Text by Sofia Lundegårdh
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
My name is Sofia Lundegårdh, I am 18 and from Sweden. For my entire life I have known that I want to work with animals, which is why I chose to study animal care and am now in the final year of my 3 year education. It was only recently that I found more interest in animal rehabilitation, so when I got the opportunity to volunteer at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre thanks to a scholarship from my school I was so happy I almost could not believe it. Therefore, as part of the internship that is included in my education, I travelled to Borneo for 5 weeks together with my classmate Jonas.
It was my first time ever going to Asia and working in such a warm and humid climate, which took some time to get used to after coming directly from the snow in Sweden. Sometimes it got tough, but the staff was great at making sure that were okay and considerate when you needed breaks. In the end, knowing that what I did was to help the bears made all the work very rewarding.
The daily routines at the BSBCC consisted of cleaning cages and preparing food for the bears which was given to them both inside the bear house as well as the outside forest enclosures. One of my favourite things to do, however, was making enrichments. Every day all the bears had to be stimulated to keep them entertained and encourage their natural behaviours to help them learn about the forest. Enrichments were usually made out of whatever materials we had available such as leaves, sticks and fire hoses and filled with hidden treats like peanut butter or honey. But we also got the chance to test our creativity and make something bigger and more advance, in my case a hammock and a ramp! Later watching the bears play with whatever you gave them always made me happy, but I also began noticing the different behaviours and characteristics between individuals. Before I came here I did not know much about sun bears, but their charming and unique personalities made them the most wonderful animal that I have ever worked with. It saddens me deeply that their backgrounds are filled with so much trauma caused by humans after having been kept as pets under horrible conditions.
As I slowly got to know the bears, I also got to know the staff of the centre. Everyone has been so friendly, welcoming and helpful from the very start, and working next to them has taught me a lot about animal rehabilitation as well as given me insight into the operation of the work place. I also found it incredibly inspiring to see how passionate, dedicated and caring for the bears all the keepers are.
I really do not want to go home yet, but these 5 weeks have gone by way too fast. I am so grateful for my school sending me here, as this experience has been one of the best things I have ever done in my life, and though I am sad to leave I also made so many great memories. To the staff of BSBCC, thank you all so incredibly much for everything you do for the bears and for everything you did for me during these 5 weeks. I am already planning my next visit here, as I definitely want to come back in the nearest possible future!
Lastly, I would like to share a quote from Jane Goodall that I was shown by Dr Wong. It has meant a lot to me during my time here and will continue to inspire me for the rest of my life, so I hope that it might do the same for anyone else who reads this: “Only if we understand, can we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help, shall they be saved.”