Text By Lydia Wheelers
Photos By Chiew Lin May
Hi, my name is Lydia and I come from the UK. I currently do volunteering at my local wildlife park but have always been interested in helping other animals. After watching many programmes on Borneo’s wildlife and doing research into one of my favourite animals, my heart was set on the Sunbears and suddenly my time was here to help these gorgeous animals.
The first thing I noticed was the humidity and instantly started sweating! The weather is A LOT warmer than in the UK. Volunteering in the bear house was hard work but seeing the bears on a daily basis and learning the different characters of each one made it so much fun. We soon got into a routine of cleaning the cages, preparing the food like professional chefs, feeding the bears and creating enrichments to help stimulate them and make it as similar as possible to being in the wild. Enrichment is very important for these little guys and girls, an example of this was smearing peanut butter on sticks for them to tear apart and lick with their incredibly long tongue! We even got to help create a platform for the bears to climb on and have shelter in the pen. Knowing I have been a part of creating something useful for the bears is such a good feeling.
I was lucky enough to go on two medical checks with Dr Yeoh Boon Nie who cleaned and polished their teeth. The bears also had a physical examination, blood samples taken and even one had their nails clipped. Getting to see the bears up close was surreal but it was truly amazing to be able to assist with making sure they were fit and healthy.
We were lucky enough to have a weekly talk with Dr Wong Siew Te. This was one of the highlights of the trip as we got to talk about any questions we had. Dr Wong is a very down to earth person and I was at ease straight away. He has so much knowledge to share so I learnt an awful lot in this session. His passion for animals was very infectious and has only made my love for these animals grow.
My buddy Adrian and Sumira were always around to help when I needed it and made my experience a lot easier. A MASSIVE thank you to the staff, Paganakan Dii and all the other volunteers for making my first time in Borneo two weeks I’ll never forget!
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Huge Thanks to Anton Ngui for the generous donation of rambutan fruits to help the rescued sun bears. These enrichment rambutan branches treat makes the bears cherished. They love this surprise moment!
Thank you for your support again, Anton!
Please continue to support us by adopting, donating, spread the word or buy a gift of love https://www.bsbcc.org.my/adopt.html
Video by Chiew Lin May
Meet the magnificent animals on earth...Sun bears!
Illegal hunting and pet trade has directly affected the sun bear population numbers. The time to act is now! Please help to save the sun bears from extinction.
Visit www.bsbcc.org.my for all the latest news and find out more about how we are working to protect sun bears.
Text by Khairunnisa binti Mohd Faisal (Intern Student, University Science Malaysia)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Seeing the bears live freely in the forest is such a blessing. That’s what I hoped to see for one of my favorite bears, Panda. Once the bear has passed the fence training, they will be released to the forest enclosure. Now, Panda has passed the fence training and it’s time for her to go out and enjoy the beauty of the forest. We did an enclosure cleaning a few days before Panda is released to pen E.
On the first day of release, Panda spent her time observing the pen by sitting inside the cage and looking through the guillotine door. During this early stage of release, we arranged the food nearby the cage so that she is aware that there is food in the pen. Some of the nearby prepared food is eaten by her but she did not have the courage to go out from the cage yet.
On the next day, we arranged her food slightly further from the cage so that Panda will go out to the pen. Finally, two of her front limbs were out when she was trying to grab the food. However, the ramp in cage 12 was too steep which cause Panda a little bit insecure to go down further to avoid slipping to the bottom of the ramp.
After a few days of training, whenever the guillotine door is opened, Panda directly went out and sniffed the food on the ramp which she was aware that there is food outside. We put the food far from the cage as we wanted her whole body out from the cage. Unfortunately, the ramp was too short for her. Panda able to grab the prepared food just by lengthen her body and lick the peanut butter by using her super long tongue.
During the ongoing observation, there is once when Panda’s whole body was out on the ramp when she was observing the environment. It indicates that Panda started to feel comfortable with the surrounding and she felt safe to be outside the cage. However, both of the ramp used in cage 10 and 12 were not suitable for her release. Ramp on cage 10 is too short and the ramp in cage 12 is too steep for her to go out. Now, we are working on changing the ramp structure. We hope that this project will work for her as we want to see Panda going around freely in the forest.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Due to the limited trees in one of our forest enclosures, we plan to construct a new platform structure to give the bears a cool, shady place during hot summer days. The platform structure will be a favourite for the sun bears, being the site for snoozes, foraging and wrestles. Through this platform structure, the bears will have enough space and the freedom to do as they please.
The team will focus on designing and carrying the iron wood (hardest wood), building the foundation, mixing cement, chiselling, sawing and hammering…plus some digging! It is brilliant and fun for everyone who takes part!
Despite the hot weather, they did a great job. They showed a value for teamwork and a strong sense of humour. When the construction was finished, staff and volunteers added on some enrichment –like dead wood, and a climbing structure so that the sun bears have plenty of opportunities to exercise - it encourages their natural behaviour and stimulates their body and mind. The sun bears can continue exploring and make as much mess as they like!
The vital work, which has changed BSBCC’s sun bears lives, was made possible by volunteer donations and the effort of numerous compassionate volunteers from around the world. Thank you to all your support, it really does make a difference and BSBCC could not have achieved this without your help.
Text by Megan Katie Noblett
Photos by Megan Katie Noblett & Chiew Lin May
There are three things you need to know about Borneo before you volunteer with BSBCC. It is hot. It is humid. There are a lot of bugs. As someone best suited to the cold and who can barely cope with a British summer and has a deep dislike bordering on phobia of things that have too many legs (aka anything more than six) I did actually get asked the question by my mother why on Earth I was going to a place so hot, so humid and full of creepy crawlies that literally set my skin crawling; the answer – the bears.
I am a zoology graduate and also earned a masters degree in Anthrozoology (the study of human-animal interaction) and was fortunate enough to conduct my research project on Moon bears in China. Even before this, bears have fascinated me and it is on my bucket list to work with each of the eight species or at the very least see them in their natural habitat. But I didn’t want to volunteer with BSBCC just to tick a species off my list but because I was deeply impressed with the vital work Dr. Wong and his team are doing. I have followed the organisation for a few years and finally had the time to take the 16 hour plane ride to Borneo to work with BSBCC and see the Sun bears.
Upon arrival I was met with the heat, the humidity and the bugs (so many bugs) but I quickly forgot them and even embraced them as I was set to work cleaning cages, preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner for 43 bears (they each eat 5kg of food a day so as you can imagine, there is A LOT of food), doing fence checks, helping with public education and making enrichment.
Enrichment was definitely the most enjoyable part of being in the bears houses. Making nest balls (peanut butter, bananas, apples and spices wrapped up in a nest of twigs and leaves), hosepipe honeycombs (fake beehives made from old fire-hoses stuffed with peanut butter, bananas, apples and spices) Sun bear burgers (two egg cartons strapped together around leaves with – you guessed it – peanut butter, bananas, apples and spices) and giant ice pops made from fruits and veg for the Sun bears to enjoy on a hot day. We spent hours carefully crafting these items to watch the bears rip them into pieces a matter of seconds. However, it was most certainly worth all the hard work to see the enjoyment the bears got from seeking out the sweet treats.
The highlight of the trip was working with one particular bear, Sigalung. Being kept illegally as a pet since cubhood until his rescue in 2014, Sigalung was a little afraid to step out of his indoor den into the forest enclosure and I was tasked with trying to get him to go outside and observing him as he did. We laid food and yummy treats like peanut butter and honey to appease his sweet tooth and day by day we moved the treats further down the platform and the steps leading to the enclosure. The first day I observed him, I could clearly see how tense and even frightened he was. He would stretch out as far as he could whilst still keeping his back two paws in doors to reach his food. He would make a quick grab of the food and took it inside so he would have to exposed more than necessary. At one point a butterfly flew at him and he startled so badly he ran back inside. We persevered and each day Sigalung became braver and braver (I think the peanut butter helped a lot) until he was walking out onto the platforms as soon as the doors opened and even ate outside. It was wonderful to see how this bear was overcoming his fears and I hope he will progress further until he can enjoy the forest enclosure with his bear friends.
It was my first time in Borneo and stayed on my own there for a month, but never felt lonely. The keepers and all the staff at BSBCC and APE Malaysia along with my fellow volunteers are wonderful friendly people who are quick to welcome you to the Sun bear family. They have really looked after me, making me laugh and patiently answered all my questions (mainly, ‘which bear is that again?’).
Sabah is a truly gorgeous place. Not only did I get see one of my favourite animals up close but I was surrounded by the beauty of Borneo and all the magnificent creatures that call it home. Geckos, Sunbirds, Flying lemur, Monitor lizards, Giant flying squirrels, baby Macaques, Giant fruit bats, Pygmy squirrels, a whole host of butterflies and dragonflies were only some of the many animals I was able to see in the wild just by looking around the centre and my accommodation. The experience has been truly magical and something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I am a tutor of Animal Management at a FE college back in England, teaching 16 – 19 year olds all about animal biology, husbandry and conservation. It is the type of experience I have had at BSBCC that I can use to encourage my students and inspire them in their own careers in the wildlife and conservation sector. I would encourage anyone to volunteer with BSBCC; even with the heat, the humidity and, yes, the bugs – the bears are so worth it and I will miss them all a lot.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Million thanks to Anton Ngui for the support and kind fruits donation for the rescued bears. We would not be able to provide this without your help.
Sun bears love tasty fruits! This is where you can help them. Every gift gives these bears the love they really deserve.
You all make the difference!
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Each rescued sun bear that has arrived at BSBCC were previously kept locked in cages and would try to bite the bars to find their way out; this has caused them to suffer from severe dental disease. Inappropriate diet in the pet trade can also lead to long term dental damage. Dental disease is an often overlooked threat to the comfort and health of bears.
BSBCC organised a workshop about the “Sun Bear Dental Case” on 20-23 Aug 2019. It was a real honour and privilege to have amazing guests from Singapore Zoo, Dr. Ali Anwar and Dr. Serena Oh from Wildlife Asia Veterinary Services (WAVES) came to share their experiences with veterinarians and us about how to detect and treat dental problems in the bears. The workshop focused on animal dental anatomy, dental charts, dental radiography techniques, and periodontal diseases.
Three sun bears: Diana, Logan, and Kudat were chosen to receive treatment for dental radiography and dental extraction. Through receiving these dental care treatments, it will improve the wellbeing and health of the bear.
Thank you Dr. Anwar and Dr. Serena, we will make sure their health continues to improve and they are able to enjoy their nutritious food. See you again!
Video by Chiew Lin May
"Excited to be in forest where was surrounded by tall trees, green grass and everything wild!" - Noah & Dodop
Text by Natalie Lian Qian Wei (Intern Student, University Science Malaysia)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hello everyone! Today I am going to tell you a story about a little bear making friends. Her name is Romolina, she is one year old. She is tiny, but definitely mighty (Romolina is a grumpy bear! Roar!). Not forgetting to mention that she has two friends, Joe and Logan. They live together in forest enclosure.
But first, we must know that sun bears live solitary in nature, and we can only find sun bears together during the mating season or when a mama bear takes care of her baby. Here in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), helping sun bears to make friends (also known as integration) helps to encourage healthy bear behaviour as the bears can learn from each other of essential skills, conserve space (as we already have 43 bears!), and reduce stress. Before this, little Romolina was already integrated with the other sub-adult sun bears, which include Wawa, Mary, Dodop, Noah and Nano. The integration process was done in an indoor enclosure. However, when they were released to the forest (outdoor) enclosure, Romolina could not live with them harmoniously. This might be due to problems such as territoriality, difference in body size (Romolina has a relatively small body size, which is not good for play-fights), or Romolina’s independent personality. This left a scar in their relationships that needs to be healed.
Therefore, it gave us a mission: Help Romolina to be friends with the other bears again. Each integration session was to be carried out for 30 minutes, in the indoor enclosure of Bear House 1.
It wasn’t an easy process. Besides her bestfriends Logan and Joe, Romolina would run around, growl, huff and bark whenever the other bears approached her.
Anyway, here is a brief summary of Romolina’s interaction with the other bears she was to be integrated with:
Noah is a friendly and playful bear. During integration, Noah would approach Romolina. He chased and wanted to play with her. Little Romolina avoided Noah but there was once, Romolina was “caught” by Noah. Noah bit her in a playful manner. We were pleased that Romolina did not fight with Noah!
As for Nano, during integration, Nano was not interested to approach Romolina and was just minding his own business. Moving on we will talk about her integration with Wawa. Although Romolina would react negatively when the other bears approached her, Wawa is a brave bear as she would still try to approach Romolina. She would go to Romolina slowly, with her head bowed down. Even though Wawa was not aggressive to her, Romolina would still avoid her.
Dodop rarely approached Romolina. However, something happened between Romolina and Dodop during an integration session - A fight! The cause of the fight was an accident, though. Noah was chasing Romolina around the enclosures to play with her, Romolina panicked, ran around and unintentionally, ran into Dodop. A fight then happened between them. We then had to stop the fight rapidly using a bucket of water and a fire extinguisher.
As for Mary, integration did not go well between them too. Romolina would barked and growled at Mary. There was once, Mary attempted to bite Romolina too.
During the sessions, we observed that Romolina avoided all of the bears. She would stay on top of the enclosure, away from the others. Our integration mission in the indoor enclosure thus came to an end. Anyway, let’s hope for the best for little Romolina! Perhaps, one day she will be able to be friends with the other bears again.