My Volunteering Experience

Text and Photos by Viktoria Forstén


My name is Viktoria Forstén, I´m a 19 year old animal lover from Sweden. I got the amazing opportunity to volunteer at the BSBCC through a scholarship from my school. For that I am forever grateful. I travelled across the globe together with my three friends Emelie, Evelina and Kim, and it was the greatest experience of my life.

First of all I want to say how amazing everyone at the center is. That goes for Mr Wong, the bear keepers and everyone working in the office. I feel so blessed to have gotten to meet you all and working alongside you guys.

Unfortunately we live in a world full of destruction, made by us. If we shorten the earths’ lifespan into 24 hours then that means we’ve been here for one day. If we keep looking at it in that perspective, do you know how long it has taken for us to destroy forests and made so many animals go extinct? Three seconds. In three seconds we have done all this, and yet we keep doing it. This isn’t supposed to be a depressing text but it’s true. When I first saw how much rainforest that has been burnt to the ground and been replaced with palm tree plantations it broke my heart. We call ourselves Homo sapiens, which means wise man. But if we are so wise then how could we let this happen? How could we destroy our home that has done nothing but give us life? This earth that we call ours is so beautiful and brings us so much joy. We have the pleasure to explore the deepest of oceans, climb the highest mountains and watch how life begins and how it ends (naturally). We share this earth with amazing creatures and can even create strong bonds with some of them. We have the nerve to claim this earth and everything that comes with it, ours… But we are only guests here. Now you’re probably confused as to how this has anything to do with volunteering at the BSBCC. The point I’m trying to get across is that we have, and are currently ruining not only the sun bears’ home but all the other animals’ home too. By volunteering you are trying to help make a difference to save this species, but how can we save them if their home is being taken away from them in such a raging pace.

In all this chaos there is still a few good people out there, people like the BSBCC crew, who I would call heroes. We need more people like that, to clean up the mess we’ve created. I’m happy centers like this one exist but at the same time I’m sad that we’ve done so much damage that we now need to put a massive amount of money and energy into something the nature once had under control.

What the center does for these bears deserves an award, honestly. Personally I didn’t mind the hard work because I thought it was a lot of fun. My favorite task was getting dead logs from the forest and giving to the bears as enrichment. Since all of the bears can’t go outside due to their traumatic past, enrichment is very important. We used lots of natural materials like logs, leaves, bamboo etc. to give the bears. It was usually made to hide food inside of it, for example we made little nest like balls made out of leaves and grass that we stuffed with fruit and honey. Even fire hoses were greatly appreciated; those were used to put peanut butter inside of them so that the bears got to utilize one of their natural behaviors, which are using their long tongues to get food.

This is what I call “the rope log”, an enrichment made for the bear Amaco.

When you volunteer you get to see a totally different side of the bears that you don’t see as a visitor. It is great being on the platform watching them foraging for food, climbing trees and behaving like a bear should behave. Although once in the bear house you get a feel of each and everyone’s different personalities. My favorite bear was Chin because of her playful ways; I could sit and watch her play with her logs all day long, if that was possible.

If you’re coming from a colder country like me, the climate change is going to have an impact on you. I remember how red and sweaty I would get from cleaning the cages in the morning. The key is to drink lots of water. Even walking the daily feeding route made me look like a tomato. Being pale and not being used to the heat made me look all kinds of crazy, the staff probably thought I was going to pass out several times but I was fine, haha! It was fun and that’s all that matters.

Let’s talk about our accommodation! The volunteers live in a big house kind of, with numerous rooms, an outdoors kitchen with an amazing view and a few toilets and showers. It is simple living but I guess that won’t be a problem for anyone coming to Borneo to volunteer. I loved it anyhow! The place is called Paganakan Dii and there’s even a café that belongs to the accommodation that serves drinks and food. An advice from me is to not cook your own dinners. It is way cheaper, faster and easier eating at the café.

The kitchen view

The gorgeous view over the house!

This is what the accommodation looks like, the rooms and kitchen at the top floor and toilets + showers behind the white doors downstairs.

I’m not going to lie I was a little nervous about meeting the staff for the first time. I’m somewhat of a shy person and the fact that we had to communicate in English was a bit nerve-racking to me. Once I met everyone there was nothing to worry about at all. They were so nice to us and they made me feel really welcome. The language barrier was not a problem; they were really good at explaining everything in English so that we understood. They told me that I was going to cry on my last day, because apparently that is very common among all volunteers. I did not think they were going to be right, but believe me when I say this, you will cry. Saying goodbye to the bears on our last day felt like someone had died. I was crying rivers, it was kind of bad.

Being there for five weeks was truly the best time of my life. The mixture of the warm weather, the cool insects, the amazing people I met and the bears made the experience awesome. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have gotten that opportunity. For everyone reading this, please consider going there to volunteer, I promise you it will be a time worth remembering.

I love leeches; here is my one and only leech I had the pleasure to feed 

Mamatai enjoying the outdoors

A huge thank you to the bear keepers and everyone at the center for making our time there better than ever imagined! I miss you and the bears!

Huge hugs/ Viktoria

 

 

Lawa gofundme Campaign

Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May

 

Lawa has been thriving since she was rescued. She is eager to show that her world is in the forest! Lawa is an agile and cheerful sun bear.  She is become excellent in foraging, digging for grubs, sniffing out bee hives, climbing trees and building a tree nest on her own. It makes you realize how wild these sun bears are meant be.

With her strong natural instincts and mastered all the survival skills, Lawa will soon be a great candidate to release in the wild. Please help us to make Lawa’s freedom possible and give her a future where she belongs! Your support is vital to us. We cannot do it without you!

Here is the site just specify for Lawa gofundme campaign.

https://www.gofundme.com/savethesunbears

Your donation is much appreciated!

 

Strong Natured Leader – Wawa

Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May

Weighing her, noting down health status, giving her warm milk formula, preparing favorite fruits, providing different types of enrichment, endless loving care of her bear cub keeper and seeing her as affectionately and protectively as her mother could.

Let read story from little Wawa to know more about her rescue and rehabilitation process:

” I was found alone without my mother and appeared weak in the Forest Management Unit 16, Pinangah, Telupid District on the 11th of March, 2016.”

” I was handed to BSBCC on March 18th, 2016 when I was four months old and weighted 4.5kg.”

” I was placed into quarantine.”

” On March 20th 2016, Dr. Laura Benedict, a veterinarian from the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Rescue Unit and the BSBCC team performed a general health check on me.”

” Dr. Laura sedated me, then made a full assessment of my health status. The assessment included a valuation of my overall health, potential sickness (e.g. signs of distress, ill-health, disease, injury etc.), functioning of the internal organs, pulse, respiration and temperature.”

Then an inspection of my claws and teeth. Blood and hair samples were collected also.”

Then an inspection of my claws and teeth. Blood and hair samples were collected also.”

” The blood test results have shown I am healthy.”

” I am has gained weight and grown up so fast over the past few months. Today I weighs 8.60 kg.”

” It is a great joy to report that I finished my quarantine period on April 18th, 2016.”

” I am more bright and alert !!”

” I started to climb, move about and build my confidence each day at BSBCC with a good appetite.”

” My favorites are milk, termites, papaya, banana and honey!”

” My favorites are milk, termites, papaya, banana and honey!”

” My favorites are milk, termites, papaya, banana and honey!”

” My favorites are milk, termites, papaya, banana and honey!”

” My favorites are milk, termites, papaya, banana and honey!”

” My favorites are milk, termites, papaya, banana and honey!”

” I love to explores, enjoying my new journey and recovering from trauma and pain.”

Sun bear cubs often play fight to help develop the defense skills they need in the wild. “This is not an exception for me too. I loves pawing and biting my bear cub keeper. I will show off my small canines and claws while playing.”

” I absolutely loves all and continues to smile – showing off my silly dark snout and small claws.”

” I tends to spend more time digging dead wood, playing and take naps on the small platform.”

” I always alert with surrounding sounds and smells.”

” Then will hides inside the platform !”

” I can be a bit fussy with the things I does not like and will saying “get out of my territory !”

” I absolutely loves all forms of enrichment.”

” I absolutely loves all forms of enrichment.”

Sun bear cubs are dependent on their mother for two to three years in order to know about survival in the forest. Wawa lost her mother and now she has to learn by herself. Wawa will soon be taken for walks in the forest. She will have a second chance to behave like the wild bear that she is. We will be looking forward her rehabilitation process. She has the strong nature of a leader!

Kala is not a lonely bear

Text by Seng Yen Wah (Intern Student from University Malaysia Sabah)

Photos by Chiew Lin May

Kala was bought by a person who with the intention of saving cub on Kalabakan-Sapulut Road near Maliau Basin and then the owner surrendered her to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit. When she arrived at the BSBCC, she was weak. This may cause by the early separation of Kala and her mother. A small cub usually will stay with her mother until 2 to 3 years old. What is the reason will cause a mother to separate with her own cub when they are still in a very young age? The answer is, they had been killed by poachers in order to poach the cute bear cubs. We will say that, the overload cuteness of bear cubs is a horrible curse for them. Kala may have a horrific early life, but now she is growing up and starting her new happy life in BSBCC.

” HELLO” – Kala and Ronnie

Kala used to stay with our other sun bear cubs Boboi, Tan-Tan and Kitud. However the way Kala played made her little to no friends and the other little bears did not like to play with her. After Kala moved from the quarantine to bear house, she had to stay alone. And in order to find some companions for Kala, bear keepers were trying to integrate Kala with our sub-adult group, the bears Sunbearo, Loki, Ronnie Girl, Montom, Susie2 and Damai.

” I see you” – Kala

“Let me get closer” – Kala

The integration between Kala and the sub-adult group was closely monitored to see whether Kala could be integrated with this group or not. If one of the bears in sub-adult group could not be integrated well with Kala, it usually means the integration within the entire group does not work. One has to bear in mind the integration is not simply putting bears together, it is also depended on their age, weight and sex. Their age and weight have to be similar, if not the worst case scenario would be the smaller bear could be injured or during the integration.

Moreover, if the condition of any bear is of lesser healthy, the integration may have to be halted to prevent the spread of disease etc. that may cause other bears illnesses eventually.

” Can I come and play with you?” -Kala

” I’m ready to play! ” – Ronnie

Starting any integration, 30 minutes of time spent together is seen as the limit. Later, if they play well with each other, the time of the integration periods can be extended. During the integration, bear keepers have to observe and if needed step in. Before any integration starts, at least 2 buckets of water and a fire extinguisher are ready and prepared in close proximity of the observing bear keepers. So, in case of any aggression, the bear keeper can step in and use the water or fire extinguisher to separate the aggressive bears or stop aggressive behavior. If the situation becomes worse a loud horn can also be used but we see this as a matter of last resort because the sound might cause other bears distress. The ultimate separation tool in any case of aggression is the use of a water jet to separate them. All actions during the integration sessions are carefully recorded by observers in an integration form.

” Why don’t you see my canine? ” – Sunbearo

” See my canine !” – Montom

The integration for Kala is having an additional purpose, which is let Kala learn and eventually know how to play with other bears. Most of the time, Kala is the one who first enters to other bears cage. She loves to play by moving backwards without looking who she is actually with. And Kala is a very playful bear, she likes to play fight, to chase and run after other bears. However to be honest, Kalas play is really rough, she often paws and snaps after other bears. And hence, Montom, Ronnie Girl, Sunbearo and Susie2 reacted aggressive when they played with Kala during the very first days. The good news is, they are getting to know Kala better after they met for few times, at lately no more aggressive behavior was shown.

Please do not disturb, we are playing well here. – Loki and Kala

Montom and Loki are the ones who always approach Kala. Both of them have showed much more interest in playing with Kala. Sunbearo plays with Kala too, but not as much as Montom and Loki do. On the other side, Kala always approaches Ronnie Girl and Susie2. But, the way she plays seems not acceptable to them. Susie2 always tries to avoid Kala. Damai on the other hand is a solitary bear. She shows the least interest in playing with Kala among the group. Most of the time, she was just stays in a hammock and looking at Kala from hammock.

” This platform is so comfort, see me. Do you want to try? ” -Kala

Don’t be afraid. I can be your good friend. – Loki

For now, Kala was integrated with 2 of 6 bears in one session. In the future we will try to integrate her with at least 4 of the 6 bears at one time. We are looking forward to the integration of Kala with the sub-adult group and hope she can be friends with them soon. After the little bears would not play with her, we want to find her some companion. Now she will get new friends, and is not a lonely bear anymore.

Fortnight in the Forest

Text & Photos by Nicola Chin


My two weeks at the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre could be described in many ways: hard work, eventful, fun, enriching, etc. Ultimately, it was a wholesome experience I have absolutely no regrets about, and I’d like to tell you about what I did there, and why it was worth it.
Full days of work were the norm, with a large range of tasks that went towards maintaining the facilities both indoors and outdoors (cleaning and fence checks), keeping the bears well-fed and occupied (food preparation, feeding and enrichment, more on that later), as well as other projects that would go towards improving the lives of everyone at the centre. Tiring as they were, me and the other volunteers could go away each day knowing that our work there made a difference.

Among my favourite tasks as a volunteer was enrichment, which involves fashioning objects for the sun bears to interact with, be it a bamboo shoot filled with tasty fruit, or a bed of dried leaves to forage through. Enrichment gives the bears things to do, and teaches them to use their senses and bodies like they would in the wild, which was always fun to watch! My other favourite project was getting to decorate the bear house walls, upon the request of Lin May, one of the bear care staff. As someone who loves art, it was wonderful to be given the opportunity to contribute to the centre with my drawing skills. I painted a series of bears engaged in different enrichment activities, and sketched some more bears in the kitchen; these were then painted by Lester, another one of the BSBCC staff.

Making Bamboo Fence

Education was another important part of the programme. I learned loads about the sun bears, their troubles at the hands of poachers, and their role in the Malaysian forests, and through an educational booth set up in the centre, us volunteers were able to impart our knowledge to the visitors there. This was difficult, because many of the visitors were simply not interested, but it was rewarding whenever someone adopted a bear, or even just went away knowing one more fact about sun bears.

The bears themselves were an interesting bunch! A handful to take care of, they were a delight nevertheless, and the bears’ individual personalities revealed themselves with time and observation. I found that it was best when I appreciated the bears as animals with wild instincts, for both their benefit and mine. But it’s admittedly hard not to call them cute when you see one lying on its back, licking the piece of peanut butter filled fire hose it has cradled in its paws!
The BSBCC team members were helpful, friendly and dedicated; it was clear that they took their respective roles as sun bear carers seriously, as shown by their attention to detail, and how they made sure that us volunteers knew what we were doing every step of the way. Our programme facilitators from APE (Animal Projects and Environmental Education) were very much the same, and I appreciate the effort they put into taking care of me, and ensuring the programme was well organised.

I joined the volunteer programme as a gap year student looking for a project, and came away glad that as a local Malaysian, I was able to play a part in the BSBCC’s mission. The efforts of the team come from noble hearts, and I would highly encourage other Malaysians to try out this volunteer programme for themselves!

Volunteer Period

Text and Photos by Julia Riverstal

Hi, my name is Julia Riverstål I am currently 18 years old and I am from Stockholm, Sweden.I am on my final year at an animal care program in Sweden at Spånga Gymnasium. It is thru my school that I have got this amazing chance to see and actually be a part of the amazing work that they do at the Bornean sun bear conservation centre for a total of 5 weeks.

In April 2015 I visited the centre for 4 days with a few others from my school and it is totally stunning to see the progress that some of the bears have been doing in less than 10 months! When I was here the first time some of the cubs were still in quarantine and to see them high up in the trees at the big bear house is just the best receipt to understand that the centre is really making a difference!

My Swedish immune system have unfortunately not handled the Bornean flora of bacteria so good so I have been sick a lot and sadly I had to stay at home for some time. But even if i were sick and had to stay at home I could still help the centre with translating a Swedish TV program about Sun bears, so at least I could do something. I have never felt so appreciated and welcomed at another place and all of the staff at the centre is just outstanding in their way of showing their appreciation and kindness to the volunteers.

Some of the things that you do is routines and are pretty much the same every day, you clean the cages, prepare the food and feed the bears. But even if you do this every day it is never the same, one day the cage is almost clean and the next day it is filled with enrichment or you just have to clean a cage where there has been a complete poop party, haha! With the feeding, both inside and outside you get a perfect chance to see that everything is good with the bear, not being interested of food is a big indicator that something is wrong. Of course it is just a blast to see the bears playing around trying to crack coconut or to see them lie on their back eating sugar pipes. In the afternoon you focus on doing enrichment and if you ask me this is the most fun thing to do, to build or make something that will keep the bear busy for a while. It is not as easy as it seems, there is a lot of things you have to keep in mind when doing this.  First of all it has to be safe for the bears to play with and then you have to adjust the enrichment to the bear that you are going to give it to and I can tell you that it is a lot of different personalities in those bear houses.  The last week we got to be a part of BSBCC´s educating program, I was able to talk to visitors and spread the word about the sun bears situation and what they do at the centre. Educating the people is just as important as talking care of the bears in the bearhouse and it felt really good and surprisingly I met a whole group of Swedish people!

My time at the centre has been amazing, it has been a roller coaster journey for me as a person but it has opened my eyes and given me perspective that has enriched me as a person! I have would not have changed it for anything and if someone is given the opportunity that I was given, take it, you will not regret it!

I want to thank my school, every staff member of the centre and the sun bears for this amazing journey!
A big Swedish brown bear hug from me!
?
// The pale, chubby and red faced volunteer 😉 <3

Doing bamboo feeders!

I the making of a table for the quarantine and also the result with a Thye lim on top!

Insects, huge insects!

Very sleepy sun bear!

Hungry sun bears!

Some of my new friends.

The weather that welcomed me back to Sweden…

Memorable 5 weeks at the BSBCC

Text and Photos by Emelie Siippainen

My name is Emelie and I am a student from Stockholm, Sweden. I study animals so that I can become an animal keeper one day. My school gave me the opportunity to travel to Borneo and volunteer at the BSBCC and off course I took that chance! Ever since I was a little kid I loved animals, actually the first job I ever wanted was being a farmer because I wanted to milk all the cows. That dream soon developed into a life of loving animals and being an environmentally conscience person.

The first day at the sun bear center I was super nervous but very excited. But after meeting the BSBCC team I felt much better and quickly realized I was finally there, for the amazing bears. I got used to the daily routine quickly and started to learn the names of all the bears. During the first days the work was a bit challenging and very physical, but after a couple of days things got easier and easier. I got to do everything from cleaning the indoor enclosures to giving the bears porridge, fruit and corn, like a real bear keeper.  In the afternoons we were working on enrichment projects. I loved the enrichment project time, I found it fun to come up with ideas and use my imagination to challenge the bears. After giving the bears the enrichment, I could have stayed and watch them for hours! It was so much fun being a volunteer in Borneo!

Also the climate was a huge change for me; Borneo is hot and very humid, whereas in Sweden it is cold and grey. And the food is so different. But just to be able to come to a country, live there and be a part of different culture is amazing! Everyone is so friendly and happy all the time, there is never a dull moment. I absolutely want to come back and met everybody again, and especially the bears. The work that is being done at the BSBCC is not easy and it is not cheap, the entire team has to deal with pessimists that are questioning them and the work that they are doing all the time. But their purpose is to preserve the sun bear and to educate the public about them.

Charlie, Me, Filippa and Julia preparing some enrichment.

 

Charlie, Me (Emelie) and Koo with our bamboo enrichment.

 

I spent 5 weeks in Borneo at the BSBCC working with these amazing animals. I have learned so much, not just about the sun bears but also about conservation work and what I can do to make a difference. It is a once in a lifetime life changing experience. I have met so many wonderful people and I had a blast working with the staff at BSBCC.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank BSBCC for having me as a volunteer and the staff that helped so much during my period of volunteering. I hope that Centre will create greater awareness and educate the public about the sun bear.

 

Filippa, Harith, Charlie and Me out for a ride to collect dry leaves for the bears.

Orphaned Bear Cub finds a new Home

Clean Malaysia, 31st March 2016

A rescued sun bear cub plays with a twig at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sandakan. Photo Credit: BSBCC

The two-month-old sun bear cub was found lifeless and alone in a forest reserve in Pinangah, in Sabah. The forest workers who discovered her called the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), an officer of which drove the little bear to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) in Sandakan. There, the cub, named Wawa by the officer, is now bouncing back, thanks to round-the-clock care.

Wawa is the 48th rescued sun bear to have arrived at the center, which was founded in Sabah in 2008 with the aim of providing care and rehabilitation programs for bears rescued from poachers and illegal wildlife traffickers. The center also provides a home for orphaned cubs like Wawa as well as for older captive bears that cannot be released back into the wild. The non-profit sports well-equipped facilities and has built spacious enclosures with plenty of leafy roaming grounds for the vivacious bears in its care.

“Our department would like to issue a stern warning to those who continue to poach sun bears and other protected wildlife species.” Baya said.“We will take action against those who are found to be involved in such activities.”

The center’s CEO Wong Siew Te feeds Wawa from a bottle. Photo Credit: BSBCC

 

 

Rescued sun bear cub finds new home at BSBCC

The Sundaily, 23rd March 2016

SANDAKAN: Found alone in a forest reserve in Pinangah, within the Telupid district, a female sun bear cub believed to be about two months old is now settling into her new home at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) here.

Named “Wawa” by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) officer who drove her to the centre last Friday, the cub is currently under quarantine and is reported to be improving in terms of her health.

The cub was found lifeless on March 11 by forest workers. said BSBCC chief executive officer Wong Siew Te in a joint statement from SWD today.

Wawa is the 48th rescued sun bear to have arrived at the centre.

Describing the fact that Wawa was found alone as worrying, SWD director William Baya said: “Orphans are rescued and sent to BSBCC from time to time, indicating that their mother may have been killed for their parts as part of an illegal trade business.

“There are no medicinal values of consuming Sun bear parts.”

He said they would take action against those who continue to poach sun bears and other protected wildlife species.

Offenders may face penalty of up to five years’ jail term or a maximum of RM50,000 fine, or both, he added. — Bernama

Orphaned sun bear cub rescued from Sabah forest reserve

New Straits Times, 23rd March 2016

SANDAKAN: A young female sun bear was rescued from a forest reserve in Pinangah, Telupid here.

The bear, found weak and almost lifeless, is now recuperating well at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sepilok here.

Named “Wawa” by the Sabah Wildlife Department officer who drove her to the centre last Friday, the cub is currently under quarantine and is said to be improving in terms of her health.

BSBCC Chief Executive Officer Wong Siew Te said the cub was found on March 11 by workers conducting forest monitoring.

They subsequently took the cub to an office operated under the Forest Management Unit (FMU) 16 before it was surrendered to the department that later sent the bear to the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park near Kota Kinabalu the following day.

“Based on details given to us, Wawa appeared to be weak when she was found. Those who brought her to safety decided it would be best to only give her some water to drink.

“After several days, she arrived at BSBCC and although she was exhausted from the six hour drive, she was feisty enough to bark at our staff.

“Wawa is still weak and dehydrated but she is adapting well. We have been giving her constant care and we hope that she will become stronger in the days to come,” Wong said.

He added that it was very unlikely for a sun bear to abandon her cub and that it was not known what had happened to Wawa’s mother.

?“BSBCC is taking up the challenge to raise this bear and to teach her all that she needs to know before she returns to her natural habitat as an adult,” he said adding that this was the 48th rescued sun bear to have arrived at the centre. He reiterated that it is an offence under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 to hunt or to keep sun bears.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre Chief Executive Officer Wong Siew Te botthe feeding the bear at the centre. Picture courtesy of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre