Text by Grace Cheong Wei Yen
Photos by Grace Cheong Wei Yen & Chiew Lin May
Personally, I feel that this experience has opened my eyes to how much work it actually requires to take care of human beings, and how much more these bears need! Coming from an Asian background, the concept of filial piety is constantly reinforced, and now I truly realize how much effort my parents have put into raising me. Besides that, I have been privileged to have a first-hand experience of taking care of the sun bears which are endemic to Borneo only, a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Furthermore, there is no such satisfaction as witnessing a bear finally succeed in doing something that you had a part in!
So if you are seeking to escape the busy city life or to explore your interest in wildlife, or even carry out an internship as part of your program, then this is the place to be! Never mind all the bugs, this is a rare chance to catch a glimpse of other animal species endemic to Borneo like the sacred kingfisher and rhinoceros hornbill, or even Asian pygmy elephants! If I had the chance or time to come back a second time, I definitely would not hesitate.
Text by Angeline Ngu Hong Huong
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hey everyone! This is Angeline Ngu from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. I am a primary school teacher and also a hardcore bear fan. I am really astonished by the adorable sun bears in the forest enclosure during my first visit to BSBCC. Watching the bear sunbathing on top of the tree through the telescope almost melted my heart. No doubt it was love at first sight. Coincidently, I met Dr. Boon who is a bear doctor in BSBCC and she explains all the stories about the sun bears and the details about the volunteer programme. That’s when I made up my mind to spend my Christmas holiday volunteering in BSBCC.
Despite knowing it would be tough working with wild animals, some more need to trek in the jungle, I actually hestitated a little just before departing. But since I am really looking forward to seeing the sun bears, here I am, about to end my two weeks volunteering with a really heavy heart, especially to say goodbyes to all the sun bears when I have just started to recognize them by their characteristics =( And not forgetting the friendly staffs in BSBCC whom I call the bear family.
For me, it is a bittersweet experience working in BSBCC. Let’s first talk about the sw-eeeeett part. It’s a big bear family here in BSBCC where the keepers are like the parents to all the sun bears. You must witness how worried the keepers are when the bears are not feeling well. They would try everything to make sure the bears take their medication. Throughout the volunteering days I had so much laughters with the keepers and all the friendly staffs in BSBCC as we share everything from our family to the bear stories. Not forgetting the Christmas party in Bjorn Hala, the keepers are capable of doing everything from fixing electric fence to cooking. The food they prepared is finger-lickin good! The sweetest part, the keepers constantly checking us volunteers out to make sure that we can handle our tasks and are always there to help whenever we need. We had so much laughters inside and outside BSBCC. Here comes the bitter part. I would say it is really tough taking care of wild animals as it requires a lot of heavy work. It is a great challenge for me to trek through the muddy and slippery ground in the forest especially during rainy season to check the electric fence. A big thank you to my buddy keeper, Mr. Pradeep who always tolerated me and my snail pace when hiking up and down the hill. Carrying heavy objects like food and wood is inevitable in the bear house but the keepers are always ready to help. Overall, all the hard work is worthwhile as long as the bears are happy and healthy.
Volunteering in BSBCC is truly an eye opener. I am privileged to having been able to join medical checkup session on the oldest bear in BSBCC, Amaco who is currently 27 years old with Dr. Boon and Dr. Reza. I was tremendously nervous before that as everyone is worried that he might not be able to pull through the process due to his age. Fortunately, he did and he was recovering well! During the process, I have learnt how to measure a bear’s heartbeat, respiration and body temperature. All this sounds pretty easy until I was inside the clinic and was really panicing because I could not hear the heartbeat even with a stethoscope. Meanwhile, Dr. Reza patiently taught me to first feel the heartbeat then hearing it would be easier. It works like magic! I was also given the opportunity to help Dr. Boon in recording dental details of Amaco and to trim its nails with a mini saw! That is something new! I enjoyed everything throughout the process as I know I would never have the opportunity to experience all these in my life. Not a single day passed by that I did not learn something new while working with the sun bears. Yeap! That is me trying to complete the entire “mission impossible” and I am proud to say MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!
Text by Nursyahidah Binti Hassim
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hola! My name is Nursyahidah Hassim. I am 25 years old and I am from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. I graduated in Conservation Biology from the University Malaysia Sabah back in 2016. Before volunteering here in BSBCC, I have been working on insects (especially on butterflies) while in university and when I was working at the Poring Butterfly Farm in Ranau. The reason why I came here to volunteer is that I really want to gain new experiences working with mammals. Since I already have experiences working with insects, I also want to experience and learn how to manage mammals. So, I thought that BSBCC is the perfect place for me to go!
On the 5th of Dec 2019, me and my friend, Yen Chi arrived at the BSBCC for our safety induction. We met Lin May (one of BSBCC officer that who is in charge with the volunteer programme) and had our safety induction in the staff room. After we had our safety induction, she showed us around the BSBCC area. We went to the bear house and met all the staff there. All the staff are very friendly and funny. Throughout the volunteer programme, I have gained tons of new experiences. My volunteer session lasted for 2 weeks. Every volunteer was assigned with their own respective buddy (Senior/Junior Keeper). The purpose of having a buddy is that our buddy is the one that will assist us in our work throughout the programme. I was assigned with a junior keeper named Roger. He was helpful, nice, funny and it was really fun working with him. He assisted me with all the works that had been given to me. During the volunteer programme, I have helped cleaning the bear cages, preparing food for the bears in the kitchen, feeding the bears outside (forest enclosure) and inside the bear house, assisted Roger in fence checking, doing integration between bears (between Linggam and Suzie, Kuamut, Jelita and Manis), helping Dr Boon counting bear respiratory rate and making bear enrichments. I also assisted Dr Boon with the bear health check. During the health check, I helped counting the respiratory rate and the heart beat of the bear. It was really fun participating in the bear health check session because I got to observe and feel the sun bear more closely. Moreover, I also got to see Dr Boon performed dental scaling on the bear’s teeth. Making enrichment is also one of the most fun activity to do. It was satisfying to see the bears playing with their enrichment so that they do not get bored inside their den. It was really interesting to see the bears using their long tongue to angle for the food (peanut butter/honey/dog biscuits/leaves) that had been stuffed inside the Aussie ball.
Being involved in this volunteer programme has opened my eyes for the importance of sun bears in our ecosystem. Sun bears search for honey in the forest by tearing up tree trunks that create nesting sites for birds, thus becoming the engineers of the woods. They also help to maintain the fertility of the soil implicitly while digging for invertebrate for snacks. I’m sad that poachers failed to see the value of sun bears in our ecosystem just for the sake of money. I want the world to see the importance of our little engineers in the wood as I did, and I highly recommend people to join this programme.
So, I would like to say thank you to BSBCC for giving me this amazing opportunity to be a part of the Centre as a volunteer. Good luck for the future and see you guys again soon. I miss you guys and the bears!
Text by Kam Kai Cheng
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hi, my name is Kam Kai Cheng from Ipoh, Perak and I am currently 22 years old pursuing a degree in Public Relations in Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman. It is my honor to serve as a volunteer in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre for two weeks. My reason for joining the voluntary program is to learn more about the Bornean Sun Bears and get step closer towards the nature in Sepilok rainforest. It was an overwhelming experience throughout the weeks in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre as I learned bear habits and their health conditions. Our daily routine in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is to clean the bear house in the conservation centre. The purpose of cleaning the cages is very important as it helps to ensure the bear can live comfortably and in good health. If cages are not properly cleaned, the bears may get unwanted diseases from the bacteria. All of the volunteers are assigned to a buddy which is an experienced keeper. My buddy was Jeniur which is from Kota Kinabalu and his nickname is BoBoii. He is very experienced in this field of work and he always likes to be funny around us. He taught me a lot of things throughout the weeks and it was an opportunity where I can learn from him.
Sometimes, we do get the chance to work in the kitchen, where we need to prepare the food for the bears. The task that we need to do in the kitchen is to ensure that all the bears will get the nutrients and diet they need. Besides that, sometimes we do have the opportunity to do fence checking and outside feedings. Fence checking and outside feeding was very thrilling as we need to walk into the jungle to finish our tasks. We need to make sure that all the fences are running well so that the sun bears can not escaped in to the wild. It is always adventurous to do a jungle walk where we will see monkeys hanging around and insects that we could never see in the city. During my volunteering, all of the bears in the Conservation Centre had a health check with the in house veterinary, so to ensure that all the bears are in good health.
Overall, I can say that the experience and knowledge I gained through the voluntary program will be unforgettable and memorable. It is not something that we can learn in a city or town but in the forest enclosure, the knowledge and experience we can get is unlimited. Therefore, I am glad that I had the chance to experience all these by volunteering myself in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.
Text by Ng Jie Min
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hi, I am Ng Jie Min from Bukit Mertajam, Pulau Pinang. I am currently 21 years old and studying Bachelor Of Communication (HONS) Public Relations in Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman,Kampar Campus. I do love nature and wildlife, so I decided to join BSBCC and serve as a volunteer in this semester break. This is my first time doing volunteering with wildlife and animals. In these two weeks, I learned a lot about the smallest bear in world, which is “Sun bear”. I also helped to clean their cages, feeding, prepare foods, make enrichment, and participated in their health check and did fence checking.
Thanks to have my buddy Pradeep, who introduced me to the sun bears. I now know that every sun bear has their own name and story behind them. In the food preparing sessions, it was complicated because every sun bear has their own food diet. Mostly we need to prepare a lot of fruits and vegetables for the bears, such as bananas, watermelons, papayas, pumpkins, cucumbers, mung beans, dog biscuits, bak choy, sweet potato and coconuts
Sometimes I also joined the keeper to fence check even though it is raining day. Yuckssss, it is muddy and leeches are everywhere! But I still try to face it because I know that this is a valuable lesson that I cannot get to learn in my life anywhere else. Making enrichment for sun bears is the session that I love the most. Enrichments can make those bears happier, exciting and reduce their stress. I did lot of enrichments including making Christmas present for them!
I was also assigned to observe some bears during their integrations. The most unforgettable moments was when Linggam, Susie and Kuamut love to play with each other. They keep pawing and hugging each other to show their love and kindness. I even got to join Ronnie Boy’s release attempt into Pen G in Day 10. I am happy with that because I saw improvement and hard work pays off.
I also was invited and join Dr. Boon Dental Health Check for the sun bears. BJ who is a male sun bear in the centre weighs 38kg. I helped to get its temperature every 5 minutes during the health check and helped it to clean his teeth. I gained new knowledge about sun bear’s teeth and it was fun to learn about their health. We also had a discussion session with Dr.Wong Siew Te who is the founder and CEO of Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. He shared with us his own story and how he met sun bears. He spends his whole life time taking care those wildlife animals. So the name “Sun bears PaPa” really matches him a lot!
One of the tasks that I really enjoyed it was having a communication session with the visitors who come over BSBCC. They ask a lot about the sun bear living style and environment. I have enjoyed this and could tell them what I actually learned here. I also shared with them the experiences of being a volunteer for two weeks’ time in the centre.
Every lunch time, I went to the nearest cafeteria to have lunch. The cafeteria was clean and the boss was friendly. Dinner is usually at the resort Paganakan Dii. The most favourite meal I love here is the lamb chop that cooked in the traditional Paganakan flavour. Yummy Yummy Yummy!
I am a person who is used to live and stay in city areas. So in these two weeks, I learned a lot about nature and got step closer to the nature. I was very happy here because all staff in the working area is so nice and friendly. I promise myself that if I get chance to come to Sandakan again, I will be back to BSBCC to serve as volunteer again. I felt peace of mind when I saw all the sun bears in a peaceful environment. Thanks again to Dr. Wong Siew Te and staffs for teaching me such valuable lessons about wildlife in the 2 weeks’ time.
Text by Ng Xin Hao
Photos by Chiew Lin May
I am Xin Hao , I am 17 years old and I am from Penang, Malaysia. I started my very first time volunteering for animals at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) in Sabah, Malaysia. Getting to know what a sun bear is and learning their behaviour was a very crazy and awesome experience.
The first thing I noticed at the bear house was the bear cage. The cage is very clean and does not have a bad and heavy smell. We soon get into the daily routine like cleaning the cages, preparing food for the bears, feeding the bears and creating enrichment for the bears to play. For me, I am creating a swing for Mamatai, the fattest bear in the bear house.
Before coming to Sabah, in Penang I rarely walked into the jungle. But at the BSBCC, every day we have to go into the jungle to have all the fences checked before letting the bears out of their cages. When it was my turn to go for the fence check, I try to escape from it because in the jungle there are leeches and I scared of them. But one day I been told to go into the jungle for 5 times, what a scary day that was for me. All the bear house staff were trying to bring me into the jungle.
Before getting to be a volunteer there was an interview with the staff at BSBCC to receive more information from us volunteers. When I was being interviewed, I always asked about getting physical contact with the bears. But the staff there told me there is no physical contact or touching the bears because the bears are given a second chance to be released back to the wild where they belong and we do not want the bears gets habituated.
After volunteering for 4 days, I was informed that I am going to assist in the medical check for the bears! And I was lucky enough to go on four medical checks with Dr. Yeoh Boon Nie. You could see Dr Yeoh is cleaning the bear’s teeth and taking blood sample from the bear.
We even have a chance to meet Dr Wong Siew Te himself. We asked him a lot of question about the sun bear, BSBCC and how he started before BSBCC. Dr Wong answered our question one by one with a story behind. A huge thank to all the staff, Paganakan Dii and other volunteers for making my first time experience in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre a great time.
Text by Lok Yen Chi
Photos by Lok Yen Chi & Chiew Lin May
My name is Yen Chi and I graduated from University of Malaysia Sabah in 2016 with a Bachelor in Conservation Biology. I was born and grew up here in Sandakan. Having a career out of conservation made me miss working in the field very, very much. That was the moment that I decided, maybe I should go volunteering, since I have sufficient holidays to do so. Plus, BSBCC was one of the places that I have never volunteered before. So, why not?
As much as I am fascinated by the sun bears here, I found the people here are even more fascinating. These people could have chosen careers that are way more comfortable than going into the forests looking for dropped collars, travelling long distances to rescue bears, dealing with wild, sometimes unpredictable animals, and working in challenging environment, but they did not.
Instead, they chose to help the helpless, easily exploited animals like the sun bears, who will not be able to return the favours. These are the people whose intentions are genuine, worth respecting and looking up to. Be it the officers, researchers, veterinarians, staff, senior or even junior keepers, whatever they do here is for the sake of the bears’ welfare and well-being. They go way beyond what is in the job scope just to make sure the smallest bears in the world get the rightful care and rehabilitation trainings. This has doubled my already deep respect towards the people in wildlife rehabilitation.
Another highlight of my volunteering here is to see how the once scared-of-forests Ronnie Boy taking his first steps to go back to the wild. It was the sixth day of fence training when I first observed him, where he barely even dared to stick out his nose to sniff the air outside. However, at the time of me writing this, he is already brave enough to approach the entrance to the forest enclosure, stay there to look and sniff around without getting scared easily.
I am also very glad that they allowed us to help a team from UMS to check the mist and harp traps for their medical researches. To be honest, entering the forest at night was not my favourite thing to do but after this opportunity, I guess it is not as bad as I thought.
Last but not least, though it is a bit cliché, I need to express my gratitude towards Bithrenley, my buddy keeper. I am very honoured to be your first buddy in your bear-keeping career. Hopefully the bears will love the Beary Tunnel we made (Idea courtesy of Bit). Thank you too to Dr. Wong, Dr. Boon, Lin May, Thye Lim and Pradeep for constantly teaching me about sun bear conservations. To the other keepers, Jeniur, Roger, Adneen, Adrian, David, Danny, and Mizuno, thank you for sharing your amazing stories, laughter and skills with me. Of course, not to be forgotten, my friend, Nursyahidah Hassim for coming all the way from Kota Kinabalu to volunteer with me this time.
Lots of Beary Love,
Text by Alicia Paula
Photos by Chiew Lin May
This is my third time in a row for the past 3 years of volunteering in BSBCC, things are ever-changing, and I am experiencing a lot of new things. One of the new things is the new Platform 2. In 2018, heavy rain and strong wind blew down few big trees and Platform 2 was severely damaged by the fallen trees. When I came back this year and went to BSBCC for the safety induction, I instantly went up to the new Platform 2 to check it out, and it looked pretty good! The other new thing that I noticed, are the number of new staffs that have joined the BSBCC family. Having more bear-keepers certainly helps especially in Bear House 1, outside feeding and kitchen tasks. Talking about tasks, the new bear diet and the list of food distribution among 15 pens, definitely made me take a few steps back…LITERALLY! The ‘Food Quantity’ table is huge, with four feedings in total. Their diets are categorized into fruits, leafy vegetables, starchy vegetables and others (dog biscuit). The food distribution now is more detailed and more complex than before, all differently accommodating to the bear’s nutritional needs. Amaco and Wan-Wan have their own tray of soft foods, only a handful of bears gets porridge and some of them gets cooked chicken, while the rest of the bears get fruits, veggies, and sprouted mung bean. The task to distribute the fruits into 15 buckets is quite confusing at first, but with the help of my buddy, Mizuno, I managed to get a hang of it in just a couple of days. Making and distributing enrichments such as ice block, roll-treat, and egg carton are always a getaway to have a chit-chat with the staffs and volunteers together.
Me and my buddy Mizuno, also made an enrichment for Panda and Chin to play with. We made an enrichment called ‘Rolling Log’, by propping up two inverted ‘V’s and shoving a long metal bar through the log. Placing the log with the metal bar onto the inverted ‘V’, to make it turn when it is clawed and rolled by the bears. Me and Mizuno smeared some peanut butter onto the log, so the bears could use their strong long claws to roll the log. Surprisingly, both bears completely demolished the log off the metal bar in less than 3 days. I figured it’s because the trunk of the log was wet through and could easily fall apart.
Other than duties in the bear house, I was given the chance to participate in bear health checks along with Dr. Boon, Lin May, and Pradeep. It was my first time assisting in the health check, so I took my time to observe the procedures to carry out the health check. I was first assigned with taking and writing down the temperature of the bear every five minutes and was told to notify them when the temperature has any drastic changes. Lin May wanted me to learn how to use the stethoscope to count the bear’s heartbeat. It was really hard to find the heartbeat’s rhythm, and I gave up after some time. Pradeep and Lin May assured me that it is challenging to pinpoint the bear’s heartbeat, in a room filled with beeping sounds and the sounds of the small polishing machine on the bear’s tooth. After that, I returned the stethoscope to Pradeep, and continued to take temperature from the bear.
I also got the chance to join Dr. Boon, to assist her in neutering some cats and dogs in SPCA Sandakan. I joined her twice, first time is with Dr. Boon and Andy, second time was with Nithisha. We mainly helped her with passing the tools and preparing medications, while she did the neutering surgery on the cats and dogs. Observing the procedure was definitely not for the weak stomach. After injecting the anaesthetics, some of the cats threw up. The neutering also involved stitching, and being very generous with the alcohol solution as a disinfectant.
Another thing that I noticed, is when all the BSBCC staffs brought their own food container to eat for lunch. On my first day of volunteering, I had to go and grab lunch at the cafeteria because I did not prepare any food for lunch to be kept in my container. On the next day, I slowly started to make a commitment to cook for lunch, its either I cook the night before or wake up early the next day to prepare it early in the morning. Me not being a morning person, I prepared my lunch the night before. Another method of packing lunch is when eating out for dinner. Every time Thye Lim and Lin May went out for dinner together with the Bjorn Hala family, they would always bring a basket with their food containers inside. When ordering, they would also order food for lunch to be eaten the next day, and they would also ask the hawker to pack the food into the container, instead of using plastic or styrofoam container. Other staffs also brought their own container to pack their lunch, whenever they feel a little lazy to cook it. After seeing that, I got inspired of how they are contributing their efforts to reducing plastic waste in everyday doings. The next dinner that we had together, I brought my own container as well. Knowing that my lunch from the restaurant is not plastic or styrofoam packaged, made me feel really good. Even though my actions are small, it is better than no contribution at all.
~ Self-reflection ~
Coming back to BSBCC to volunteer for the third time, allows me to comeback to myself after a year of continuing my studies. I am a person that really loves outdoor adventures and always having craving to enjoy what the Earth provides. Having my hands and eyes on my laptop and my phone for most of the time, is really straining to the eyes and not really a good way to replace free time with electronics.
Volunteering in BSBCC does not only gets me distracted from my phone, but also helped me to build some muscle strength and stay in shape. I could carry a bag of sweet potato in each hand, carrying it up from outside the bear house and walking all the way up to the kitchen, without dropping or dragging the bag on the floor. Volunteering in BSBCC also teaches me about not being afraid with our common invertebrate visitors, such as the Pill-millipede and the Tractor-millipede. With some help, I managed to gain confidence to let these cute and harmless invertebrates to crawl onto my hand. It definitely tickles at first, but soon got used to it.
Along with the friendly and easy-going staffs of BSBCC, really made the experience more worthwhile. Random laughing moments everywhere I go, even at the simplest things. The day never goes by without something to talk or to laugh about. For some examples, Kala is still being sensitive and does not want to return into her night den, one of the staff found a blood python near Quarantine area, young macaques managed to come into the bear house and stole a lot of dog biscuits, a free-roaming Orangutan chilling on top of the training pens of Bear House 2, and many more. What is there to regret when gaining volunteering experience in BSBCC, nothing!
Text by Nithisha Nair
Photos by Nithisha Nair & Chiew Lin May
After only a week after my internship, I decided it wouldn’t be the last time I’ll be in BSBCC, I got my money saved and bought my tickets almost immediately, and once finals were over, thus began my two weeks volunteering in BSBCC.
I’m Nithisha, a 20-year-old from Selangor, and I am obsessed with this place.
I’m not exaggerating when I say this environment feels a lot like ‘home away from home’, I’ve missed all the familiar faces, whether it be the staff, the bears or even the dogs back in Bjorn Hala. Even more so now with the addition of new friendly faces like Bithrenley and Danny.
As an intern, the schedules and procedures- especially for feeding, were systematically always changing over the period of my internship. So, coming back after over 4 months, there were plenty of obvious changes for me to catch up to.
It’s always interesting coming to understand why the diet is shaped a certain way or why they do certain things around here. This time around, the bear house team even got the chance to sit through a dental lecture with Dr. Boon to understand the dental checks that she carries out on the bears, and hopefully will be able to carry out on the bears annually. It was really fun understanding and counting up the canines and the molars of the bears.
My favourite part of our bear house duties has always been feeding, I love seeing every bear’s different ways of foraging and eating.
Not to mention all of the enrichments we make on the daily to occupy and keep our bears happy, new enrichments that I got to make this time included the happy sack and a ‘frozen salad’ ice block
I even got to assist in making a divider between two training pens to allow two male bears to be able to venture out at the same time without engaging in a growling match. Making the divider involved cutting zinc into perfectly sized measurements, painting them and attaching them in between two training pens.
During my volunteering, I received the pleasure of getting Boboi (Jeniur Justin) as my buddy, he’s a pleasure to be around and will never leave you in any state but happy. Thank you for guiding me and letting me tag along these two weeks boboi, your efforts goes a long way of imprinting itself in my memories.
To summarize my two weeks volunteering, it was wonderful. I even got to know Alicia and Amanda who were both also return volunteer/ interns just like me! Every single staff played a huge role in making my stay special and memorable, I don’t always admit it but they are who I’ll miss the most leaving this place. A million thank you’s and a million more wouldn’t be enough to describe how thankful I have to have gotten a chance to do my internship here and now volunteer here.
When the time and place is right, I truly hope to be able to come back and volunteer again someday, till then,
Text by Sajidah Khadijah Meor Mohammad Fared
Photos by Sajidah Khadijah Meor Mohammad Fared & Chiew Lin May
Hi! My name is Saji (short for Sajidah Khadijah) and I’m a first year veterinary student from University Putra Malaysia. I am a self-proclaimed nature lover and an aspiring wildlife enthusiast. I am truly, truly stoked (and GRATEFUL) to be given this opportunity to do my industrial training at BSBCC. I could barely contain my excitement and the urge to explore everything around me during my 2-weeks stay and thus, I’ve compiled a list of the things I did and experienced throughout this journey.
9 First Things I Did & Never Regretted: -
1. hopped on a plane to Borneo for the sake of the world’s smallest (and CUTEST) bears alive! This is my first time volunteering in BSBCC and hopefully not my last <3
I get that they’re cute but they ARE NOT naturally domesticated to become pets! Kudos to BSBCC for giving these rescued Bornean sun bears a second chance at being rehabilitated back into the wild.
2. encountered orang utans, elephants, macaques and of course sun bears all within the same day (there are other animals worth mentioning as well but these are the most common creatures you are bound to meet/hear/get peed on during volunteering hours! One time, I was doing a forest feeding with my buddy keeper and a macaque peed on me as it was perching on top of a tree. I already smelt bad (because of perspiration) so I didn’t really mind. Disclaimer: these wild animals are of course just for see, not for touch!
3. visited the centre’s bear cemetery, which is located in a pretty good spot surrounded by the lush canopy of the forest and unbeknownst to the public. It was a very poignant moment for me as I paid my respects. They were gone, but not forgotten. Rest in peace dear ones.
4. did enrichments for the sun bears. This serves as a way for them to cope with the stress or boredom of being in captivity for a long time. Some of the bears here will never be released and it’s due to the fact that they have found security within the walls of the bear house. They are afraid and reluctant of stepping out of their comfort zone and so, it is vital that we provide them with enrichments to nurture their natural behaviour such as foraging, digging, clawing, climbing and such. I was assigned to take care of Amaco with the guidance from my buddy, Adneen. He is the oldest bear in the centre as he is about 26 years old. I’ve been told that their typical lifespan in the wild is about 15-18 years but because they are well taken care of when in captivity, they can reach up to 30 years of age!
Each of the bears have their own personality and as for Amaco, he is the typical “orang tua” or old man in the bear house. He’s a picky eater, doesn’t really want to stand up on his 2 hind paws and so my buddy built this structure that would help Amaco to stand up and at the same time, forage for special treats (hint: bananas and mealworm. Yum)
This structure was built by my buddy. I stuffed the Aussie dog ball with some bananas, egg carton, ginger leaves, meal worm and a drizzle of honey for Amaco’s enrichment.
This was literally taken on my first day of volunteering. It felt nice to just mingle about with the other volunteers as we made enrichments for the bears.
I sliced some apples and placed them onto a sack cloth and dusted some curry powder on it. This is a form of sensory enrichment in which the bears will be able to sniff out the curry and try to get the apples from the sack.
5. assisted a team of veterinarians performing a health check on Logan, one of the trio of the youngest bears in the bear house. I basically helped my buddy keeper to carry the sedated bear to the Sepilok Orang Utan Clinic where they conducted the check-up and tooth extraction. Also, I attended the check-up on a 13-year-old male orang utan named Ceria on the next day. Thank you so much Lin May for allowing me to attend these 2 sessions as I could get a glimpse of what wildlife veterinarians do! <3
6. extracted incisors from a dead dog! This was one of the most exciting things I’ve experienced as a vet student so far. Basically, Dr Anwar and Dr Serena from Singapore were assisting us on how to extract canine teeth because some of the bears here have poor dental hygiene because of their diet and so the residential vet will need to perform dental care for the sun bears.
7. learnt to become more competent in the kitchen. Meal preparation for 43 bears is tough as heck! From weighing the food, to chopping and slicing and rinsing them clean and even boiling them, I honestly salute the keepers for being able to do this efficiently, even without having extra helping hands on some days.
The bears are fed with an omnivorous diet which mainly consisted of starchy vegetables and fruits like bananas, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and carrots. They are also given local fruits such as rambutan and langsat. Some bears are fed chicken meat and boiled eggs to increase their body condition scoring because they are too skinny.
My biggest achievement was being able to chop the watermelons, sweet potatoes and pumpkins and I even deboned the chicken once! For someone who spends minimal time in the kitchen, volunteering at BSBCC has surely changed me for the better.
8. my buddy taught me how to saw wood!! It was frustrating at first because I wasn’t getting through with the sawing but Adneen and Roger showed me that perseverance do go a long way and so, I managed to saw wood for one of the enrichments. HOORAY! After sawing the wood, we drilled holes onto them and I stuck some bits of apple into the holes and smeared peanut butter all over. The wood pieces were either thrown overhead into the bear enclosure or I went in and placed the wood on the hammock or on the floor for the bears to play with.
Okay so these are the peeps who taught me so many invaluable things while working in the bear house: Adneen (my buddy), Roger, Azzry and Brandon. They have guided me through cleaning the enclosures, forest feeding, meal preparation and my favourite part which is making the enrichments.
This is by far my favourite enrichment, Stuffed Log. It was fun sawing wood but let’s face it, I am no where near to becoming a lumberjack.
9. went cave hiking and cruising at the Kinabatangan River! I had a day off so I hired a local guide to take me out for some insane adventure time! Gua Batu Tulug and Gua Gomantong are must-visited places!
Full time job: Veterinary student.
Part time job: Dora the Explorer
Shot taken at the peak of Agup Batu Tulug
Archaeological findings of coffins from the old age.
The Cave of Wonders (aka Gomantong Cave). It is the most popular site to find bird’s nest in Sabah.
In a nutshell, I’m glad I spent my semester break here in Borneo. It truly is a beautiful place imbued with the natural rainforests, humble and kind local people and home to the cutest bears alive.
Shot taken behind Bjorn Hala (staff quarters) and where I had built my temporary nest for 2 weeks. Thanks again for having me BSBCC! <3 <3 <3