Text by Chung Chyi Wei
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Hello, I’m Chyi Wei, a postgraduate student in sensor technology at Cambridge University; hence, the two weeks I spent volunteering at BSBCC was very different to my usual discipline and offered an interesting insight into animal conservation. Moreover, as a Sabahan living abroad, it was a nice reintroduction to the unique local culture and people.
Working in the bear house makes apparent the care, effort and planning that go into the centre—the meticulousness and intricacy of which are definitely overlooked from a visitor’s experience alone. It was fascinating to listen to the team describe each bear in anthropomorphic traits (my particular favourite is the severity of forehead wrinkles to tell between Julaini, Rungus and Ah Lun), and to learn of the harrowing stories of their past. Daily work consists of feeding the bears (four times a day), cleaning cages, preparing food and enrichment activities; morning tasks are allocated on a rota basis, so there is something different to look forward to each day. There is constant emphasis on the importance of enrichment for the stimulation and well-being of the bears; I like the creative and innovative ways the team employ in using recycled or organic materials to create food-based and structural enrichments—each of these has a deceitfully complex name, like Stick Paradox (basically a bouquet of twigs hiding peanut butter, for which sunbears have an insatiable appetite, in the middle). I was also fortunate enough to participate in a health check for Soo (where I learned of the many biological, genetic topics yet unknown and unstudied about sunbears, e.g. blood type), and an integration observation for Chin (to determine if this very solitary bear—even by Sun Bear standards—was ready to join an established sub-adult group of eight).
Lastly, my volunteering experience wouldn’t have been half as enjoyable if not for the friendly and welcoming team at BSBCC and APE Malaysia. Many, many, many (this is probably still insufficient) thanks to Sumira (for her expert insight into the field, tales of her interesting career and nuanced discussions on Asian-Western cultural differences); as well as to Azzry, Brandon, Fianilee, Lin May, Mizuno, Roger, Susan, Thye Lim and Wah Wah (for sharing their stories and knowledge, and not screaming at me once). Thanks!