Text and Photos by Tom Shaw
I’m a little late to the blog party, but the guys here have asked me to write some of my experiences down. I think I’ll start with a bit of background from my first week here. This is my first ever blog so don’t judge.
So far working at BSBCC has been unreal. The people here are really friendly and welcoming and help you out wherever they can. Everyone has great english as well which helps me out.
The work for me has been primarily with the bears. They are set to open the centre on January 16th, so its been pretty full on getting everything set. Thankfully its only the soft opening as there is still so much left to do.
A day in the life of a volunteer begins at 8:30am. I head straight for the bear enclosures and begin with either food prep, or cleaning up after the bears. For such little bears they can produce an amazing amount of crap! Probably something to do with the 4 feedings a day. The amount at each feeding is determined by the bears size, or hopefully for the current bears, weather they are being prepped to step away from prepared meals to go back into the wild. When that happens, the keepers will reduce the porridge until the bears are only eating fruit out in the jungle enclosures.
Breakfast – Porridge. Usually about a kilo on average. The big bears like Amacco get one and a half.
Mid Morning – Fruit. 38.5kg of banana’s and 14kg of 2 other fruits that are changed every few days to keep the bears eating new things. Jackfruit, guava, watermelon, pineapple, coconut, durian, snake fruit, papaya, the list goes on…
Afternoon – Another 14kg! But of veggies this time. Again, changed everyday. So far i’ve seen pumpkin, beans, cucumber, spinach and jungle fern.
4pm – More Porridge!
This amount of food is spread between the 28 bears currently at BSBCC. Some also have some daily vitamins and fish oil, and they also eat an egg three days a week.
The food prep and feedings is the largest part of the day. It takes a while to get around the hectare of enclosure carrying 8-10kg of food in a bucket!
Not to mention the walkway surrounding it is rather narrow for bigger guys and constantly soaked and slippery as hell. But it is really awesome spreading the food throughout the enclosure and watching the bears forage and roam around sniffing out their meals. Its made more special when you consider all of these bears were rescued from cages, some so small they never learnt how to climb or dig.
Today started like most. Clean up duty and then the morning fruit feeding. I’m finding more and more the different personalities of the bears that aren’t yet ready to leave their cage, as you can see them eat up close. Most will simply wait their turn and gather as they please, however a few stick out to me.
I think Bermuda is the funniest. Today he gathered all his food into a pile, eating none of it until it was more or less all gathered. He then sat on his ass with all the food in front of him like some exotic sultan and feasted, looking at me every now and then with what I can only describe as apathy. Damai on the other hand is still very young, and happy to whip around jumping up, down and around to find the food. There is never a dull moment in the bear house!
Later we had the painstaking task of finishing Wong’s nature fish tank.
The tank is intended to represent the forest surrounding BSBCC, and how a freshwater eco system works. Wong and another volunteer Cory went searching for plants in the forest and came back with 4 varieties, along with a natural moss Wong had been growing for some months. With giant metal chopsticks Wong planted each small plant, probably 50 in total, into small aqua-soil pockets we had isolated with rocks into plant beds. The system with the addition of some fish and prawns, will be used to teach visitors how water is purified in the forest, and has some of the cleanest water I have ever seen. We filled the tank 2/3 up and attached the light array to finish one of the most intense and interesting tank’s I have ever seen. Given time, the plant life will grow up and around the lights and metal beam above. That will be an awesome sight!
The kicker… 24 Ringit!! That’s about $8 AUS, and featured a massive selection of fresh Seafood, prawns, crabs, squid, fish – all local and fresh caught, cooked by yourself at your table. Incase that wasn’t enough, they bought out tray after tray of fresh fried chicken wings, wonton’s and curry. The wings, myself and John (the centres Architect) managed to successfully clean the restaurant out of. Unfortunately not everyone from BSBCC was there, but it was close. Probably a 14 strong crowd, and a finished table that looked like a graveyard. Food coma was the feeling/word of the night, especially upon discovery of two industrial sized containers of chocolate and vanilla peanut butter ice-cream. Lets just say neither survived the 3 hour sitting of restaurant goers. My 4 heaped bowls certainly contributed.
Its fair to say, there was no ‘conservation’ that night….
Today I spent the morning in the bear house, and afternoon in the centre. After cleaning the cages I set about perfecting my first enrichment toy. On the first day I was there I took a hessian bag and placed bread with peanut butter in a line, folding it over about 4 or 5 times, with food in each section. I then rolled it up and tied it with rope, the idea being the bear would have to tear through each section to get at each line of bread. I underestimated the bears skill however, and the toy was destroyed within 5 minutes!
The main focus of enrichment activities is to make toys that the bears play with longer then it takes the keeper to make them. These hessian roles take about 5 minutes to make, very simple, but if they only last 5 minutes then its not as great.
Knowing this, I made a slight tweak.
I put 3 holes through the 5 or 6 layers of hessian, at both ends and in the middle, threading the rope used to tie up the roll through each. Using a figure-8 knot I tied it off, so as the bear pulled the rope, it tightened around the bundle. This meant they had to physically tear through each section – no cheating by taking the rope off! I made one for Tokob, and one for Bermuda, both inside bears. Tokob in on the verge. He paces up to the door outside every minute or so, looks outside and then turns back. He is so close, and it hopefully won’t be long before he is outside every day with the rest of his small group. The toy was a huge success. Bermuda was the funniest, taking a full 10 minutes not to tear into the roll, but to lie on his back and rub the small roll over his body and face. I guess peanut butter is awesome to any species. Tokob was not as kind, tearing into it like a fat kid to a cupcake. Both however had difficultly getting in, meaning a full 45 minutes past while they were focussed and playing with it. When the staff and I broke for lunch, a full hour had passed and both were still entertained by the toy. Tokob carried his into his elevated seat and sat there happily gnawing on it. For a 5 minute make time, to get that length of play is crazy good, and I was very psyched to watch them go.
After lunch, the odd jobs continued. I pitched in to get a small fence built around the new quarantine area for incoming bears – keeping out pesky tourists! Then we turned inside and continued the AV equipment set up, so visitors can watch some prepared videos and power points featuring Wong’s research and the centre’s history, before seeing the enclosures. Its going to be an early night after a long day!
Today was a half day for me. They say you should have a couple days break a week, but I’m only here for a short time so I figure a half day is plenty.
On the agenda today, was getting the signs up for the visitor centre entrance. 4 signs, each had to be hung and painted before the printed signs went on. The biggest challenge was the screws. Ordinarily at home I have more equipment then I could ever use, but here the basic things like drill bits are used so much they break. Unfortunately for us this was the case today and we couldn’t find a bit. We used self tapping screws but getting through the metal brackets on the other side was difficult to say the least. Its very challenging finding solutions to problems like this here, but really rewarding when you find an answer and a job comes together.
The next hardest part, painting the back of the boards! The area underneath the entrance walkway is water and swamp and quite low so a stable ladder wasn’t really on the cards. So we hung with one hand on the rail and one hand painting. It was really hot today so when I was done my shirt was a much darker shade of green but we got it finished. Took us all morning but they went up in the end!
Only 2 days till the soft opening now, so I spent my afternoon memorising facts about the centre and surrounding forest. Likely I’ll have to take some visitors around so need to be relatively informed to avoid looking like a dick! Also need to seek out a laundry place as everything I have now is covered in mud/paint/sweat. Goal for tomorrow!
Today was the day before the soft opening so it was full on! I left Azzry and David to handle the bears today after food prep and pitched in with everyone getting the main centre ready. The printed boards went up, which wasn’t the best as it pissed down every time we started putting the glue on. But now they’re on, the entrance looks legit!
The majority of the afternoon was spent moving a large pile of scrap wood that was near the entrance to the centre. We had to load the ute 5 or 6 times with big and small pieces of timber which were covered in mud, nests of ants and a king scorpion. Pretty sketchy each time you moved a piece but thankfully no one got bitten!
General cleaning and preparation was the rest of the day so nothing intense to report but a good day of getting things ready for the VIP and media tomorrow!
Today was the day! The media arrived at 10 and everything went according to plan. There was speeches from Wong firstly, and then some of the other directors, fundraisers and the head of Sabah forestry.
The centre also had its first public visitors when the centre opened in the afternoon when the VIP’s had left. I told Wong he needed to keep the first Ringit he made but I don’t think he did in the end.
Otherwise the rest of the day was spent talking to visitors about the bears and heading back to the bear house for the 2 afternoon feedings!
Hessian Bag Rope - platted strips into rope, bread and honey used. 10 minutes to make
Damai - 10-15 mins of activity. Hung from the basket. Would be more successful if hung lower so couldn’t sit and chew, but had to stand and claw. Used later without food as a chew toy multiple times.
Hessian Bag Roll - food folded 4 times into sections in bag and rolled. Bread, peanut butter and honey. 5 minutes to make.
Amaco - 10-15 mins of activity. Once through the binding rope and made a hole in the bag, was into all sections. Reduced time spent getting into food. Improvement made: Holes put in both sides and middle. Binding rope passed through all 4 sections and then bound.
Bermuda - spent the first 10 minutes lying on his back rubbing the toy on his head! After that the figure 8 knot used meant as he pulled the rope it tightened around the bundle. Meant he was still getting into the final sections a full hour later! Huge success
Tokob - straight into ripping at it. Took 25 minutes to get to all the food. The honey drizzled over the whole thing meant he was still interested in it an hour later. Carried it into his elevated basket and was still chewing on it an hour later.
Tyre Swing - Three tyres in a chain, bound by rope, hung from roof.
Mary Group - Used swing immediately, without food incentive.