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Text by Shauna Tay
Photos by Sumira Muis, Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
My name is Shauna, I'm 24, Malaysian and an aspiring conservationist! I first came to know about BSBCC 7 years ago when Dr.Wong took me in as a young eager volunteer wanting to get some experience in animal husbandry and conservation. It has been incredible coming back after so long; the centre is now open to the public, the staff team has grown ten-fold, the capacity for bears has increased and the centre as a whole has developed in every way possible.
As a volunteer, we are given the opportunity to work closely with the bear keeping team. They are so giving of their time, knowledge and expertise - you learn something new every day! It has been great getting to know the staff, bears, and the everyday routine of maintaining such a facility for rescued sun bears. These bears have such different personalities, backgrounds, and are all on their own journey through rehabilitation. As an individual who strives to have a future in conservation, volunteering here for two months gave me insight into what it takes to develop such a project. Understanding the bear care, animal welfare, marketing, education and management side of things was important and I'm thankful to BSBCC for providing this learning platform.
I was also fortunate enough to accompany their outreach team to local schools in the area, assisting them as they conducted sun bear awareness booths, presentations and games for students of varying ages. It is essential to spread awareness of the challenges that of sun bears face, and to encourage young people to appreciate and respect nature. This is key to changing perspectives and ultimately the reality of these magnificent bears and other wildlife.
While working with the bear keeping team, we made various enrichment structures for the bears like fire hose hammocks (a favourite), hanging wooden logs with holes for honey, fruity ice blocks (another favourite), banana and peanut better nest balls and much much more. We would dedicate our entire afternoon to making enrichment for the bears who were unable to go into the forest enclosures. This was a really great part of the programme and an everyday practice by the staff. In the last few weeks of my placement, the bears Simone and Along were undergoing fence training - which is a sizeable indoor training pen (looking out into a forest enclosure) with an electric fence. This is essential as they need to familiarise themselves with the fence before being able to enjoy the spacious forest enclosures. I was able to do the behaviour monitoring for them at this time, which was a great learning opportunity and a reminder of how overwhelming it can be for these bears to be given bigger spaces after living in small cages for most of their lives.
The beauty of volunteering at BSBCC is that your ideas and opinions are taken into account. Your questions are always encouraged and appreciated, replied to with a smile and good reasoning. This is what makes it such a welcoming place. Thank you again for the incredible experience! I miss my bear family and hope to come back soon with more expertise of my own so I can better contribute to the future of our bears.