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 Jerome Visperas Esteva
Photos by BSBCC
My name is Jerome Visperas Esteva, and I currently work at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre as a Ticket and Shop assistant.
The reason why I am volunteering at the bear house is to gain more information about the bears. I am curious to learn about their daily routine and I want to experience how to feed them, make their daily enrichment and clean their cages (where the bears sleep at night).
This is actually my first time working in the bear house. I found my first day at the bear house was a bit hard adjusting to a different routine. To be honest it needs a lot of energy to do all the work here. The daily tasks include :- cleaning the bear cages, preparing food for the bears, feeding inside & outside(forest enclosures), completing the check of the electric fences, making enrichment, etc.
My mentor/”buddy” was Mizuno who is one of the senior bear keepers. He taught me a lot about the safety and the bears behaviour. I am extremely grateful for all the information he shared with me.
I have gained so much experience and learnt so much during these two weeks. I want to say THANK YOU to all the staff at the bear house for helping me during my training program.
Text by Rebecca Kimlaw
Photos by Mizuno Merek Men & Seng Yen Wah
Hi! I am Rebecca Kimlaw, one of the staff at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. My volunteer program started on the 14th of July and ended on the 27th July. I was fortunate enough to spend my two amazing weeks volunteering with the bears. It gave me a glance to see how the operations are generally carried out in the bear house. It was a good chance to learn more about the bears.
My two-week volunteering here was one of the most precious experiences in my life. There was a lot of work to do in the bear house and required a lot of energy. The tasks I was assigned doing were cleaning the bear dens, preparing a lot of food for the bears, feeding bears inside and outside the bear house area and so on. I started falling in love with the bears. Although they are so adorable, we must all bear in mind that its illegal to keep them as a pet. I hope people have awareness about this, so we can protect these beautiful bears together.
I felt comfortable at the bear house because the bear keepers helped me so much. They taught me a lot about the bears. One of my favourite moments is making an enrichment for the bear. Normally, we use leaves, banana, and other accessible nature resources to make an enrichment for them. I enjoyed feeding the bears inside and outside bear house area. I felt satisfied when I saw the bears enjoying their food.
All the bears are cute. But the one that I like the most is Om. Om is a 15 years old male bear. He is a very energetic bear and enjoys his food. He spends a good deal of his time in the forest. Sometimes he is quite content playing all alone, especially with small pieces of dead wood. So, my buddy (Mizuno) and I made an enrichment for him. We could tell that he liked it.
Special thanks to my buddies Danny, Bithrenley, Mizuno and all the bear keepers at the bear house for giving me information and helping me during my training programme. I sincerely recommend this place to anyone who would like to participate in volunteering programmes. You will not regret it! Hopefully I will have a chance to enrol in this volunteering program again.
Text by Nurul Haslinda binti Abdul Kahar
Photos by Seng Yen Wah
Hi! My name is Nurul Haslinda Binti Abdul Kahar, one of the ticketing staff at BSBCC. All of the ticketing staff was given two weeks to do the task as a bear keeper at the bear house and I am the third staff after Khoirul. These two weeks actually has been a great chance for me to know more about the bears, for instance, what do they eat? which bears don’t get along when they are together? why some of the bears are given a different diet? Most of those questions I used to wonder about have been answered by working at the bear house in those two weeks. I was also able to recognise the bears inside the bear house during my volunteering period. YEAH!
During my two-week training, I did the same work as all the bear keeper staff. No exception. Hahaha…
It took a few days for me to get used to all of the tasks, such as fence check, food preparing for the bears inside the bear house and in the forest enclosure, fecal check with my buddy(Roger), husbandry work and many more. All of the tasks given actually required lot of energy every day! Now I understand how the bear keepers doing their daily routine before releasing the bears into the forest enclosure.
This two-week training has given me so much experience and profound knowledge about the bears. Now, I am able to share them with visitors who visit this centre. Here I want to say thank you to those who helped me during my training at the bear house, especially my buddy, Roger, and all the bear keepers.
I hope in the future I will have this kind of volunteering opportunity again.
Here are some pictures taken during my training program:
Text by Vincent Chin Yung Fook
Photos by Vincent Chin Yung Fook & BSBCC
Hi, my name is Vincent Chin Yung Fook. I am 23 years old and I am from Papar, Sabah. Time spent interning at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) for two and a half months was just too precious. Before I made the decision to have my internship here at BSBCC, I discovered this place through my senior. I was really eager to know and learn how an organisation rescues an animal, rehabilitates and releases them back to the wild in the first place. So, I signed up here for my internship.
During these few months, I have prepared hundreds of kilos of fruits and vegetables, cleaned a lot of cages, and made many types of enrichments for the bears. One of my favourite moments here was observing a bear. I was given a chance to observe the fence training of the bears and the behaviours of the bear. Through this observation, I have learnt a lot about sun bears. My favourite bear in BSBCC is Chin. I like her because she’s cute and of course, she has the same name as me.
There are many different staff at BSBCC. Some are serious while working whilst some are funny and playful. I had never get bored working with them. For the Björn Hala’s (name of the place I stayed during my internship) people, I really appreciate the time we laughed together, played games, did karaoke, and watched movies. To my funniest buddy, Jeniur, I would like to say thanks for having my back. He taught me a lot of stuff, sharing his knowledge and his experiences of working in the wild.
In short, this internship has been an excellent and rewarding experience, and I really enjoyed myself throughout my sixteen weeks of this training. Working with different staff just gave me more experiences as different staff have different ways of doing their jobs. I also learned a lot by asking a lot of questions about their work experiences. Not only gaining experience and knowledge about the conservation of sun bears, but the staff also taught me how to handle and communicate with visitors.
It was difficult at the start as it was my first time working here in the bear house. I never thought that taking care of wildlife was a very energy consuming job. However, the struggle was nothing when compared to the positive values and experiences that I have learnt through this internship. Another obstacle which limited my time and experiences was the outbreak of disease, Covid-19. Although my internship period at BSBCC has ended, I will not forget about the kindness of the staff, the knowledge that they shared, and the lovely bears. I really appreciate and am thankful for the time that I have spent here working with bears.
Text by Gillian Gabriel
Photos by Gillian Gabriel, Jerlyn Joan Jenius (APE Malaysia) & Chiew Lin May
For the first and foremost, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself. Hi! My name is Gillian Gabriel or you can call me Gee. I am currently in the final semester of my degree. Each final year student of University Malaysia Sabah (UMS) was required to finish their final semester by completing an internship program. My major course is Conservation Biology. With the three and a half years of studying Conservation Biology, I decided to do my internship at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). I discovered BSBCC from the website and you can tell that it was love at first sight. I got really curious about how they handle the sun bears and I was quite fascinated with the positive feedback given by the previous volunteers. I also thought to myself that this is a great opportunity to expose myself into the real life world as a conservationist. So, I decided to experience it on my own and lucky me, I was accepted!
Professional and friendly, yes that’s my first impression on BSBCC management. All the staff are really friendly, playful and they would never make you feel left out. They are also quite professional. Although I was assigned with my own buddy keeper, Bithrenley, the other staff were willing to teach, guide, and educate me as well.
I thank my buddy keeper for teaching and guiding me during my internship. Never once did he get angry at me for not catching up real quick. In fact, he taught me one by one and he never put me under pressure. I had a great time working with him. He has a great way of explaining things easier for me to understand. He is also funny and is really caring. They told me that the buddy keeper is in charge of our safety and our work progress. And I personally think that my buddy keeper did a pretty great job, he took his responsibility really well.
Sun bears? Honestly, they are ten times more adorable in real life than what you have seen posted on any social media or website. One of my favourite things to do is to feed them. The way they hold the food and chew it, is so adorable! I consider myself lucky because I got to see them face to face. My favourite sun bear is Simone, a female bear who loves climbing, observing, and relaxing. I consider her as the most obedient bear in BSBCC. My buddy keeper and I decided to make enrichment for her; we called it ‘The Flying Boat’.
I am so amazed with the final product and truly thankful to my buddy keeper for assisting, guiding and helping me. From the above picture, the word ‘boat’ is used because the structural shape of the product resembles a boat. The product was installed at the top of the cage to which the term ‘flying’ is used because this provides the bear to view things from a higher place.
The kitchen. For the first few weeks, I admit that I was quite slow. There are a lot of things going on in the kitchen. And it is really important to note down every single thing because you would not want to ruin a single menu. However, as the weeks passed by, I kind of got used to it. I almost memorized half of the schedule, although I often made a simple mistake, I still congratulate myself for doing a great job.
Another thing that made my internship ten times better was the other volunteers and intern students. I got to meet and live with them (at Paganakan Dii) and I got to share experiences with them too. Although I got to only spend a few weeks getting to know them, I had a great time. Besides, they are really down when it comes to seeking a new adventure.
I was also assigned to do behavioural research on one of the female bears, named Panda. I would spend two hours of my working day, observing Panda. And I tell you, she is really adorable! I think I might have gotten crazy because at some point I hoped she could talk. At least I would have someone to talk to during the observation.
Working was fun up until a virus outbreak happened; it was on the 18th of March in 2020 when a Movement Control Order (MCO) took place. People were restricted from going out of their houses and were advised to practice social distancing. This was the time when less staff were required to come to work and intern students were advised to stay at home, following the rules given by the higher authorities from UMS. At that point, staying at home was the best choice to flatten the curve and to minimize the risk of getting the virus.
However, the adventure did not just stop there. The other intern students and I moved to Bjorn Hala. Every evening, the intern students, Vincent and Ezi, the rest of the staff and I spent the time by making enrichment. And we always prepared different types of enrichment. We also shot videos as part of the assessment for the donation campaign and we included Sunny, BSBCC’s mascot, in the video.
Apart from making enrichment every evening, our supervisors, Wawa and Pradeep, also gave me a task to do at home. I prepared a report about the bear I was observing, Panda. I found a lot of interesting reviews and studies that I could relate to. One of the things I discovered was that the enclosure complexity and natural environment is really important. Now I understand why we prepared different types of enrichment every day. It’s like a toy and entertainer to them to keep them from getting stressed out!
Bjorn Hala has a special place in my heart. I agree 100% to the phrase “It is not about the places, it’s the people”. Despite the virus outbreak and staying miles away from my hometown and family, Bjorn Hala made me feel like I was home and I never felt alone. Boboy, Mizuno, Danny, Becca, and Wawa were like my family in Bjorn Hala. They are really funny, caring, crazy and they are pretty good at cooking as well. Thank you for feeding me, sharing with me your funny, creepy, and sad stories. I will forever cherish you guys!
To conclude my 12 weeks of internship program, I came to the realisation that there is a lot of exciting and interesting things going on while working at BSBCC. I cannot explain it with words and I bet you cannot even imagine it. From going to the forest to find termites, to staying 24/7 working at home, I learnt a lot of things and that is all coming from the people around me. It was an honor to be a part of the team and to witness and experience a lot of things. I hope that one day our paths will cross again and I get to experience another adventure working with wild animals!
I thank you BSBCC for being a hero to sun bears!
Text by Ezi Nurayu binti Abd. Wahab
Photos by Ezi Nurayu & Chiew Lin May
I am Ezi Nurayu binti Abd. Wahab.
I am currently studying at University Malaysia Sabah in a Conservation Biology course.
I have so many wonderful stories from my internship period.
Actually, together with Gillian and Vincent, we had to fulfill our 12 weeks internship period, but unfortunately we could only do it for around 6 weeks in total at the Bear House. This is due to the COVID-19 pandemic that was happening during these days.
On February 8th, we reached Sandakan Airport and were fetched by Thye Lim. During this time, we were still awkward with Thye Lim. He talked a lot in the van, but we just awkwardly answered his questions. Haha. Sorry Thye Lim! Our talkative mood at that time was still off. Actually, he is a nice and funny guy indeed!
Thye Lim drove us to BSBCC at first because we needed to be briefed by Lin May about the volunteer rules and regulations, and she told us our buddy keeper name too. So, I was told that my buddy keeper was Roger. After that, we went to Bear House Hijau Hut. We had to introduce ourselves to all the Bear House Team and APE volunteers (Cameron and Astrid). Then, we were brought by Thye Lim and Lin May to our very first accommodation which was Paganakan Dii Tropical Retreat Sepilok (before moving to Bjorn Hala). Thanks to them for helping us with our heavy, like a bag of bricks, luggage. Haha!
At night, Thye Lim and Lin May took us to get dinner at a restaurant before going to the grocery store.
Now, let me tell you about my embarrassing and interesting stories from my first day of doing the internship here.
I broke the flat rubber squeegee mop during my very first task to clean the kitchen floor. I was so unfamiliar with the thing actually. Haha. Silly me!
Then, the very proud thing I did during my first day was I climbed the Sika’s group cage in Bear House 2 to hang the platform structure. Also, I had my very first experience in learning what the U-clamp is and how to use it. Thanks to Roger, Adneen, Pradeep and Lin May for encouraging me to do so at that time. I rarely did this kind of ‘men’ work, but here I did! I was so happy because no one underestimated me except myself. Haha! Oh yeah! I forgot to tell you guys that in here, there is no sexism allowed. Every person has the same treatment. This is one of the unique things in BSBCC.
After all these things, I learnt how to feed the bears. I was so scared to feed the bears on my very first day because I was afraid to get grabbed by them. But then, when I applied the technique that Roger taught us during our safety induction, I was no longer scared. I just needed to be calm and steady. Big thanks to Roger!
Roger and Adneen always gave me some tips on how to do work efficiently and faster. They taught me the correct way to brush the cages, sweep the cages floor, and prepare the food (this task I was still slow because I cannot cut the fruit as fast as them, like a chef) in a faster, yet efficient way. I was very lucky to have Roger as my buddy because he always tried to find work after all the routine tasks had finished. He never gave me a chance to pace myself. I am a proud buddy!
Every week, we would have a session with Dr. Wong Siew Te. We would ask him some questions and he answered them directly. From the sessions that I attended, I know that he is a very passionate person about wildlife conservation, especially sun bears. I am so proud with his life achievement! I am really glad I got to meet him in person. Thanks Dr. Wong for accepting us to do our internship here and spending your time to have a session with us every week.
Here, I was taught how to do enrichments for the sun bears.
I did a lot of enrichments! Thanks to the bear keepers, especially Roger, Adneen, Mizuno, Danny and Jeniur who gave me the chance to do that.
Roger always encouraged me to make a wooden-based enrichment. By that, we had to find wood in the forest. I liked to do this because I could build up my stamina and learn to saw, drill and chisel the wood then. I could build up my ‘man’ skills too.
For the fence training, Roger and I were asked by Lin May to observe BJ, Kina, Sika and Soo.
During my first day observing BJ, I was so nervous because I needed to write down BJ’s behaviour every minute. So, I must be quick to observe and write it down then.
But, day after day, my skills of observing and writing at the same time improved, especially during the time when I needed to observe four of them at the same time. Proud me! Hehe.
There were times where we were given a task to go to the platform to talk to the visitors.
I really liked this task because this was one of my reasons for choosing BSBCC as my internship place. I wanted to build up my confidence level in communication skills. I got the chance to go to the platform twice. Thank God! For my first time, I was a bit passive, but then I improved and was brave to approach the visitors (international and local) at Platform 1. Thank you to Melynda (centre coordinator) for always helping me out during that time.
Here too, I had my first experience getting sucked by the leeches! Congratulations to me! Hahaha.
This happened during the day where we (Roger, Danny and I) went to get a very big termite nest for BBC filming purposes. I got the chance to see many scorpions under the termite nest too. Thank God nothing happened to us. Oh yeah! I have learnt how to do fencing with Roger too. Thanks to Roger for allowing and trusting me to do that.
Let’s move to the moment where we had to stay in Bjorn Hala (staffs house). I was so sad because we could not go to the Bear House to feed the bears, do cage cleaning and food preparation. I missed the Bear House so bad! This is due to the Movement Control Order caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
What we did during these critical days was our video project for funding purposes, a full report on research about Along’s behaviour, did enrichments for the bears (e.g. nest ball, honeycomb, stick paradox and fire hose pocket), plus made a blog for the fence training for Sika’s group, a bear blog (Along) and an internship blog. We just worked from home (WFH) as our university commanded to do so.
Now, time for Bjorn Hala’s unforgettable memories.
Here we are like a family. Most of us are not Sandakan people, except Mizuno. So, by having them in Bjorn Hala, it made me felt like I was at home. Never to deny, they were my reason to smile for every day. We are always teasing each other like siblings always do. Teasing, laughing, being crazy yet funny and caring for each other are what I will miss the most about us. Never forget me guys!
Other than sun bears, what the best about BSBBC was is the people (staff and Dr. Wong). Maybe it is hard to find good people out there. But here, there are a ton of funny yet nice people that can be found.
Trust me :-)
So for the guys out there, let’s try at least once to volunteer at BSBCC.
Once you volunteer here, you will want more.
Text by Olivia Nord
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hi, my name is Olivia and I am a student from Sweden doing my internship as a volunteer here at BSBCC. I have only been here for less than two weeks but it is honestly been one of the coolest and most interesting things I have ever done. Partly for the knowledge that your work here is important and that it makes a difference to these incredible Sun Bears that are so important for the environment. Since the BSBCC main focus is to release as many Sun Bears as possible back to the wild. But also because you have the chance to join the amazing work that the keepers and the staff do for the bears every single day, making sure that they are well taken care of. My favourite thing to do was making the enrichment because it made the bears so happy and entertained. The process of making it was long but very fun because of all the creativity, and at the end it was worth the hard work since the time it took playing with them took longer than the time making it.
If I had the chance to prolong my stay here I definitely would and I recommend everyone to experience this amazing journey!
Text by Niklas Wellerfors
Photos by Chiew Lin May
My name is Niklas Wellerfors and I am a student from the school Spanga gymnasium in Sweden. I am doing my internship here in Borneo taking care of the sun bears. This is a very rare opportunity I have been given that not too many people are able to experience. This is a once in a lifetime experience and I am truly grateful for it. Sadly we are being sent home early because of certain circumstances. You could call it unlucky, but as I see it, I am still lucky that I even could be here for the time I was. I got so much out of it even with the lack of time. It is really crazy being able to see the rainforest and not only that but also taking care of the animals that live in the rainforest. The thing I like most about the sun bears is each bear is very different, they all have their own personality just like humans. Some bears are small and cute, and some bears are big and feisty. Some bears absolutely love carrots while some bears would really prefer pumpkin. Some bears sit like a human eating food and some bears climb up somewhere to eat. Each bear has a different sun mark. My favourite bear is Bermuda, he is big and feisty, and really likes to eat. Over the short time being here I noticed stuff like this while feeding or cleaning and it is like you slowly get to know each bear. Even though the time was too short to learn every name of the bears, I got to learn some of their personalities. Not only that, but I also got to know the staff here which are really funny and helpful. Before coming here, I knew very little about sun bears but now I know the importance of helping them. It is so great to even help a little in saving these small, cute bears and knowing I did something for them feels so good. I would really recommend everyone reading this to volunteer at BSBCC or just do something small like spreading the message of the sun bears situation.
Text by Hafsa Mohamed Ahmed
Photos by Chiew Lin May
My name is Hafsa and I did my internship as a volunteer at BSBCC. At first I had a bit of a hard time adjusting to the climate, food and the work here. But never in my life have I been so well taken care of, at every corner I had someone I could ask for help or just to converse with. Being here made me realize the important work they do for the sun bears and for the people who come and visit the centre. Prior to this trip I had little knowledge about the sun bears and how important it is to preserve them. Now I have learnt that by preserving them you make a difference for all wildlife here in Borneo. I am so grateful for having the opportunity to learn and grow as a person here and now I know that I want to do this type of work for the rest of my life. Thank you so much for your hospitality and kindness, BSBCC! I will be back soon!