Text by Charis Chin Kai Xin
Pictures by Jacquelyn Jill Jepiuh & Jude Ailton George
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) has been in my mind for a long time and I wanted to volunteer here since 2019 when I was a high school student. As the pandemic occurred for 2 years, I managed to return to Sabah for my summer break and decided to take the chance to volunteer here for a month.
On my first day of arriving in Sandakan, BSBCC’s vet, Dr. Boon was very generous in letting me, a vet student, to join an eagle treatment that they help with the Wildlife Rescue Unit of the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC). This was my first time seeing up close a living eagle and helping to treat it, it was definitely eye opening as we normally would not have the chance to get such an experience. Sometimes SORC also managed to bring in rescued pangolins too, to me it was definitely an experience hard to forget!
To be honest, the first day of work can be a little tiring but as time goes by, your body will adjust to all the physical workload. At first, I really cannot handle carrying basins of fruit and hiking around the enclosure to feed the bears. But as time goes by, this is one of my favourite tasks to do. This is because we get to see the bears out in nature and play “Who is this?” quiz game, which is to try and guess correctly which bear is present.
I have to say the atmosphere working in the bear house is great too, it feels like a big family doing work simultaneously. No matter what situation, all the workers are very friendly and willing to guide us. They are really supportive as they keep giving us advice on our enrichment projects for the bears. This is because each bear has their own personality, the bear keepers understand the behaviours of the bears through constant observation and would gladly guide us what we can do for the bears. This is not easy as one has to spend a long time to get to know the bears, not to mention their names and characteristics too. I was there for a month and sometimes I still get confused between some bears, imagine the time they took to truly know the bears!
Initially, I wanted to volunteer for two weeks, but I am relief that I changed my plan to a month. Even though with a month, I still think it is not enough. To be honest, volunteering is so much more insightful and meaningful than just a simple visit to the centre. There is so much more to see and learn, and I really hope of coming back here. Not to mention the chance of doing a termite nest hunt again in the forest or doing a scat analysis to find out what the bears have been eating in the enclosure compared to their usual feed.
With that, I am really grateful for everything that was taught and the opportunity given to me to explore regarding wildlife conservation during my volunteer placement. I just want to give a big thanks to my buddy, Jacq and the following workers: Pradeep, Logan, Julamih, Nealbert, Oliver, Jude, David, Azwie and Yuery. Also thank you for Dr. Boon, who gave volunteers the chance to see their usual medical check-up on the bears, and Dr. Wong for arranging sessions with all the volunteers even though he was very busy.
So, to anyone who is interested in wildlife animals, conservation, or nature in general, do not miss out the opportunity to help out BSBCC and get to know the ways of working in a conservation centre, where you get to enjoy nature, gain new experiences and meet this group of fantastic people! Not to mention, you will definitely get to hear the calling of rhinoceros hornbills or even lucky enough to see a mousedeer, “Sang Kancil” while doing fence check in BSBCC!