Photos by : Jeremy Jeffrey


One of the most successful and longest running ‘Go Green’ campaigns launched in 2004, 1 Utama’s Feed-The Fish Charity Campaign was introduced in line with the mall’s award winning Rainforest – a flourishing tropical oasis built right in the middle of the busy shopping centre. This unique feature attracts thousands of shoppers who enjoy strolling through the Rainforest to relax in the cool and green environment. Over 3,000 koi fishes reside here, swimming through interconnected ponds across two floors.

With a dual purpose of raising funds and keeping the fishes happy and fed, 1 Utama sponsors and packages fish food for sale available daily at the Feed-The-Fish kiosk at Lower Ground Floor Rainforest. Shoppers then buy the fish food for RM1.00 per container to literally feed the fishes for a good cause. 100% of sales proceeds are then donated to a charitable organization. For 2015, 1 Utama has nominated NGO Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) in Sabah as its beneficiary. A cheque amounting to RM12,000 was handed over by 1 Utama’s A&P General Manager Patrick So to BSBCC’s CEO and Founder Wong Siew Te in the presentation ceremony yesterday, 26th August 2015 in Sandakan, Sabah.

Mr.Wong Siew Te explaining about our Centre to 1 Utamas Staff and media.

“The funds will go towards purchasing essentials and medicine for the bears’ annual health check. The contribution from 1 Utama and its shoppers is a big help in covering these expenses to meet the costs of rehabilitation and better the lives of our bears” said Wong.

Established in 2008, the BSBCC currently houses more than 30 rescued sun bears in two bear houses and a quarantine facility. Amazingly, the Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) is the smallest and least well known of the eight species of bears in the world. With strong claws, sun bears are expert climbers and make nests that look exactly the same as those of orangutans.

“Sun bears are in danger from threats of habitat loss through deforestation and poaching. There is an urgent need to conserve this protected species and 1 Utama is delighted to play our part. We have developed educational posters and videos of this project so that more of our shoppers are aware of their plight” commented So.








Mr.Wong explaining about The Education Nature Aquarium Project (ENAP).

“Since 1 Utama’s Rainforest was conceptualised to spread awareness on nature and to preserve the beauty of the rainforest, it is especially meaningful for 1 Utama to partner with BSBCC as an integral part of the mall’s ‘Go Green’ community projects. It is so heartening to see that our shoppers are still very supportive of Feed-The-Fish for the past 11 years.”

Previous Feed-The-Fish beneficiaries include Malaysian Nature Society to raise funds to protect the Temengor Forest Reserve in Perak, HOPE (Help Our Penyu) for sea turtle conservation, Zoo Negara to adopt Malaysian elephant Teriang, and WWF-Malaysia to help re-establish the fish population in Sabah’s Molleangan Island.

To complement Feed-The-Fish at the Rainforest, 1 Utama also started a sister charity campaign called Recycle-A-Bottle in 2009. Giant bins shaped like bottles are constructed and placed around the mall so that shoppers can conveniently drop used plastic water bottles. The bottles are then collected by 1 Utama and sent for recycling. Recycling funds raised are also donated to BSBCC.

Discuss something with 1 Utama A&P General Manager , Mr Patrick So , Li Lian (PR Manager) and Joey Chong ( PR Senior Executive).










The audince was eager to hear briefing from Mr. Wong

Mr. Wong gave short briefing about the sun bears and our Centre.

Mr. Wong gave a talk about the sun bears and our Centre.

Mr. Patrick gave some speech about the campaigns to Mr Wong.

Mr. Patrick gave some speech about the campaigns to Mr Wong.

A cheque replica amounting to RM12,000 was handed over by 1 Utama’s A&P General Manager Patrick So to BSBCC’s CEO and Founder Wong Siew Te

Mr Wong gave a souvenir of appreciation to Mr Patrick

Got interviewed from NTV7 station t.v

Interviewed from The Star reporter

Gloria Ganang (BSBCC Environmental Education Executive) informing about our centre operations to Mr.Patrick .

Group photo!

Joey sign the visitors book before they left

Educational Activities (May-June 2015)

Text and Photos by BSBCC


We believe through education or recreation experiences, people can become more interested in knowing their role in conserving wildlife. With that knowledge, they may become better stewards of our biodiversity heritage. At BSBCC, we welcome any group visits to our Centre as they will get to know more about the world’s smallest bear species – the sun bear.

Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) students visit BSBCC

A total of 75 students and their lecturer, Ms. Azniza from Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) visited our Centre on the 24th of May. As part of their Wildlife Management course, they made a trip from Kota Kinabalu to Sepilok, Sandakan. After arriving in the afternoon, their visit started off with an introductory presentation by Ms. Gloria Ganang, BSBCC Environmental Education Executive. Mr. Wong Siew Te, was very happy to spend his time with the students at the platform and he was glad to answer all the questions that the students asked. We are always more than excited to share the knowledge and information about sun bears to these potential future wildlife-conservationist!

Gloria gave a talk about the sun bears and our Centre.

Mr. Wong explaining about the roles of sun bear in the forest.

One of the students trying to capture a photo of sun bear through our spotting scope.

Group photo!

Outreach Programme

Besides that, BSBCC Education unit is currently working together with one of the British Council mentor, Ms. Julia Morse who is teaching in four different schools in Sandakan district. After a few meetings with Ms. Julia, we agreed to design a new outreach education programme that focuses on the awareness of the protected animals in Sabah whilst complementing the Primary School Standard Curriculum. Together with few interactive activities such as animal mask colouring, creating a sun bear mini book and wildlife documentary video show, this programme is conducted in both Malay and English language so that it can be easily understood and attractive for school kids to learn English.


SK Sg. Padas, Sandakan (9th May 2015) 

Animal mask colouring competition!

Here are the winners!

Ain, BSBCC’s intern interacting with students and parents at our display booth.


SK Tanjung Papat 2, Sandakan (16th June 2015) 

Making a sun bear booklet with Gloria and Julia.

A student with his sun bear booklet.

A student comparing his height with a Bornean sun bear.

Mandy, BSBCC’s volunteer helping the students with their masks.

Students lining up with their masks on while the judges pick the best masks during the animal mask making competition!

Working together with the teachers was an absolute pleasure for us as we could exchange ideas and develop more interactive and meaningful activities for the school kids. Hopefully, with this kind of awareness programme, young kids would be more eager to learn more about our wildlife and in future, contribute to any conservation work.

New bear, Tan-Tan’s arrival featured in the local media

The Borneo Post, 8th August 2015


The Borneo Post, 8th August 2015

Daily Express, 8th August 2015



Daily Express, 8th August 2015

Sin Chew Daily, 8th August 2015


Sin Chew Daily, 8th August 2015

Utusan Borneo, 8th August 2015


Utusan Borneo, 8th August 2015

Good Samaritan buys Tan-Tan and hands animal to Wildlife Dept

The Star Online, 8 August 2015

In good hands: Wong taking posession of Tan-Tan from the Wildlife Department.

KOTA KINABALU: A sun bear cub which was put up for sale by poachers has been rescued by a Good Samaritan, who bought it and gave it to the Sabah Wildlife Depart­ment.

The three-month-old animal was taken to the Bornean Sun Bear Con­­servation Centre (BSBCC) in Sepilok, San­dakan, on Thurs­day and has been named Tan-Tan.

Tan-Tan had been put up for sale in the remote Paitan district when it was spotted by the buyer.

The anonymous buyer then handed over the sun bear to the authorities.

Tan-Tan is the 44th rescued sun bear to be placed at the centre since the centre was set up over six years ago.

“The cub has been put under quarantine. It is being given round-the-clock care by our staff,” said centre founder and chief executive officer Wong Siew Te.

At present, the centre cares for 35 sun bears.

The centre’s website states that sun bears are also known as honey bears (beruang madu) because of their fondness for honey.

Their numbers have decreased dramatically around the world due to deforestation, commercial hunting and the pet trade.

“They are often found in appalling conditions; without a home, a mother, or left to rot in tiny cages,” said the website.

Wong said it was important for the public to understand that buying sun bears would encourage poachers to capture the animal for profit.

“We want to thank the person who bought the cub and sent it to the Wildlife Department.

“The best way to help a sun bear or other wildlife being traded is to report the matter to the department immediately,” he said.

“This will allow law enforcement officers to go after and prosecute those found selling protected animals or their parts. We have to avoid buying wildlife. When the buying stops, the poaching and killing will stop, too.”

Wong said the cost of caring for sun bears was huge.

He appealed to the public to support BSBCC through donations or by adopting bears like Tan-Tan.

Details on the adoption program­me is available at http://www.bsbcc.org.my/donate.htmlor http://www.bsbcc.org.my/adopt.html.

Protected sun bear cub rescued

The Rakyat Post, 7 August 2015
By Sandra Sokial

Three-month-old rescued sun bear cub,Tan-Tan is now.safely ‘home’ at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sepilok, Sandakan. — Photo courtesy of Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

A three-month-old sun bear cub, rescued from being sold in the remote region of Paitan, is now in safe hands at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) in Sepilok, Sandakan.

The female bear, named Tan-Tan, arrived at BSBCC in Sepilok yesterday, making her the 44th rescued sun bear to be placed there since the centre was set up over six years ago.

BSBCC founder and chief executive officer, Wong Siew Te said the bear was purchased by someone who came across a villager trying to sell the cub.

He said the person who bought the cub informed the Sabah Wildlife Department and this led to the department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit sending her to the centre.

“Tan-Tan was saved and brought to her new home at BSBCC and we now have 35 bears out of the total 44 we have received over the years.

“The cub is under quarantine and is being given round the clock care by our staff,” he said, in a statement.

Wong thanked veterinarians Dr Laura Benedict and Dr Sandy Ling Choo of the Wildlife Rescue Unit for conducting a health check on Tan-Tan when she arrived at the facility.

Wong also said it was important for the public to understand that buying sun bears creates an incentive for poachers to capture the animal for profit, with some choosing to kill the species for their parts.

“We thank the person who bought the cub and sent her to the department, but we must stress here that the best way to help a sun bear or other wildlife meant for trade is to report the matter to the Sabah Wildlife Department immediately.

“This will allow the law enforcement officer to catch and prosecute those found selling protected animals or their parts.

“We have to avoid buying wildlife. When the buying stops, the killing will stop too.”

Wong added that the cost of caring for sun bears is huge and appeals to the public to support BSBCC by donating to it or by adopting bears like Tan-Tan.

Details on the donation and adoption programmes are available at http://www.bsbcc.org.my/donate.html or http://www.bsbcc.org.my/adopt.html respectively.


Sun bear cub bought, sent to conservation centre

Borneo Post Online, 8 August 2015
By Winnie Kasmir

Wong handling the rescued sun bear cub, Tan-Tan.

SANDAKAN: A three-month-old sun bear cub that was put up for sale in a remote Paitan area is now under the good care of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) located off Mile 14 Labuk Road near here.

The bear cub, named Tan-Tan, was taken to the BSBCC in Sepilok yesterday, making her the 44th rescued sun bear to be placed at the BSBCC since the centre was set up over six years ago.

BSBCC founder and chief executive officer Wong Siew Te said the bear was purchased by someone who came across a villager trying to sell the cub.

He said the person who bought the cub informed the Sabah Wildlife Department and this led to the Department’s wildlife rescue unit sending her to the centre.

“Tan-Tan was saved and brought to her new home at the BSBCC, and we now have 35 bears out of the total 44 we have received over the years. The cub is under quarantine and is being given round the clock care by our staff,” he said in a statement.

Tan-Tan undergoes a health check.

Wong thanked veterinarians, Dr. Laura Benedict and Dr. Sandy Ling Choo, of the wildlife rescue unit for conducting a health check on Tan-Tan when she arrived at the facility.

Wong also said that it was important for the public to understand that buying Sun bears creates an incentive for poachers to capture the animal for profit, with some choosing to kill the species for their body parts.

“We thank the person who bought the cub and sent her to the department, but we must stress here that the best way to help a Sun bear or other wildlife meant for trade is to report the matter to the Sabah Wildlife Department immediately.

“This will allow the law enforcement officer to catch and prosecute those found selling protected animals or their parts. We have to avoid buying wildlife. When the buying demand stops, the killing will stop too.

“We worry that the sale of bears creates an incentive for poachers to capture or to even kill more bears to make money. Buying creates a market for Sun bear cubs and fuels trading,” he said.

Wong added that the cost of caring for Sun bears is huge, and appeals to the public to support the BSBCC by donating to it, or by adopting bears like Tan-Tan. Details on the adoption programme can be found at the website, http://www.bsbcc.org.my or //donate.html; or http://www.bsbcc.org.my/adopt.html.

Anak Beruang Madu Bernasib Baik Dibeli Individu Prihatin

Bernama, 7 Ogos 2015

SANDAKAN, 7 Ogos (Bernama) — Seekor anak beruang madu berusia tiga bulan bernasib baik kerana dibeli seorang individu yang prihatin tentang nasibnya.

Haiwan itu, dibeli individu berkenaan di satu kawasan terpencil di daerah Paitan, sebelum menyerahkannya kepada Pusat Pemuliharaan Beruang Madu Borneo (BSBCC) di sini.

Spesies haiwan dilindungi diberi nama Tan-Tan itu tiba di BSBCC di Sepilok semalam, menjadikannya beruang madu ke-44 yang diselamatkan dan ditempatkan di pusat itu.

Pengasas dan pegawai eksekutif BSBCC, Wong Siew Te berkata setelah membeli anak beruang madu itu daripada seorang penduduk kampung, individu berkenaan menghubungi Jabatan Hidupan Liar Sabah, yang kemudian menyerahkan haiwan itu kepada BSBCC, yang ditubuhkan enam tahun lepas.

“Sekarang, kami mempunyai 35 beruang daripada sejumlah 44 yang kami terima sejak beberapa tahun lepas,” katanya dalam kenyataan di sini Jumaat.

Wong berkata kos untuk menjaga seekor beruang madu adalah tinggi dan oleh itu beliau merayu kepada orang ramai supaya memberi sokongan kepada pusat itu dengan menghulurkan derma atau menjadikan beruang sebagai anak angkat mereka seperti yang dilakukan terhadap Tan-Tan .


Rescued sunbear finds new home

New Straits Times, 7 August 2015


SANDAKAN: A three-month old sunbear cub which was up for sale in the interior Paitan, has now been placed under the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre’s (BSBCC) protection near here as of Wednesday.

The female bear which was named Tan-Tan is the 44th rescued sunbear since the centre was set up six years ago, according to a statement from BSBCC and Sabah Wildlife Department.

BSBCC founder and chief executive officer Wong Siew Te said a concerned citizen came across a villager trying to sell the cub.

“The person bought the cub and informed the Sabah Wildlife Department, leading to the department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit sending her to our Centre. With her addition, we now have 35 bears presently at the Centre.

“The cub is under quarantine and is being given round the clock care by our staff,” said Wong.

Sunbear is one of the 11 listed under Totally Protected Species (Schedule 1) which included the Sumatran Rhinoceros, orang utan, Borneo pygmy elephants and clouded leopard.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) Founder and chief executive officer Wong Siew Te receiving the rescued sun bear cub which was sent to the centre in Sepilok, Sandakan on Wednesday


Integrating Panda – patience and play fights

Text by Joanna Buckingham (Volunteer BSBCC)
Photos by Chiew Lin May

Given the space constraints and the growing population between bear house 1 and 2, integration of bears into groups is a large focus for BSBCC. Integration not only allows more of the curious bears to experience the limited outdoor forest enclosures but also lets the bears learn skills off each other that they would have normally been taught by their mother’s in their natural wild habitat of the Bornean rainforest.

One of the bears currently in the integration program is the 7 year old Panda. Panda’s journey with BSBCC began with a rescue mission from a mini zoo in 2010 along with Kudat. Both had been mislabelled as pandas in the Kudat region and thus their names bearing testament to their previous life.

The charming face of Panda.

Panda’s time was finally up and it was decided that she would be integrated with an established group of bears around her age who currently enjoy pen D, Julaini the male of the group and the two females Ah Lun and Rungus. Integration into this group began in February 2015 introducing Panda to the most aggressive of the group first Ah Lun. This is to ensure a successful match as integration of bears who are normally solitary can take a long time. If the dominant bear doesn’t accept the new bear then it would be wasted time to familiarise Panda with the other bears if ultimately she would always be rejected by the “leader”. It is all a bit high school!

Making bear friends

While the BSBCC team began the group integration from February 5th, the integration work is still continuing several months later demonstrating the patience and time needed to group the bears.  As part of my volunteer program, I got to observe one of Panda´s integration sessions in July 2015. I noted quickly that while Panda is large for her size due to a previous diet of a daily chicken in the mini zoo, she doesn’t use that to her advantage as she is much more interested in playing with the other bears. It was great to see Julaini and Panda played with each other with playful barks and bites on the back. Both take turns using their strength to pull the other down. Bear playfights reminded me of growing up with my three siblings while sometimes it looks too rough, the bears know their limits and know when to bark in a way to demonstrate that they have had enough or the playing has gone too far.

During my observation,  Panda and Ah Lun played in their cage while Julaini alternated between watching from the hammock or resting between the cages.  It is a good sign when bears are happy to rest while the other bears are in their cage as it shows that they are happy to be in each other´s presence. Also another good sign is if the bears are happy to share food.

Bear play fights – much like young siblings

It was also decided after an unsuccessful integration with another group that Chin would be introduced to this group. Chin perhaps learning from the previous experience always displays her dominance. Chin was introduced last during my observation as the team know that Chin will show these traits. When Chin was introduced into the third cage, giving the bears more space in case the dominance went too far, she was quick to growl and bark and pull back her nose to show her teeth when she approached the other two cages. Panda showed interest in playing but Chin was more interested in ensuring that no one came into the cage she was occupying and sat firmly in the doorway. Ah Lun showed some signs of fear as Chin ended up in the doorway holding the other three bears in one cage and not letting any of the bears play with her or enter the other cages. Chin was quite interesting to watch as the noises they are make are quite unusual and can grow from low growls to barks like a dog. Chin also shows her dominance by standing up.

Almost like a wresting match, Panda and Chin square off

Panda and Chin´s integration into the group continues at BSBCC and demonstrates the time, patience and expertise of the BSBCC team. Supporting BSBCC will ensure my bear friends like Panda will have the time dedicated to her to ensure that she integrates into an accepting bear group and get to experience the outdoor enclosures.

It’s Always Sunny In Sandakan (with the sun bears!)

Text and Photos by Claire Buckingham

“Welcome to Sandakan!”
That was one of the first greetings we heard when we first came to Borneo. But we didn’t hear it just that one time. We heard it quite regularly, because every time the power went out people would just roll their eyes to the ceiling and laugh. “Welcome to Sandakan!” they’d say, and well, after a while, we all started saying the same thing.

But there was another greeting we heard a few times. We were four volunteers: me, Jo, Marie, and Warren, and on our first day we were taken to the centre for a look around. Up on the feeding platform, we watched the dirty half-dozen (Bongkud, Ah Bui, Debbie, Mary, Damai, and Fulung) forage about in Pen D. Within about five minutes a cry broke through the jungle. Low, trumpeting – just a hint of irritation to give it a bit of a bite. That’s the quality that makes your spine stiffen and your eyes swivel, trying to catch sight of a lurking predator.

“Um…what was that?”

Just a flash of a smile. “Welcome to Jurassic Park!”

…that’s not a raptor on the roof, right? …RIGHT?

My name’s Claire, and I came to Borneo with my sister, Jo, to volunteer at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. I’ve done a couple of other wildlife-oriented volunteer projects before, but Jo’s been following Wong’s work with the bears for years. So I suggested a while back we should go together, and finally it happened this year. Though at that particular moment we started to wonder what we were really in for, standing up on a platform watching bears and listening to dinosaurs.

Of course, they were only (only!) orphaned pygmy elephants. Which makes an awful lot of sense when you consider that the T. Rex from Jurassic Park had a roar that was compiled from various extant animals, mainly baby elephants. But it did emphasise that we were moving into a different world entirely, where we would wander on walkways that reminded you of velociraptor pens (AND THE GATES WERE OPEN), with their PETANG ELEKTRIK signs every few feet. And the ever watchful macaques and orang-utans kept you on your toes, never quite knowing if they might take offense to the way you walked or the fact you were carrying a big colourful tub filled with papaya and bananas. (Pro tip: don’t wear your sunglasses on feeding walks. You will regret it.)

Not pictured: the OTHER primates. The hungry ones.

The BSBCC compound neighbours that of the Sepilok Orangutan Centre, but it really is a little world all of its own, and one easy to get lost in. Every day we would gather up the food prepared for the bears in the outdoor pens and wander along wooden walkways around the older pens, thanking God for the little teenage volunteers who were building new steps (it’s an art form, walking up and down steep hills when carrying twelve pieces of corn and a pile of cooked sweet potato). From there we would toss the food over and watch the bears come running.

“So you’re saying I have to walk all the way over THERE for lunch?”

…or not come running. Occasionally we were lobbing food into what appeared to be empty enclosures, praying that the bears would find it before the monkeys did. With that said, you could never really forget they weren’t empty. Manis, more than once, surprised me with how well she camouflaged herself (from me; David always knew exactly where the old girl was). And on my last day or thereabouts, Roger armed me with a machete (!) and off we went on excursions into Pens F, E, and D to do the daily fence check. Even though I had just seen the bears firmly in their dens, I still kept a sweaty hand tight on that machete. Not that I’d have hit a bear with it. I’d have been more likely to scream my way through hacking a hole in the fence…

 I also was never sure if Roger was pulling my leg about the alleged bee’s nest in Pen E. I kind of figured if there was one, we ought to pick it up as a treat for the bears, but then again…I wasn’t volunteering. I wouldn’t even carry back the pill millipede, which Warren ended up giving to Bermuda. He chomped down on that with great gusto. Bermuda, never change. Although I do wonder who stole the hose on Warren’s first day – I will never forget him racing into the kitchen to interrupt our corn and sugar cane duty. “I need honey! One of the bears has my hose!” Because if you ever want something back from a sun bear: get the honey. Trust me on this one.

Sure, papaya’s NICE, but it’s not honey!

Our days had a pretty common pattern: mornings would be in the kitchen or in the dens, and then afternoons were spent first at a feeding, and then organising enrichment for the bears. On our first day, we got split in two; Marie and Warren went into the forest in search of dry leaves, while Jo and I sat out in the driveway with David and Mizuno, building bamboo feeders. And I am ashamed to say we got that detail because I was terrified of the forest. It wasn’t so much the macaques or the orang-utans, but more the leeches. Ah, the leeches. Thye Lim and Lin May even brought (somewhat accidentally, I assume) a leech to the dinner table on our first night. I never encountered one on my skin. For that, I touch wood.

Or coconut fibre. Whichever’s easier.

At the end of our first day, we were asked who our favourite bear so far was. Without hesitation I said “Amaco!” And got a few odd looks for it. I suppose it’s fair enough; there are some very gregarious bears who can’t help but attract a lot of attention (yes, Fulung, I’m looking at you), but Amaco…just interested me. He was a big male bear, and I discovered he was twenty-two years old. But what intrigued me about Amaco was that when I helped to distribute his food about the den, at first he was not at all interested. Due to the unnatural conditions he was kept in for eighteen years, Amaco displays stereotypical behaviours that break my heart. He was too busy running his nose along the bottom of the den door to want to eat, until I accidentally dropped some papaya on his head. Then he perked up and became curious.

Maybe that’s why I found myself often gravitating towards Amaco: because he was so clearly an example of what humans can do so wrong by these bears, and how even when circumstances change they can’t necessarily get “better,” at least not without hard work. I liked to take Amaco’s food to him, attracting his attention before scattering the bananas and melon and papaya about the den. I loved watching him disembowel his bananas, or climb to the top of the cage looking for the corn lodged up in the ceiling. It gave him something else to do, something that’s not the coping mechanisms he was forced to find as a cub, and I really liked that. The little building project that we volunteers got involved in was all about building some outdoor enrichment for Amaco and Gutuk, which we nicknamed “the retirement village.” I really hope both of them like getting out of the bear house and into something a step closer to their natural environment.

There aren’t a lot of trees to climb when you’re stuck in a tiny cage on a plantation.

I did have to remember that Amaco is a big bear, though! I liked to watch him while he was eating, but I only spent time cleaning in bear house two on my last day. I was wandering over to check on him late in the morning and he was curled up near the door. How cute! I thought, and grinned as I watched him sleep. He soon woke up, saw me standing there, and barked. A sun bear bark cuts right through you. But as much as it gave me a little fright, it made me smile more. Because it’s good to know that Amaco knows how to look after himself, despite everything.

In the end Amaco was still a favourite, but I then developed soft spots for Gutuk and Om, because I gave them their porridge most days I was there. I also found Chin fascinating, and you can’t help but notice Bermuda and get to know him. I remember watching Bongkud and Fulung mock-fighting inside one morning, and then they had a repeat performance out in the enclosure during morning feeding. It’s not a bad thing: it’s all a part of learning about being a bear out in the wild. It’s all an aid to their reintegration.

True friendship is all about rolling in the dirt together.

Natalie is the only bear so far released back to the wild, and I spoke to Wong about her a few times. She’s deep in the forest, now, and can only be monitored by a GPS collar that only transmits when the cloud or tree cover don’t mask the signal. She’d been off the grid for a few days when we arrived, but soon came back online. Wong’s busy as anything, but when I inquired about Natalie’s status one morning, Wong was gracious enough to take me into his office (packed to the rafters with textbooks and photographs) to show me data of her wanderings. It was so easy to see how glad he was that after weeks exploring, she seems to have chosen a home range at last. I loved seeing exactly what everyone has been working towards, and despite the amount of work he has to do Wong was always happy to chat about the bears and their progress. You can really see the care he has for their welfare in all that he does.

The first step in going home.

Because I spent my first three days in the kitchen washing and chopping endless bowls of bananas, I didn’t really get to know the bears until I started cleaning in bear house one. I was nervous to begin with, because even though I have been around large predator-type animals in their enclosures before (and in the wild too; I have some stories about lions and leopards!), I’ve never been around them for such extended periods. The bears are pretty chill about having humans in their usual spaces, but I checked the locks on the doors about five times before I went in, and then would check them again at random intervals. In particular, the thought of the back guillotine door opening to reveal a startled bear on her way back in made me formulate idiot escape plans that really wouldn’t have done anyone any good. But the fact was, BSBCC has stringent and well-followed regulations in place and I never felt in any genuine danger the entire time I was there.

Mostly because I am not a coconut.

This isn’t to say the bears are of the cuddly variety. They are individuals, and they are wild creatures – you have to be constantly aware of your surroundings and the bears’ personalities. But that just made me happier, to know that some of them will one day follow Natalie out into release. Because sure, they’re cute where they are now. Manis has this ridiculously adorable habit of sitting up and resting her front paws on the cage and then her chin on her paws, watching you like a little old lady judging your life choices. If you clean the den next to Julaini, be ready to defend your boots and your broom because as far as he’s concerned, they are his. Bermuda takes great offense to having people’s backs presented to him, and will throw a tantrum to prove it. Om scared me silly one day by living up to his “karate kid” nickname as he played with remnants of a bamboo feeder I didn’t realise he had. Fulung is Fulung (AKA “the cutest little bear that ever did cute and he knows it”).


“This one’s MINE!”


The ursine version of a Pina Colada.

This is why you don’t pat the bears.

Girls out having a drink.


Cleaning out the dens after coconut day was always…interesting.

My favourite activity was porridge feeding, which happened twice a day. We were each assigned bears in bear house two for the duration of our stay; I was looking after Om, our karate expert from earlier, and Gutuk, an older bear with hearing and vision deficiencies. I was rather fond of him, and not particularly nervous about feeding him. Om, on the other hand, was a big and boisterous younger bear. I’ve fed large carnivores before, but this was a little nerve-wracking; you had to get in position, open the feeding trough, and push the food in before a hungry bear got a mind to snatch it from you.

You don’t want to fight a bear for their food.

With that said, it was easy to get used to the procedure. I loved watching them snuffle up their porridge, and besides: if you ever wanted to feed Sir Linggam, you had to learn to put his food in with careful and slow respect. Or else he’d get into a snit and not eat his specially prepared meal. Oh, Linggam. In the end, it was taking the porridge trays back that proved trickier. Ronnie, in particular, loved to slap a paw into the tray as his daily act of rebellion.

You can’t really argue with teeth like that, mind you.

In the end, as a pharmacist, my favourite moment was the bears’ health checks. We weren’t sure at first that they would happen during our tenure, but after a couple days off we came back to see the bear house set up to receive guests in the form of a veterinary team. I was allowed to help out with Panda, and given she was the fourth and last of the morning, I was going to be super late to lunch. But as hungry as bear den cleaning made me, I didn’t much care. I was going to help with a bear’s health check!


Panda is a big girl. And she’s not a panda; as it turns out, she got the name because she was touted as a “black panda” by her previous (presumably somewhat zoologically challenged) owners. She was also regularly fed chicken in those bad old days, hence her rather large size. But I was always amazed by how much excess skin the bears had, which you never noticed until they were picked up. It’s a defence mechanism, and a damned efficient one at that, but their skins seemed to fit fine otherwise.

As the note taker, I could not touch the bear, but I was that close to her it didn’t feel like it mattered. The darting process is always slightly traumatic for the bears – there’s no easy way to do it with potentially dangerous animals like these – and she seemed restless in her anaesthesia. Being a pharmacist, I had to check out what she’d been given, and ended up reading somewhat extensively on it. The bear’s eyes also remain open during the procedure, so they’re given antibiotic eyedrops to keep them moist and free of infection, and the bear is masked to help keep them calm and still.

Panda was weighed first, and then transferred to the table where measurements and general health observations were made. I loved seeing her teeth up close, and also the remarkable claws the bears have evolved for their arboreal life. Their ears are ridiculously small and cute. I’m not sure why we measure them, specifically, but I didn’t care. I just liked seeing cute ears up close and personal. And their tails!

You try to be professional when you’re privileged enough to get close to one of these guys.

With swift efficiency the team took blood and hair samples, and I helped Azzry and Roger get imprints of her paws. Then Panda was transferred back to the den for a slow and quiet awakening. Most of the bears seemed a bit cranky after their checks, but no worse for wear.

Those claws are amazing up close.

Mamatai, however, became an interest for me because her health check revealed a small infected wound, which might have been taken a few days earlier during integration with Wan-Wan. She proved most recalcitrant about her meals and enrichment in the days that followed. I must have annoyed Thye Lim those days, I think.

He got his revenge through cameras left unattended in the bear house, mind you.

But I really I just loved to watch her being given medication, both oral and topical, and when I could I would try to unobtrusively watch her eating and then report back when she didn’t. (Spiking her porridge with honey always went down well!) She was on the mend when I left, and I hope she’s much better now. Mamatai would have fascinated me anyway, given her distinctively short legs, caused by her early captive life: yet another reminder of how important a place like this really is in the lives of these bears.

This is how it’s supposed to be.

Days at BSBCC were always quick-moving and interesting – and hard work. I left home covered in snow and came to thirty plus degrees centigrade heat and humidity that went to 100%. I drank a lot of water and yet it never seemed enough. I was often hungry but found I couldn’t eat a lot. It’s also hard to sleep when it never gets cold! But Paganakan Dii, despite being simple accommodation, was still more luxurious than other places I’ve stayed during volunteer work. Barring the “Welcome to Sandakan!” incidents, there was always power, for starters! And at the end of a long day, a tall glass of iced lime juice in the common area was heaven. Although, let’s be honest: given how quickly we went through t-shirts and trousers in that heat, our favourite appliance there was the washing machine. And we gave it a workout, that’s for sure.

Take bug spray. Take ten bottles of bug spray.

Speaking of water and washing, on our last day, we all lingered around the bear house, taking our time saying goodbye. Chin was doing her usual sadface act, climbing into her waterbowl and dunking her feet. It was empty, so I kind of eyeballed her a little and said: “This is for drinking, right?” And filled her up as a weird kind of going away present. Except, of course, the first thing that went in wasn’t her tongue. It was her butt.

Panda then looked sadly at me from her own den, and I couldn’t resist one last go round of my favourite thing: making a little puddle on the floor so she could starfish in it. You have to be careful with the water – too much, and it damages their paws – but the bears love puddling in it. And I could never be sure if or when they might overheat, though Wong assured me they pant like dogs to cool themselves down. Still, as I wandered down the corridor, I saw Linggam thumping his paws in his empty waterdish, and had to fill his too. Two seconds later? Empty water dish, and water all over me and the bear. He seemed happy enough. I just had to laugh.

Even when you’re exhausted, they still make you smile.

Volunteering is always worth it. I found – not at all to my surprise – that I wasn’t much use when it came to building things (I am certain David spent a lot of time laughing himself sick at my ineptitude with a hammer, ironwood or not), but I was surprised by how soothing it is to clean out bear dens every morning. Walking around the compound was always made interesting by passing the elephants on their own daily walks, or looking out for the monitor lizard that was (supposedly) stalking my sister. Our last day ended with a barbecue attended by a rogue egg-loving orang-utan. These are experiences you can’t imagine, and that you won’t forget.

You’ll never look at coconuts the same way again.

I just think it’s a good lesson, though, in thinking about what it means to be here. Especially with the medical checks, there was always that urge to touch. Just once. Just a little. And there was always that justification that I may very well never see these animals again. But then, the bears are here because Wong didn’t think they deserved to never see their natural habitats again, to never be bears again. They’re not here for us. We’re here for them. And I am so grateful to have been allowed to come to BSBCC and learn that for myself.

The pure majesty of these creatures cannot be denied