Text by Woo Chee Yoong
Photos by Woo Chee Yoong, Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Everyone is familiar with the phrase, “time flies”, especially in the happy moments which make us wish we could stay a bit longer. However, reality always stands in the way. It is time for me to bid farewell to The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC).
I am an undergraduate student, studying the Animal Resource Science and Management Programme, at the University Malaysia Sarawak, UNIMAS. I came to the BSBCC for industry training for a period of 10 weeks. I found out about the BSBCC when I searched for an institution or research centre that focuses on large mammals in Malaysia. When I found out about the existence of sun bears, my interest in such charismatic mammal grew stronger. Moreover, the sun bear is the smallest bear species in the world, and Malaysia provides these bears with an important home. So, I decided to apply for my industry training placement with the BSBCC. I first flew to Sandakan to meet Dr(Hon) Wong Siew Te, the founder of the BSBCC, to seek advice and guidance about my wish to continue my career as a biologist working closely with animals. I was truly impressed with Dr(Hon) Wong’s achievements, but it was his commitment and dedication, despite all the hardship he has encountered in saving sun bears, that inspired me to continue with what I was pursuing.
When I first arrived, I was introduced to my home in Sandakan where the intern students and volunteers are placed, Bjorn Hala. A simple home, but filled with warmth and laughter, with five other members of the BSBCC staff. Furthermore, other colleagues sometimes joined us in the house for special occasions, “Bjorn Hala is a family”. I started my first working day by being introduced to my buddy, Azzry. Here, I must express my gratitude to my buddy. He guided me a lot through the husbandry jobs of a sun bear keeper. He is fun to work with and always tried to entertain us all with his jokes.
Basically, every day, we washed the cages every morning to ensure the bears have a comfortable space to sleep. We prepared porridge with green bean and pumpkin, fruits like banana, papaya, watermelon, honeydew and snakefruit, and vegetables like sweet potato, corn, sugar cane and coconut. We fed the bears inside the cages and outside in forest enclosure, in order to encourage their forest instincts. We created many different kinds of enrichment for the bears, such as collecting banana leaves, dry leaves and termite nests. Examples of food enrichments include the Stick Paradox, Hamburger, Firehose Pocket, Aussie Ball and others. The Olivier Tower, which we built for Chin, was very hard work for me, Azzry, and a bunch of our other teammates. However, the best enrichment of all is another bear. This is why we try to integrate the bears with each other, and so they can learn survival skills from each other. Also, I am glad that the BSBCC gave me the opportunity to be involved with the medical check-up for the bears.
I not only had the chance to work in Bear House, but to also experience the outreach programme. The programme aims to educate communities about sun bears, especially younger communities. Thus, both programmes that I participated in were held at primary schools. We hope the conservation efforts to help the sun bear will inspire the younger generation.
At the BSBCC, the most important thing I learnt was that every bear has its own attitude, just like a human. Some are easy to deal with, but some are not. In fact, this became the most amazing thing I experienced in these 10 weeks. The emotion shared between me and the bear’s was priceless, and words cannot describe this feeling and the relationship. You have to come and experience it yourselves.
Sadly, a lot of people abuse this special relationship and exploit Sun Bear in a horrible way. Hereby, I urge you all, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE - Sun bears deserve a better life and should be treated just like a human. They belong to the forest, not inside a small cage where they are forced to follow their owner’s instruction. They need freedom, just like we do. Spread the word, spread the love. Return the sun bear to the wild and stop poaching.
Nonetheless, I wish to say a huge thank you to the BSBCC for this unforgettable journey. I have wished that the spirit of Bear Care Team will always remain. You have all done a big favour to the sun bears. Stay strong to all the bears. Au revoir.