Text and photos by Joyce Malmo
Our Volunteering Experience at BSBCC – “we can’t wait for the day to come when the first bear gets released into the wild!”
Twelve curious, excited and eager faces were staring at myself (Joyce) and Katy - volunteer Project Managers for Raleigh, on the 8th of July when we finally arrived at Mile 14 in Sepilok. For most of us, it had taken 14.5 hours by airplane and 6 hours by bus to get here.
Where are the sun bears? When will we start working at the BSBCC? The 12 Raleigh volunteer venturers had received a brief on the BSBCC and the volunteer work to be carried out, but the majority had never heard nor seen this special bear species before joining Raleigh.
However, knowing very little about the sun bears did not stop the young Raleigh venturers embracing and committing themselves to the construction work at the BSBCC for the next 2.5 weeks. And the goal: to build the foundations of a boardwalk around the sun bear enclosure to provide easier access for the keepers at BSBCC.
Before the 12 enthusiastic venturers and impatient Katy and I could deploy on the work site, a few things had to be organized first. On the top of our list was to settle into our new home: JUNGLE CAMP, located in the beautiful Bornean rain forest approx. 3 km from the BSBCC. It welcomes you with an open longhouse with 15 comfortable bashers, a small community area, and three outdoor showers and a long drop. Most importantly, it is surrounded by wildlife and you wake up to the sounds of the jungle. People still find it strange that we would live in the jungle whilst there are plenty of resorts in Sepilok, however there is no place like jungle camp.
We were welcomed by Wai Pak at the BSBCC on the 9th of July for a presentation. He gave us an introduction about the sun bears, which none of us will easily forget. With a greater understanding about the threats these special bears are facing and being shocked by the captivity and treatment some of these sun bears have experienced in their lives, we couldn’t wait to go on a tour to the sun bear house. For most of us, it would be the first time we had ever seen a sun bear. It was amazing to step into the newly opened sun bear house. Some of the bears were playing around while others were having an early afternoon nap. We were very impressed with the new sun bear house. It has high ceilings, is very spacious and plenty of day light can enter into the house.
Do they really bark? Are they social animals or do they live alone? How often do they reproduce and how many cubs can a female carry? The questions were vast and the day ended with a group of very motivated venturers and 2 Project Managers eager to start work on the 10th of July.
The first week at BSBCC consisted of clearing and sorting out wood around the enclosure. Our lunch breaks on the jetty next to the Orang-utan nursery became one of the main highlights of the day. On days when the amazing “man of the forest” appeared just across the jetty to climb into the trees, big gazing eyes and a sudden silence would appear among us. We sometimes felt that we were in a “BBC open air documentary”. All that was missing was the voice of David Attenborough.
We could also hear the barking sound from the sun bears from time to time. Though, the bears have the opportunity to go outside every day, there was only a few days while we were there that a sun bear took a step outside of their newly opened sun bear house. Embracing the opportunity to be in the wild, where they belong, seemed like taking a big step into the unknown for them. This again shows how important the BSBCC is and we can’t wait for the day to come when the first sun bear is to be released into the wild.
The second week at BSBCC consisted of sweat and tears. We had started drilling and bolting together the foundation for the boardwalk. Unfortunately, the drill pieces we had were a bit worn out and it took us hours to drill just a couple of holes through the tough iron wood. If we continued like this, it would take us several weeks to complete the boardwalk. Time we didn’t have. Luckily, Bob Hartley and Wai Pak came to our rescue and helped us getting some new sharp pieces from the local hardware store. We were back on track again!
Our last week at BSBCC flew by so smoothly. We had managed to lay most of the foundations for the boardwalk, but we were all curious to see what the completed boardwalk would look like once the next Raleigh group had finished it. So, we decided to make a prototype boardwalk and on Wednesday the 21st of July, we had our prototype boardwalk ceremony!
It was sad to leave BSBCC on the 27th of July, but what an amazing time we have had at BSBCC. We have learned so much about the sun bears and again we can’t wait for the day to arrive when the first BSBCC sun bear will be released into the wild. We would like to thank Wai Pak and Bob Hartley for your support during our first phase.