so that every cute little bear can have a pleasant place to sleep for the night.
You could be an engineer or architect who designs and builds some hammocks, treats or your own project, as enrichment so that every bear can have a little fun and would not feel left out in their own dens.
You could be a chef who helps cutting pumpkins, sweet potatoes, watermelons and papayas into suitable shapes so that every bear can gorge themselves on their kind of Michelin-star food.
You could be an expert in Bear Etiquette who knows their behaviours and biology including what to do and what not to do for their well-being.
You could be a nurse who helps with the medical examination of a bear, checking their wounds, pulse, teeth, X-ray and even taking “pawprints” to monitor the general health of bears.
You could be an Animal Behaviourist (which is actually my favourite!) who closely observes and monitors every single movement of bears in a controlled environment, so that the data can be used to determine if the bears can get along with one another.
You could be a bookworm who immerses herself in the story of a man’s quest to save Bornean sun bears, Dr. Wong Siew Te the founder of BSBCC from the book “Saving Sun Bears” written by award-winning author Sarah Pye.
Most importantly, you could be an advocate to benefit and help wildlife conservationists for Bornean sun bears, the world’s smallest bears, whose lives may be on the brink of extinction in the next decades due to poaching, illegal pet trade and deforestation.
Text By Chen Mu-Xuan
Photos By Chiew Lin May
Hello, I’m Chen Mu-Xuan from Taiwan. I’m studying forestry and natural resources at National Ilan University.
I volunteered at the BSBCC at part of my studies about forestry in the tropical rain forest. When I saw the lovely sun bears, I decided to come back to learn more about them.
If you love a specific type of animal, you want to understand them. At the beginning of the placement. we had to listen to a short presentation by staff who explained what BSBCC is doing. We can ask any questions and then that we started work.
The main purpose of our job is to maintain the environment to make the bears live comfortably and create some enrichment to help them learn survival skills. We clean the cages, prepare bear food and feed the bears every day. Sometimes those jobs will make you tired, but when you think about how important this work is for conservation, everything is worth it. I also learned so much about the bear’s behavior and animal management.
The journey here is just amazing and I will never forget it. I regret now that I only stayed here for 2 weeks. When I am back in Taiwan, I’ll miss everyone and everything here so much.
Text By Khairunnisa binti Mohd Faisal
Photos By Khairunnisa binti Mohd Faisal, Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Hi there! I’m Aniss, an intern student from Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang. Choosing BSBCC as my internship placement is one of the bravest decision I have ever made. A week before I flew to Sandakan, I had a major mental breakdown because I was so anxious since I will be so far away from home and I literally had neither friends nor family in Sandakan. “Will I survive working in the middle of jungle?”, “How if I only managed to make it halfway?”, “How can I go back to Kuala Lumpur if homesick hits me?”, “Who will help me if I’m in a big trouble?”. So many things lingered on my mind and I felt so terrible to leave Peninsular for 2 months.
As I arrived in Sandakan, I was warmly greeted by BSBCC staff. I felt so happy and safe to be around them. On my first day of working, it was really tiring since I had to digest a lot of things about the working ethics, the bear’s diet, bear’s behavior, pen names in the forest enclosure and the bear’s name. I started to doubt my ability of working in BSBCC as I felt like it’s such a huge responsibility to take care of the bears.
As time goes by, I never thought that I will be super happy and enjoy working for the bears. BSBCC makes me have a clearer vision of how ‘conservation’ really works. In BSBCC, I got the chance to experience a lot of things that I have never done before. I got to clean the bear house, prepare their daily feeding, make enrichment for the bears, join bear’s health check, go hunt for termite mound, explore the forest while find logs for structural enrichment and join educational program. And I never expect that I’d able to recognize some of the bears after working 2 months in here.
Thank you so much to my Bjorn Hala family (Boboy, Natalie, Becca, Mizuno, Wawa, Dr. Boon, Andy, Laurelle and Saji – including Lin May and Thye Lim). Ever since my first day in here, I’ve always feel like home. I will never forget each of the fond memories that we all had together. I had a wonderful moment of us singing together after work, going around the town during off day, eating steamboat at Sim Sim, food hunting at night, cooking while karaoke-ing together, hiking during off day, watching movies, singing to patriotic songs in the car, chasing the dogs and sharing life experience with each other. Honestly, I believe that these are the people that I’m going to miss the most once I’m back to KL.
Here’s my buddy, Adrian. On our first met, he didn’t talk much but as time goes by, he’s becoming the most annoying person I’ve ever met hahahaha. Thank you Adrian for taking care of me for these 2 months and taught me a lot of stuffs about sun bears. Honestly, you’re such a really good buddy and I’m really happy to have you as my assigned buddy. I’m sorry for being a clumsy, annoying, mischievous and talk active buddy. I will always remember everything that we have done for the bears throughout my internship in BSBCC. Please don’t miss me when I’m gone HAHAHA.
A week before I’m leaving BSBCC, we built a new ramp for Panda release. A huge thank you to Adrian for helping me out to build this ramp. Without him, I won’t be able to make it happen. Also, thank you to Ijam and Boboy for being a part of this project as well! J To Ijam and Boboy, you both are the funniest human being I have ever met. Thank you for cheering me up throughout my stay in here. Even though you both can be really annoying sometimes, I truly enjoyed having you guys around.
I’m sure I’m going to miss the moment we hunt for banana leaves together. It was so fun being in a car ride with you guys. While enjoying the scenery around Sepilok, they shared a lot of stuffs about their childhood. It’s so good to listen how each of us being raised with a different background.
Farewell party before leaving BSBCC. Thank you Mizuno for helping us out to cook for our farewell party. I feel very reluctant to leave this place. 2 months of internship feels so short for me. I really wish I could extend my internship period in BSBCC.
Sometimes, taking a one brave step could be one of the best things you have ever done in your life. It’s such a blessing to be here. I never regret my decision choosing BSBCC as my internship placement. Even though I don’t really like getting messed up in the middle of jungle, this has turned out to be the best memory I have ever had in my life. To my favourite bear (Jelita), I hope I’ll get to see you again one day. If God wills, one day I’ll come back to Sandakan to take care of the bears again. Thank you so much BSBCC for having me. Love, Aniss Faisal.
Text By Lim Hui Wen
Photos By Seng Yen Wah
I am Hui Wen, a 19 year old Malaysian currently studying Anthropology at University College London (UCL) in the UK.
I learnt about BSBCC through the Roots & Shoots Malaysian Award program, endorsed by Jane Goodall, a program which encourages Malaysian Youth to connect to the environment through volunteering at various organizations. Previously, I volunteered at a turtle sanctuary at a small island called Lang Tengah off the East Coast of Malaysia, right next to Redang Island. Having enjoyed learning a lot about turtles and their environment, it piqued my interest in volunteering with other animals. Hence, for my next volunteering opportunity, out of the many organizations offered, I chose to volunteer at BSBCC and spend three weeks of my summer here in Sabah because I want to learn more about the sun bears life as well as how a conservation center functions. Right now, I am at the tail end of my three weeks here and so far my experience here has been phenomenal.
Just by volunteering here, my knowledge of the sun bears, their behaviour, and the conservation center now exceeds the informational plaques scattered around the visitor center. From the questions I have asked Dr Wong and the others working here, one of the many things I now know is the role of the government and the laws regarding sun bears and other endangered animals. On top of that, I also know the history and habits of some of the bears as well as their personality.
Volunteering here, I thought that I would only be doing some basic work such as working in the kitchen, cleaning the bear house, and making enrichment to entertain the bears. I never would have imagined that I will get the amazing opportunity to observe and assist in the health check-up of a sun bear, recording Jelita’s pulse, temperature and respiration, while the doctors clean a wound behind her ear.
Though I will be sad to leave the sun bears and the people here who have helped me learn the ropes and accompanied for the past few weeks, I will not be sad leaving the leeches behind! (I really hate leeches). This invaluable experience has allowed me to do things that I would have never seen myself doing – Jelita’s health check-up – but has more importantly reminded me to conserve and respect the environment we live in, as well as to strive and protect the environment and the creatures that live in and rely on it.
Text By Manuel Baumgartner & Sophie Baumgartner
Photos By Chiew Lin May & Sumira Muis@APE Malaysia
We are Manuel and Sophie from Switzerland and are currently travelling for 6 months. We will be in Borneo for 7 weeks. We are mammal watchers in our free time and are out in nature whenever we can. We are especially looking for bears and cats, but we are enjoying every single surprise that nature gives us.
Since last year we do not only want to observe animals, but also try to be more and more active in conservation. We wanted to learn more about the reintroduction process, be physically active, and because we love bears, the BSBCC volunteer program was perfect for us.
We were impressed by the organization of the team and how well the processes work: It doesn't seem easy to us to look at all these unique bears with unique needs! We were very happy to work with the nice, interested and helpful team. It was especially important for us to learn more about the reintroduction process and its conditions. We also wanted to have the opportunity to ask critical questions. Dr. Wong, the founder of the BSBCC, took a lot of time for us to ask all our questions and we were very grateful for this exchange and for all the things we learned.
It was nice that we were soon able do a lot of work and work close to the bears. If you observe well, you can learn a lot about the behavior and the different characters. Unfortunately, we also saw what the consequences of a long captivity can be and how important the enrichments can be.
We wish all bears that have the opportunity to be released, to be free and to see, sniff and experience the wonderful wilderness of Borneo in peace.
Thanks a lot to the whole team for this good time full of laughter and a lot of sweating.
Text by Amanda Wilson
Photos by Amanda Wilson, Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Heyyo everyone! I’m Amanda Wilson, 22, and I’m here to talk about my experience volunteering at BSBCC. I’ll be entering my final year in University of Malaysia Sarawak under the programme Animal Resource Science and Management or better known as Zoology. For a period of 10 weeks, I experienced more adventures than I ever expected whilst interning at BSBCC. When asked about how I got to know about the centre, I am actually a local from the nature city of Sandakan. I was born in Kota Kinabalu and raised in Sandakan since a very young age. So, I’ve visited more than a couple of times and heard a lot about the wonderful things the people here are doing for the world’s smallest bears. I’ve always wanted to volunteer at the centre and be part of the work they are undergoing. That’s how I decided to volunteer at BSBCC as part of my Industrial Training.
Before I started volunteering, I was way too nervous about working, but from day 1, the staff at BSBCC were nothing but warm, kind, friendly and welcoming. I felt like I had another family here at BSBCC. It was so heart-warming to work with like-minded people, people who have big hearts for animals. I am touched by how much the Bear Care Team are so passionate, loving and caring towards these bears.
The centre stands on 4 main goals which are Education, Welfare, Rehabilitation and Research. Throughout my volunteer days, I am grateful to have been able to balance time working within the Bear House and also with the Education Team. On a daily basis, our work comprises mainly of husbandry works, from cleaning cages to feeding the bears, fence checks, pool cleaning and maintanence works. The fun part would be going jungle trekking into the forest to look for termite nests, collecting banana leaves and making various enrichments for the bears. From food-based enrichments, making dry cages, sensory and also structural enrichments. It didn’t take me long to adapt to the tasks at the Bear House as everything was properly managed and scheduled on time.
I also love feeding the bears in the outdoor enclosures as I love seeing them enjoy their time in the forest. That would be another attraction at the centre as visitors could see the bears in their natural environment. When the staff challenged us volunteers to recognize all the bears, I thought it was impossible but now I could say I can almost successfully tell them all apart from each other. Since working at the bear house, I learnt a lot about the sun bear’s behaviours and the different traits as well as personalities each bear has. I personally think sun bears are such precious creatures and wish more people would learn about these forgotten bears.
I feel so lucky to have been able to care for them, work so closely with them and even looking at them, as it made me so happy, especially when they’re enjoying the life that the people here at BSBCC is working so passionately to provide for these precious bears. The work that these people are doing here is incredible. No matter how tough the work is, they do it all so wholeheartedly.
To be honest, the work here is very physical. Nevertheless, I have never felt discouraged as a girl but more encouraged by the staff around me, who are always there to urge me on and guide me through. From sawing ironwood, working with hand drills to carrying sacks full of coconut husks, I’ve done everything with ease. Thanks to the time I’ve spent here, I got the chance to build my stamina and train my strength. Not only did I learn to work with hardware tools, I surprised myself everyday by my own capabilities. I’ve learnt underestimated myself too much before this, working here has made me braver and eager to look forward to new task everyday. Although the work here is heavy duty, I never felt drained as the Bear House is always filled with happiness and laughter thanks to the people around me.
As a local, I feel disappointed and devastated that not many of our local people know of the existence of the world’s smallest bears. Though I am hopeful that the efforts done through all the outreach programmes will someday be fruitful. During my time at the centre, I got to participate in 3 various outreach programmes and events. I was lucky to be able to participate in events held in Sandakan and also go for outreach programmes held at schools outside of the district.
As volunteers, each of us were assigned to a buddy keeper. Here’s a shoutout to the best big brother and my partner in crime, Mizuno Merek Men and Susantie Saliman (UNIMAS coursemate). Theres nothing my buddy keeper couldn’t do and I am ever so thankful for he has always been so caring and motivating towards us. He pushed us to be better and put his trust in us to carry out bigger tasks which gave us confidence.
Also to all the staffs especially the ones in the Bear Care Team, without them, my days would be dull. I saw the sincerity and passion they have for these bears. I felt the love and joy they have for what they are doing. I am happy to begin venturing into conservation work through volunteering here at BSBCC. Working with the Bear Care Team will always be one of my most cherished moments in life. They showed me passion, determination, professionalism, dedication, hardwork and team work. Conservation work is not always easy but with the right team, no matter how small, no task will ever be big enough.
Big thanks to Dr Wong Siew Te, for always making time for our weekly volunteer meeting session despite his busy schedule. I’ve learnt a lot through sharing his own experiences and knowledge not only about sun bears and the centre, but practically about everything we could talk about. Also to the Education Team, thank you for guiding me and encouraging me throughout my participation in various outreach programmes. Talking to visitors on the platform has also helped me overcome my fear of talking to people. It was amazing to be able to engage with the public and educate not only other people but my ownself about sun bears, wildlife conservation and just nature in general.
Thank you so much ! You all are beyond amazing <3
I will cherish every memories and will surely come back in future. Cheerio!
Text by Tara Sofia Jadwani-Bungar
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Bermuda, Mizuno tells me, is the biggest bear the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). Yet he barely comes up to my nose when he stands on his hind legs. Across from him is Wan-Wan, a female with the loveliest pink nose. She eats bananas delicately, removing the peel with her claws before sliding the banana fruit into her mouth. They are the first two bears I meet at the BSBCC.
I’m Tara, a 19 year-old university student from Melbourne, Australia and my stint at the BSBCC was my first time in Borneo. I’m studying to be a vet and would like to someday work in “conservation medicine”. Volunteering at the BSBCC introduced me to working in that sector.
The first day at BSBCC was slightly overwhelming (in a good way) because everything we were doing was new. Myself and two other overseas volunteers, Sienna and Imogen, went through a series of inductions that ensured we knew all the safety precautions and rules for the Bearhouses. You’d think this would be boring but simply being at the centre is so novel that everything seems exciting and interesting.
I learned so much about the bears – from their diet to their behaviour and their relationships – that my head was practically bursting with sun bear facts for two weeks. Some of this information came from a two-hour Q&A session the interns and volunteers had with Wong, the founder of the BSBCC. The most exciting part of this session was learning about the future of the BSBCC (can’t spoil it for the rest of you, though). The bearkeepers themselves are pretty incredible people and they showed me the everyday work that goes into running the centre and keeping up with the bears. They can get pretty creative when thinking up new enrichment for the bears.
The volunteer programme was really well-run, too. There was a great balance between routine and variation. Our days would start at 8:00am with feeding the bears breakfast (rice porridge). This would be followed up with cleaning the indoor enclosure or kitchen duty (chopping up fruit and vegetables for the bears and cleaning the kitchen area). Then we’d head out to feed the bears in their outdoor enclosures. By then, it was usually lunch time (12:00-1:30pm) which was spent in a lovely air-conditioned room. Afterwards, we’d take care of afternoon feeding. This was a bit more of an adventure as we’d often be followed by a very bold troupe of macaques. They’d regularly try and swipe the bears’ food. Back at the Bearhouse, we’d build enrichment activities before feeding the bears dinner and tidying up. Home time was 5:00pm on the dot.
Building enrichment was my favourite part of the day. Partly because it was really interesting to see what we could come up with to entertain/stimulate the bears. It was also when I got to talk to the keepers and the other interns and learn more about the bears and Borneo. Brandon, one of the keepers, and his buddies were building a firehose spider web for Along’s indoor enclosure. Imogen, Sumira and I made balls out of firehoses for the cubs in quarantine. Boboy spent quite a few days on a platform for the newest bear cub, Romolina. One afternoon, a group of us led by Mizuno walked in the surrounding rainforest searching for termite nests for the bears. I’m happy to say I did not get a single leech bite during my stay.
On some days, we’d head out in the ute (pick-up truck) to collect banana leaves, weeds and vines for enrichment. This was one of my favourite activities because I got to see more of the outskirts of Sandakan. Also, Mizuno’s driving was great. On two occasions, Imogen and I manned the education desk in the souvenir shop and I spent some time on the observation decks talking to visitors. Watching the bears from those viewing platforms was quite different from seeing them in the bearhouse. Funnily enough, I only realised how cute they were when I saw them from the visitors’ perspective. They had seemed cute before but I’d also learned to see them as individuals and hadn’t had the time to really coo over them.
Another memorable experience was assisting the vet and bearkeepers during a health check. Linggam was sedated and brought out to the examination table to have a wound on his leg checked. I helped take his measurements and his pawprints (inked and stamped just like ours).
My fortnight at the BSBCC was one of the happiest I’ve had. Despite it being a centre for bears, it was the people at the BSBCC who made my trip. Everyone, from the bear keepers to the local interns to the education staff, was kind, welcoming and open to questions. Most of all, their love and respect for the bears was clear in all their work. Thank you, in particular, to Sumira, our project coordinator, for being not only a teacher and guide but a wonderful friend.
My time at the BSBCC also showed me how difficult conservation and rehabilitation is. How do we know when a bear is ready to be released? How can we teach a bear that has never been in the wild and has never had mother how to be a bear? How can we release bears when there’s hardly any habitat to release them into? All these questions hang over the BSBCC and every other conservation effort. I don’t think there’ll ever be a perfect, full proof answer for any them. We can only do our best to heal the damage we’ve done. Some would say that that is very pessimistic but it’s quite the opposite. The people at the BSBCC are realistic but also hopeful and very dedicated. They’re problem solvers and they believe that they will find a way. They have to if they’re going to save Sun Bears.
Berita Harian Online, 8th June 2018
by Avila Geraldine
KOTA KINABALU: Di sebalik ketegasan undang-undang hidupan liar, masih ramai individu tidak bertanggungjawab yang dikesan menggunakan media sosial untuk menjual haiwan eksotik terancam sebagai binatang peliharaan di seluruh negara.
Lebih membimbangkan, Pusat Konservasi Beruang Madu Borneo (BSBCC) turut mengenalpasti beberapa akaun Facebook dan Instagram yang dikenal pasti giat menawarkan beruang madu, musang, kucing batu, lotong, siamang, harimau dahan, burung pemangsa, burung enggang dan tapir.
Pengasas BSBCC yang juga Ketua Pegawai Eksekutifnya, Dr Wong Siew Te, berkata pihak berkuasa berkaitan menyedari perkara itu, namun tidak mengambil tindakan yang secukupnya.
Apa yang lebih menyedihkan, katanya, perkara itu sudah dilaporkan kepada pihak berkuasa sejak tahun lalu, namun transaksi perniagaan membabitkan haiwan terancam itu masih berjalan seperti biasa.
"Jika ini berterusan, hidupan liar kita akan hilang tidak lama lagi, terdapat banyak lagi hidupan liar yang terkesan disebabkan kehilangan habitat sejak 50 tahun lalu.
"Baki hidupan liar lain turut terancam akibat kegiatan pemburuan haram," katanya kepada NSTP.
Menurut ahli biologi itu, walaupun kebanyakan peniaga beroperasi menggunakan akaun peribadi secara tertutup, ada juga yang meletakkan identiti mereka dengan jelas dan akan memudahkan mereka dikesan serta dihubungi oleh pihak berkuasa.
Katanya, pihak berkuasa digesa memperketatkan usaha pemuliharaan hidupan liar memandangkan penjual dan pembeli hidupan liar haram kelihatan seperti tidak takut kepada undang-undang.
"Sudah tiba masanya untuk memperkukuhkan lagi usaha pemuliharaan hidupan liar. Urus niaga ini (hidupan liar) tidak boleh diteruskan seperti biasa, kerajaan perlu melihat jenayah hidupan liar ini dengan lebih serius," katanya.
Sementara itu, Siew Te berkata BSBCC menyambut Hari Beruang Madu setiap 16
Mei untuk meningkatkan kesedaran orang ramai terhadap perlindungan dan pemuliharaan haiwan itu.
Bagaimanapun, katanya, penghujung Mei lalu beliau mengesan masih ada iklan yang menawarkan anak beruang madu untuk jualan dalam talian meskipun spesies itu dilindungi sepenuhnya di Sabah, Sarawak dan Semenanjung.
Tegas Siew Te, hidupan liar memainkan peranan penting dalam ekosistem hutan dan jika kegiatan mengeksploitasi hidupan liat terus dibiarkan, hutan negara akan menjadi kosong tidak lama lagi.
New Straits Times, 7th January 2018
by Kristy Inus, Avila Geraldine, Olivia Miwil