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
Sniffing, Tapping, Rolling….
Panda, the sun bear has been enjoying lots of love from our volunteers and keepers doing everything they can to help Panda enhances her foraging skills.
Loud bear bark thank you go out to APE Volunteers Celeste Kara Lequigan Chalk and Priya Colville giving the sun bears an opportunity to express their natural instinct !!
Want to make a difference?
For more info on becoming a volunteer visit www.bsbcc.org.my
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.
Text by Nithisha Nair (Intern student, University Putra Malaysia Bintulu Campus)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
And so, the journey begins for the three new musketeers- Joe, Romolina and Logan- into the bear house after patiently getting through their days in quarantine.
Romolina, being the oldest of the three was kept as a pet before being handed over to our centre. Whereas Joe was found alone in the forest when he was three months old. A person then sent Joe to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park. The youngest of the three, Logan, was found on a Lokan River near a village who separated from his mother as she crossed the river leaving him behind. He was taken care for a few months by the person who found him before being sent to our centre. These three musketeers, being as young as they are, are nothing short of curious, explorative and energetic.
Due to the lack of space in the bear house, this group of sun bears ended up extending their stay a little longer than expected. But with the release of Boboi, Kitud and Tan-Tan on the 14th this month, new room opened up to welcome our trio.
The week started off with enrichment preparations for the sun bears. Lengths of firehose were used to construct a ‘zig zag firehose’ as well as a wooden structure that the trio will be able to use to climb and play.
This recreational enrichment will go a long way in diverting the sun bear’s attention from the stress they might face through switching homes. Besides that, we also extended our measures and collected barks, dead wood and sacks of dry leaves to be put into their cages for a more forest-like feel. The bears will also be able to dig their claws and teeth into the barks in search for ants and termites. Termites nests were also brought from the forest for the trio to feast on.
Two dens were transformed and decorated to the best of our abilities to give the bears as much of a natural environment as we could, dry leaves, tree barks, ginger leaves and termites nest were all placed in the dens alongside structural enrichments.
Then the long-awaited day finally comes and the cubs were ready to be brought to the bear house. Translocation cages were used to transport them from quarantine to the bear house. Prior to the transfer, they are lured into the translocation cages by quarantine keepers using diluted honey. Then they are weighed before being put on to the car to be brought down to the bear house.
The transfer started off with Romolina, who was no trouble at all to lure into the translocation cage and was quite calm throughout the journey. After Romolina’s transfer, Logan was next. Eventhough Logan was no fuss to get into the translocation cage, he seemed pretty anxious on his way to the bear house. Honey water and bananas were provided upon arrival to eradicate any stress caused by transportation.
All the other bears seemed very alert and peculiar to the arrival of these cubs but did not cause a commotion of any sort, which was great as any vocalization would’ve rendered the cubs more stressed. After the two bears settled down, they enjoyed exploring in their dens and was nothing short of curious and adventurous, sniffing every corner and climbing every angle. They also foraged through the dry leaves for bananas and tore through tree barks in search of insects to feast on.
After ensuring the two cubs were okay, we proceeded with a health check for the last cub, Joe. The health check was done in quarantine with a hand injected anaesthesia by Dr. Boon whilst being distracted with honey. After Joe was unconscious, a full health check was carried out to ensure that the sunbear is well and healthy. Joe was then brought into the bear house and put into a separate den until he was fully conscious and able to join in on the fun.
Once Joe was concious, the three cubs didn’t waste any of their time before exploring all three dens together. They foraged through dry leaves and dead wood, climbed ladders hung on the den basket as well as on the gates of the den, and rolled around the dry leaves goofily with one another.
The cubs will have to go through integration as well as fence training before their debut in the forest enclosure. The cubs can frequently be seen exploring their surroundings and playing around with one another, their playful yet explorative behaviour is one we hope they keep throughout their rehabilitation journey. Here’s wishing good luck to these cubs in their journey before being released to the wild, good luck musketeers!
Text by Shuma Noda
Photos by Shuma Noda & Chiew Lin May
Hello, I am Shuma Noda. I am a university student in Japan.
I love animals, especially I have a great interest with mammals in wild. I would like to work in a job related to conserving wildlife in the future.
I knew about BSBCC because of my teacher. He introduced me that BSBCC has a volunteer program, and I joined two weeks program.
There were many works to do for bears at BSBCC such as preparing meals, feeding, cleaning and maintaining their enclosures, making enrichment. Each work was simple, but I realised how important those works are for conserving sun bears.
I learnt a lot from doing volunteer at BSBCC. For example, the role of sun bears in Borneo and how important they are for their surrounding environment. However the number of bears has been decreased by human beings and how serious it is. At BSBCC, giving bears different types of enrichment every day makes them not getting bored but also those are good tools for training them to release back into the wild.
The introduction with Mr. Wong was my highlight. He taught me four rules for wildlife conservation, study, education, animal welfare and ecotourism.
BSBCC is the great facility for wildlife conservation. Having Mr. Wong at the head of the list, the staff at BSBCC study a lot and give a lecture to educate people about bears. Also they aim to improve animal welfare for bears using many types of enrichment and well-designed enclosures. There are two observation platforms, so tourists who visit BSBCC can see the bears just like in wild.
I really appreciate all the staff members so much. They tried to understand my poor English, helped me and taught me kindly when I could not understand. Also they asked me to play football and badminton after work, so I could come out of my shell with everyone faster than I thought.
They are serious about bears and its conservation as a pro. If you are interested in conservation or thinking to have a job related to wildlife, I strongly recommend you to join the volunteer program at BSBCC.
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.
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.
Text by Ng Kang Yew
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Hi I'm Ng, a typical Malaysian who lives in a big city known as Petaling Jaya, and also working as landscaper.
Many of my Friends used to travel out of the country to enjoy their vacation time and explore new places. As our leave is so limited, no wonder most of us like to spend this precious time to take a leisure tour and take fancy photos. Hmm. But me, I was looking for some different. What if I was able to contribute some of my time towards helping society? Wow. A hero dream huh? With this idea in mind and great opportunities in front of me, I came across the Sun Bear Programme.
I'm not that strange to Sun Bears as a I have visited ones before in a local zoo. The memory of them is still very vivid; a little sun bear put in a bare steel enclosure and he is all alone. This was my very first experience with a Sun Bear.
Back in Nov 2017, my friend and I come across an eco film fest in Publika, where we had the chance to watch a film from Dr. Audrey as well as talk to her afterwards. She suggested for us to have a look into the Sun Bear Centre, and yes, both of us signed up to the program.
“Do you have a chance to cuddle or pet the Sun Bear?” I believe this question will always be the top pick QnA for every single volunteer who wants to work with Sun Bear Programme.
Unfortunately, it is a no within this Sun Bear Programme to have contact with any of the bears both for volunteers, and even permanent staff in the bear house. We give no chance to have any body contact with bears. This measure is not cruel, but back with a very solid reason. These bears are meant for wild. Therefore, it will be more appropriate to leave them alone, to learn and be independent and free from human disturbance. We are not to build relationships with bear, who are meant to be released back to wild once they are fit and ready.
What we experience in the Sun Bear Centre is amazing. You have no idea how the staff dedicate their time and effort to ensure this little fragile bear, is eventually able to live within their natural settings and teach them the basic skill to sustain their life in the wild. From day one, we are already asked to remember those tricky names for each bear. You know what? For me they all just look the same. And to be honest, I couldn’t even recognise each of the bears until the end of the programme.
As a volunteer, you should honour yourself as a bear carer. You not only clean their poop, wash the cage, prepare the food, feed them with dedicated diet meal as if you were a mum, you also have to make them enrichments ,or so pet toys, that aim to enhance their skill and stimulate their natural behaviour. The satisfaction that arises when the bear starts to explore and play with your enrichment, is tremendous. And you can tell they are happy with it. I got my opportunity to make two enrichments for the bears and it feels amazing when these bears spend time with your enrichment. Their cuteness will sure dissolve your heart.
The staffs over the Sun Bear Centre are awesome too. You sure do get entertained by them because they will pop out with many spontaneous jokes in no time and thus lighten your days. They have been so helpful the whole time as well. If there are any questions and assists needed, they will help you selflessly. There are too many stories to share and I really am thankful for everything they have done for us to make us as part of their family.
So, will you spend your next vacation for a cause? You choose it.
Ng Kang Yew