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!
Text by Muhammad Khoirul Afandi
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Hi! I am Khoirul, one of the staff for ticketing come shopkeeper at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. All of the ticketing staff had been given a task for two weeks to get experience and to gain more information about how the operations generally occur in the bear house. Since I started working here, this is actually my first time working in a bear keeper role. This was a good chance for us to gain some experience so that we, as frontline staff, can give some new information that we did not know before.
On my two week training, the bear house offered a lot of work and required a lot of energy! The tasks given at the bear house included cleaning the bear cages, preparing a lot of food for the bears, feeding inside and outside the bear house area, completing fence checks, creating enrichment, etc.
I have gained so much experience and I have learnt so much during these two weeks that it is hard to know what to include in this blog post. I want to say thank to those who were involved in giving me a lot of information and helping me during my training program at the bear house, especially to my buddy (Danny) and for all the bear keepers.
Some of the pictures during my training program at the bear house:
Text by Cameron Watson
Photos by Chiew Lin May
When I started my volunteering at BSBCC, I had no idea quite how quickly these 2 weeks would fly in. It has been a great experience in all regards, from the beauty of the animals themselves to the camaraderie of the team and of course how rewarding the actual work is. If anyone is an animal lover or has a concern for conservation and an urge to do something about it, then I couldn’t recommend this program more.
My only real concern before starting was that this would be a bit of a fad and that the volunteers would be given fairly petty cleaning jobs, while the keepers actually got on with the real work. This was far from the case! We were very much in the thick of the work from beginning to end which is exactly how it should be. You will work up a sweat on a daily basis. The day begins with more functional tasks such as preparing food and cleaning the bear house, before the afternoon which brings more creative enrichment work to encourage the bear’s natural behaviours. This is a great day split as you really get a bit of both and the pace is never too slow.
The staff here are all very supportive and great banter. The keeper I was paired with – Danny – was amazing at showing me the ropes but also at explaining the reasoning behind the things they were doing, which was amazing. Being told the thinking behind each activity really highlights how what you are doing is making a difference in a bear’s rehabilitation, whether it be the different meals prepared to fit the individual bear’s diets, or the way the enrichment toys we make parallel what the bears would encounter in the wild.
This brings us on to the focal point and most rewarding thing at BSBCC – the bears themselves! There is no better feeling than watching a bear demolish an enrichment you have just put together and knowing that this is bringing them one step closer to release into the wild. During my time I was lucky enough to see and record Sika – a young 2 year old – taking her first steps out of the bear house and into the outside world. Before being rescued and brought to BSBCC, she had been kept illegally in a cage in a house and watching her take her first step outside is a moment that will stay with me forever. It felt truly special to be a part of. It is moments like these that will make your time at BSBCC truly worthwhile and beautifully emotional. You will leave, like me, with a better awareness and an urge to do more.
I would therefore recommend this program to anyone who’s not afraid to put in good work that will actually make a difference. You will get attached to the bears and learn their names and personalities. Hearing that the centre plans to release 4 bears this year brings a smile to my face and makes all the work worth it. It’s a great program for the volunteer, but a better one for the bears themselves.
Text by Mae Elliessa Shaifubahrim
Photos by Mae Elliessa Shaifubahrim & Chiew Lin May
My first experience volunteering at a conversation centre
Prior to joining the volunteer program at the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), I had little affiliation or experience with wildlife or the conservation industry. I signed up to volunteer at BSBCC for two weeks to learn about a species endemic to my homeland. In these two weeks I discovered a lot about the sun bears (Helarctos malayanus euryspilus) but the thick of my takeaway from this experience was becoming aware of the importance of the work they are doing at the centre, not just for the bears but especially for the bigger cause of conservation and ecosystem/world/livelihood balance.
A day in the routine of a bear keeper
Volunteers are gently integrated into the routine of an extensive list of tasks conducted daily to observe the bear house upkeep and care for the bears’ wellbeing- both physical and mental. The keepers do a lot- food prep, cleaning, feeding, enrichment contraptions, building pens etc. to care for forty-three bears is no small feat.
My favourite task would be food prep: preparing a wide (and very very large) assortment of food for the bears’ daily intake. Nothing like a store filled with kilos upon kilos of food washed, cut, weighed, some cooked, and assorted for to-be very happy bears. The next morning we sweep and clean the same weight in poop. There is nothing like it.
I have the utmost admiration and respect for the eight keepers at BSBCC. Seemingly shy and reserved at first, they turned out to be quite a cheeky bunch. The keepers conduct their work with much integrity and were a joy and pleasure to get to know, learn from, and to work with.
Getting to know the bears
In my time at BSBCC I learned to identify a few individual bears by their appearance and behaviour. Each bear have their own particular black spotted-yellow chest mark. I found myself quite drawn to Simone who spends much of her day sitting on top of her water container to observe keepers and passersby as they go about their business. I was often entranced by what her thoughts could be like as I observed her, and she observed me.
Björn Halla // People
For the duration that I was volunteering, I lodged at “Björn Halla” (translated from Swedish to mean “Bear Cave”). A very modest keep that houses some of the staff of BSBCC. It is in this house that I got to know better and was taken by the varied personalities of the people of BSBCC. I witnessed the meticulous care and regard BSBCC in-house vet, Boon takes toward animals. There was one night Dr. Wong (founder of BSBCC) arrived at the house with a nest of two baby squirrels that had been blown away by the night’s heavy rain. I was low-key jumping in my seat at the novelty of the situation while everyone else seemed to behave as if it were absolutely normal. So chill.
I sat with Pradeep at the dining table for enlightening conversations in regards to conservation, wildlife, and even his house cats. The rest of the house are a varied collection of lovely personalities and goofs Yen Wah, Rebecca, Andy, Mizuno, and Jeniur. With housemates like these I hardly had a dull moment in the house. I highly recommend staying with at the staff house if it is available- it is one of the facets of this trip that enriched my experience here even more so.
Text by Astrid Mofjell
Photos by Chiew Lin May
My name is Astrid Mofjell, I am 21 years old and I’m from Sweden. I’ve always had an interest in nature and wildlife. The last couple of years I have read so much about animals going extinct, animals in captivity etc. I really wanted to help but did not know how. After spending two weeks working at the BSBCC (Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center), I really feel like I have made a change. I have had the privilege to help sun bears adapt to a better life and I really recommend more people come here and help the sun bears.
All the volunteers are staying at an accommodation called Paganakan Dii. It is really beautiful there and you have the opportunity to cook your own food if you want to. If you are quite lazy like me, you can buy food at the cafeteria. The food is really good, and you get a lot of food for a cheap price.
At 7:30 in the morning we leave the accommodation to go to the BSBCC and we start to work
At 8:00 in the morning you either work in the kitchen preparing all the food for the bears or in one of the bear houses cleaning cages. When all the food is prepared and the cages are clean, we help to feed the bears too.
At 12:00 p.m. we have a lunch break for one and a half hours. After you have eaten your lunch you have a lot of time to go and look at the sun bears from the platforms if you want to. Here you can watch the bears play, eat, rest and even climb trees.
I think the funniest part of the day is after lunch because then it is time for enrichment. Then we get to be more creative which is very fun. Enrichment is a process which aims to encourage the bears natural behaviour. Most often we create toys with food hidden inside so the bears really have to make an effort to get to the food.
We will finish work at 5:00 p.m.
Working alongside the staff here has taught me so much about sun bears and also a lot about myself. If I had the opportunity to stay for a longer period of time I would. The staff here are really nice and they always make sure that you feel safe. We have shared so much laughter and the mood is always good here. The staff are really kind and they are happy to answer any questions you have.
Each bear has a different story about how they ended up at the BSBCC. Almost every one of them have been kept illegally as a pet. Their stories really touched me and it made me realize how important the work they do here really is. Even though their stories are really sad, it was really nice to see the progress of the work they have done here.
It made me so happy when the staff told me that this May, four of the bears at the center are going to be released into the wild again. I am so inspired by the people working here, the things they do really works and hopefully even more bears can be released soon.
It feels really good to be a part of the solution and I will remember this for the rest of my life.