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
Video By Chiew Lin May
"Only we understand, can we care.
Only if we care, we will help.
Only if we help, we shall be saved." - Jane Goodall
Poaching and illegal pet trade have brought sun bears and other wildlife to the brink of extinction.
Let's work together to protect them from extinction!
Text by Vivian Lee Ker Chuon
Photos by Vivian Lee Ker Chuon & Chiew Lin May
Hi there! My name is Dr Vivian Lee and I am a Malaysian veterinarian from the state of Penang. I first found out about the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre when I attended a talk by Dr Wong Siew Te, who is the founder of BSBCC. Over the years I have followed the work of him and his team and heard many good things. I finally decided to make the trip and volunteer for two weeks, and I’m really glad I did, because the last two weeks have been amazing!
This is my first time to Sabah, and BSBCC were kind enough to pick me up from the Sandakan airport. It’s easy to figure out who is picking you up because they will have a sunbear shirt on. It’s all about the sunbears here. I was greeted by a smiling Azzry, who pointed out the sights to me on the way to the centre. Once there, we proceeded to do a security briefing (in short, be careful of macaques and orangutans), and then I had a quick tour of the centre before I went to Bjorn Hala with my housemates for the next two weeks.
The next day, I started my first official day at BSBCC. I met my buddy keeper, Roger, and assisted him with his tasks. We were assigned to Bear House 1 that first day, and I worked up a really good sweat! Cleaning up after 43 bears is a lot of work, but I enjoyed giving my muscles a good workout. I really do feel a lot fitter after these two weeks. Whilst working in the bear house, I started getting to know each of the individual bears, as each of them has a very distinct personality. You can tell that the staff at BSBCC really care a lot about their bears and the work that they do. The keepers know what each bear likes and dislikes, what health issues they might have, which bear is friends with which other bear, which bear won’t eat their veggies, which bear won’t come back home at night because they’re having too much fun playing in their enclosure, and which bear likes to break all the branches off the tree they’re climbing. After two weeks, I can only identify maybe 3-4 bears by sight, but ask any keeper and they’ll be able to tell you which bear is which.
After all the cleaning tasks are done, we get to do one of my favourite tasks, which is feeding. I don’t think I will ever get tired of watching the bears crunch through a juicy carrot or chase after a coconut. Most of the bears, except the ones with dental disease which I’ll talk about later, get a diet of raw green veggies and fruits, with some starchy foods like raw sweet potato and pumpkin as well. The bears love fruit the most, enjoying things like watermelon, honeydew, bananas, papaya, and this interesting little fruit called snake fruit or salak, which to me looks like a little pangolin. Most of them won’t say no to a leaf of Chinese lettuce or a cucumber either. As a little treat or for positive reward training, the bears go nuts over a dab of peanut butter, Marmite or honey.
The afternoons are mostly devoted to creating enrichment for the bears. I got to develop my non-existent carpentry skills, doing sawing, drilling, tightening screws and putting together a structure for one of the pens. The keepers are very skilled at providing motivational support for volunteers, hence even though I was a bit hesitant at first, by the end I was happily sawing and hammering away. During Hari Raya, we even made ketupat stuffed with apple and peanut butter for a festive sunbear treat!
I was happy to be able to assist Dr Yeoh Boon Nie, BSBCC’s resident veterinarian, on the days when she was conducting a few annual health checks for some of the bears. We also took the opportunity to conduct dental scaling and polishing of the bears teeth as well. I’ve only ever done dental scaling and polishing for dogs and cats, so this was very interesting for me. Some of the older bears have been eating a soft, cooked diet for a long time, and as such, their teeth weren’t in a great condition. Bears in captivity also live a lot longer than bears in the wild, due to the provision of a steady source of food and absence of dangers in the wild. Thus their teeth have to last a lot longer. As their human carers, we have a responsibility to make sure that they are as healthy and as comfortable as possible.
After sedating the bear, we brought them to the clinic where they were intubated and maintained on a gas anaesthetic whilst we performed the procedure. I also jumped at the chance to be able to place an intravenous catheter in a sunbear (they have really thick skin!). After ensuring that the anaesthetic was stable, we proceeded to do the dental charting, scaling and polishing. Seeing the bears shiny clean and polished teeth after each procedure was very gratifying. Besides the dental, the bears were also given a physical examination, blood was drawn for an annual health screen, and things like overgrown nails were addressed.
I found the volunteer program at BSBCC to be very well rounded, as I got to experience so many different aspects of this organization in my two weeks here, gaining an understanding of how the group works as a whole. Everyone from the bear care team to the education team and the maintenance guys always have a smile for you and are more than happy to have a chat and share their considerable knowledge. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting to Gloria and Jerome about managing visitors (and macaques!) up on the viewing platforms, with Mizuno and Boboy about jungle trekking and night walks, with Thye Lim and Lin May about their exploits in the Tabin reserve, with Azzry about growing up taking care of orangutans, with Wawa about different sunbear personalities, and Dr. Boon on sunbear health and management. Dr. Wong himself even makes it a point to set aside time out of his busy schedule to have chats with volunteers, and you can ask him anything. He has 20 years of experience and lots of helpful advice to share. Two weeks is barely enough to scratch the surface of all there is to learn here. I also had the best time together with my new friends at Bjorn Hala, going out to sample a selection of the best food Sandakan has to offer, night walks to see wildlife, attending Hari Raya open houses, hiking up Bukit Sim Sim and admiring the view of the fishing village, singing in the car, and tasting each other’s cooking. It’s been a great experience and I would love to come back again for another visit.
Video by Chiew Lin May
"When the buying stops, the killing will stop too!" Orphaned sun bear cubs have been taken from the wild for the illegal pet trade. They had been kept confined in a cage alone for a long period of time and loss their wild instinct.
Please STOP kept or buys sun bear!
Please report suspicious activity, be sure to REPORT illegal trade in bear part to:
Wildlife Crime Hotline | Hotline Hidupan Liar | 野生物罪案热线 :
+60 19 356 4194
Video by Chiew Lin May
"Beyond the bound of joy!"
Logan and Wawa were play-fighting on the tree!
Looks how agile they are!
Text by Nithisha Nair (Intern student, University Putra Malaysia Bintulu Campus)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
As I introduced previously, here continues the story of our three musketeers. Romolina, Logan and Joe are now in fence training to prepare them for the forest enclosure. It took the trio 7 days to pass the fence training inside the training pen.
On the first day, the observation began with Romolina, who immediately makes her way into the training pen. Fruits and honey were laid in a trail leading to a pile in the centre with the intention of luring the cubs out and giving them comfort. Nevertheless, it was pointless, Romolina being the explorer that she is made her way out by herself and explored the cage, ignoring the fruits completely. Upon sniffing the corners of cage, she earned her first zap, but that did not deter her from continuing her exploration, it was not until her second zap that she became wearier and alert. After that it took a lot of effort to get Romolina back into the training pen, she would climb around in the den observing the pen from afar no matter what food we used to lure her out. All things aside, all it took to get her back out was dead wood and she happily made her way out digging and rummaging.
The observation proceeded with Joe on the second day. He had his eye and taste buds stuck on to the trail of honey and fruits towards the centre. When that was finished, he roamed around the cage earning his zaps, which eventually led to him suckling on his paw in the water container. His zaps were an obvious lesson to him though, after a few days in the pen Joe was smart enough to claw his food away from the hot wire very slowly and carefully. He showed amazing progress and seemed to be the best out of the trio.
On the third day it was Logan’s turn to train. He was nothing short of Joe in following the trail, he licked every bit of honey left on the ground with none to spare. But once he got zapped, he was the hardest to get back into the training pen. Eventually with help he was able to come back out and learn to claw food away from the wire.
After the three were used to the training pen and was able to explore on their own, they were put in the training pen together in hopes that they would encourage each other to explore their surroundings, and when that didn’t result in a very positive outlook, they were let into the training pen with their integrated buddies, to know more about integration do read our blog titled ‘Catch Up with Our New Friends’!
Upon being integrated and provided with dead wood, it was clear that the trio were more comfortable in the training pen. They were also seen clawing their food from under the fence, proving that they all passed indoor fence training with flying colours. Thus, it was time for outdoor fence training.
The first day of outdoor fence training, also known as their release to Pen D, Joe was the first to touch ground but got zapped while exploring and was afraid after. With Romolina, she ran up the enclosure but went into the training pen after getting zapped, she then proceeded to explore the area below the ramp. Last but not least, upon exploring Logan got zapped, in a panic he rushed his way to the top of the enclosure completely forgetting about the wires and getting zapped several more times. When he reached the top, he climbed on a tree vocalizing while refusing to come down.
The trio remained at the bottom of the enclosure exploring and occasionally pacing. That was until Wawa, another one of our bears were integrated with the cubs in the enclosure, she managed to guide Logan to the top of the enclosure, and eventually Romolina followed. After that the two were more than comfortable to remain at the top, exploring, digging, climbing, playing with the water from the sprinklers and sun bathing, they even refused to go back home for two nights! Joe was a tough shell to crack, while the two was living their best lives in the enclosure, Joe remained suckling and staying at the ramp.
No amount of integration was able to bring Joe up, eventually we decided to try a new tactic, as soon as he set foot on the ramp, we closed the guillotine door so he would not run back in, and then we encouraged him to explore with treats thrown on the grass. It worked! With two days of that, he eventually made his way up the forest enclosure, and once again with the help of our amazing teacher, Wawa, Joe was guided to the top, on his 13th day with outdoor fence training he was finally able to properly explore the enclosure and we could not be happier!
Fence training may seem extreme, in some cases even cruel, but in our case, it is vital and completely necessary to ensure that our bears do not escape once they are released to our forest enclosure. And as we all know; the forest enclosure release is an important step towards their journey in being released to the wild! The voltage of our fence is always monitored and ensured not to be harmful to our sun bears.
So here continues the journey of our trio towards their happy ever after!
Video by Chiew Lin May
Without the BSBCC, many captive sun bears would still live in small cages without HOPE;
Without the BSBCC many people in the world still would not know there are a bear species called the sun bear - Dr. Wong Siew Te
Please respect, protect and give sun bear a voice they deserve!
Text By Mandy Lee
Photos By Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Hi I’m Mandy Lee from Taiwan. I am 36 years old and I am a freelance English tutor/translator.
Wildlife and traveling have always been my greatest passions. This is my second time visiting/volunteering in Sabah, but the very first time volunteering in BSBCC.
Before this project, I didn’t really have a chance to spend enough time understanding sun bears behaviours though back in 2014 I was with APE Malaysia creating some enrichment for the sun bears in Laos Zoo. Back then, all I knew was they love honey and they are relatively shy.
A fortnight has gone really fast. For my first week, I was assigned doing husbandry works and feeding the bears in different pens in the mornings; making enrichment for the bears and collecting materials for enrichment activities in the afternoons. As for my second week, my tasks mainly are preparing foods for the bears in the mornings and making enrichment for the bears in the afternoons. I found all these works interesting because when cleaning the night dens I was given a chance to observe their faeces and the scatters of enrichment. Through putting these little pieces of information together, I tried to picture what the bears probably had done the previous night. When preparing the foods for the “babies” (Forgive me if I started calling them babies because I’ve grown to love them more and more each day), I was also given a chance to understand their daily diet – carrots and leafy veggies are good for them not only because they are full of good nutrients but also because the fibres serve dental cleaning purpose.
There is never a dull moment. One of my favourite routines of each day is going out collecting materials for enrichment activities in the afternoon – we collected banana leaves, green mangoes, coconuts and branches, brought them back to the bear house and made enrichment props. Since the bears are the experts of smelling, sometimes we put different spice powders on the branches or we hid apple, banana pieces and peanut butter in parcels made with bamboos or cardboards to stimulate their ability forage for foods. Sometimes we went into the woods looking for termite nests and gave them to the bears as well because invertebrate is also one of the main sources of food for the bears in the wild. Watching the bears digging the termite nests looking for termites, using their claws to eat the foods or simply just lying there chilling out always put a smile on my face J
There are many wonderful things volunteering in BSBCC. To name a few, first is surely the professional team of BSBCC and my dear coordinator, Sumira. The staff and officers are so caring and lovely. They took me in as part of the big family right at the beginning; I didn’t even have time to be nervous about a new environment. Whenever I had questions, they were always there patiently for me. The second wonderful bit is definitely getting up early in the morning sitting in the outdoor kitchen enjoying my morning cup while watching the sunrise and listening birds chirping at volunteer accommodation. Being in an outdoor symphony concert every morning, what more could one ask for in life?
Last but not least, the weekly volunteer talk with Dr. Wong Siew Te will also be one of the many unforgettable moments in my life, for my past volunteering experiences, I never had a chance to have a deep conversation to the founder or the head of any animal conservation centre. Dr. Wong is charismatic and also very patient and down to earth. I remember the first talk with Dr. Wong, I was asking him that for me as an individual and a person with no zoology background, how could I raise public awareness of wildlife wellbeing and spread the words of the importance of conservation to people surround me. He was also curious about why I have been volunteering in animal conservation so many times as an Asian. I was getting quite emotional when he started explaining to me patiently and provided me some of his experiences hopefully this could help me to spread the words for the voiceless ones (the bears and other animals).
I would like to quote Dr. Wong’s words at our first volunteer talk to end this dairy.
“Getting emotional is a good thing, because that means you care for something.”
I really care about wildlife wellbeing and I shall do my part as an individual to speak for them.
Terima Kasih gila to all my Cikgu in BSBCC.
Text by Milla Milanovic
Photos by Chiew Lin May
My name is Milla Milanovic, I’m 18 years old and I’m from Sweden. I study animal care and I’m now in my final year of my 3 years of education. Thanks to my school I got the opportunity to come to Borneo to do my internship/volunteering at Bornean Sunbear Conservation Center. Before I came here I had never been to Asia before and I didn’t know a lot about Borneo or the sun bears so I was not sure what to expect. I knew that the weather here was very different from the weather in Sweden. I knew that it could get very warm and humid here but I was still surprised and I don’t really think you can prepare yourself.
Volunteering at BSBCC is very sweaty and a lot of hard work but also very fun. The routines that we did on a daily basis were things like cleaning cages in bear house 1 & 2, feeding the bears and of course making enrichment which is something that is considered really important here. Enrichment is something that you make for animals to stimulate their minds and so they can perform their natural behavior.
The enrichment that we usually did could be, for example sticks that we tied together and then put a bit of peanut butter between the sticks. If the animals don’t get to do their natural behaviors then they will easily get depressed, aggressive but first of all they will get stressed and then they can evolve stereotypical behaviors like pacing, which mean the animal is walking back and forth on the same place. Stereotypical behaviors means the animal is performing unnatural behaviors. By making different kind of enrichment every day and letting the sun bears to be in their big enclosures, helps the sun bears to do their natural behaviors like using their claws to rip things and to climb, taste and to smell and search for food. That is also one reason why the bear keepers here throw and spread out the food, which consist of different kind of fruits and vegetable.
These five past weeks have been incredible fun and educational, and I have learned so much and it have been fun to getting to know all of the 46 bears and there different personalities, and you can even see that they all have different favorite foods. These past weeks went by so fast but that only means that I have had a good time. I am so grateful that I got this opportunity to volunteer at BSBCC and to work with all of the nice and friendly bear keepers. Thank you for these five past weeks and I hope I can be able to come back in the future.
It has been almost a month since the release of the three sun bears on last 14 April 2019. We are excited to share with you about their latest movement in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve. Boboi (blue), Kitud (white), and Tan-tan (yellow) movement have been monitor from the GPS collar.
Green box: Release point
Red box: Latest position
The release on April 2019 marked down the 4th BSBCC reintroduction of the rescued sun bears. We are planning another four sun bears release on the second half of 2019, the cost and journey to bring them home is full of financial and logistic challenges.
You had helped us with each of the other stages, and we hope your support won't be stopped here.
We would like you to keep in the loop for the updates of their movement, subscribe to our newsletter and donate at www.bsbcc.org.my
Love, barks, big bear hugs.