Text by Ezi Nurayu binti Abd. Wahab
Photos by Ezi Nurayu & Chiew Lin May
I am Ezi Nurayu binti Abd. Wahab.
I am currently studying at University Malaysia Sabah in a Conservation Biology course.
I have so many wonderful stories from my internship period.
Actually, together with Gillian and Vincent, we had to fulfill our 12 weeks internship period, but unfortunately we could only do it for around 6 weeks in total at the Bear House. This is due to the COVID-19 pandemic that was happening during these days.
On February 8th, we reached Sandakan Airport and were fetched by Thye Lim. During this time, we were still awkward with Thye Lim. He talked a lot in the van, but we just awkwardly answered his questions. Haha. Sorry Thye Lim! Our talkative mood at that time was still off. Actually, he is a nice and funny guy indeed!
Thye Lim drove us to BSBCC at first because we needed to be briefed by Lin May about the volunteer rules and regulations, and she told us our buddy keeper name too. So, I was told that my buddy keeper was Roger. After that, we went to Bear House Hijau Hut. We had to introduce ourselves to all the Bear House Team and APE volunteers (Cameron and Astrid). Then, we were brought by Thye Lim and Lin May to our very first accommodation which was Paganakan Dii Tropical Retreat Sepilok (before moving to Bjorn Hala). Thanks to them for helping us with our heavy, like a bag of bricks, luggage. Haha!
At night, Thye Lim and Lin May took us to get dinner at a restaurant before going to the grocery store.
Now, let me tell you about my embarrassing and interesting stories from my first day of doing the internship here.
I broke the flat rubber squeegee mop during my very first task to clean the kitchen floor. I was so unfamiliar with the thing actually. Haha. Silly me!
Then, the very proud thing I did during my first day was I climbed the Sika’s group cage in Bear House 2 to hang the platform structure. Also, I had my very first experience in learning what the U-clamp is and how to use it. Thanks to Roger, Adneen, Pradeep and Lin May for encouraging me to do so at that time. I rarely did this kind of ‘men’ work, but here I did! I was so happy because no one underestimated me except myself. Haha! Oh yeah! I forgot to tell you guys that in here, there is no sexism allowed. Every person has the same treatment. This is one of the unique things in BSBCC.
After all these things, I learnt how to feed the bears. I was so scared to feed the bears on my very first day because I was afraid to get grabbed by them. But then, when I applied the technique that Roger taught us during our safety induction, I was no longer scared. I just needed to be calm and steady. Big thanks to Roger!
Roger and Adneen always gave me some tips on how to do work efficiently and faster. They taught me the correct way to brush the cages, sweep the cages floor, and prepare the food (this task I was still slow because I cannot cut the fruit as fast as them, like a chef) in a faster, yet efficient way. I was very lucky to have Roger as my buddy because he always tried to find work after all the routine tasks had finished. He never gave me a chance to pace myself. I am a proud buddy!
Every week, we would have a session with Dr. Wong Siew Te. We would ask him some questions and he answered them directly. From the sessions that I attended, I know that he is a very passionate person about wildlife conservation, especially sun bears. I am so proud with his life achievement! I am really glad I got to meet him in person. Thanks Dr. Wong for accepting us to do our internship here and spending your time to have a session with us every week.
Here, I was taught how to do enrichments for the sun bears.
I did a lot of enrichments! Thanks to the bear keepers, especially Roger, Adneen, Mizuno, Danny and Jeniur who gave me the chance to do that.
Roger always encouraged me to make a wooden-based enrichment. By that, we had to find wood in the forest. I liked to do this because I could build up my stamina and learn to saw, drill and chisel the wood then. I could build up my ‘man’ skills too.
For the fence training, Roger and I were asked by Lin May to observe BJ, Kina, Sika and Soo.
During my first day observing BJ, I was so nervous because I needed to write down BJ’s behaviour every minute. So, I must be quick to observe and write it down then.
But, day after day, my skills of observing and writing at the same time improved, especially during the time when I needed to observe four of them at the same time. Proud me! Hehe.
There were times where we were given a task to go to the platform to talk to the visitors.
I really liked this task because this was one of my reasons for choosing BSBCC as my internship place. I wanted to build up my confidence level in communication skills. I got the chance to go to the platform twice. Thank God! For my first time, I was a bit passive, but then I improved and was brave to approach the visitors (international and local) at Platform 1. Thank you to Melynda (centre coordinator) for always helping me out during that time.
Here too, I had my first experience getting sucked by the leeches! Congratulations to me! Hahaha.
This happened during the day where we (Roger, Danny and I) went to get a very big termite nest for BBC filming purposes. I got the chance to see many scorpions under the termite nest too. Thank God nothing happened to us. Oh yeah! I have learnt how to do fencing with Roger too. Thanks to Roger for allowing and trusting me to do that.
Let’s move to the moment where we had to stay in Bjorn Hala (staffs house). I was so sad because we could not go to the Bear House to feed the bears, do cage cleaning and food preparation. I missed the Bear House so bad! This is due to the Movement Control Order caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
What we did during these critical days was our video project for funding purposes, a full report on research about Along’s behaviour, did enrichments for the bears (e.g. nest ball, honeycomb, stick paradox and fire hose pocket), plus made a blog for the fence training for Sika’s group, a bear blog (Along) and an internship blog. We just worked from home (WFH) as our university commanded to do so.
Now, time for Bjorn Hala’s unforgettable memories.
Here we are like a family. Most of us are not Sandakan people, except Mizuno. So, by having them in Bjorn Hala, it made me felt like I was at home. Never to deny, they were my reason to smile for every day. We are always teasing each other like siblings always do. Teasing, laughing, being crazy yet funny and caring for each other are what I will miss the most about us. Never forget me guys!
Other than sun bears, what the best about BSBBC was is the people (staff and Dr. Wong). Maybe it is hard to find good people out there. But here, there are a ton of funny yet nice people that can be found.
Trust me :-)
So for the guys out there, let’s try at least once to volunteer at BSBCC.
Once you volunteer here, you will want more.
Text & Photos by Laurelle Cassandra Rooney
Hello there! I am Laurelle Cassandra Rooney, a 21 year old from Tawau, Sabah. I am a second year Zoology student at University of Malaysia Sarawak.
Why did I choose BSBCC and what have I learnt from doing my internship here for the last 10 weeks?
Being an animal lover, I’ve always dreamt about working with animals not only with domestic animals but the wildlife as well. My passion grew bigger as I grew up and I heard of a conservation centre which is the BSBCC. I ended up doing my internship at the BSBCC and it turned out to be the best decision I have ever made. It iwas my first time working with these wild animals and I got to experience hands-on activities with the sun bears. While doing my internship here, I learned that the sun bears are listed as a vulnerable species in the IUCN Red List and they are the world’s smallest bear species.
When I first arrived, I was amazed at how the whole bear house runs with the bear keepers. My daily work routine consisted of cleaning the cages, food preparation, feeding the bear inside the house as well as around the forest enclosures, making enrichments, fence checking and assists in health checks. Personally, my favourite part of the day is making enrichments for the bears. Watching the sun bears eat can also make your day.
We treked into the jungle to find logs and sticks. I manually drilled for the first time in my life, collected banana and dry leaves and logs which we used to mimic the environment of being in a forest enclosure. I had the opportunity to design and make some hanging platforms for the bears to rest and play on. I also had the chance to build a ramp for one of the pens to allow the bears to enter the forest enclosure.
I would like to say a huge thank you to my buddy, Roger, for always helping me and supporting me throughout my internship here in BSBCC. I would also like to thank the other bear keepers which are Azzry, David (longest working staff in BSBCC), Brandon and Adneen, who have helped me while I did my internship here. These people were there for me during my hard times and they always had their way of cheering me up and I would be stress-free just by working with them. We did a lot of projects together from hanging platforms, to building ramps, and preparing enrichments together. They taught me the correct way of handling the equipment when doing our projects.
Working in the bear house has left me with a bunch of memorable experience in my life. I learnt the diet of the sun bears and from what I saw, different bears have different diets and different personalites which makes them cute in their own way. Watching them play with each other is also the best part of the day.
I would like to thank the educational staff for giving me the chance to visit two different places which were Sukau, Kinabatangan and around Sandakan area for the outreach programme. I got the chance to share information about the BSBCC itself and also about the sun bears. By joining the outreach programme, I, myself, gained more knowledge on sun bears and the way of conserving the sun bears and other wildlife.
I want to say thank you to Dr. Wong for the sharing sessions and also for giving me the opportunity to be part of the team even if it is only for 10 weeks.
I came to BSBCC to make a contribution in helping the sun bears in any way possible and I feel like I did. Working with the sun bears made a huge impact in my life and my passion in working and aiding the wildlife grew bigger. I would like to express my gratitude once again to my buddy, the other 3 bear keepers, Azzry, Brandon and Adneen, not to forget David, who helped me throughout my internship here. Thank you so much for the rewarding experience and accepting me as a part of their team. Do forgive me if there were any mistakes that I have done unintentionally. But it is time to say goodbye to the team. Always keep in touch with each other.
Regards from me, Laurelle.
BSBCC attended a fun run, "Run Wild" and exhibition at Likas Bay, Kota Kinabalu with the theme of the wildlife conservation. The fun run featured the III Marine Expeditionary Forces Band from the US Marine Expeditionary Group. The run, organized by the US Embassy to Kuala Lumpur, with the cooperation of Kota Kinabalu City Hall and Kota Kinabalu Run Club aimes to raise awareness for the love of one of Sabah natural resources: the wildlife. The run itself sponsored by Coca-Cola and Brooks Running, who provided shirts with images of some of the wildlife can be found in Sabah, including sun bear. Big thanks to US Embassy for the invitation to such a great event!
Video by Chiew Lin May
Find out what BSBCC is doing to help create a future for sun bears.
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.
A visit from SK. Rancangan Suan Lamba to BSBCC today. There are 34 students with their teacher involved in this visit. The students were given presentation on sun bear by Ms. Risnayati. Before they went to the observation platform to see the sun bears roaming in the forest enclosure, they were given mini tasks to test their understanding on sun bear from different topics about sun bear. This activity encourages and develops creativity in the students as well as to increase the understanding on sun bear. We hope that students and their teachers enjoyed their time at BSBCC learning about sun bears and the environment.
Yesterday (11th April 2018), BSBCC education team together with Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and Wildlife Rescue Unit visited SMK Pangiran Galpam, Sandakan the last school for the wildlife conservation awareness and education programme (Series 1) 2018 for Sandakan district for this month. Various activities were carried out including exhibition, talks, environmental games and wildlife documentary video show. All of the students enjoyed their time learning about the environment and wildlife species.
Today, BSBCC has teamed up with our partners (Wildlife Rescue Unit, Sandakan Borneo Bird Club, and Sabah Wildlife Department) to SK Sri Melanta Jaya for as part of our Wildlife Conservation Awareness and Education Programme. Educational booths were set up, with activities such as presentations and mini-games were done to spread the awareness to the schoolchildren.
Yesterday was the second day of our outreach programme around the Sandakan district for this year. BSBCC education team together with HUTAN-Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Programme, Wildlife Rescue Unit, Sandakan Borneo Bird Club and Reef Guardian gathered at SK Sg Kayu, Sandakan. We set up booths at the school open hall to share the informations to the students. Each organization gave an inspiring talk to students on our knowledge and our ongoing effort to save wildlife in Sabah. About 600 students from Year 1- Year 6 participated in the whole programme.