Text by Nursyahidah Binti Hassim
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hola! My name is Nursyahidah Hassim. I am 25 years old and I am from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. I graduated in Conservation Biology from the University Malaysia Sabah back in 2016. Before volunteering here in BSBCC, I have been working on insects (especially on butterflies) while in university and when I was working at the Poring Butterfly Farm in Ranau. The reason why I came here to volunteer is that I really want to gain new experiences working with mammals. Since I already have experiences working with insects, I also want to experience and learn how to manage mammals. So, I thought that BSBCC is the perfect place for me to go!
On the 5th of Dec 2019, me and my friend, Yen Chi arrived at the BSBCC for our safety induction. We met Lin May (one of BSBCC officer that who is in charge with the volunteer programme) and had our safety induction in the staff room. After we had our safety induction, she showed us around the BSBCC area. We went to the bear house and met all the staff there. All the staff are very friendly and funny. Throughout the volunteer programme, I have gained tons of new experiences. My volunteer session lasted for 2 weeks. Every volunteer was assigned with their own respective buddy (Senior/Junior Keeper). The purpose of having a buddy is that our buddy is the one that will assist us in our work throughout the programme. I was assigned with a junior keeper named Roger. He was helpful, nice, funny and it was really fun working with him. He assisted me with all the works that had been given to me. During the volunteer programme, I have helped cleaning the bear cages, preparing food for the bears in the kitchen, feeding the bears outside (forest enclosure) and inside the bear house, assisted Roger in fence checking, doing integration between bears (between Linggam and Suzie, Kuamut, Jelita and Manis), helping Dr Boon counting bear respiratory rate and making bear enrichments. I also assisted Dr Boon with the bear health check. During the health check, I helped counting the respiratory rate and the heart beat of the bear. It was really fun participating in the bear health check session because I got to observe and feel the sun bear more closely. Moreover, I also got to see Dr Boon performed dental scaling on the bear’s teeth. Making enrichment is also one of the most fun activity to do. It was satisfying to see the bears playing with their enrichment so that they do not get bored inside their den. It was really interesting to see the bears using their long tongue to angle for the food (peanut butter/honey/dog biscuits/leaves) that had been stuffed inside the Aussie ball.
Being involved in this volunteer programme has opened my eyes for the importance of sun bears in our ecosystem. Sun bears search for honey in the forest by tearing up tree trunks that create nesting sites for birds, thus becoming the engineers of the woods. They also help to maintain the fertility of the soil implicitly while digging for invertebrate for snacks. I’m sad that poachers failed to see the value of sun bears in our ecosystem just for the sake of money. I want the world to see the importance of our little engineers in the wood as I did, and I highly recommend people to join this programme.
So, I would like to say thank you to BSBCC for giving me this amazing opportunity to be a part of the Centre as a volunteer. Good luck for the future and see you guys again soon. I miss you guys and the bears!
Text by Kam Kai Cheng
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hi, my name is Kam Kai Cheng from Ipoh, Perak and I am currently 22 years old pursuing a degree in Public Relations in Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman. It is my honor to serve as a volunteer in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre for two weeks. My reason for joining the voluntary program is to learn more about the Bornean Sun Bears and get step closer towards the nature in Sepilok rainforest. It was an overwhelming experience throughout the weeks in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre as I learned bear habits and their health conditions. Our daily routine in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is to clean the bear house in the conservation centre. The purpose of cleaning the cages is very important as it helps to ensure the bear can live comfortably and in good health. If cages are not properly cleaned, the bears may get unwanted diseases from the bacteria. All of the volunteers are assigned to a buddy which is an experienced keeper. My buddy was Jeniur which is from Kota Kinabalu and his nickname is BoBoii. He is very experienced in this field of work and he always likes to be funny around us. He taught me a lot of things throughout the weeks and it was an opportunity where I can learn from him.
Sometimes, we do get the chance to work in the kitchen, where we need to prepare the food for the bears. The task that we need to do in the kitchen is to ensure that all the bears will get the nutrients and diet they need. Besides that, sometimes we do have the opportunity to do fence checking and outside feedings. Fence checking and outside feeding was very thrilling as we need to walk into the jungle to finish our tasks. We need to make sure that all the fences are running well so that the sun bears can not escaped in to the wild. It is always adventurous to do a jungle walk where we will see monkeys hanging around and insects that we could never see in the city. During my volunteering, all of the bears in the Conservation Centre had a health check with the in house veterinary, so to ensure that all the bears are in good health.
Overall, I can say that the experience and knowledge I gained through the voluntary program will be unforgettable and memorable. It is not something that we can learn in a city or town but in the forest enclosure, the knowledge and experience we can get is unlimited. Therefore, I am glad that I had the chance to experience all these by volunteering myself in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.
Text by Ng Jie Min
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hi, I am Ng Jie Min from Bukit Mertajam, Pulau Pinang. I am currently 21 years old and studying Bachelor Of Communication (HONS) Public Relations in Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman,Kampar Campus. I do love nature and wildlife, so I decided to join BSBCC and serve as a volunteer in this semester break. This is my first time doing volunteering with wildlife and animals. In these two weeks, I learned a lot about the smallest bear in world, which is “Sun bear”. I also helped to clean their cages, feeding, prepare foods, make enrichment, and participated in their health check and did fence checking.
Thanks to have my buddy Pradeep, who introduced me to the sun bears. I now know that every sun bear has their own name and story behind them. In the food preparing sessions, it was complicated because every sun bear has their own food diet. Mostly we need to prepare a lot of fruits and vegetables for the bears, such as bananas, watermelons, papayas, pumpkins, cucumbers, mung beans, dog biscuits, bak choy, sweet potato and coconuts
Sometimes I also joined the keeper to fence check even though it is raining day. Yuckssss, it is muddy and leeches are everywhere! But I still try to face it because I know that this is a valuable lesson that I cannot get to learn in my life anywhere else. Making enrichment for sun bears is the session that I love the most. Enrichments can make those bears happier, exciting and reduce their stress. I did lot of enrichments including making Christmas present for them!
I was also assigned to observe some bears during their integrations. The most unforgettable moments was when Linggam, Susie and Kuamut love to play with each other. They keep pawing and hugging each other to show their love and kindness. I even got to join Ronnie Boy’s release attempt into Pen G in Day 10. I am happy with that because I saw improvement and hard work pays off.
I also was invited and join Dr. Boon Dental Health Check for the sun bears. BJ who is a male sun bear in the centre weighs 38kg. I helped to get its temperature every 5 minutes during the health check and helped it to clean his teeth. I gained new knowledge about sun bear’s teeth and it was fun to learn about their health. We also had a discussion session with Dr.Wong Siew Te who is the founder and CEO of Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. He shared with us his own story and how he met sun bears. He spends his whole life time taking care those wildlife animals. So the name “Sun bears PaPa” really matches him a lot!
One of the tasks that I really enjoyed it was having a communication session with the visitors who come over BSBCC. They ask a lot about the sun bear living style and environment. I have enjoyed this and could tell them what I actually learned here. I also shared with them the experiences of being a volunteer for two weeks’ time in the centre.
Every lunch time, I went to the nearest cafeteria to have lunch. The cafeteria was clean and the boss was friendly. Dinner is usually at the resort Paganakan Dii. The most favourite meal I love here is the lamb chop that cooked in the traditional Paganakan flavour. Yummy Yummy Yummy!
I am a person who is used to live and stay in city areas. So in these two weeks, I learned a lot about nature and got step closer to the nature. I was very happy here because all staff in the working area is so nice and friendly. I promise myself that if I get chance to come to Sandakan again, I will be back to BSBCC to serve as volunteer again. I felt peace of mind when I saw all the sun bears in a peaceful environment. Thanks again to Dr. Wong Siew Te and staffs for teaching me such valuable lessons about wildlife in the 2 weeks’ time.
Text by Ng Xin Hao
Photos by Chiew Lin May
I am Xin Hao , I am 17 years old and I am from Penang, Malaysia. I started my very first time volunteering for animals at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) in Sabah, Malaysia. Getting to know what a sun bear is and learning their behaviour was a very crazy and awesome experience.
The first thing I noticed at the bear house was the bear cage. The cage is very clean and does not have a bad and heavy smell. We soon get into the daily routine like cleaning the cages, preparing food for the bears, feeding the bears and creating enrichment for the bears to play. For me, I am creating a swing for Mamatai, the fattest bear in the bear house.
Before coming to Sabah, in Penang I rarely walked into the jungle. But at the BSBCC, every day we have to go into the jungle to have all the fences checked before letting the bears out of their cages. When it was my turn to go for the fence check, I try to escape from it because in the jungle there are leeches and I scared of them. But one day I been told to go into the jungle for 5 times, what a scary day that was for me. All the bear house staff were trying to bring me into the jungle.
Before getting to be a volunteer there was an interview with the staff at BSBCC to receive more information from us volunteers. When I was being interviewed, I always asked about getting physical contact with the bears. But the staff there told me there is no physical contact or touching the bears because the bears are given a second chance to be released back to the wild where they belong and we do not want the bears gets habituated.
After volunteering for 4 days, I was informed that I am going to assist in the medical check for the bears! And I was lucky enough to go on four medical checks with Dr. Yeoh Boon Nie. You could see Dr Yeoh is cleaning the bear’s teeth and taking blood sample from the bear.
We even have a chance to meet Dr Wong Siew Te himself. We asked him a lot of question about the sun bear, BSBCC and how he started before BSBCC. Dr Wong answered our question one by one with a story behind. A huge thank to all the staff, Paganakan Dii and other volunteers for making my first time experience in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre a great time.
Text by Lok Yen Chi
Photos by Lok Yen Chi & Chiew Lin May
My name is Yen Chi and I graduated from University of Malaysia Sabah in 2016 with a Bachelor in Conservation Biology. I was born and grew up here in Sandakan. Having a career out of conservation made me miss working in the field very, very much. That was the moment that I decided, maybe I should go volunteering, since I have sufficient holidays to do so. Plus, BSBCC was one of the places that I have never volunteered before. So, why not?
As much as I am fascinated by the sun bears here, I found the people here are even more fascinating. These people could have chosen careers that are way more comfortable than going into the forests looking for dropped collars, travelling long distances to rescue bears, dealing with wild, sometimes unpredictable animals, and working in challenging environment, but they did not.
Instead, they chose to help the helpless, easily exploited animals like the sun bears, who will not be able to return the favours. These are the people whose intentions are genuine, worth respecting and looking up to. Be it the officers, researchers, veterinarians, staff, senior or even junior keepers, whatever they do here is for the sake of the bears’ welfare and well-being. They go way beyond what is in the job scope just to make sure the smallest bears in the world get the rightful care and rehabilitation trainings. This has doubled my already deep respect towards the people in wildlife rehabilitation.
Another highlight of my volunteering here is to see how the once scared-of-forests Ronnie Boy taking his first steps to go back to the wild. It was the sixth day of fence training when I first observed him, where he barely even dared to stick out his nose to sniff the air outside. However, at the time of me writing this, he is already brave enough to approach the entrance to the forest enclosure, stay there to look and sniff around without getting scared easily.
I am also very glad that they allowed us to help a team from UMS to check the mist and harp traps for their medical researches. To be honest, entering the forest at night was not my favourite thing to do but after this opportunity, I guess it is not as bad as I thought.
Last but not least, though it is a bit cliché, I need to express my gratitude towards Bithrenley, my buddy keeper. I am very honoured to be your first buddy in your bear-keeping career. Hopefully the bears will love the Beary Tunnel we made (Idea courtesy of Bit). Thank you too to Dr. Wong, Dr. Boon, Lin May, Thye Lim and Pradeep for constantly teaching me about sun bear conservations. To the other keepers, Jeniur, Roger, Adneen, Adrian, David, Danny, and Mizuno, thank you for sharing your amazing stories, laughter and skills with me. Of course, not to be forgotten, my friend, Nursyahidah Hassim for coming all the way from Kota Kinabalu to volunteer with me this time.
Lots of Beary Love,
Dear Santa 🎅,
We have been a good bear all year!
We are doing well and practicing our survival skills and to be a wild bear.
It is the season holiday of the year to make our wishes come true!
This Christmas, buy them a gift including delicious fruits, hammocks, honey pots, enrichment toys, medication and protect sun bears from extinction!to edit.
Text by Nithisha Nair
Photos by BSBCC & Chiew Lin May
One in a million- Om is an adult male bear at the age of 14 years old, who currently resides in the second bear house and spends his time under the daylight in Pen G. He is considered to be one of the ‘originals’; the earlier bears who claimed their spots in our centre. He arrived at BSBCC when he was 5 months old on the 4th of August 2005, after being found at a plantation spot in Telupid. As his rescue was well before many, the reason for his confiscation or rescue is unknown and not under record. Aside from losing his left fore claw, he arrived in a healthy condition.
Om had been in quarantine for a lengthy period of over four years, until he was eventually transferred to the new bear house on the 7th of July in 2010. His transfer included a physical health check upon arrival at the new bear house where he showed optimum health!
Om was integrated with a bear named Ah Chong, another male bear, on the 10th of April 2010, they both went through fence training the next day together. Ah Chong was the only bear that Om has ever and will ever be integrated with, as Om is a dominant male bear. Any integration attempts at this age with another male will result in fights, therefore Om is now spending his days solitarily in BSBCC since the death of Ah Chong in February, 2011.
Once they were deemed to have passed the fence training, they were both released to Pen D together. This marked their first steps in the forest since their arrival.
Long after the death of Ah Chong, Om was released to Pen G in February, 2016. This is now considered Om’s pen as it is where he has resided up till this date.
Om is a bear who loves his enrichments, and adores his food, he may be a vicious bear, but to me, he is nothing short of independent and well behaved.
Sun bears, being a part of the wildlife, require exposure to the forest and have their very own survival instincts, regardless of if they were raised in captivity or if they spent every minute out in the wild. Thus, keeping them as pets would not only bring harm to the bear’s physical health, but would also harm the owner as well, once the bear starts to develop their own natural instincts.
When sun bears are kept as pets, they lose the part of them that is needed to survive once they live in the wild. Often, bears that are rescued from being kept as pets completely lose the ability to be released back into the wild. They either lose important survival instinct characteristics or are often disfigured in terms of being declawed to ensure the health of their ‘owners’. Their claws are extremely valuable to their survival; thus, the lack of these things prevents them from being released as their chances of survival are severely reduced.
I would like to end this by saying that the bears are a part of our ecosystem, a part of wildlife and a part of the forest. Let’s do our part by ensuring they remain that way.
Video by Chiew Lin May
Sun bears live in the tropical rainforest of Southeast Asia.
Here Joe, Logan, and Romolina enjoy exploring in the forest- they loved it!
"Where are your favorite places to explore?"
Text by Alicia Paula
Photos by Chiew Lin May
This is my third time in a row for the past 3 years of volunteering in BSBCC, things are ever-changing, and I am experiencing a lot of new things. One of the new things is the new Platform 2. In 2018, heavy rain and strong wind blew down few big trees and Platform 2 was severely damaged by the fallen trees. When I came back this year and went to BSBCC for the safety induction, I instantly went up to the new Platform 2 to check it out, and it looked pretty good! The other new thing that I noticed, are the number of new staffs that have joined the BSBCC family. Having more bear-keepers certainly helps especially in Bear House 1, outside feeding and kitchen tasks. Talking about tasks, the new bear diet and the list of food distribution among 15 pens, definitely made me take a few steps back…LITERALLY! The ‘Food Quantity’ table is huge, with four feedings in total. Their diets are categorized into fruits, leafy vegetables, starchy vegetables and others (dog biscuit). The food distribution now is more detailed and more complex than before, all differently accommodating to the bear’s nutritional needs. Amaco and Wan-Wan have their own tray of soft foods, only a handful of bears gets porridge and some of them gets cooked chicken, while the rest of the bears get fruits, veggies, and sprouted mung bean. The task to distribute the fruits into 15 buckets is quite confusing at first, but with the help of my buddy, Mizuno, I managed to get a hang of it in just a couple of days. Making and distributing enrichments such as ice block, roll-treat, and egg carton are always a getaway to have a chit-chat with the staffs and volunteers together.
Me and my buddy Mizuno, also made an enrichment for Panda and Chin to play with. We made an enrichment called ‘Rolling Log’, by propping up two inverted ‘V’s and shoving a long metal bar through the log. Placing the log with the metal bar onto the inverted ‘V’, to make it turn when it is clawed and rolled by the bears. Me and Mizuno smeared some peanut butter onto the log, so the bears could use their strong long claws to roll the log. Surprisingly, both bears completely demolished the log off the metal bar in less than 3 days. I figured it’s because the trunk of the log was wet through and could easily fall apart.
Other than duties in the bear house, I was given the chance to participate in bear health checks along with Dr. Boon, Lin May, and Pradeep. It was my first time assisting in the health check, so I took my time to observe the procedures to carry out the health check. I was first assigned with taking and writing down the temperature of the bear every five minutes and was told to notify them when the temperature has any drastic changes. Lin May wanted me to learn how to use the stethoscope to count the bear’s heartbeat. It was really hard to find the heartbeat’s rhythm, and I gave up after some time. Pradeep and Lin May assured me that it is challenging to pinpoint the bear’s heartbeat, in a room filled with beeping sounds and the sounds of the small polishing machine on the bear’s tooth. After that, I returned the stethoscope to Pradeep, and continued to take temperature from the bear.
I also got the chance to join Dr. Boon, to assist her in neutering some cats and dogs in SPCA Sandakan. I joined her twice, first time is with Dr. Boon and Andy, second time was with Nithisha. We mainly helped her with passing the tools and preparing medications, while she did the neutering surgery on the cats and dogs. Observing the procedure was definitely not for the weak stomach. After injecting the anaesthetics, some of the cats threw up. The neutering also involved stitching, and being very generous with the alcohol solution as a disinfectant.
Another thing that I noticed, is when all the BSBCC staffs brought their own food container to eat for lunch. On my first day of volunteering, I had to go and grab lunch at the cafeteria because I did not prepare any food for lunch to be kept in my container. On the next day, I slowly started to make a commitment to cook for lunch, its either I cook the night before or wake up early the next day to prepare it early in the morning. Me not being a morning person, I prepared my lunch the night before. Another method of packing lunch is when eating out for dinner. Every time Thye Lim and Lin May went out for dinner together with the Bjorn Hala family, they would always bring a basket with their food containers inside. When ordering, they would also order food for lunch to be eaten the next day, and they would also ask the hawker to pack the food into the container, instead of using plastic or styrofoam container. Other staffs also brought their own container to pack their lunch, whenever they feel a little lazy to cook it. After seeing that, I got inspired of how they are contributing their efforts to reducing plastic waste in everyday doings. The next dinner that we had together, I brought my own container as well. Knowing that my lunch from the restaurant is not plastic or styrofoam packaged, made me feel really good. Even though my actions are small, it is better than no contribution at all.
~ Self-reflection ~
Coming back to BSBCC to volunteer for the third time, allows me to comeback to myself after a year of continuing my studies. I am a person that really loves outdoor adventures and always having craving to enjoy what the Earth provides. Having my hands and eyes on my laptop and my phone for most of the time, is really straining to the eyes and not really a good way to replace free time with electronics.
Volunteering in BSBCC does not only gets me distracted from my phone, but also helped me to build some muscle strength and stay in shape. I could carry a bag of sweet potato in each hand, carrying it up from outside the bear house and walking all the way up to the kitchen, without dropping or dragging the bag on the floor. Volunteering in BSBCC also teaches me about not being afraid with our common invertebrate visitors, such as the Pill-millipede and the Tractor-millipede. With some help, I managed to gain confidence to let these cute and harmless invertebrates to crawl onto my hand. It definitely tickles at first, but soon got used to it.
Along with the friendly and easy-going staffs of BSBCC, really made the experience more worthwhile. Random laughing moments everywhere I go, even at the simplest things. The day never goes by without something to talk or to laugh about. For some examples, Kala is still being sensitive and does not want to return into her night den, one of the staff found a blood python near Quarantine area, young macaques managed to come into the bear house and stole a lot of dog biscuits, a free-roaming Orangutan chilling on top of the training pens of Bear House 2, and many more. What is there to regret when gaining volunteering experience in BSBCC, nothing!
Text by Nithisha Nair
Photos by Nithisha Nair & Chiew Lin May
After only a week after my internship, I decided it wouldn’t be the last time I’ll be in BSBCC, I got my money saved and bought my tickets almost immediately, and once finals were over, thus began my two weeks volunteering in BSBCC.
I’m Nithisha, a 20-year-old from Selangor, and I am obsessed with this place.
I’m not exaggerating when I say this environment feels a lot like ‘home away from home’, I’ve missed all the familiar faces, whether it be the staff, the bears or even the dogs back in Bjorn Hala. Even more so now with the addition of new friendly faces like Bithrenley and Danny.
As an intern, the schedules and procedures- especially for feeding, were systematically always changing over the period of my internship. So, coming back after over 4 months, there were plenty of obvious changes for me to catch up to.
It’s always interesting coming to understand why the diet is shaped a certain way or why they do certain things around here. This time around, the bear house team even got the chance to sit through a dental lecture with Dr. Boon to understand the dental checks that she carries out on the bears, and hopefully will be able to carry out on the bears annually. It was really fun understanding and counting up the canines and the molars of the bears.
My favourite part of our bear house duties has always been feeding, I love seeing every bear’s different ways of foraging and eating.
Not to mention all of the enrichments we make on the daily to occupy and keep our bears happy, new enrichments that I got to make this time included the happy sack and a ‘frozen salad’ ice block
I even got to assist in making a divider between two training pens to allow two male bears to be able to venture out at the same time without engaging in a growling match. Making the divider involved cutting zinc into perfectly sized measurements, painting them and attaching them in between two training pens.
During my volunteering, I received the pleasure of getting Boboi (Jeniur Justin) as my buddy, he’s a pleasure to be around and will never leave you in any state but happy. Thank you for guiding me and letting me tag along these two weeks boboi, your efforts goes a long way of imprinting itself in my memories.
To summarize my two weeks volunteering, it was wonderful. I even got to know Alicia and Amanda who were both also return volunteer/ interns just like me! Every single staff played a huge role in making my stay special and memorable, I don’t always admit it but they are who I’ll miss the most leaving this place. A million thank you’s and a million more wouldn’t be enough to describe how thankful I have to have gotten a chance to do my internship here and now volunteer here.
When the time and place is right, I truly hope to be able to come back and volunteer again someday, till then,