Text By Mandy Lee
Photos By Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Hi I’m Mandy Lee from Taiwan. I am 36 years old and I am a freelance English tutor/translator.
Wildlife and traveling have always been my greatest passions. This is my second time visiting/volunteering in Sabah, but the very first time volunteering in BSBCC.
Before this project, I didn’t really have a chance to spend enough time understanding sun bears behaviours though back in 2014 I was with APE Malaysia creating some enrichment for the sun bears in Laos Zoo. Back then, all I knew was they love honey and they are relatively shy.
A fortnight has gone really fast. For my first week, I was assigned doing husbandry works and feeding the bears in different pens in the mornings; making enrichment for the bears and collecting materials for enrichment activities in the afternoons. As for my second week, my tasks mainly are preparing foods for the bears in the mornings and making enrichment for the bears in the afternoons. I found all these works interesting because when cleaning the night dens I was given a chance to observe their faeces and the scatters of enrichment. Through putting these little pieces of information together, I tried to picture what the bears probably had done the previous night. When preparing the foods for the “babies” (Forgive me if I started calling them babies because I’ve grown to love them more and more each day), I was also given a chance to understand their daily diet – carrots and leafy veggies are good for them not only because they are full of good nutrients but also because the fibres serve dental cleaning purpose.
There is never a dull moment. One of my favourite routines of each day is going out collecting materials for enrichment activities in the afternoon – we collected banana leaves, green mangoes, coconuts and branches, brought them back to the bear house and made enrichment props. Since the bears are the experts of smelling, sometimes we put different spice powders on the branches or we hid apple, banana pieces and peanut butter in parcels made with bamboos or cardboards to stimulate their ability forage for foods. Sometimes we went into the woods looking for termite nests and gave them to the bears as well because invertebrate is also one of the main sources of food for the bears in the wild. Watching the bears digging the termite nests looking for termites, using their claws to eat the foods or simply just lying there chilling out always put a smile on my face J
There are many wonderful things volunteering in BSBCC. To name a few, first is surely the professional team of BSBCC and my dear coordinator, Sumira. The staff and officers are so caring and lovely. They took me in as part of the big family right at the beginning; I didn’t even have time to be nervous about a new environment. Whenever I had questions, they were always there patiently for me. The second wonderful bit is definitely getting up early in the morning sitting in the outdoor kitchen enjoying my morning cup while watching the sunrise and listening birds chirping at volunteer accommodation. Being in an outdoor symphony concert every morning, what more could one ask for in life?
Last but not least, the weekly volunteer talk with Dr. Wong Siew Te will also be one of the many unforgettable moments in my life, for my past volunteering experiences, I never had a chance to have a deep conversation to the founder or the head of any animal conservation centre. Dr. Wong is charismatic and also very patient and down to earth. I remember the first talk with Dr. Wong, I was asking him that for me as an individual and a person with no zoology background, how could I raise public awareness of wildlife wellbeing and spread the words of the importance of conservation to people surround me. He was also curious about why I have been volunteering in animal conservation so many times as an Asian. I was getting quite emotional when he started explaining to me patiently and provided me some of his experiences hopefully this could help me to spread the words for the voiceless ones (the bears and other animals).
I would like to quote Dr. Wong’s words at our first volunteer talk to end this dairy.
“Getting emotional is a good thing, because that means you care for something.”
I really care about wildlife wellbeing and I shall do my part as an individual to speak for them.
Terima Kasih gila to all my Cikgu in BSBCC.
Text by Milla Milanovic
Photos by Chiew Lin May
My name is Milla Milanovic, I’m 18 years old and I’m from Sweden. I study animal care and I’m now in my final year of my 3 years of education. Thanks to my school I got the opportunity to come to Borneo to do my internship/volunteering at Bornean Sunbear Conservation Center. Before I came here I had never been to Asia before and I didn’t know a lot about Borneo or the sun bears so I was not sure what to expect. I knew that the weather here was very different from the weather in Sweden. I knew that it could get very warm and humid here but I was still surprised and I don’t really think you can prepare yourself.
Volunteering at BSBCC is very sweaty and a lot of hard work but also very fun. The routines that we did on a daily basis were things like cleaning cages in bear house 1 & 2, feeding the bears and of course making enrichment which is something that is considered really important here. Enrichment is something that you make for animals to stimulate their minds and so they can perform their natural behavior.
The enrichment that we usually did could be, for example sticks that we tied together and then put a bit of peanut butter between the sticks. If the animals don’t get to do their natural behaviors then they will easily get depressed, aggressive but first of all they will get stressed and then they can evolve stereotypical behaviors like pacing, which mean the animal is walking back and forth on the same place. Stereotypical behaviors means the animal is performing unnatural behaviors. By making different kind of enrichment every day and letting the sun bears to be in their big enclosures, helps the sun bears to do their natural behaviors like using their claws to rip things and to climb, taste and to smell and search for food. That is also one reason why the bear keepers here throw and spread out the food, which consist of different kind of fruits and vegetable.
These five past weeks have been incredible fun and educational, and I have learned so much and it have been fun to getting to know all of the 46 bears and there different personalities, and you can even see that they all have different favorite foods. These past weeks went by so fast but that only means that I have had a good time. I am so grateful that I got this opportunity to volunteer at BSBCC and to work with all of the nice and friendly bear keepers. Thank you for these five past weeks and I hope I can be able to come back in the future.
Text by Nathaly Velarde
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hello my name is Nathaly Velarde and I’m from Sweden. I will graduate in 2 months from Spanga Gymnasium. Every year my school sends 4 volunteers to Borneo for an internship so we can gain experience, knowledge of how a zookeeper works. Which I’m so thankful for and I hope they keep sending more students to Borneo so they learn everything we have learnt about sun bears and rehabilitation.
When I was told that I will be one of the lucky student to do my internship in Borneo I got really happy. Since I was born in Bolivia I got really interested in rehabilitation because I found similarities like how poaching works, and the rainforest is disappearing. I got to learn a lot from Dr. Wong Siew Te when we had the question session where he told us how we have to think and act. His wise words will stay with me forever and I want to make a change in how Bolivia is handling the animals and help as much as I can.
These past 5 weeks have been so much fun, I have learnt a lot about sun bears which I will pass on the information to people in Sweden and Bolivia so they know how important and cute they are. Before coming here, I didn’t know what to expect, I’m shy with new people but after spending a few days at the center I already felt comfortable and I’m thankful that the staff at the center are always happy and nice.
Something I learnt a lot about is enrichment before I came here I already knew the importance of giving enrichment to animals in captivity but the meaning “enrichment” is more valuable here and I love that. Everyday we try to make enrichment for the sun bears so they have something to play with and does not feel bored.
I want to thank BCBCC and APE Malaysia for doing an amazing job. I really loved these 5 weeks here in Borneo and im really thankful for my school that gave this big opportunity.
Good luck and I hope I can come back again.
Text by Nithisha Nair (Intern student, University Putra Malaysia Bintulu Campus)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
And so, the journey begins for the three new musketeers- Joe, Romolina and Logan- into the bear house after patiently getting through their days in quarantine.
Romolina, being the oldest of the three was kept as a pet before being handed over to our centre. Whereas Joe was found alone in the forest when he was three months old. A person then sent Joe to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park. The youngest of the three, Logan, was found on a Lokan River near a village who separated from his mother as she crossed the river leaving him behind. He was taken care for a few months by the person who found him before being sent to our centre. These three musketeers, being as young as they are, are nothing short of curious, explorative and energetic.
Due to the lack of space in the bear house, this group of sun bears ended up extending their stay a little longer than expected. But with the release of Boboi, Kitud and Tan-Tan on the 14th this month, new room opened up to welcome our trio.
The week started off with enrichment preparations for the sun bears. Lengths of firehose were used to construct a ‘zig zag firehose’ as well as a wooden structure that the trio will be able to use to climb and play.
This recreational enrichment will go a long way in diverting the sun bear’s attention from the stress they might face through switching homes. Besides that, we also extended our measures and collected barks, dead wood and sacks of dry leaves to be put into their cages for a more forest-like feel. The bears will also be able to dig their claws and teeth into the barks in search for ants and termites. Termites nests were also brought from the forest for the trio to feast on.
Two dens were transformed and decorated to the best of our abilities to give the bears as much of a natural environment as we could, dry leaves, tree barks, ginger leaves and termites nest were all placed in the dens alongside structural enrichments.
Then the long-awaited day finally comes and the cubs were ready to be brought to the bear house. Translocation cages were used to transport them from quarantine to the bear house. Prior to the transfer, they are lured into the translocation cages by quarantine keepers using diluted honey. Then they are weighed before being put on to the car to be brought down to the bear house.
The transfer started off with Romolina, who was no trouble at all to lure into the translocation cage and was quite calm throughout the journey. After Romolina’s transfer, Logan was next. Eventhough Logan was no fuss to get into the translocation cage, he seemed pretty anxious on his way to the bear house. Honey water and bananas were provided upon arrival to eradicate any stress caused by transportation.
All the other bears seemed very alert and peculiar to the arrival of these cubs but did not cause a commotion of any sort, which was great as any vocalization would’ve rendered the cubs more stressed. After the two bears settled down, they enjoyed exploring in their dens and was nothing short of curious and adventurous, sniffing every corner and climbing every angle. They also foraged through the dry leaves for bananas and tore through tree barks in search of insects to feast on.
After ensuring the two cubs were okay, we proceeded with a health check for the last cub, Joe. The health check was done in quarantine with a hand injected anaesthesia by Dr. Boon whilst being distracted with honey. After Joe was unconscious, a full health check was carried out to ensure that the sunbear is well and healthy. Joe was then brought into the bear house and put into a separate den until he was fully conscious and able to join in on the fun.
Once Joe was concious, the three cubs didn’t waste any of their time before exploring all three dens together. They foraged through dry leaves and dead wood, climbed ladders hung on the den basket as well as on the gates of the den, and rolled around the dry leaves goofily with one another.
The cubs will have to go through integration as well as fence training before their debut in the forest enclosure. The cubs can frequently be seen exploring their surroundings and playing around with one another, their playful yet explorative behaviour is one we hope they keep throughout their rehabilitation journey. Here’s wishing good luck to these cubs in their journey before being released to the wild, good luck musketeers!
Text by Peter Lowe
Photos by Peter Lowe & Chiew Lin May
Hi I am Peter Lowe, 68 years of age, living in Prague, Czech Republic. This is my third placement at the BSBCC and hopefully not my last🙂
Many people ask "why do I return?". The reasons are many!! I always come in March when the days in Prague are still short and mainly dull and cold, compared to the sun, heat and, mainly, blue skies of Sabah.
This is enhanced by the feeling of love, joy and dedication one gets from Dr.Wong and his team at the BSBCC. It is a joy and a privilege to be part of their team.
Brilliant way to start the day to be greeted with smiles of welcome that beat the brightest rays of sunshine. Dr. Wong's team and my fellow volunteers give me the will, energy and inspiration to return, plus of course the stars = the Bornean Sun Bears. They are absolutely adorable ☺I never leave with dry eyes and always have it in my heart to return 👍 plus each day I learn so much both from the team, my fellow volunteers = where they come from, their hobbies, cultures etc. and the bears = their habits, characters and how they have grown/changed over the years. These are just some of the many reasons why I return to this very special project ☺ I feel like I am coming home 👍☺
This year my fellow volunteers are,2 from Sweden Natalie and Milla,2 from UK = Pip and Jane, Shuma from Japan and Fang from Taiwan, an interesting mix of both ages and nationalities👍
After our initial induction with Azzry, Bear Care Co-ordinator and Sumira, Project Co-Ordinator, we went to the area outside the Bear House to meet the staff and to guess who is our respective "buddy". This year my buddy is a new member of staff, Adneen, who cares for the eldest bear,Amaco,27 years of age(this is quite a remarkable age when you consider they are the same as a dog,1 human year =7 Sun Bear years!!!) So Adneen has the eldest bear and the eldest volunteer =yours truly as his buddies.👍😊
Afterwards I helped Adneen make an enrichment for Amaco=putting peeled bananas with peanut butter spread on them(his favourite)wrapped in ginger leaves then tied, sprinkled with curry powder(the bears find this smell irresistible)which we then put inside a plastic drum with holes drilled in it large enough for Amaco's paw/arm to fit in. We then suspended the drum in his sleeping den at his head height. He has had problems with his upper spine/neck and had become lazy to stand up. This enrichment is designed to encourage him to stand to get his treats out of the barrel. It was 100%successful as he emptied the barrel !!👍😊
Adneen and I then designed a ladder using rope, lengths of fire hose, nuts and bolts, for Amaco with the intention to suspend some of his favourite foods at different heights, so he will use the ladder to climb and stand on his hind legs to get to them. Much to our delight his has been a complete succes.
Thank you all who make these experiences possible and the wonderful work you do, you are all so special and bring so much happiness to so many !!! I plan to join you all again in March 2020 !!! To anyone considering partaking in this APE Malaysia project DO IT !! You will not regret it. Yes it is hot, at times messy, hard work. However you will always remember the fun you will have plus this amazing, unique experience. Maybe, like me, after being part of this project you will want to return more than once !!
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.
Video by Chiew Lin May
Life is meant for great adventures and best friends!
Text by Chen Fang, 陳昉
Photos by Cheng Fang & Chiew Lin May
後記：在志工的兩周裡面有兩天休息日，其中一天先去了旁邊的紅毛猩猩中心，之後和同行的志工參加了fireflies trip，另一天到了Rainforest Discovery Centre看到很多很多從來沒看過的鳥或是動物，我相信喜歡大自然的人一定會很熱愛這裡的一切的!!
Text By Emily Tan Yu En
Photos By BSBCC & APE Malaysia
Hey everyone! I’m Emily Tan Yu En, 17 from Penang, Malaysia and I just graduated from high school. I am waiting for my SPM results and I have 3 months before entering university. I came across this volunteering programme as my parents got to know about it from Mr Wong. Even though I’m a Malaysian, I’ve never been to Sabah before and I was really excited about this programme. I am no stranger to sun bears as I saw one in a mini zoo in Peninsula Malaysia. There are two sun bears in that enclosure and you can tell from their facial expression that they’re not being treated well in the zoo. Their enclosure is really small and they only get contact with each other. That was the first experience with sun bears.
My volunteering programme starts from 5th of January until 18th of January and there are five more volunteers at that time but I’m the only one who has a two week placement. I’ve experience a lot of first experiences throughout the project. For my two weeks in the bear house, I get to clean the cages, work in the kitchen, do enrichments for the bears and also a lot of funny moments like getting stuck in the mud after collecting banana leaves , falling in the drain because of a flood , a piece of wood fell on my foot and a lot more. I also get to build a swing for the cub with my buddy, Brandon and Ieda. The volunteers from Ape Malaysia are really nice and I really had a great time with them. We played card games every night and we laughed a lot.
After finishing the two weeks volunteering time at BSBCC, I went back to Penang and soon returned to Sabah as a volunteer for as I missed it so much! Unlike January, this time there’s no other volunteer and I will be staying at the staff house ( Bjorn Hala ). I get to work in the kitchen for three weeks and also do some enrichment. I think I consider myself lucky because this time I get to work at the platform and also outreach to Lahad Datu. I get to know more about the hard work that all the staff have done for the bears and the efforts by the keepers in the bear house.
I’m really grateful that I get to work with all the staff and I am able to observe the sun bears at close quarters. They’re really cute and I’m still amazed by their size, behaviour and a lot more. I’m also really pleased that I was able to join the health check of Mamatai and Diana. I enjoyed outside feeding the most as I was able to have a closer look at the bears eating the fruit and I also get so lucky one time that I saw two bears climbing the same time.
I realised how important the staff in the centre are to the bears after working with them for 5 weeks. All the keepers treat the bears sincerely and they taught me a lot about sun bears. I appreciate all the efforts given by the staff and also all the knowledge about the bears. I also want to thank my housemates at Bjorn Hala for taking care of me and taking me everywhere around Sandakan. All the lame jokes from the keepers really help and thanks to all the keepers in the bear house for treating the bears so sincerely. I’ll sure miss the time working with all of the bears and the staff.
Video by Chiew Lin May
Bintang on her first day of arrival vs four years later.. She was rescued from an illegal house pet and was sent to the BSBCC on 15th July 2014.
Today, Bintang grows up learning to be a wild bear. It takes a lot of time and love for Bintang to forget her traumatic past.
We have two things that sun bears do not, which is the voice and freedom. Please use your voice to help them!