Test and Photos by Hayley Beck
Upon arriving in Sepilok, I had no idea what to expect of the centre or the sort of activities I was to participate in. Caitlyn, Emma and myself heard about this amazing opportunity through our university, the University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia; and all three of us jumped at the idea of being able to work so closely with a species we all knew so little about.
On our first day at the centre, we met Wong (CEO and Founder of BSBCC), who gave us a little introduction to the centre before passing us over to Nick, who showed us around the centre and got us familiar with the sun bears, the staff, the activities we would be involved in and the rules associated with these activities.
Working up on the observation platform, it was amazing to see these beautiful sun bears up close! I was able to learn so much about the sun bears through talking to the staff at the centre, and hearing them talk to the visitors about the sun bears. Once I had learnt a lot about the bears, I was then able to relay the information to other visitors. It was a very rewarding feeling, knowing that by informing others about the sun bears, I was helping to encourage more people to do their best to help out with the conservation and preservation of this amazing species
Whilst working in the bear house (not accessible to public), there was a strict rule that no one was allowed to touch the sun bears. Seeing them close up, it was very obvious why that rule had been implemented! These sun bears were wild animals, with exceptionally large claws and teeth. The more human contact the bears had, the less chance they had to survive independently back out in the wild (which is the ultimate goal at BSBCC). So even though they looked so cute and cuddly, we restrained ourselves from giving them a pat!
Each day, we would clean the sun bear’s cages, cook them porridge, cut them up some fruit and vegetables, and feed the bears in the bear house as well as the bears out in the forest enclosures. In the afternoons, we would spend time forging for banana leaves, bamboo, termite nests, or anything else that the bears would be able to use as an enrichment toy to keep their minds mentally stimulated. One of my favourite enrichment activities to prepare was the bamboo feeder, in which we chopped up some bamboo trunks (not as easy as it sounds!) and placed some bananas and leaves in the middle of them for the bears to rip out. This activity was able to preoccupy the bears for about 15-30min.
The only obstacle I faced throughout my stay was the leeches! Before arriving at the centre, I never imagined there would be so many leeches. Fortunately the staffs were more than experienced at getting rid of leeches, and were more than happy to help me with any leeches I had; although Azzry did try to make me overcome my fear of leeches by walking through as much forest area as possible – thanks buddy.
One of my favourite activities working in the bear house each day was placing banana leaves all around the bear’s cages for them to find. After the sun bears eat their porridge, many of them tend to regurgitate their food back up to then eat it again. Often, the sun bear will regurgitate on their own body (arms, legs, stomach etc.) and lick it off themselves. Regurgitation is a stereotypical behaviour of the sun bears when they feel either bored or stressed out. Doing this each day results in bald spots along the bears body. So by placing the banana leaves around the cages, the sun bears then have an activity to preoccupy themselves with, and hopefully wear them out quicker – resulting in no (or less) regurgitation time. It was amazing to see how capable the bears are in climbing around their cages searching for the leaves – some would even happily hang off the roof!
After four weeks at BSBCC, I was able to learn so much! Not just about the sun bears as a species, but also about each individual sun bear. Every bear at the centre has its own diverse personality and background. It was amazing knowing more about them, and knowing that volunteering at the centre each day meant that I was helping out just that little bit extra towards their rehabilitation. I intend to spread the word about BSBCC to all my friends and family; it was really one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and I have no doubt that I will be back again in the near future to continue volunteering. A HUGE thank you to Wong and all the staff at BSBCC for making us all feel so welcome, and allowing us to enjoy the opportunity of a life time! You all made my time in Sepilok absolutely unforgettable!