Text & Photos by Lee Min Yi
Living in a biodiversity hotspot named Malaysia, do we really know how many things we have taken for granted all this while? Let’s have a quick test: When you come across the word “bear”, what is the first image that appears in your mind? Most probably it is a polar bear, a grizzly bear or teddy bear. Before I heard about this internship experience from my senior, I was not aware that the Bornean sun bear exists in Malaysia, the bear who knows how to climb trees and build nests.
My journey starts with 4 extremely active puppies in Björn Hala, who welcomed me with their utmost excitement and wagging tails. I still remember my first impression of the wooden house,standing alone under a dark sky, looking a tiny bit scary for a newcomer. It turned out to be the place that I missed the most after my internship ended, a room where I can sleep soundly, surrounded by the sound of nature. You will never get bored living in the house, even just walking around the house or looking through the window while washing the dishes, you can meet plenty of new friends :- puppies, cats, chickens and trees! As a person who has lived her whole life in the Peninsular of Malaysia, I have come across lots of new things here, from sunrise to sunset, from food to people, from animals to plants. I still see the same level of authenticity flourish in every single one of them.
“So hey, how was your first day of work?” Well, the routine of work in the bear house is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and definitely requires a high amount of energy to accomplish the tasks and a clear coordination within the team is essential to get all the tasks done on time. My key takeaway from this routine is to make sure you complete what you have started that day so that you can start the next day smoothly. Although only here for a month, I have tried not to take things in an autopilot mode, but to improve bit by bit on a daily basis, familiarising myself with each process and the purpose of it = for the welfare of the bears. When you focus more on things bigger than yourself, you will find joy and satisfaction from the smallest task you do everyday.
I have also gained the knowledge and understanding towards wildlife conservation, especially the Bornean sun bears in Malaysia, from the job opportunities I can explore, to the challenges of making progress one step at a time. Some of the rescued sun bears in the centre have their own trauma, which in a way has disabled their natural instinct for foraging for food and mating. Despite the bears’ fitness to return to the wild, we are still not confident how long they could survive while poaching is still happening in Malaysia. However, when we take a closer look into what is behind poaching, more social issues such as poverty and quality education are revealed. When everything seems interconnected, people tend to close their eyes and ears as it seems too big to be solved in one day. It is undeniably a long and tough marathon which will not come to an end. That’s what makes all the baby steps matter :- start sharing knowledge with your immediate circle about sun bears. Only when more people have the common awareness of the importance to protect their wildlife can more action be initiated.
Thank you to every single person I have met on this journey:-
Pradeep who has welcomed me on my first day of arrival after a long day of work and your openness in sharing your experience.
Wahwah who has been guiding us the whole time, explaining everything you know about sunbears to us patiently & passionately.
My buddy David who guided me whole-heartedly and shared all the moments you have had throughout your working life.
Lin May & Thye Lim who are always approachable, willing to listen to all my thoughts & to discuss them openly.
Roger & Adneen who care about your learnings and well-being throughout the journey & who never tired of creating annoying moments!!
Dr. Wong who spared his precious time to answer all our questions and to show us around.
Dr. Boon for sharing her knowledge & experience in treating wild animals.
All the housemates in Björn Hala, Mizuno, Becca & Danny who make the house lively with conversations, food, humours and melodies.
My roomie, Jenny who makes my whole journey filled with laughter, adventures and fun.
To anyone who loves nature and animals, come to BSBCC as a volunteer to create your own story.
To all Malaysians, come and visit the BSBCC whenever you can and appreciate what we have in our land.
Video Link: https://youtu.be/9t5OLBKvao
Text by Jenny Wong Jenn Ney
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Min Yi and I from the Universiti Sains Malaysia were some of the first volunteers at the BSBCC. Our volunteer programme was cut short from 8 weeks to just a little over 5 weeks (30 days). It might be a brief amount of time to achieve anything.
What can you do in 30 days?
You could be a bear housekeeper who cleans the bear house, sweeping up enormous bear scats so that every cute little bear can have a pleasant place to sleep for the night.
You could be an engineer or architect who designs and builds some hammocks, treats or your own project, as enrichment so that every bear can have a little fun and would not feel left out in their own dens.
You could be a chef who helps cutting pumpkins, sweet potatoes, watermelons and papayas into suitable shapes so that every bear can gorge themselves on their kind of Michelin-star food.
You could be an expert in Bear Etiquette who knows their behaviours and biology including what to do and what not to do for their well-being.
You could be a nurse who helps with the medical examination of a bear, checking their wounds, pulse, teeth, X-ray and even taking “pawprints” to monitor the general health of bears.
You could be an Animal Behaviourist (which is actually my favourite!) who closely observes and monitors every single movement of bears in a controlled environment, so that the data can be used to determine if the bears can get along with one another.
You could be a bookworm who immerses herself in the story of a man’s quest to save Bornean sun bears, Dr. Wong Siew Te the founder of BSBCC from the book “Saving Sun Bears” written by award-winning author Sarah Pye.
Most importantly, you could be an advocate to benefit and help wildlife conservationists for Bornean sun bears, the world’s smallest bears, whose lives may be on the brink of extinction in the next decades due to poaching, illegal pet trade and deforestation.
Text & Photos by Laurelle Cassandra Rooney
Hello there! I am Laurelle Cassandra Rooney, a 21 year old from Tawau, Sabah. I am a second year Zoology student at University of Malaysia Sarawak.
Why did I choose BSBCC and what have I learnt from doing my internship here for the last 10 weeks?
Being an animal lover, I’ve always dreamt about working with animals not only with domestic animals but the wildlife as well. My passion grew bigger as I grew up and I heard of a conservation centre which is the BSBCC. I ended up doing my internship at the BSBCC and it turned out to be the best decision I have ever made. It iwas my first time working with these wild animals and I got to experience hands-on activities with the sun bears. While doing my internship here, I learned that the sun bears are listed as a vulnerable species in the IUCN Red List and they are the world’s smallest bear species.
When I first arrived, I was amazed at how the whole bear house runs with the bear keepers. My daily work routine consisted of cleaning the cages, food preparation, feeding the bear inside the house as well as around the forest enclosures, making enrichments, fence checking and assists in health checks. Personally, my favourite part of the day is making enrichments for the bears. Watching the sun bears eat can also make your day.
We treked into the jungle to find logs and sticks. I manually drilled for the first time in my life, collected banana and dry leaves and logs which we used to mimic the environment of being in a forest enclosure. I had the opportunity to design and make some hanging platforms for the bears to rest and play on. I also had the chance to build a ramp for one of the pens to allow the bears to enter the forest enclosure.
I would like to say a huge thank you to my buddy, Roger, for always helping me and supporting me throughout my internship here in BSBCC. I would also like to thank the other bear keepers which are Azzry, David (longest working staff in BSBCC), Brandon and Adneen, who have helped me while I did my internship here. These people were there for me during my hard times and they always had their way of cheering me up and I would be stress-free just by working with them. We did a lot of projects together from hanging platforms, to building ramps, and preparing enrichments together. They taught me the correct way of handling the equipment when doing our projects.
Working in the bear house has left me with a bunch of memorable experience in my life. I learnt the diet of the sun bears and from what I saw, different bears have different diets and different personalites which makes them cute in their own way. Watching them play with each other is also the best part of the day.
I would like to thank the educational staff for giving me the chance to visit two different places which were Sukau, Kinabatangan and around Sandakan area for the outreach programme. I got the chance to share information about the BSBCC itself and also about the sun bears. By joining the outreach programme, I, myself, gained more knowledge on sun bears and the way of conserving the sun bears and other wildlife.
I want to say thank you to Dr. Wong for the sharing sessions and also for giving me the opportunity to be part of the team even if it is only for 10 weeks.
I came to BSBCC to make a contribution in helping the sun bears in any way possible and I feel like I did. Working with the sun bears made a huge impact in my life and my passion in working and aiding the wildlife grew bigger. I would like to express my gratitude once again to my buddy, the other 3 bear keepers, Azzry, Brandon and Adneen, not to forget David, who helped me throughout my internship here. Thank you so much for the rewarding experience and accepting me as a part of their team. Do forgive me if there were any mistakes that I have done unintentionally. But it is time to say goodbye to the team. Always keep in touch with each other.
Regards from me, Laurelle.
Text By Khairunnisa binti Mohd Faisal
Photos By Khairunnisa binti Mohd Faisal, Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Hi there! I’m Aniss, an intern student from Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang. Choosing BSBCC as my internship placement is one of the bravest decision I have ever made. A week before I flew to Sandakan, I had a major mental breakdown because I was so anxious since I will be so far away from home and I literally had neither friends nor family in Sandakan. “Will I survive working in the middle of jungle?”, “How if I only managed to make it halfway?”, “How can I go back to Kuala Lumpur if homesick hits me?”, “Who will help me if I’m in a big trouble?”. So many things lingered on my mind and I felt so terrible to leave Peninsular for 2 months.
As I arrived in Sandakan, I was warmly greeted by BSBCC staff. I felt so happy and safe to be around them. On my first day of working, it was really tiring since I had to digest a lot of things about the working ethics, the bear’s diet, bear’s behavior, pen names in the forest enclosure and the bear’s name. I started to doubt my ability of working in BSBCC as I felt like it’s such a huge responsibility to take care of the bears.
As time goes by, I never thought that I will be super happy and enjoy working for the bears. BSBCC makes me have a clearer vision of how ‘conservation’ really works. In BSBCC, I got the chance to experience a lot of things that I have never done before. I got to clean the bear house, prepare their daily feeding, make enrichment for the bears, join bear’s health check, go hunt for termite mound, explore the forest while find logs for structural enrichment and join educational program. And I never expect that I’d able to recognize some of the bears after working 2 months in here.
Thank you so much to my Bjorn Hala family (Boboy, Natalie, Becca, Mizuno, Wawa, Dr. Boon, Andy, Laurelle and Saji – including Lin May and Thye Lim). Ever since my first day in here, I’ve always feel like home. I will never forget each of the fond memories that we all had together. I had a wonderful moment of us singing together after work, going around the town during off day, eating steamboat at Sim Sim, food hunting at night, cooking while karaoke-ing together, hiking during off day, watching movies, singing to patriotic songs in the car, chasing the dogs and sharing life experience with each other. Honestly, I believe that these are the people that I’m going to miss the most once I’m back to KL.
Here’s my buddy, Adrian. On our first met, he didn’t talk much but as time goes by, he’s becoming the most annoying person I’ve ever met hahahaha. Thank you Adrian for taking care of me for these 2 months and taught me a lot of stuffs about sun bears. Honestly, you’re such a really good buddy and I’m really happy to have you as my assigned buddy. I’m sorry for being a clumsy, annoying, mischievous and talk active buddy. I will always remember everything that we have done for the bears throughout my internship in BSBCC. Please don’t miss me when I’m gone HAHAHA.
A week before I’m leaving BSBCC, we built a new ramp for Panda release. A huge thank you to Adrian for helping me out to build this ramp. Without him, I won’t be able to make it happen. Also, thank you to Ijam and Boboy for being a part of this project as well! J To Ijam and Boboy, you both are the funniest human being I have ever met. Thank you for cheering me up throughout my stay in here. Even though you both can be really annoying sometimes, I truly enjoyed having you guys around.
I’m sure I’m going to miss the moment we hunt for banana leaves together. It was so fun being in a car ride with you guys. While enjoying the scenery around Sepilok, they shared a lot of stuffs about their childhood. It’s so good to listen how each of us being raised with a different background.
Farewell party before leaving BSBCC. Thank you Mizuno for helping us out to cook for our farewell party. I feel very reluctant to leave this place. 2 months of internship feels so short for me. I really wish I could extend my internship period in BSBCC.
Sometimes, taking a one brave step could be one of the best things you have ever done in your life. It’s such a blessing to be here. I never regret my decision choosing BSBCC as my internship placement. Even though I don’t really like getting messed up in the middle of jungle, this has turned out to be the best memory I have ever had in my life. To my favourite bear (Jelita), I hope I’ll get to see you again one day. If God wills, one day I’ll come back to Sandakan to take care of the bears again. Thank you so much BSBCC for having me. Love, Aniss Faisal.
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.
Text by Nithisha Nair
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hello, I’m Nithisha, a 20-year-old student carrying out my internship for the Animal Health and Production Diploma Course based in University Putra Malaysia, Bintulu Sarawak Campus. I come from Selangor, and have been in Borneo for the better part of 2 years. I have always loved animals and volunteering, but this is my very first time working with our astonishing sun bears.
My 10 weeks being an intern in BSBCC has been nothing short of thrilling, educational and adventurous. I have gained so much, much more than I can ever repay, and so much so that I am eternally grateful.
I’m certain that I’ll be reminiscing about all the adventures I encountered, from hiking up forests to retrieve termite nests for the bears, to observing the progress of the cubs. Even talking to kids about sun bears during outreach programs. I have learned to use tools I’ve never had the chance to use, make enrichments that I once thought only existed in imaginations, and find amusement in the small things life has to offer.
I’ve been apart of the transfer of the cubs, their fence training, and their release to the forest enclosure. I got the chance to assist several health check-ups, I got to learn and memorise which bears get what supplements, their nutritional needs, who gets the egg yolk and who doesn’t, got to play chef with foods so that the bear who won’t eat would eat again and I’ve got to make so many different types of enrichments. And with that I’ve learned to use the power drill and saw like there’s no tomorrow. None of this would have been possible without the amazing bear house team, and definitely, the buddy assigned me who ensures I get to experience all there is to do.
My 10 weeks here has grown me so attached to the bears, even watching a bear eat could give me so much joy, especially when a sick bear falls back to routine eating habits, almost makes me jump in joy. I’ve come to love the bears, and I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t, they all have their own specialized characteristics and traits. Each with their own quirk to brighten up your day.
I have been treated like family from the day I stepped into BSBCC and Bjorn Hala (local volunteer accommodation). I think It makes you feel like you’ve found your home away from home. They take care of you like one of their own here, I have to applaud the team for their wonderful hospitality, they are always ready to satisfy your curiosities and lend a hand when needed. BSBCC couldn’t have hired a better team than the one they currently have!
Thank you so much for this chance,
This will definitely not be the last I see BSBCC and its jovial team!
‘How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so difficult’-winnie the pooh
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 Susantie Saliman
Photos by Susantie Saliman, Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Henlo! Santie here and you’re about to read about my magical life in BSBCC.
Well, first and foremost, just like any other folks, I had no idea on how my 10 weeks internship at BSBCC would change me into a whole new person when first applying. BSBCC was the one and only agency that I applied for, and it turned out that I had got the placement. Hooray!
So a little bit about myself, I am a 21 year old, 2nd year Zoology student at the Malaysia Sarawak University (UNIMAS) from Kota Belud, Sabah. I am a voluntary animals’ slave, naughty, spoilt, loud and outspoken girl, who was here for my 10 weeks of industrial training. So let’s start off with….
My Buddy Keeper
My internship life here wouldn’t be as fun as I experienced without my Buddy’s guide. His name is Mizuno Merek Men, people call him Awin. He’s the strongest keeper in my point of view. He is muscular – physically and mentally (HAHA). By working alongside him, for 10 weeks, I gradually get stronger as days passed by. He taught me on how to deal with working life, hence matured me in many aspects. He trained me to become tougher. Awin became a very big influence to my new addiction of body fitness. He gave me courage to keep moving on when I was about to give up, as well as always being there when needed. He became a super-protective brother of mine and the only staff member that I cried to a lot. Even though I’ve thanked him multiple times, I still need to thank him again, for providing me the never-ending support, care, comfort, attention, hospitality and all. Without him, I would still be my old weak self.
Working environment and Staffs
From the moment I stepped into the centre until the very last day of working, I received excellent hospitality that I never experienced anywhere before. I couldn’t ask for more. The first day of work even felt like I had been working there for years.
The staff at BSBCC are wonderfully friendly and were always ready to share their stories with me. I adore every one of them. They’re very well experienced and worth more than gems. Some people look down on them because some of them didn’t get the chance to attend higher education, but I never looked at them that way. I treasure these peeps in my treasure box inside my heart.
To be honest, working here can be very tiring. I witnessed some volunteers and interns being so exhausted. This wasn’t the same for me. Maybe I was just too passionate, hence I did everything voluntarily because I know everything done was all for the sake of the bears. The fact that I was working in a joyful environment with all days filled with laughs and fun, made me enjoy this kind of fatigue. Even during the last day of work, I still wanted to work the next day. It was so heart-breaking to leave these big-hearted peeps behind.
This is the best part (and teary). I never imagined how working close to big mammals would feel. But thank God, fate brought me here and I got to experience working close with the adorable, smallest bear species in the world. I got to know them more – anatomically, behaviourally, as well as their personalities, diet, and all.
I loved every single bear including the ones in the quarantine area, even though I never worked close with them. All of them deserve to get loved hence, I have no specific favourite bear. From Amaco, Panda, Chin, Along, Simone, Kudat, Noah, Nano, Wawa, Dodop, Mary, Boboi, Kitud, Tan Tan, Sunbearo, Loki, Ronnie girl, Montom, Susie 2, Kala, Rungus, Ah Lun, Julaini, Fulung, Ah Bui, Bermuda, Ronnie boy, Phin, WanWan, Mamatai, Om, Sigalung, Cerah, Jelita, Susie, Kuamut, Manis, Linggam, Kina, Sika, Soo, Logan, Romolina, and Diana. I love them all.
I wish someday, they’ll all get back to the wild where they belong. The thought of not being able to see them closely, no longer feeding them, breaks my heart. 10 weeks at BSBCC is more than enough for to become strongly attached with the bears. How much I wish they know that I love them and that I want them to live the happy life that they’re supposed to.
Outreach – Education Team
Besides working at the Bear House, I also got involved in outreach programmes on two occasions with the Education Team. I also assisted visitors at the observation platform several times. The hardest part for me here is that, I am really bad at talking and persuading people, especially the locals. It’s a sad fact that foreigners were more interested in the conservation effort of sun bears compared to the locals. On the other hand, through outreach programmes, I got to know many new big-hearted people from conservation sectors and I enjoyed exchanging stories with them.
Last but not least, I stayed at the staffs’ house called Bjorn Hala for a month and a half (6 weeks). By staying here, I learned to live in a moderation and became attached with some of the staff who also live here - Mizuno, Boboi, Becca and an intern from University Science Malaysia (USM), Ummu Atiyyah. These gems had cooked me meals throughout my stay here (because I’m a lazy cooker) hence, results in me being so clingy with them.
To sum up, I had a very wonderful time throughout my internship period here. Working at BSBCC hasn’t only taught me about working life and conservation. It taught me what life is and how to deal with it – strong and maturely. I am beyond grateful for being given the opportunity to work at BSBCC and meeting lots of new people who are gems to me. Even though I am no longer working at the centre, I will never stop spreading awareness to the world. The bears and the people here will always be in my heart. Thank you BSBCC ♥
Text by Amanda Wilson
Photos by Amanda Wilson, Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Heyyo everyone! I’m Amanda Wilson, 22, and I’m here to talk about my experience volunteering at BSBCC. I’ll be entering my final year in University of Malaysia Sarawak under the programme Animal Resource Science and Management or better known as Zoology. For a period of 10 weeks, I experienced more adventures than I ever expected whilst interning at BSBCC. When asked about how I got to know about the centre, I am actually a local from the nature city of Sandakan. I was born in Kota Kinabalu and raised in Sandakan since a very young age. So, I’ve visited more than a couple of times and heard a lot about the wonderful things the people here are doing for the world’s smallest bears. I’ve always wanted to volunteer at the centre and be part of the work they are undergoing. That’s how I decided to volunteer at BSBCC as part of my Industrial Training.
Before I started volunteering, I was way too nervous about working, but from day 1, the staff at BSBCC were nothing but warm, kind, friendly and welcoming. I felt like I had another family here at BSBCC. It was so heart-warming to work with like-minded people, people who have big hearts for animals. I am touched by how much the Bear Care Team are so passionate, loving and caring towards these bears.
The centre stands on 4 main goals which are Education, Welfare, Rehabilitation and Research. Throughout my volunteer days, I am grateful to have been able to balance time working within the Bear House and also with the Education Team. On a daily basis, our work comprises mainly of husbandry works, from cleaning cages to feeding the bears, fence checks, pool cleaning and maintanence works. The fun part would be going jungle trekking into the forest to look for termite nests, collecting banana leaves and making various enrichments for the bears. From food-based enrichments, making dry cages, sensory and also structural enrichments. It didn’t take me long to adapt to the tasks at the Bear House as everything was properly managed and scheduled on time.
I also love feeding the bears in the outdoor enclosures as I love seeing them enjoy their time in the forest. That would be another attraction at the centre as visitors could see the bears in their natural environment. When the staff challenged us volunteers to recognize all the bears, I thought it was impossible but now I could say I can almost successfully tell them all apart from each other. Since working at the bear house, I learnt a lot about the sun bear’s behaviours and the different traits as well as personalities each bear has. I personally think sun bears are such precious creatures and wish more people would learn about these forgotten bears.
I feel so lucky to have been able to care for them, work so closely with them and even looking at them, as it made me so happy, especially when they’re enjoying the life that the people here at BSBCC is working so passionately to provide for these precious bears. The work that these people are doing here is incredible. No matter how tough the work is, they do it all so wholeheartedly.
To be honest, the work here is very physical. Nevertheless, I have never felt discouraged as a girl but more encouraged by the staff around me, who are always there to urge me on and guide me through. From sawing ironwood, working with hand drills to carrying sacks full of coconut husks, I’ve done everything with ease. Thanks to the time I’ve spent here, I got the chance to build my stamina and train my strength. Not only did I learn to work with hardware tools, I surprised myself everyday by my own capabilities. I’ve learnt underestimated myself too much before this, working here has made me braver and eager to look forward to new task everyday. Although the work here is heavy duty, I never felt drained as the Bear House is always filled with happiness and laughter thanks to the people around me.
As a local, I feel disappointed and devastated that not many of our local people know of the existence of the world’s smallest bears. Though I am hopeful that the efforts done through all the outreach programmes will someday be fruitful. During my time at the centre, I got to participate in 3 various outreach programmes and events. I was lucky to be able to participate in events held in Sandakan and also go for outreach programmes held at schools outside of the district.
As volunteers, each of us were assigned to a buddy keeper. Here’s a shoutout to the best big brother and my partner in crime, Mizuno Merek Men and Susantie Saliman (UNIMAS coursemate). Theres nothing my buddy keeper couldn’t do and I am ever so thankful for he has always been so caring and motivating towards us. He pushed us to be better and put his trust in us to carry out bigger tasks which gave us confidence.
Also to all the staffs especially the ones in the Bear Care Team, without them, my days would be dull. I saw the sincerity and passion they have for these bears. I felt the love and joy they have for what they are doing. I am happy to begin venturing into conservation work through volunteering here at BSBCC. Working with the Bear Care Team will always be one of my most cherished moments in life. They showed me passion, determination, professionalism, dedication, hardwork and team work. Conservation work is not always easy but with the right team, no matter how small, no task will ever be big enough.
Big thanks to Dr Wong Siew Te, for always making time for our weekly volunteer meeting session despite his busy schedule. I’ve learnt a lot through sharing his own experiences and knowledge not only about sun bears and the centre, but practically about everything we could talk about. Also to the Education Team, thank you for guiding me and encouraging me throughout my participation in various outreach programmes. Talking to visitors on the platform has also helped me overcome my fear of talking to people. It was amazing to be able to engage with the public and educate not only other people but my ownself about sun bears, wildlife conservation and just nature in general.
Thank you so much ! You all are beyond amazing <3
I will cherish every memories and will surely come back in future. Cheerio!
Text by Ummu ‘Atiyyah Mohamed Talhah
Photos by Ummu ‘Atiyyah Mohamed Talhah & Chiew Lin May
My name is Ummu ‘Atiyyah, a Zoology student from Universiti Sains Malaysia and I was an intern at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre for 8 weeks.
Around 3 years ago, I didn’t even know bears existed in Malaysia. That’s something a Zoology student should be ashamed of. One day I saw a picture of my lecturer at a Bear Conservation Centre, so I searched the name of the centre online and to my surprise it was in Malaysia.
A few years later, I find myself applying for a role as an intern at the centre. A few months later, I’m already in gumboots and holding a bucket of fruits.
I love working in the kitchen. Whenever I have to go through the bananas, I will always think of the song from The Jungle Book, the Bear Necessities. Nevertheless, I love going out to feed the bears in the enclosure. Seeing them out in the forest, closest to their natural habitat really made me happy, especially when I get to see them napping high up on the trees, digging, and playing.
The first half of the day is usually planned routine work and after lunch we usually get to relax a little by making enrichments.
Sometimes I feel like I’m in an advertisement promoting Malaysia. Orangutans minding their own business just only 1 metre from me, hornbills flying to a nearby tree right in front of me, as well as their unforgettable sound, almost like the sound of a duck. Not just that, countless number of unknown beautiful birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians, the cute pygmy elephants, pygmy squirrels and even giant squirrels! All these sightings really make me appreciate our flora and fauna especially.
Not just the animals, I have not yet met any rude Sabahan’s during my 8 weeks stay. I admit that I am among those who call themselves slow learners. Even so, the staff, especially the bear keepers have always been motivating and patient with me. Being the only Muslim in the house, I am so relieved and grateful that they can try to understand and respect my beliefs and my “pantang larang”.
There are days where Dr Wong would have discussion sessions with the interns and volunteers. We would talk about almost everything from the bears to conservation and environmental issues, Malaysia’s forest and palm oil issues and a lot more. One time, he showed us a quote from Jane Goodall which goes like this, “Only if we understand, can we care. Only if we care, we will help. Only if we help, we shall be saved.”
Some days we were assigned to go for outreach programs at schools, and some days we were assigned to go on the platform to talk to the visitors. Although I haven’t been the very best at talking with strangers, I really enjoyed talking to people especially those who were interested to know more.
Believe it or not, during my 8 (short) weeks of interning, I got to differentiate the bears based on how they look, and even based on their behaviours!
After a few weeks at the centre, I start to think more and more about the bears especially the ones that cant be released outside to the enclosure due to reasons that cannot be avoided. I tried to think of how I can help to minimize their stress and improvise the environment that they are currently in.
Finally, six days prior to ending my internship, I managed to provide a humble dry cage for Amaco, the oldest bear who is sadly never going to see the forest again. Brandon and I gathered dried leaves, grasses and twigs and placed them on the cage floor. For me, a dry cage is more like a fake forest, where the bears can get comfortable. Amaco and Panda (his companion) were curious enough to sniff around like cats. I wish I could’ve done more for Amaco and the others but I really hope the dry cage helped Amaco and Panda in any small way it can.
Two days before I left, a windstorm and a short but heavy rain hit the centre at around 4:30pm. We waited for the bears to come back to the bear house, fearing that there might be fallen trees, which might cause bears to escape. In the end, there was only one bear, Wawa who hadn’t returned. Everyone including the people from Wildlife Rescue Unit and other organizations came to help. David (a staff) accompanied me and another three interns in the bear house. After all of their hard work out in the dark and in the rain, Wawa finally came back. I admired all of the staff’s heroism, something I never thought I’d be able to witness. Days that usually end at 5:00pm ended at 7:00pm that day. Only after all that did we know that some of the pens in the enclosure as well as the platform for visitors were destroyed. Looking at the pictures really broke our hearts.
“Who is your favourite bear?” I always get asked this question. I usually just pick names just to give an answer because I don’t think I actually have favorites and not because of the cliché “I love them all”, but because I have weak spots for some of them. Week after week, my list of “favourites” just keeps on getting longer and longer.
Some are fierce and some are gentle. However they are, I still love them all even though they couldn’t care less about me.
When I try to look back on the first day that I arrived here, with me being awkward with everyone, it feels like a lifetime ago. However my 8 weeks internship feels so short! The bears now have a special place in my heart, and strangers became friends. How things changed since I arrived. Even though the work was tiring, hot and sweaty, I always find myself missing the days where feeding the bears was a routine for me.
To all the bear keepers and staffs at BSBCC, I thank you all so much for making this experience something so fruitful for me. Though I smell like cow dung every evening, I sincerely loved the work at BSBCC. I apologize if I have been too slow or if I asked too many questions (I know I do). I hope you will all continue fighting for our bears and for Malaysia’s forests.