Text by Ezi Nurayu binti Abd. Wahab
Photos by Ezi Nurayu & Chiew Lin May
I am Ezi Nurayu binti Abd. Wahab.
I am currently studying at University Malaysia Sabah in a Conservation Biology course.
I have so many wonderful stories from my internship period.
Actually, together with Gillian and Vincent, we had to fulfill our 12 weeks internship period, but unfortunately we could only do it for around 6 weeks in total at the Bear House. This is due to the COVID-19 pandemic that was happening during these days.
On February 8th, we reached Sandakan Airport and were fetched by Thye Lim. During this time, we were still awkward with Thye Lim. He talked a lot in the van, but we just awkwardly answered his questions. Haha. Sorry Thye Lim! Our talkative mood at that time was still off. Actually, he is a nice and funny guy indeed!
Thye Lim drove us to BSBCC at first because we needed to be briefed by Lin May about the volunteer rules and regulations, and she told us our buddy keeper name too. So, I was told that my buddy keeper was Roger. After that, we went to Bear House Hijau Hut. We had to introduce ourselves to all the Bear House Team and APE volunteers (Cameron and Astrid). Then, we were brought by Thye Lim and Lin May to our very first accommodation which was Paganakan Dii Tropical Retreat Sepilok (before moving to Bjorn Hala). Thanks to them for helping us with our heavy, like a bag of bricks, luggage. Haha!
At night, Thye Lim and Lin May took us to get dinner at a restaurant before going to the grocery store.
Now, let me tell you about my embarrassing and interesting stories from my first day of doing the internship here.
I broke the flat rubber squeegee mop during my very first task to clean the kitchen floor. I was so unfamiliar with the thing actually. Haha. Silly me!
Then, the very proud thing I did during my first day was I climbed the Sika’s group cage in Bear House 2 to hang the platform structure. Also, I had my very first experience in learning what the U-clamp is and how to use it. Thanks to Roger, Adneen, Pradeep and Lin May for encouraging me to do so at that time. I rarely did this kind of ‘men’ work, but here I did! I was so happy because no one underestimated me except myself. Haha! Oh yeah! I forgot to tell you guys that in here, there is no sexism allowed. Every person has the same treatment. This is one of the unique things in BSBCC.
After all these things, I learnt how to feed the bears. I was so scared to feed the bears on my very first day because I was afraid to get grabbed by them. But then, when I applied the technique that Roger taught us during our safety induction, I was no longer scared. I just needed to be calm and steady. Big thanks to Roger!
Roger and Adneen always gave me some tips on how to do work efficiently and faster. They taught me the correct way to brush the cages, sweep the cages floor, and prepare the food (this task I was still slow because I cannot cut the fruit as fast as them, like a chef) in a faster, yet efficient way. I was very lucky to have Roger as my buddy because he always tried to find work after all the routine tasks had finished. He never gave me a chance to pace myself. I am a proud buddy!
Every week, we would have a session with Dr. Wong Siew Te. We would ask him some questions and he answered them directly. From the sessions that I attended, I know that he is a very passionate person about wildlife conservation, especially sun bears. I am so proud with his life achievement! I am really glad I got to meet him in person. Thanks Dr. Wong for accepting us to do our internship here and spending your time to have a session with us every week.
Here, I was taught how to do enrichments for the sun bears.
I did a lot of enrichments! Thanks to the bear keepers, especially Roger, Adneen, Mizuno, Danny and Jeniur who gave me the chance to do that.
Roger always encouraged me to make a wooden-based enrichment. By that, we had to find wood in the forest. I liked to do this because I could build up my stamina and learn to saw, drill and chisel the wood then. I could build up my ‘man’ skills too.
For the fence training, Roger and I were asked by Lin May to observe BJ, Kina, Sika and Soo.
During my first day observing BJ, I was so nervous because I needed to write down BJ’s behaviour every minute. So, I must be quick to observe and write it down then.
But, day after day, my skills of observing and writing at the same time improved, especially during the time when I needed to observe four of them at the same time. Proud me! Hehe.
There were times where we were given a task to go to the platform to talk to the visitors.
I really liked this task because this was one of my reasons for choosing BSBCC as my internship place. I wanted to build up my confidence level in communication skills. I got the chance to go to the platform twice. Thank God! For my first time, I was a bit passive, but then I improved and was brave to approach the visitors (international and local) at Platform 1. Thank you to Melynda (centre coordinator) for always helping me out during that time.
Here too, I had my first experience getting sucked by the leeches! Congratulations to me! Hahaha.
This happened during the day where we (Roger, Danny and I) went to get a very big termite nest for BBC filming purposes. I got the chance to see many scorpions under the termite nest too. Thank God nothing happened to us. Oh yeah! I have learnt how to do fencing with Roger too. Thanks to Roger for allowing and trusting me to do that.
Let’s move to the moment where we had to stay in Bjorn Hala (staffs house). I was so sad because we could not go to the Bear House to feed the bears, do cage cleaning and food preparation. I missed the Bear House so bad! This is due to the Movement Control Order caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
What we did during these critical days was our video project for funding purposes, a full report on research about Along’s behaviour, did enrichments for the bears (e.g. nest ball, honeycomb, stick paradox and fire hose pocket), plus made a blog for the fence training for Sika’s group, a bear blog (Along) and an internship blog. We just worked from home (WFH) as our university commanded to do so.
Now, time for Bjorn Hala’s unforgettable memories.
Here we are like a family. Most of us are not Sandakan people, except Mizuno. So, by having them in Bjorn Hala, it made me felt like I was at home. Never to deny, they were my reason to smile for every day. We are always teasing each other like siblings always do. Teasing, laughing, being crazy yet funny and caring for each other are what I will miss the most about us. Never forget me guys!
Other than sun bears, what the best about BSBBC was is the people (staff and Dr. Wong). Maybe it is hard to find good people out there. But here, there are a ton of funny yet nice people that can be found.
Trust me :-)
So for the guys out there, let’s try at least once to volunteer at BSBCC.
Once you volunteer here, you will want more.
Global launch of the heartwarming biography Saving Sun Bears: One Man's Quest to Save a Species was conducted in conjunction with World Environment Day on Friday the 5th, June 2020 through several online broadcasting platforms.
It was organized by the University of Sunshine Coast Australia (USC) to kickstart their annual World Environment Day Festival this year. ABC Radio’s Annie Gaffney interviewed Sunshine Coast Author Sarah Pye and Malaysian Ecologist Dr Wong Siew Te about the importance of sun bears, and the journey that led to this inspirational book.
The launch also featured Publisher Marshall Moore from Hong Kong, singer Amir Yussof and his song dedicated to sun bears, called Calling On You, short videos from Chris Morgan, Saira Mann, BSBCC staff Lin May and Thye Lim, and Dr Wong's wife ChiaChien and daughter Winnie. The Sunshine Coast Council’s World Environmental Day Festival was a four day event which continued until Sunday.
The last day included another interview for Sarah with Dr Wong, along with an impromptu book reading. The whole launching was a huge success as over 10k people tuned in and over 70k reached on social media platforms. Thank you Sarah for making the biography a reality and strengthening the relationship between BSBCC and USC.
Text by Olivia Nord
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hi, my name is Olivia and I am a student from Sweden doing my internship as a volunteer here at BSBCC. I have only been here for less than two weeks but it is honestly been one of the coolest and most interesting things I have ever done. Partly for the knowledge that your work here is important and that it makes a difference to these incredible Sun Bears that are so important for the environment. Since the BSBCC main focus is to release as many Sun Bears as possible back to the wild. But also because you have the chance to join the amazing work that the keepers and the staff do for the bears every single day, making sure that they are well taken care of. My favourite thing to do was making the enrichment because it made the bears so happy and entertained. The process of making it was long but very fun because of all the creativity, and at the end it was worth the hard work since the time it took playing with them took longer than the time making it.
If I had the chance to prolong my stay here I definitely would and I recommend everyone to experience this amazing journey!
Video by Chiew Lin May
See! How little Romolina tries to catch fish in the pool!
Text by Vincent Chin Yung Fook
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
As we know, all of the Sun Bears in the (BSBCC) currently were either from being rescued or people sent the bears to the centre. In the wild, the bears are known as seed dispersers, forest engineers, and forest doctors. They climb, build nests, dig holes, forage, mate, etc and these are their normal behaviours.
But living in captivity restricts the bears’ normal behaviour by limiting the availability of their needs. Thus, with the help of enrichments, normal behaviours of the bears can be maintained even within captivity.
Enrichment is the process of improving or enhancing the quality of life. There are many types of enrichment including environmental, food, sensory, social, training, and object based.
All of these enrichments can preserve and conserve the natural behaviours of the bears. The variability of behaviour also can be increased and reduce the stress level of the bears at the same time.
Just like us, at home without the variability of things that we can do, surely, we will get stressed and try to find things to do. It is the same for the bears, instead of foraging and doing other normal behaviours, the bears might be pacing and doing other abnormal behaviours because of stress.
Preparing enrichments such as the Aussie Dog Ball and hammock for the bears can reduce their abnormal behaviour and their stress level. Spreading a little bit of honey or peanut butter inside the ball can train or trigger the sensory areas of the bears to smell and lick the balls. The existence of a hammock can encourage the bears to climb up to the hammock and rest on it.
Another example of enrichment is termite mounds. This is one of the types of food enrichments and the bears really love termites. In the forest, they would forage to find termites by breaking apart decaying woods, but here we prepared termite mounds for the bears to feed on termites.
Enrichments are just like tools or mechanisms that help bears to keep their normal behaviours. Seeing animals that stress and exhibit abnormal behaviour is just depressing. Helping them even with small things is enough. So let's take our chance to help them.
Video by Chiew Lin May
Fulung came to us as a cub where he lost his mother and was found by a villager. Fulung, 10-years old now has grown up to be a healthy and active bear. He has won our hearts through his charming and smiling bear in the centre.
We are so thankful to everyone who stood strong for Fulung’s second chance of freedom. Here Fulung would like to tell you how he learns to be a wild sun bear. Please share his story!
Text by Niklas Wellerfors
Photos by Chiew Lin May
My name is Niklas Wellerfors and I am a student from the school Spanga gymnasium in Sweden. I am doing my internship here in Borneo taking care of the sun bears. This is a very rare opportunity I have been given that not too many people are able to experience. This is a once in a lifetime experience and I am truly grateful for it. Sadly we are being sent home early because of certain circumstances. You could call it unlucky, but as I see it, I am still lucky that I even could be here for the time I was. I got so much out of it even with the lack of time. It is really crazy being able to see the rainforest and not only that but also taking care of the animals that live in the rainforest. The thing I like most about the sun bears is each bear is very different, they all have their own personality just like humans. Some bears are small and cute, and some bears are big and feisty. Some bears absolutely love carrots while some bears would really prefer pumpkin. Some bears sit like a human eating food and some bears climb up somewhere to eat. Each bear has a different sun mark. My favourite bear is Bermuda, he is big and feisty, and really likes to eat. Over the short time being here I noticed stuff like this while feeding or cleaning and it is like you slowly get to know each bear. Even though the time was too short to learn every name of the bears, I got to learn some of their personalities. Not only that, but I also got to know the staff here which are really funny and helpful. Before coming here, I knew very little about sun bears but now I know the importance of helping them. It is so great to even help a little in saving these small, cute bears and knowing I did something for them feels so good. I would really recommend everyone reading this to volunteer at BSBCC or just do something small like spreading the message of the sun bears situation.
Text by Hafsa Mohamed Ahmed
Photos by Chiew Lin May
My name is Hafsa and I did my internship as a volunteer at BSBCC. At first I had a bit of a hard time adjusting to the climate, food and the work here. But never in my life have I been so well taken care of, at every corner I had someone I could ask for help or just to converse with. Being here made me realize the important work they do for the sun bears and for the people who come and visit the centre. Prior to this trip I had little knowledge about the sun bears and how important it is to preserve them. Now I have learnt that by preserving them you make a difference for all wildlife here in Borneo. I am so grateful for having the opportunity to learn and grow as a person here and now I know that I want to do this type of work for the rest of my life. Thank you so much for your hospitality and kindness, BSBCC! I will be back soon!
Text by Muhammad Khoirul Afandi
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Hi! I am Khoirul, one of the staff for ticketing come shopkeeper at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. All of the ticketing staff had been given a task for two weeks to get experience and to gain more information about how the operations generally occur in the bear house. Since I started working here, this is actually my first time working in a bear keeper role. This was a good chance for us to gain some experience so that we, as frontline staff, can give some new information that we did not know before.
On my two week training, the bear house offered a lot of work and required a lot of energy! The tasks given at the bear house included cleaning the bear cages, preparing a lot of food for the bears, feeding inside and outside the bear house area, completing fence checks, creating enrichment, etc.
I have gained so much experience and I have learnt so much during these two weeks that it is hard to know what to include in this blog post. I want to say thank to those who were involved in giving me a lot of information and helping me during my training program at the bear house, especially to my buddy (Danny) and for all the bear keepers.
Some of the pictures during my training program at the bear house:
Text by Gillian Gabriel (UMS Intern Student)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
This story is about Kina, BJ, Sika and Soo being released to the forest enclosure for the first time in their lives!
Attempt in releasing Kina
Among the four bears, Kina appears to be more curious about her surroundings because she is the first one that was brave enough to go out on the first day of the release. Although on the first day she spent most of the time staying on the ramp, she managed to pull herself out of her comfort zone. On the third day, Kina gracefully went out to grab some food and ate it. While enjoying all the fruits, there was the sounds of a chainsaw and blower. She continued to enjoy eating her food and went back inside the cage right after she finished eating. It seems that to Kina, food is way more important than anything else and nothing else can distract her while she is eating!
However, moments later, Kina decided to go out again and explore the surroundings. She continuously went back inside the cage every time she went out. Kina seemed so relaxed being in the outside world as she roamed around gracefully and used her incredible sense of smell to sniff around the area.
On the fourth day of release, Kina was now confident to go outside. She roamed around the forest enclosure, foraged, and at some point, she also dug the woods and the ground to find some termites to eat. Due to her high curiosity, she managed to explore almost the whole of the forest enclosure!
Apart from that, Kina is also an expert in climbing. She appears to be the most outgoing bear as she loves exploring the world by climbing up trees and enrichment. By doing so, she gets to see different parts of the forest enclosure from different views.
Kina is happy because she gets to enjoy the enrichment that was built by the bear keepers and the previous volunteer.
It was on a rainy day when Kina suddenly decided to climb up a tree. Kina is known to be the most active bear among her other friends and that is not just because she is the first one to go out into the forest enclosure, but it is because she normally prefers to live in solitary by isolating herself on top of a tree or an enrichment. Even before she was released to the forest enclosure, she loved spending her time alone, resting and climbing.
Attempt in releasing BJ
At first, BJ was afraid to go outside. He would normally stay on the ramp and watch from afar. However, his curiosity has built up as he saw his friend, Kina, gracefully walking alone at the forest enclosure. Determined enough to step out, he finally, most likely slowly, went out to the forest enclosure to experience the outside world himself. It was soon enough when BJ finally felt secure when he stepped outside. He began to love being outside.
BJ still in doubt whether or not he wanted to go outside.
Not feeling sure enough, he just spent the entire time resting on the ramp and looking at the forest enclosure from afar. Questioning whether or not he should give it a try.
Finally, he decided to go down.
Slowly but surely.
His natural instinct kicked in as he inhaled the smell of the earth.
Now that he finally has begun to trust the outside world, he has no problem enjoying his delicious food in the forest enclosure.
Attempt in releasing Sika
On the first day of releasing Sika to the forest enclosure, it was really a tough one as she refused to go out, even with many trials. Food was scattered all over the place so that she had the urge to go outside. She normally stayed on the ramp and instead of pulling herself out to experience the forest enclosure on her own, she remained still. She was not curious enough to explore the outside world and apparently, she loves staying in her comfort zone. She loves staying where she feels at ease.
Battling with her own thoughts, Sika finally made a decision to go out. But the only way she got distracted and was willing to go down was when honey was applied all over the stairs. With that, she got distracted by the delicious and sweet taste.
She climbed down step by step, licking the delicious honey that was in her way. What a great start she thought to herself.
Now that she was finally out, she got super curious with her surroundings. She was pretty amazed by the new place that she was introduced to. A new home with a lot more to explore.
Getting super curious, she sniffed around the forest enclosure, foraging and roaming around. Then she slowly started to like the outside world more than where she used to be. The taste of freedom was now in her bones.
Realizing how big the forest enclosure is, Sika then gets super comfortable staying outside. Bigger space for her to roam around. Even though she took a long time to finally decide to go out compared to her two other friends, BJ and Kina, she is the one who spends a long time in the forest enclosure. There are times when she does not go back to the cage at all. Sika also loves climbing as much as Kina does, she will spend most of the time on the tree and not want to go down.
Attempt in releasing Soo
Being kept as a pet at a very young age makes Soo less confident to interact with the outside world. Traumatized by her past, she is less active than the rest. Days of attempting to release Soo to the forest enclosure have been difficult as she only stays on the ramp or inside the cage. Not brave enough to go out.
However, she still tries to fight her trauma by taking baby steps and she still tries to build up all her courage. Even though she only stays on the ramp most of the time, she is still able to witness the outside world from the cage.
Instead of using the stairs as the trail to go down, she climbed down from the ramp. This shows that Soo is really attempting to go out. However, she still needs time to be fully ready.
I hope that in the future, all of the bears, Kina, BJ, Sika, and Soo are comfortable enough to stay outside in the forest enclosure. They were kept as pets before, and being kept inside a house has now built curiosity for some of them, such as Sika and Kina. This is why when introduced to the outside world, they got so excited and preferred to stay outside. The taste of freedom excites them. However, this does not apply to BJ and Soo. Instead of building curiosity, they are in fear. Fear of what the outside world is actually like. It takes time for them to build up their trust. With that, a release to the forest enclosure is a great opportunity to give them the life that they deserve and to promote their natural instincts.