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!
Text by Ummu ‘Atiyyah Mohamed Talhah
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
My name is Ronnie, and this is my story of my life as a bear at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.
I am one of 45 bear residents at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. There’s two other Ronnies in the centre, so sometimes they may refer to me as “Ronnie Boy” in order to not get confused. Who’s the other two? Well, one of them is Ronnie girl. She must be cute. The other Ronnie is also a “Ronnie Boy” but he’s actually a well-grown man, not a bear, working in the centre.
Sometimes I see the staff staring at me and observing me. Some say that I’m handsome. Some say that I look like a pit bull. They say that I have beautiful blue eyes that can be seen when the sunlight hits them. What I know is that I’m handsome and I have a muscular body. Calling me cute would definitely offend me.
By now you must be asking yourself, “Why is Ronnie here and not in the forest?”. Well, I was kept in a small concrete floor cage together with a friend, Diana at a resort in Tawau. We were kept to be displayed to the resort’s visitors and the small cage was my “home” for years. Luckily for both of us, Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre rescued us in 2013 and I have been in good hands since then.
I was diagnosed with heart problem by the vet during my medical checkup. The centre has been taking extra care of my diet to ensure a healthy and balanced is provided to me. My favourite fruit is definitely bananas! During fruiting season they would provide us with local fruits, which I love! However, I don’t really enjoy pumpkin. I would leave it and only eat them when I’m really hungry later on. One time, one of them gave me a pill millipede, which I guess is a food source for us sun bears? It smelled funny. I squashed it, left it and don’t even bother to eat it since it doesn’t look tasty like a banana.
How do I spend my time? I love hanging around especially in my basket, like in the first picture. Unlike other bears that sleep in the basket, I would sit at the edge of the basket and balance myself by holding on to the wall with my long claws. I love chilling there and just enjoy watching the keepers. I would also watch them when they’re cleaning the cages next to mine, and sometimes I would follow the brush that’s cleaning the wall next to me. They smell funny.
Sometimes they would make special toys for me to play with during my free time. I am usually very focused on only one toy at a time. If I’m not done with an enrichment, I won’t be bothered by another enrichment. However, I will surely move on to the next enrichment when I’m done.
One time, I was given an Aussie dog ball. I love that toy! The ball was filled with my meal, porridge. I tried pouring the porridge like how I would do when drinking coconut water but I got startled when the porridge dripped on my body. Silly me! I tried many ways to get my porridge and finally found the best way for me which was to roll the ball, lick the porridge that poured out, roll, lick, and repeat until the ball was empty. Yummy!
Another enrichment they always give me is the nest ball. It’s a ball that looks like a nest made of weeds with a sweet surprise inside. Usually I’ll get bananas and some honey. Yum!
One day, I was given another Aussie dog ball. Inside, I saw a nest ball. Hmm this is tricky. I must get this! But wait, did my neighbour , Bermuda get the same thing? I climbed up my cage to peek at him and saw him totally focused on a similar ball like the one I got. I must get my treats before he does! Bermuda always thinks he’s a more macho guy than me.
I immediately went back to my ball and clawed my way into the hole of the ball to get the weeds out. By the first minute, a small nest ball came out. Turns out, the nest ball is three times smaller than the normal ones but there’s more inside the aussie dog ball. The next one was a little harder but by the fourth minute I managed to get it out and already devoured the second piece of banana. The last mini nest ball was out after five minutes and a half since I started. This enrichment was harder than usual which usually took less than a minute but good things don’t come easy!
I love almost all of the enrichments they give me because enrichment means more treats for me! However, I don’t really enjoy the termite mounds they give me. They kind of bore me. I got excited at first, scratched it a bit then leave it. I only really destroy it during the night when I got bored.
The toys they give me really help to get rid of my boredom. The toys give me something to focus on so I won’t get easily stressed out.
By now you must have another question, “Why hasn’t Ronnie been released back to the forest?”. Well, there are a few criteria in order to be a good release candidate but for now, I haven’t fully met the criteria. I am still thankful to everyone in the centre that made sure me and my friends (Bermuda included) are in the best possible environment for now. In my dreams, I am running and climbing all the tress with yummy fruits high up in the tree.
Thank you everyone who is reading my story about my journey and thank you for contributing in any small way you can, to ensure a happy life for my friends and I in the centre.
Video by Chiew Lin May
"Who does not love ice-cream?!"
During the hot day, one way to keep the sun bear stay cool is with the tasty fruits ice block treats!
A perfect gift to rescued sun bear will support the ongoing care, treatment and tasty fruits. Check out on our website at www.bsbcc.org.my
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
On the 2nd of March 2017, a sun bear cub was handed over to the Sabah Wildlife Department named BJ. He was found after being purchased in Sonsogon village, Pitas, and was sold for the price of RM 300 and then was kept as a pet. He arrived at BSBCC on the 22nd of November, 2018. He is a two year old, sub adult male bear weighing 32.20kg.
After living alone in a cage, BJ was finally free from trauma and now has made some friends for the first time in his life. On the 14th of December 2018, BJ was integrated into a larger social group of female bears – Kina, Sika, Soo and Diana, who would help him adjust to his new life and learn how to be a bear again!
Here we can see how the introduction went:
As soon as BJ saw his new friends, he stood up on his hind legs, began sniffing and pawing them to start play fighting! They showed their strong canines and sharp claws!
He was such a handsome and kind bear towards the group. It is good to know that he is welcomed by them and they also rely on each other for comfort, protection and love. Although sun bears are by nature solitary animals in the wild, the bond between a mother and her cub is strong during the time they are together. During the integration, sun bears can learn from each other as they communicate and play together.
BJ has proven himself to be a friendly bear. He also smiles which shows a few wrinkles on his face.
It is great that BJ has accepted this wonderful new friendship. Kina and Sika are BJ’s bear play friends.
Sometimes, BJ wants to play with Soo and Diana, but both of the female bears seem to ignore him. Once BJ started sharing the large dens with the other female bears, he immediately began exploring. He has found the simple pleasure of good friends. He is a happy go lucky bear who loves running around the dens and convinces the others to play with him by sniffing or pulling them. He is always filled with curiosity and enjoys exploring the enrichment around the dens.
They spend their days wandering around the dens, digging up the dead wood, climbing on the structural enrichment and sharing their toys. They are doing things together and seem to enjoy each other’s company.
For the rest of their first week together, there was no aggression found and they were accepting of each other as it did not take too long for them to become social. Now he has four lovely female bears to keep him company. It was a delight to see him grow into a healthy and loving bear where he could truly be himself.
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!