Text and Photos by Fatin Amirah binti Ahmad Anuar
Hello everyone! My name is Fatin Amirah binti Ahmad Anuar, and called as Fatin here at BSBCC. I am currently an undergraduate Pure Biology student of Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) branch of Sabah, Malaysia. BSBCC was my first volunteering work and wrapping up period of 2 months doing my internship, I have to admit that I had so much fun and a wonderful experience here, working with the staff and other fellow volunteers. To those who feel affection for nature and animals, I would like to highlight first that this is one of the places for you to spend some time if you have nothing in mind to do during your free time.
Upon of my arrival at Sandakan Airport, the first person I met was Ronny, one of the staff at BSBCC, and looking back to the day where I met him, I remembered feeling welcome to do my internship here. I felt lucky as he made me feel assured that my upcoming days at the centre would be amusing and content. I do remember too that I apologized in advance for basically everything I will ever do in the future. I divulge that I was fragile on the first day at the centre. However, Chiew Lin May, the Research and Reintroduction Officer, slowly embraced me with her personality, and honestly speaking, her smile always makes my heart melt. Your heart feels warm when you see her, either when you are coming back from the bear house for a lunch break, or when all is done with your day volunteering. These were the same feelings I had with the bears. I felt welcomed by them every time I went to the bear house and to the feeding platform. They were all curious and active animals which make you too feel their energy, even on the days where you were not having a good rest. They were capable of making your heart flutter through their behavior, especially in the time they reached for their enrichment.
Speaking of which, some given to them could last for hours; advantageous for both sides, to the sun bears and to the staff here. To know whether enrichment is good enough or not for the sun bears, we see the time period they would play with it, which indirectly induces their natural behavior over time. One of the missions of BSBCC is to give these ex-captured, orphaned and saved bears a second chance, and release them back into the wild. Thus, it is important for the volunteers here to understand this goal and trying their best in providing the needs of the sun bears one by one to help the sun bears to be as close as possible to their natural environment.
I knew that I would love this place from the first moment I saw the big aquarium set up at the ticketing counter area. It was like a jackpot for me as I only came here to see the sun bears, however the Founder & CEO, Mr Wong Siew Te seems to have so many interests and passion in his life, which is a really good thing for him, for the staff and for the people coming to the BSBCC. Besides getting to learn about the sun bears, I now acknowledge that I could learn about other things here too. Surely, this is not only about the sun bears, it is all about the nature systems and how we possibly could manage all of them together. To future volunteers, you would be amazed to see his mini library in his office, and the best part is that you are truly welcomed by him to read those books whenever you like. You too should not be surprised when you find him at the platform giving talks just like the other staff do every day. He certainly does have his own style in managing the centre and it is really cool for me to have such a boss.
Thye Lim once told me that being here was all about having a communication with each other especially if I were not certain about something regarding the sun bears. Do not assume, ask and ask. So guys, it is okay for you to ask and know as many as possible about the sun bears while you are volunteering here, and hopefully once you have finished, you could consign and spread the knowledge about these beautiful animals to your family and friends.
You will have many chances to see them on this position once you come here volunteering. Some of them would get excited and active by themselves, carrying out the given enrichment, showing through their behavior that they like it so much. Some were even asking for some more, and it was really cute to see them at that particular time. They have their own dietary menu, and as each sun bears have names, it is quite sure to know which one is which, thus it would not be confusing for us to serve them food and provide them with enrichments. Other than the different chest marks they have, we could too differentiate them from their physical appearances and behaviors. Damai would usually be the cleanest bear upon returning to the bear house every day, while Fulung would be found standing on its two hind legs most of the time whether it was out to the forest D enclosure or in the bear house. Seeing these two sun bears every day for 2 months were just enough for me to cheer up my day. I now believe that these animals could sense our emotions and thoughts.
When it comes to their food routine, every day, each of the 37 bears would enjoy eating their mixed fruits and mixed vegetables prepared by the bear keepers, together with the volunteers at the bear house. They would too have their porridge twice per day, in the morning and in the evening. I now learnt the correct way to make porridge for them thanks to Nick and Thye Lim who were both responsible in correcting me during the time I was at fault.
Volunteers are not allowed to hand feed them, but you could watch the bear keepers doing it for you. Rules and regulations lined by the BSBCC are all for the safety of the sun bears and for our own safety. There are always reasons why there are restriction areas at the BSBCC, for example, the quarantine facilities where all of 5 baby bears are located, including the male one which had arrived recently at the centre. Perfume, bright-colored attires are not encouraged as we might cause the sun bears to have unnecessary stress, which is not a good thing for them in a long term period. Ideas and suggestions from the volunteers regarding the building and enrichment for the sun bears are welcomed to be shared and discussed with staff and officers here, as long as your ideas are suitable and safe to be applied.
The more you stay, the more you learn and the more you will have a better understanding regarding the sun bears. It is impossible for me to learn everything about the sun bears in one go, even if I wanted to. Therefore, I felt lucky enough to meet all of those staff willing to teach me various things during my period of placement; Azzry, Mizuno, Gloria, Reckley, Rizan, Rahim.
Having views about the sun bears at the verge of finishing my internship is fair enough for me, as I know I will have difficult time coming back to the centre for a second round, thus I am now sharing my present knowledge with my colleagues, university friends and my own family members. I am writing this as a way of contributing to the survival of the sun bear species. I hope there will be more efforts and scientific research done around the world in keeping this animal safe far from being hunted and killed for their paws and bile, for instance. Our people surely need to be educated more, and BSBCC is already on its right track through the ongoing talks and outreaching to people from place to place – including kindergartens.
Therefore, for all of the wonderful experience and knowledge gained, I wish to acknowledge Mr Wong for giving me the chance to be here. I hope you will always have that bountiful spirit in yourself for the sake of the sun bears. To my supervisor, Thye Lim who has been helping me a lot and being more like a friend to me rather than a supervisor. I really appreciate that. Profound thanks to other volunteers ; Ying Yi, See Toh, Rica, Tom, Ami, Nicholas, Austin, Amanda, Mark, Harith, Caitlyn, Hayley, to both Emmas that were both volunteering at the time, and all 17 staff for filling my days with joy. There is no greater pleasure for me in spending time with all of you guys. I wish to thank for your help while we were all working together and these moments we went through together will surely be memorable for me.
We better learn to show appreciation from now on, or we would not have anything to appreciate in future. Come and try it by yourself. You will know how it feels helping these cute animals to have a better home and restoring their second chance to live in the wild. Thank you.