Text By Lydia Wheelers
Photos By Chiew Lin May
Hi, my name is Lydia and I come from the UK. I currently do volunteering at my local wildlife park but have always been interested in helping other animals. After watching many programmes on Borneo’s wildlife and doing research into one of my favourite animals, my heart was set on the Sunbears and suddenly my time was here to help these gorgeous animals.
The first thing I noticed was the humidity and instantly started sweating! The weather is A LOT warmer than in the UK. Volunteering in the bear house was hard work but seeing the bears on a daily basis and learning the different characters of each one made it so much fun. We soon got into a routine of cleaning the cages, preparing the food like professional chefs, feeding the bears and creating enrichments to help stimulate them and make it as similar as possible to being in the wild. Enrichment is very important for these little guys and girls, an example of this was smearing peanut butter on sticks for them to tear apart and lick with their incredibly long tongue! We even got to help create a platform for the bears to climb on and have shelter in the pen. Knowing I have been a part of creating something useful for the bears is such a good feeling.
I was lucky enough to go on two medical checks with Dr Yeoh Boon Nie who cleaned and polished their teeth. The bears also had a physical examination, blood samples taken and even one had their nails clipped. Getting to see the bears up close was surreal but it was truly amazing to be able to assist with making sure they were fit and healthy.
We were lucky enough to have a weekly talk with Dr Wong Siew Te. This was one of the highlights of the trip as we got to talk about any questions we had. Dr Wong is a very down to earth person and I was at ease straight away. He has so much knowledge to share so I learnt an awful lot in this session. His passion for animals was very infectious and has only made my love for these animals grow.
My buddy Adrian and Sumira were always around to help when I needed it and made my experience a lot easier. A MASSIVE thank you to the staff, Paganakan Dii and all the other volunteers for making my first time in Borneo two weeks I’ll never forget!
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Huge Thanks to Anton Ngui for the generous donation of rambutan fruits to help the rescued sun bears. These enrichment rambutan branches treat makes the bears cherished. They love this surprise moment!
Thank you for your support again, Anton!
Please continue to support us by adopting, donating, spread the word or buy a gift of love https://www.bsbcc.org.my/adopt.html
The month of August meant the start of the volunteering experience for six new volunteers and the start of an easier two week for the keepers who now had 6 pairs of eager hands to help them with everything and anything. The first week started with lots of paperwork and some briefs before the volunteers got to pick their t-shirts for the next two weeks, wearing BSBCC and APE Malaysia shirts ensured everyone can be identified as a member of staff and prevents people misunderstanding why we are closer to the bears than they are. It is also pretty fun picking out which t-shirt you want.
The next day we were straight into the bear house – the place the bears are kept overnight or if they are poorly or in quarantine – and straight into shovelling poop. With the amount the bears eat, the cages need cleaning every morning and as the simplest job, it’s the one you begin with (after a demonstration first, of course). The first week consisted of a lot of cage cleaning and food preparation. The bears get fed four times a day with various different fruit and veg, designed to mimic as closely as possible what they would find in the wild, but with 43 bears it means a lot of chopping up. As one volunteer commented, ‘I’ve spent three hours chopping pumpkin and the ungrateful creatures haven’t even bothered eating it.’ It was fairly obvious after a couple of days that the Sun Bears’ favourite food is anything sweet; they definitely earn their nickname of Honey Bear.
The afternoons were a bit different and involved a bit more creative thought. The majority of the bears sleep inside their cages at night and to stop them getting stressed, they need activities to do before they fall asleep – think the bear version of the games on your phone. This is called enrichment and can be anything you can think of that will keep the bears busy and allow them to develop useful skills for when they are released. The Sun Bears’ best sense is their nose so we sometimes collected sticks to create bundles or plants to make into packets or banana leaves but we would always fill the bundle with something that smelled delicious, a particular favourite seemed to be peanut butter. We also went out to collect them coconuts and some of use even tried to limb the coconut tree just like one of the keepers, albeit much less successfully. Another good way to keep the sick bears entertained was to smear peanut butter on the tyres in their cages and watch them use all their muscles and their extremely long tongue to get it out. We even helped to build a platform in Romolina and Joe’s enclosure to give them somewhere to rest when it gets too hot in the day as their enclosure simply doesn’t have enough shade. Whilst hard work, building a platform was one of the most satisfying tasks because we knew it would be enhancing a bear’s life for a very long time.
As the second week began, everyone was a bit more comfortable with what needed to be done and was able to get it done a bit faster each day. Most of us could even weigh the bananas out without scales having done it so many times. But familiarity is good, it meant that we were starting to understand how to properly look after the bears. It also meant that we had the time to create our own ideas for how to improve the cages for the bears so we went out to the forest to source a log that we could turn into a play area for Amaco to encourage her to stand up and climb.
On top of the daily enrichment, feeding and husbandry tasks, we were also lucky enough to all get to help out with a health check on a bear and most of us helped with at least two, taking the temperature, pulse and heart rate whilst the vet checked the bear over and cleaning its teeth. It was such a privilege to get so close to such a beautiful animal and I finally got to answer my question about the feel of the fur (spoiler: like a coarse dog).
Unsure of what exactly to expect, the volunteering experience at BSBCC consistently exceeded my expectations. The staff who work with the bears truly want what is best for both the bears and their country and are constantly striving to release the bears into the wild as well as educate enough people about the dangers of deforestation and poaching. On top of their core tasks, they make the time to work with the volunteers to make sure they experience all the different aspects of the centre and are enjoying themselves. It was the staff and other volunteers that made the experience so special and I would recommend it to anyone who was thinking about it. Thank you for your time and expertise BSBCC and thank you for having us.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Due to the limited trees in one of our forest enclosures, we plan to construct a new platform structure to give the bears a cool, shady place during hot summer days. The platform structure will be a favourite for the sun bears, being the site for snoozes, foraging and wrestles. Through this platform structure, the bears will have enough space and the freedom to do as they please.
The team will focus on designing and carrying the iron wood (hardest wood), building the foundation, mixing cement, chiselling, sawing and hammering…plus some digging! It is brilliant and fun for everyone who takes part!
Despite the hot weather, they did a great job. They showed a value for teamwork and a strong sense of humour. When the construction was finished, staff and volunteers added on some enrichment –like dead wood, and a climbing structure so that the sun bears have plenty of opportunities to exercise - it encourages their natural behaviour and stimulates their body and mind. The sun bears can continue exploring and make as much mess as they like!
The vital work, which has changed BSBCC’s sun bears lives, was made possible by volunteer donations and the effort of numerous compassionate volunteers from around the world. Thank you to all your support, it really does make a difference and BSBCC could not have achieved this without your help.
Text by Megan Katie Noblett
Photos by Megan Katie Noblett & Chiew Lin May
There are three things you need to know about Borneo before you volunteer with BSBCC. It is hot. It is humid. There are a lot of bugs. As someone best suited to the cold and who can barely cope with a British summer and has a deep dislike bordering on phobia of things that have too many legs (aka anything more than six) I did actually get asked the question by my mother why on Earth I was going to a place so hot, so humid and full of creepy crawlies that literally set my skin crawling; the answer – the bears.
I am a zoology graduate and also earned a masters degree in Anthrozoology (the study of human-animal interaction) and was fortunate enough to conduct my research project on Moon bears in China. Even before this, bears have fascinated me and it is on my bucket list to work with each of the eight species or at the very least see them in their natural habitat. But I didn’t want to volunteer with BSBCC just to tick a species off my list but because I was deeply impressed with the vital work Dr. Wong and his team are doing. I have followed the organisation for a few years and finally had the time to take the 16 hour plane ride to Borneo to work with BSBCC and see the Sun bears.
Upon arrival I was met with the heat, the humidity and the bugs (so many bugs) but I quickly forgot them and even embraced them as I was set to work cleaning cages, preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner for 43 bears (they each eat 5kg of food a day so as you can imagine, there is A LOT of food), doing fence checks, helping with public education and making enrichment.
Enrichment was definitely the most enjoyable part of being in the bears houses. Making nest balls (peanut butter, bananas, apples and spices wrapped up in a nest of twigs and leaves), hosepipe honeycombs (fake beehives made from old fire-hoses stuffed with peanut butter, bananas, apples and spices) Sun bear burgers (two egg cartons strapped together around leaves with – you guessed it – peanut butter, bananas, apples and spices) and giant ice pops made from fruits and veg for the Sun bears to enjoy on a hot day. We spent hours carefully crafting these items to watch the bears rip them into pieces a matter of seconds. However, it was most certainly worth all the hard work to see the enjoyment the bears got from seeking out the sweet treats.
The highlight of the trip was working with one particular bear, Sigalung. Being kept illegally as a pet since cubhood until his rescue in 2014, Sigalung was a little afraid to step out of his indoor den into the forest enclosure and I was tasked with trying to get him to go outside and observing him as he did. We laid food and yummy treats like peanut butter and honey to appease his sweet tooth and day by day we moved the treats further down the platform and the steps leading to the enclosure. The first day I observed him, I could clearly see how tense and even frightened he was. He would stretch out as far as he could whilst still keeping his back two paws in doors to reach his food. He would make a quick grab of the food and took it inside so he would have to exposed more than necessary. At one point a butterfly flew at him and he startled so badly he ran back inside. We persevered and each day Sigalung became braver and braver (I think the peanut butter helped a lot) until he was walking out onto the platforms as soon as the doors opened and even ate outside. It was wonderful to see how this bear was overcoming his fears and I hope he will progress further until he can enjoy the forest enclosure with his bear friends.
It was my first time in Borneo and stayed on my own there for a month, but never felt lonely. The keepers and all the staff at BSBCC and APE Malaysia along with my fellow volunteers are wonderful friendly people who are quick to welcome you to the Sun bear family. They have really looked after me, making me laugh and patiently answered all my questions (mainly, ‘which bear is that again?’).
Sabah is a truly gorgeous place. Not only did I get see one of my favourite animals up close but I was surrounded by the beauty of Borneo and all the magnificent creatures that call it home. Geckos, Sunbirds, Flying lemur, Monitor lizards, Giant flying squirrels, baby Macaques, Giant fruit bats, Pygmy squirrels, a whole host of butterflies and dragonflies were only some of the many animals I was able to see in the wild just by looking around the centre and my accommodation. The experience has been truly magical and something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I am a tutor of Animal Management at a FE college back in England, teaching 16 – 19 year olds all about animal biology, husbandry and conservation. It is the type of experience I have had at BSBCC that I can use to encourage my students and inspire them in their own careers in the wildlife and conservation sector. I would encourage anyone to volunteer with BSBCC; even with the heat, the humidity and, yes, the bugs – the bears are so worth it and I will miss them all a lot.
Text By 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.
Video by Chiew Lin May
Orphaned and kept as an illegal pet- one-year-old, Little Romolina needs endless love and care.
Let's see what happens when she has a "Hanging Spectacle Tyre"!
Text by Natalie Lian Qian Wei (Intern Student, University Science Malaysia)
Photos by Natalie Lian Qian Wei & Chiew Lin May
Enrichment come in the forms of toys or treats for animals. Although it may look like something insignificant, this is not true at all! Enrichment are especially vital for bears that were previously kept as pets and were rescued, as these bears were unable to learn essential survival skills. Enrichment encourage them to exhibit natural bear behaviours, such as climbing, foraging, and digging.
In BSBCC, there are five types of enrichment which are enclosure enrichment, foraging enrichment, sensory enrichment, novel objects, and social enrichment.
Enclosure enrichment are structures that allow for activities such as climbing and resting. In BSBCC, these enrichment are made of materials such as tyres, firehoses, and woods.
Foraging enrichment are food-based enrichment that help to enhance the bears’ foraging skills. Fruits and spice powder can be wrapped in plant materials such as ginger leaves or wrapped in cardboard papers. Peanut butter can be smeared between a few attached sticks.
Sensory enrichment help to sharpen the senses of bears, such as gustation and olfaction
Novel object enrichment provide bears with the opportunity to explore and play with new items.
Social enrichment encourages social interaction between bears. It is good to have friends!
Enrichment are very important as they help to reduce boredom and stress. When the bears are bored or stressed, pacing can be observed and the bears will move in a stereotypic motion. Enrichment can help to keep them occupied and contented.
New ideas of enrichment are always welcomed! Yet, bear in mind that there are also a few factors that need to be taken into consideration. An enrichment must always be safe for the bears, thus we need to avoid sharp objects and toxic plants. To make an enrichment, we must also first observe the behaviour of the bears, so that we know what is suitable for them. For example, wood can be given to bears that have long claws, to encourage them to dig and at the same time help to wear down their claws.
I believe satisfaction can be felt when the bears enjoy the enrichment that we made for them, not forgetting to mention that they look so cute when they are playing or eating! Preparing enrichment is actually a fun activity for the keepers and volunteers too.
Dear readers, I hope you will be able to get an idea of what enrichment are, thank you for reading!
Text by Priya Colville
Photos by Chiew Lin May
My name is Priya Colville and I am from Scotland in the UK. I had just finished studying animal collections with conservation when I started my two week volunteer placement at the centre. Having seen lots of documentaries about Borneo and its wildlife I knew that I wanted to volunteer and that it would help expand my knowledge of in-situ conservation work. After searching through the internet I came across the BSBCC, discovering the story of how it began and with the great reviews from other volunteers I knew it was somewhere I wanted to volunteer at.
Once I arrived I quickly realized the heat and humidity was something I had never experienced but luckily never struggled with that much throughout the two weeks. After arriving at the airport I was introduced to Mark from Ape and my dorm mate Celeste, both were incredibly friendly and easy to talk to, already making me feel at ease. I then met Sumira from Ape and some of the team at the centre to complete my induction before starting. The two weeks went very quickly but I enjoyed every second of it. Some of the best parts included being involved with the Oms annual vet check, learning more about the conservation strategies in Borneo from Dr Wong and the staff and being able to make and distribute the enrichment by collecting the dead logs filled with termites from the jungle, creating Sigalungs snack stick and the digiripipes and observing the bears interact with the enrichment such as Panda with the barrel the scared Amaco due to the noise.
Having decided to travel to Borneo for two weeks without knowing anyone and limited contact with people from back home I never felt lonely due to the incredibly friendly people including those at the BSBCC, from APE, from Paganakan Dii and Celeste. Everyone was so willing to help us enjoy ourselves and making sure we had no problems that there was nothing bad to say about the whole trip. I got to experience a conservation project in Borneo like I had wanted and in my off days explore other animal sanctuaries and see the diverse wildlife including the red leaf langurs at the Gomantong Caves that traveled above me in the canopies.
The whole trip is unforgettable and definitely something I would recommend to everyone and I can’t thank the staff enough for the fantastic time I have had including my buddy Brandon who helped me throughout my time at the BSBCC and always had a smile on his face no matter what. I hope to come back and experience it all over again. Termia kasih.
Text By Umadevi A/P Murrty
Photos By Umadevi A/P Murrty & Chiew Lin May
Hey there, I am Umadevi, a 20 years old from Perak. I am a second year Animal Health student at University Putra Malaysia Bintulu Campus.
How did I came here and What BSBCC has done in my life?
Being a nature lover that I would love to live amidst nature and care for the animals and wildlife have always been my peculiar interest and passion since I got into my studies. All I wanted to do was work with wild animals. I completely admire a position in BSBCC because I found something incredibly satisfying about acting in a way that is consistent with my principles. Many people who do voluntary work say that it has helped them to feel more confident in all sorts of ways and fun-filled days with the bears. This boosts my interest level up since I love to learn through hands-on experience. I felt good knowing that I’m doing something for a good cause. So, that’s how I got into here in BSBCC and it is probably the best decision I have ever made. It is my first time working with wild animal that listed as vulnerable species on IUCN Red List, THE SMALLEST BEAR IN THE WORLD-SUN BEAR. Doesn’t it sound so cool ? It’s getting a taste of what you want to do with the rest of your life. Unfortunately my time over here is going to end in a week.
The work here in bear house is heavy duty and it took a while for me to adapt to their hectic schedule. I must say that I’m just so amazed how the whole bear house is run. I believe looking after 43 bears with different behaviors is a huge task and yet the bear house still filled with jokes and laughter. I amazed to work with people who has a big heart for animals. Thanks to the people around me. My internship days typically involved cleaning the pens (oops, getting completely wet with water splashes), food preparation, feeding, checking the electric fences, assist health checks, making enrichments or physical jobs. I particularly enjoyed feeding the bears at the forest enclosure. It’s a great pleasure to watch them enjoying their food happily as well as splashing themselves with water from their water container.
Is that all? When I first came to bear house, I was terrified working in kitchen. I won’t lie, the first week of me being here is like a small kid that escaped from the hustle & bustle of city who doesn’t know anything about preparing food in kitchen. Believe me, I still break a sweat though. But, isn’t there a way that it can be done? What always kept me going was all the lovely bears as well as the cheerful staffs. In fact, things become even more fun as the days passed by.
I would say, creating enrichment for the bears is also very fun and adventure. Trekking into the jungle to find termite nests, collecting banana leaves, logs, sawing a bamboo, manual hand drilling for the first time, adding branches, logs and dry leaves to mimic a forest enclosure in the cage some of the merrymaking time in here. Designing and making a climbing, swinging structure for the three cubs- Romolina, Logan and Joe.
In addition to enriching the sun bears living conditions, I had learned about sun bears in the different stages of rehabilitation and the process of releasing them back into the wild.
On my 6th week here, we managed to construct a structure type enrichment for Kudat and I guess Kudat really loves it.
I was lucky enough to involved in an important part of the process- putting the electronic collar around Boboi, Kitud and Tan-Tan’s neck before release back in the wild. Furthermore, I was given an opportunity to observe Romolina, Joe and Logan’s integration process with another big group of bears. Watching them gets along with each other like watching ‘tom and jerry’ in tv- IT’S ADORABLE !!
ADRIAN DAMSHA, was my assigned buddy. Why his name sounds so weird? This is what was playing on my mind on the first day. Thank you Ady, guiding me and tolerating my childishness throughout my internship. (SABAR ITU INDAH haha). He always used to say that ‘You’re my responsibilty’ HATI-HATI. Sometimes, he reminds me about my elder brother who used to take care of me. 2 weeks prior to ending my internship, we started constructing a ram in training pen-G for Ronnie Boy. Actually, Ronnie had traumatized by the past life and don’t want to go down from the cage. Isn’t it better to make a change ? Aren’t you interested in seeing Ronnie in forest? So, we did managed to accomplished the mission of making a new ram in 2 days with the help of two strong boys of BSBCC-Mizuno and Nizam.
Not forgetting the staffs in BJORN HALA (inc Tylee Lim, Lin may)- bear house. A smile creeps on my face and I don’t know the reason. It’s the first time for me where I need to prepare my meals for myself for so many continuous days and yeah honestly, that’s what I do hate in my internship. This had been challenging but definitely one of the most memorable memories in my life! From zero knowledge of cooking to something better is unbelievable. So much of what is best in us is bound up as a family. The thought of meeting new people in a new place and trying to act mature in an environment I was not sure of scared me. But, after a week everything changed. Endless play fights, sharing moments, playing pirate barrels, chasing each other, lovely dogs- panda and milktea, watching the stars at night, a home that taught me to be more independent, hearing stories, learning from their journey and making memorable friendships. I love having this memories- all those days. Hmmm, I miss Bjorn Hala. I’m so sorry at times I acted childish and hyperactive (mostly all the time LOL). I’m sorry if so ‘ bipolar’ early mornings- but I wish I can overcome that. This family is pure and all I’m wishing is happiness, take care everyone.
Not to forget the educational team, for giving me a chance to visit two different schools around Sandakan for outreach programs. Outreach program plays a major role in raising awareness of conservation of sun bears among kids.
It’s the end of a unique adventure. I wanted to thank each one of you. Thank you Dr Wong for the sharing sessions and the delicious cook as well !
I came to BSBCC to make a contribution, and I feel I did, but the bear house contribution to me was even greater. My 10 weeks here feels overwhelming. As the days went by I started to feel completely at home in BSBCC. If this is what I love, then it will be worth it. The first path I took was the path of internships to help the bears to heal and grow in their natural habitat. Thank you so much for this rewarding experience and accepting me as a part of your team. Thank you everyone for enlightened my days at BSBCC. Do forgive me if there is any mistake that I’ve done unintentionally. But in the end it was time to say goodbye. Keep in touch, big bear hugs. LOTS OF LOVE, UMA.