Text and Photos by Amanda Shia
Hi, my name is Amanda Shia and I am from Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia. I am currently an undergraduate Zoology student in University Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS). About two years ago, I had my first volunteer experience in Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) before entering university and I decided to participate in volunteering here again during my semester break.
Two years had passed; I could definitely see how much this centre has progressed and still continues to develop. For one, the bear house has expanded into two indoors space. This gives more space for more bears to be placed in. Previously, the centre had 27 rescued sun bears. Currently, it has 37 sun bears included three that just arrived recently. The rise of rescued sun bears can be a concerning issue as well as a good insight. It is an alarming issue that the illegal poaching activities as well as keeping these wild animals as pets are truly happening here in our state of Sabah. Albeit so, it shed a light on the fact that the more bears there are taken in to be cared and conserved, the better their future is sustained in wildlife.
Most importantly, it is officially opened to public since last year! That one little office I once remembered has now been renovated into a bigger building; scaffolding a counter/gift shop entrance, office and quarantine facility area. Stretched from entrance of the door lays a platform which gives opportunities for the visitors to observe the sun bears in the forest enclosure. To coincide to that, more bears are released at the forest enclosures. Visitors are able to see sun bears being just the way they naturally are; foraging for food, integrate with one another, being agile climbers, digging and clawing. I was moved when visitors coming from all sorts of countries and locals were awed at the existence of the small bears right in front of their eyes. I am forever in awe of how the bears are still the same as they were back then with their unique personalities. Mary being the usual Mary when she sits up uses two of her paws to hold up the feed to eat. Damai who I once remember used to be a small cub now have grown big and likes to rest on top of trees. Yet, it has come to a concern that locals are not aware that the land of Borneo has sun bears that has been classified as endangered and protected species, let alone knowing it existed in first place. In long run, I believed this centre will able to change that with the constant education and endless supply of information to the public; this includes the schools.
With more sun bears, comes with more responsibility. Aside from the rise of more staffs to take on to jobs and organizing the flow of company, the tasks on working around the sun bears gets more handy as well. The daily routine of cleaning the cages, preparing food in the kitchen, feeding the bears and making enrichments got amplified! Making enrichments is fun and to be looked forward on because that is when we get handy and basically get everything we can get our hands on to create something for the bears. We went deep into the forest to find termite nests, raked dried leaves on the roadside, collected banana leaves and also chopping bamboo trees. It was an adventure just to get them all! The staffs ensure that all the bears get the welfare they needed. I liked how systematically we are all assigned to different tasks day to day, in order to experience all of them. I am pretty much appalled if one man is able to do it all.
Working with the staffs that are ever-ready, committed, friendly and passionate made volunteering a thing I don’t mind to do relentlessly. Therefore, I would like to personally thank each and every staffs of BSBCC for your kindness and warmth; being such a sport to us. Besides, I get to work alongside with other volunteers and an intern. I had a grand time knowing Emma, Caitlyn, Hayley and Fatin. It was a joy to work together as well as the fun of going through forest trails on some days and got ‘hitchhiked’ by leeches along the way. For two weeks I have been there was made worthwhile with them.
My perceptions on managing a conservation centre have expanded. It is not an easy task; as I can see how much the centre is still need time for more improvements. But the centre is lucky to have dedicated and passionate staffs that will continue to improve as well as expanding the facilities best suit for the sun bears, welcoming more sun bears that are rescued from being served neither as a pet nor as a meal on a dining table. The centre is doing the best they can to reintroducing the sun bears to their natural life style, by being in the wild. From the bears behaviour and ease of adapting in the forest enclosure, I can see the bears will have a chance of experiencing a bright future.
It was unfortunate I am not going to be around when the time comes for them to release one of the bears into the wild, but my greatest wishes goes out to all of them. I urge animal lovers out there to take a step of doing something to help the bears! It does not have to be in money form, it can be in your participation as a volunteer – to see how they work on taking care of the bears and learn that they prepare variety of enrichments for the bears so they can utilise their habitual skills. If you have the time, keen to learn and help, up for strenuous challenges – this place is for you.