Text by Peter Lowe
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
I arrived at Sandakan airport in the late afternoon Sunday 05/03 to be met by the driver to take me to Paganakan Dii where I was welcomed by Robin, went to the accommodation to join my fellow volunteers, Jonas, Sofia and Yu Endo on our induction with Sumira. Great to be back to this special part of the planet with very special people :-)
The next day was a leisurely start, breakfast in the dining area at Paganakan Dii then off to the BSBCC with Robin driving. Re-united/welcomed by many friends at BSBCC, clocked in, walked over to the Bear House to re-bond with the keepers and the stars, the Bornean Sun Bears :-) I had the privilege of having Roger as my buddy for the second year :-) I learnt so much more from both Roger and all at BSBCC during this time about the bears, their husbandry, their country/culture and, of course, the fun, wonderful company, thank you all :-)
There was high excitement with mixed emotions as Damai and Debbie were to release the very next day. As we walked to the bear house we passed the 2 travel crates in which they would be transported for their new life. Magical to be here to share this with everyone, a wonderful achievement.
All went to plan with the team and bears leaving early next day and returning, after a very full day in the early evening minus the 2 bears, mission accomplished with some remarkable videos recording their first moments of freedom, very different from each other !!
I did not believe that the experiences I enjoyed during my placement at BSBCC in 2017 would be surpassed. Wrong!!! I was given the opportunity to join a team of vets and BSBCC staff to sedate and undergo Advanced Reproductive Technology (ART) training on Sunbearo, Along, Bermuda and Sigalung in the nearby clinic. Once sedated each bear was transported by wheelbarrow to/from the clinic where the various tests were undertaken. It was part of this experience to help with lifting the bears, conducting the tests and to take a turn in pushing a bear loaded wheel barrow !!The team worked tirelessly the whole day with no break till 16.30 for refreshment. I opted to do the same and then we all went for supper to a restaurant near Sandakan. What a day, thank you !!
As last year I particularly enjoyed the weekly question sessions with my fellow volunteers with Dr.Wong. They had some very interesting questions and great replies. We were also invited to a lecture on Melioidosis which was very interesting.
This year leeches were very much in evidence whenever we ventured into the rain forest to collect items to make enrichment for the bears. I got the nickname of "leech magnet" as I collected more than my fair share.
2 of my career choices in my early teens were to be a zoo keeper and a vet. I was a student member of the royal zoological society of London and soon realised that being a zoo keeper was not such a glamorous vacation as I had imagined nor particularly well paid !! I then found out that to become a vet required years of study and was not cheap. I knew my family could not support me nor was I studious !! So both these early career choices were long forgotten. Now in the past 3 years, thanks to APE Malaysia's voluntary programmes, I have fulfilled both !! Amazing/unforgettable experiences, thank you.
I joined my fellow volunteers for several excursions during our time off = a night walk in The Rainforest Discovery Centre. We were fortunate as it was a clear night with exceptional lighting and saw the infamous flying squirrels, a Tarsier at very close quarters and much more !! A visit to the Sandakan Memorial Park and to Sandakan, plus Andy and Mizuno kindly took us for a Steamboat supper = yum !! On another free day I trekked in the Sepilok Nature Reserve which was a very special time, magical fauna/flora.
Thank you all who make these experiences possible and the wonderful work you do, you are all so special and bring so much happiness to so many !!! I plan to join you all again in March 2019 !!! To anyone considering partaking in the APE Malaysia project DO IT !! You will not regret it. Yes it is hot, at times messy, hard work. However you will always remember the fun you will have plus this amazing, unique experience. Maybe, like me, after being part of this project you will want to return !!
My love to you all.