Category Archives: Volunteers

Back to the Forest

Text by Lam Jia Ern
Photos by Chiew Lin May and Seng Yen Wah

11 months later and I’m back.

December 2016

January 2016, I was attending the BSBCC for my wildlife placement. December 2016, I’m back again to help out with the caretaking of the ever growing family of 42 fur babies.

Working again with the bear team was better than the first, but with the added number of bears, there were some stressful times while working, especially on the day the bears received their deworming medication. It was a great opportunity for me to work with the friends and people that have shared their knowledge with me about the bears again. My admiration and respect for their ongoing dedication has grown tenfold.

After being a book nerd for 9 months, I was definitely out of shape. Carrying the bears’ food during feeding time and fence-checking was enough to make me out-of-breath most of the time. It had become a mission of my buddy, Azzry, to get me back to tiptop shape. With fence checks every few days and trekking into the enclosures to gather the plants we needed to make our enrichments, it was surely a challenge. Under the brutal training that Azzry had set for me, I felt stronger at the end of my 2 weeks. Volunteering here at the BSBCC won’t be an easy job; it will be a strength and stamina training ground for most. To those that work under rigorous conditions every day, I applaud you.
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During my first time at the centre, I didn’t get much of a chance to learn about the many ways we could keep the bears occupied with enrichments. This time around, with the help of Azzry, I had managed filled that empty space of knowledge of mine. The creation of enrichments is no easy feat, especially for me, as it requires some creativity, which I obviously lack, to think of something new and exciting for the bears. With a whole forest-full of plants that we could use, along with some fruits and the bears’ most prized treats, peanut butter and honey, we managed to create some new enrichments for the bears to play with.

“Crown Prince” for Linggam, the prince of BSBCC

“Planetary Nest Ball” for Amaco and Panda

“Stick Paradox” for my baby boy, Gutuk, and Chin

Thank you again to everyone at the BSBCC for welcoming me back with open hearts and for putting up with me. And a special thank you goes out to the bear team and Dr Wong for sharing your pool of knowledge about the sun bears with me. I hope I wasn’t much of a bother and I wish nothing but the best to everyone there. I hope to meet you guys again in the future!

Make a life by what we give

Text by Thong Wai Keen
Photos by Seng Yen Wah

Dear all,
Hi, I am Thong Wai Keen from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I am a conservation biology student from the University of Malaysia Sabah. The reason I decided to volunteer in Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is that I am convinced that a good center itself will be a great platform for a fresh graduate to learn and apply what I studied back in the University.

To some of us, volunteering may be something that allows us to earn a wonderful lifetime experience with the beautiful animals and spectacular nature. In my experience, I realised volunteering is simply giving and sharing what you have with those who are in need. It can be your time, your money or even your love to the mother nature. For me, volunteering is working on animal welfare with lots of patient and persistence are needed.

I served in two roles as part of my work with the volunteering program. Taking good care of the bears and their welfare is one of our major works. I assisted the staff in cleaning cages, preparing food, feeding, fence training and making bear enrichment. I learned to treat the bears with extra care and respect. It’s amazing to see the bears eat well and growing healthy in a clean environment.

I am helping on fence training for Dodop and Wawa.

I am helping on fence training for Dodop and Wawa.

Time for making bear enrichment!

Time for making bears enrichment!

Time for making bear enrichment!

Time for making bear enrichment!

Time for making bear enrichment!

Time for making bear enrichment!

Time for making bear enrichment!

I was also educating the visitors by conveying the information about sun bears to them on the platform. It’s a natural role for me as I really love to share my knowledge with people and it’s really satisfying to see the visitors so interested in the fun facts about sun bears. After all, making visitors to understand and share with the world that sun bear does not belong to us, the zoo, the center but the forest is what matters the most. I believe the power of education can create a stronger sense of conservation within people to share an awareness to save our wildlife and our planet.

Last but not least, I would like to express my utmost gratitude to Dr. Wong Siew Te, the founder of Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), the Sabah Wildlife Department, Land Empowerment Animal and People (LEAP), Sime Darby and all the BSBCC staff for working so hard to save sun bears and dedicated to release all of them back into the wild. Thank you!

Best,

Thong Wai Keen

Unforgetful Memories with Sun Bears

Text by Fetysella Olyndra Juli

Photo by Chiew Lin May

 

            My name is Fetysella Olyndra Juli, I’m 22 years old and I am originally from Sabah, Malaysia. I am actually a practical student from Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, studying Biological Sciences and this year I am doing my internship at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC).

            At first, BSBCC was my first choice when applying for internship place. Therefore, I was very delighted when I received an email, staying that there will be phone call interview for placement at BSBCC. I was introduced to BSBCC by my close senior from same university. She recommended this place because BSBCC do welcome students to do their internship here. This encourages me to go to BSBCC. Besides that, I never know that there is a rehabilitation centre in Malaysia for sun bears, which located in Sepilok, Sabah. By applying here, this will allow me to get to know more about the least known species in Malaysia, which is sun bears.

            During my first day at Bear House in BSBCC, I was given an induction by co-supervisor Chiew Lin May about the rules and regulations, and what kind of work I will be doing at Bear House as well as the enrichments project. I was also assigned with one of the bear keeper, Roger, as my buddy and was greeted by the Bear House staffs, which they are very friendly and kind enough to show me around and teach me to do various kinds of activities. Those who are working at Bear House will be following the daily scheduled prepared by the staff. There are duties such as food preparation in kitchen, feeding session, Bear House cage cleaning and in afternoon, sometimes we will be working on enrichments, collecting banana leaves and bamboo, searching for dried leaves and termites nest and much more.

Roger explaining about my first enrichment, hanging bamboo feeder.

Roger explaining about my first enrichment, hanging bamboo feeder.

Collecting and trying to figure out which bamboo parts need to cut from nearby place at Sepilok.

Collecting and trying to figure out which bamboo parts need to cut from nearby place at Sepilok.

We are helping the Bear House staff collecting bamboo at Sepilok.

We are helping the Bear House staff collecting bamboo at Sepilok.

            During my first week in Bear House, it is very tiring doing the works at Bear House because it required lots of stamina and energy, but after few weeks, I kind a used to the duties, especially when cleaning the bear cages. In afternoon, collecting bamboo was the hardest part for me because it requires me to use a lot of stamina and strength to carry the bamboo from another place to Bear House. However, it was a lot of fun because this is new to me and being able to do this has taught me about team work.

We are preparing to carry the bamboo back to Bear House for enrichment making.

We are preparing to carry the bamboo back to Bear House for enrichment making.

            I got know most of the bears based on their face expressions and distinctive physical body. However, I was having quite a hard time recognizing the juveniles bear due to their looks was almost the same to me and by the way, my favorite bear is Bermuda. Bermuda is the dominant male bear and even though he known to be vicious by the staffs, his silly appearance captures my attention despite of his nature. Some of the bear have their own personalities which make it possible and easier for me to create enrichment for specific bear.

            During my internship here, I also assists Lin May doing Integration for Along, Simone and Kudat as well as Fence Training for both Along and Simone. Integration is important to encourage the bears to develop positive behavior when interact with others, as well as learning skills from each other in preparation to go out to forest enclosure together. During my last week of internship, I have the opportunity to joined my supervisor, Thye Lim attending a community talk at Pitas, entitled ‘Bengkel Pengurusan Sumber Secara Lestari Berasaskan Komuniti’. Through this talk, I gained a lot of information in which how they are related with the conservation issues.

My supervisor, Thye Lim getting ready to give his presentation about Sun Bears.

My supervisor, Thye Lim getting ready to give his presentation about Sun Bears.

                For me 84 days of internship days at BSBCC is a very short period. I’m very grateful to be part of the team in helping the staffs to take care the sun bears. I wish to learn more about the bears and the company itself. Last but not least, I would like to wish good luck to Mr Wong Siew Te and the Bear Care Team for their continuous effort in rehabilitating sun bears. Thank you so much again for all the memories and opportunities. May God bless you guys always.

Cheers,
Fetysella Olyndra Juli

2 weeks of Incredible Voluntary Experience, Definitely Unforgettable

Text by Khushalinie Kalayarasu
Photos by BSBCC

My name is Khushalinie Kalayarasu, people call me Khusha most of the time. It has definitely been a privilege to be given the opportunity to volunteer in the BSBCC. A remarkable experience it was and I have no regrets. In the hopes of becoming a veterinarian one day, this experience has indeed given me the knowledge and built up awareness in keeping the wildlife as safe and competent as possible for all animals to survive.

I certainly have to thank all the people that are working there. They have guided me through this journey with such compassion. I was mesmerized by their dedication towards the bears and it makes every second more worth than it already is. Seeing them show the same amount of dedication every single day has made my experience more memorable. They care so much about these bears and it leaves me felling in awe. Not only that being said, they were the same crew that has enlightened me with the knowledge about the sun bears behaviour and characteristics.

I believe that we are truly lucky to have these sun bears being a part of our wildlife habitat and the thought of them being endangered is very devastating. It took me by complete shock when I heard about how people would capture and keep sun bears for their own benefit. Poaching and illegal hunting should be taken under serious consideration as these wildlife animals are losing their habitat due to human being’s selfishness. These bears are one of a kind and should be cherished, not tortured.

These past two weeks has been an experience to never forget. Being a part of such a welcoming team and helping the bears to heal and grow in their natural habitat the best way possible was indeed the cherry on top of this experience. I would be part of their enrichment making process in order to challenge the bears hence preparing food for them. It is definitely physically challenging but I believe that this experience is truly worth it. Gaining the knowledge about sun bears have opened my eyes to the importance of the wildlife community.

My buddy and I working on the bamboo

Banana Leaves for the bears

working togetherrrrr !!

Given a second opportunity, I would embrace this amazing experience once again and share it with the world. Knowing sun bears are a vulnerable species, they deserved to be loved and taken care of. I really do hope that all of us can give back what has been taken from Mother Nature. The freedom of animals, the majestic forest and the love of an unborn bear. Said threatened sun bears should be loved equally as any other animals. This experience does more than opening my eyes to the actual world.

Once again, I would just like to thank everyone that had stood by me throughout this journey. Thank you for the opportunity, knowledge and accepting me with open arms.

Yours truly,
Khusha

Big Bear Hugs xx

My time at BSBCC

Text and Photos by Estee Lim Siew Teow

Sun bear is not a pet, not for cuddle nor taking any close up photo with … this is the only way to take photo with sun bear  like below.

I was ex volunteer for BSBCC four years ago …prior that I had no idea about sun bear this type of species, and their existing in Borneo as well , like many other Malaysian !!

I was introduced to BSBCC and to Mr Wong by my old classmate, we came to this centre together as volunteers for two weeks ! At that time there was only four staff in BSBCC, including Mr Wong, plus few volunteers and 20 sun bears. To be honest I had great time and experience working at the Bears house, on the same time came to know more about sun bears and other wildlife in Borneo !!

Four years later (2016) I came to visit to BSBCC and be one of the volunteers again during my six months sabbatical leave,  I have witnessed a huge transformation of BSBCC before and after it open to public. The centre even have second viewing platform, what an exciting news !! Congratulation to Mr Wong and good job to the A team.

Proud to be part of the A team, even only for more than one week volunteering at the BSBCC.

The first viewing platform

Ariel walkway to 2nd platform …me with the spotting camera !! So cool ….

 

This time I was not involved in Bear house to care for sun bears, coz they had enough volunteers in the bear house and I was here only for  short period !! On the other hand, it was a good sign to show that more young people are involving in voluntary work at BSBCC.

I was allocated to education team with Gloria , Jeremy and Inna …All of them are friendly, nice and helpful !!! Learning a lot during the time at the viewing platform when they talked to people about the individual sun bear and the centre.

Inna and the kids from kindergarten

I felt comfortable to answering questions for the visitors after few times I was at the viewing platform with Gloria and Inna. I also managed to operate the spotting camera and help visitors to take closed up photos of sun bears.

Sun bear was resting at the tree. Photo was taken through spotting camera.

Sun bear was climbing the tree. Photo taken at the 1st viewing platform

Involving in the project of the 3 difference positions of the sun bear sculptures …Hopefully for my next visit 4 years later I can see the end result !!!

Involving in the project of the 3 difference positions of the sun bear sculptures …Hopefully for my next visit 4 years later I can see the end result !!!

Big and miniatures sun bears sculptures. So cute …..Get ready the miniature paper craft sun bear for ROR festival.

I was lucky to be able to involve in the 3rd year ROR festival (Borneo Rhythms of Rimba Wildlife Festival). My first time to teach people how to make paper craft …. first craft to make a sun bear !

D.I.Y paper craft sun bear and painting mask done by the visitors at ROR festival ….. nice to chit chat with the young and adult visitors ! Quite a good response of making DIY hand craft sun bear from the adult and teenagers.

ROR festival 20/8 to 21/8/2016

Fun at ROR festival….

Selfies….everyone smile !

Dancing in the rain …..I was just watching only.

My favourite little girl ….

First couple who made the paper craft sun bears …..they enjoyed this activity.

Helping Inna at the ROR festival during the film showing for the kids from Chinese kindergarten and their parents….. Explaining to some of the kids in Chinese !!!

Helping Inna at the ROR festival during the film showing for the kids from Chinese kindergarten and their parents….. Explaining to some of the kids in Chinese !!!

Me and Gloria at RDC in the evening….waiting for the red giant flying squirrel. At last I saw it flying …

Morning view at Kinabatangan river

In front of Gomantong Cave

During my volunteering time at BSBCC, I managed to make a 2 day one night trip to Kinabatangan river and Gomantong cave on my day off, to see the wildlife and back to nature.

Time flies my short period volunteering time at BSBCC end quickly…I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to Mr Wong and his team members for having me at BSBCC.

I hope I will come back again in the near future …

The Bare Necessities about Bornean bears

Text and Photos by Jessica Prestage

My name is Jessica Prestage, I’m 18 years old and I am from England. I have just completed a two week volunteering programme at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sandakan. I finished school in May and I will be starting university in September. During this break, I wanted to make the most of my long summer holiday by volunteering somewhere new, that would allow me to learn about a different country and the conservation systems there. I looked at the opportunities available with a travel gap year company called ‘Oyster’. They have a lot of varied projects, but working with sun bears stood out as the most interesting. At first, I was unsure whether I would be able to travel to Borneo for this project, as it requires a long journey – in total, over 15 hours on a plane. But I decided that I could not pass up the chance to come out here and spend two weeks working with the team to care for, monitor and learn about sun bears. An opportunity like this may not come round again, so I selected this project and started booking it.

On my first day working at the centre, I was shown around with the other volunteer, Jackie. We were both part of the volunteer programme organised by APE Malaysia. Soon after our tour, we started working; the days followed a schedule, which rotated in order to allow everyone to help with different aspects of the bear house. In the morning, the tasks included husbandry (cleaning the cages), which was separated into bear house one and bear house two, preparing food in the kitchen and fence checks. This also meant that every day we worked with different team members, allowing us to get to know each other and work together. The afternoons consisted of creating enrichment; enrichment is what is used to engage the bears’ natural instincts of climbing, foraging and exploring. There were a wide range of materials that we had available to create enrichment, such as old fire hoses, donated by local fire stations, tyres, logs and branches, and bamboo. I enjoyed creating the enrichment, but personally I found the dry cages the most rewarding form of enrichment. Creating a dry cage involves laying a bed of dry leaves, collected the previous day, and adding logs and branches to mimic a forest environment. We also added log feeders, which is simply a log with holes drilled into it, each filled with treats. The normal treats used in enrichment to entice the bears to investigate and engage with it are honey, peanut butter, bananas, dog treats and banana leaves. These have strong smells, added to which the bears enjoy them – consequently the enrichment is regularly destroyed in order to access every crumb of food! The dry cage is my favourite enrichment because as soon as the bears are let back into the cage, they start exploring, digging and ripping open the logs. Dog treats and mealworms are scattered in the leaves to encourage foraging, which is often the first thing they do. It is rewarding when the bears do this as it shows that they still have their instincts and have a high chance of being released back into the wild.

In this photo, Mark and myself are creating a log feeder for the dry cage we created for Wan Wan. The reason for the cameraman also featured in this photo is that for two days we were filmed creating enrichment, for a series called Bornean Rangers. The idea of this is to show the process of rehabilitation at the centre and demonstrate how volunteers can help.

Working as part of the team here was a fantastic experience – as a volunteer, initially I was worried that I would slow the work down and be in the way, but I was quickly just another member of the team. Everyone was very welcoming, and I felt accepted as a team member and a friend. Although I was the only English person on site, everyone was eager to talk to me, asking questions about England and finding out about me. In the first few days, I struggled to adapt to the heat; this meant that I had to have regular breaks and drink a lot of water. Everyone kept an eye on me and checked on me, asking if I was okay, which made me feel comfortable and looked after. I knew that if I did have a problem, I could talk to them. However, I did not have any problems throughout the project – the team are friendly, funny and always up for a laugh. This made my time here more enjoyable, as I was getting to know people and making friends, whilst working with the bears.

This was taken the same day, on our way back down to the main bear house. We had our expert driver in front, Roger, three passengers, (WaWa, Jackie and myself), and the engine was Azzry, pushing us down the slope. This may have been a less sensible idea, as we didn’t quite manage to turn successfully at the bottom of the slope

So perhaps this wasn’t the best idea, but it was fun and we were all laughing for a long time afterwards!

During my two weeks at the conservation centre, I got to know most of the bears. Initially, I memorised the names based on which cages they were in, but as the two weeks progressed I learnt more about each bear. Their chest marks are like our fingerprints; each one is unique and can be used to identify the bear. The size, shape and colour can vary. However, some of the older bears do not climb so much, so they are recognised by their faces and behaviour more than the chest marks. I found it interesting as I got to know more of the bears, as they are all so different. Knowing their personalities made it possible to create enrichment for specific bears to try to engage them for as long as possible. Naturally, I had a favourite; but doesn’t everyone? I became fond of Along, as he was always sitting on the hanging log or hammock in his cage, watching what was going on. He’s a handsome bear, and as with most of the bears in the centre, I hope that he will be released into the wild in the near future. Some of the older bears cannot be rehabilitated, but I can’t imagine a better place for them to live than here at the centre. The staff are incredible and the facilities are brilliant; the bears have all they could ask for and more. I am so lucky to have been able to spend time here with such passionate people, who care so much for the future of these bears and other wildlife that is at risk due to human presence and actions in the natural environments. I have learnt a lot during the project and I hope to return someday to see the progress here and to see my friends again!

I cannot thank the BSBCC enough for giving me this opportunity. It’s been an unforgettable experience, with amazing people. Good luck for the future and I hope to see you again soon!

2 weeks in BSBCC

Text and Photos by Jacquelyn Jepiuh

After volunteering at BSBCC for a very short  2 weeks, I’ve gained so much insight about how a centre like this works. I’m currently go studying Zoology and Conservation biology so I really wanted to gain more experience in the conservation field. I found out about this volunteering program by simply googling ‘Animal conservation in Malaysia’ and came across an organization called APE Malaysia. I immediately applied for the program they had running during my semester uni break in July and luckily they accepted me! This was also my first time of hearing about BSBCC. After researching into the centre, I was amazed by how much progress they had made since they’ve started – with the release of Natalie and the upcoming release of Lawa – and why haven’t I heard of this place sooner!

Upon arriving the centre, Jess (also another volunteer) and I were warmly greeted by all the staff and briefed on the health and safety issues. The first day of work was the hardest, in my opinion, as the heat really got to me. As a Malaysian myself, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to how hot and humid it really gets here, I just get used to sweating a lot. However, as the days passed I learnt to really enjoy doing the hard work for the bears. I learnt a lot about their arboreal behavior and also the importance of making enrichment for them. The most interesting days I experienced here would be filming for a show on the discovery channel and as APE volunteers, we got to be a part of it! Even though talking in front of the camera was extremely awkward and there were some technical difficulties, I enjoyed making all the enrichments for the bears and seeing them enjoy the enrichment made it all worth it.

A hammock: an amazing enrichment for the bears to imitate having nests above the ground

Beautiful Jelita! 🙂

Mark, Sumira and I getting filmed testing the hammock for Bermuda!

I would like to give a big thanks to Wong and all the staff of BSBCC for being so welcoming, especially to the bear house and maintenance team for being so nice and entertaining – there was not a day I wasn’t laughing or smiling. Also, a special thanks to the APE team, Mark and Sumira, for taking such good care of us and teaching us about everything. Everyone I’ve met here are so dedicated and passionate about their job. I have no regrets and it has been such a great opportunity to spend my break productively with amazing people and animals. I want to wish everyone good luck with their future endeavours and good luck with the release of Lawa, I hope everything runs smoothly!

Lots of love,
Jackie

The Bear Necessities

Text and Photos by Lee Jia Wei

Tomorrow? Oh boy, how time flies! Just a flurry of constant diggings at the bearhouse and suddenly I’m going off real soon! Suddenly 20 days doesn’t seem that long at all, haha!

Being able to volunteer here was honestly, such a blessing from the start. Initially BSBCC had so many interns and volunteers, that they couldn’t afford to take in anyone else until September! However, I was determined to volunteer here, and finally a chance came – an intern student pulled out, and I was given the opportunity to be at the place I wanted to be! When I was told I got accepted, I was literally running around the entire top floor of my house, as if I struck a goal in football, haha!!

How is volunteering in BSBCC? I would say it was exactly I imagined it to be! We did so many things in a day, that lunch break became a luxury, and sleep was heaven, haha!

Everyday, as I am staying in the volunteer hut ‘Bjorn Hala’, I would wake up and make breakfast with my fellow housemates, and around 7.30am, we would go off to BSBCC. We’ll clock-in and start work at 8am when we reach there.

First, we will see which job we are assigned to. On some days, we help to clean the cages. I love how this particular chore tends to bring some people out of their comfort zone, as we have to deal with bear poop and leftover food scraps! In my opinion, cleaning the cages is the toughest of the day’s work, but once you finish cleaning a cage and it’s squeaky clean, you’ll have such a wonderful sense of achievement when you realize the bears would feel comfortable too!

Also, we have to check the electric fences, just to make sure there are not foreign matter obstructing its current. This is also fun, as I get to enter the bear jungle enclosures! (They made sure there aren’t any bears in the enclosure first before me and a staff went in) I got to see the jungle environment the bears explore in the day and it was great to see how big it was!

Then there is another job – the kitchen. I love being in the kitchen! Here, we help prepare the bear’s daily meals. From cooking porridge to washing, slicing, measuring and dividing fruits and vege – it is a blast for me!

Other side chores in which everyone helps everyone to do include feeding the bears in the bear house, feeding the bears out in the enclosures:-

Making enrichments (stuff in which bears can play with):-

Finding materials needed for enrichments:-
(Ginger leaves, dried leaves)

(Logs and sticks)

(Trekking to find termite nests)

(Bamboo and banana leaves)

And of course, giving the bears their enrichments!

Some of the small enrichments we make include:-

Bamboo feeders,

Fire hose feeders,

Nest balls,

Fruity ice blocks, aussie dogs (a sturdy ball with food in it) and Kongs (small rubber toy in which food can be inserted in it); and the big enrichments we make include hammocks, wooden structures and structures made from the fire hose. Usually in the afternoon, we will work as a team to prepare the enrichments, and give them to the bears in the late afternoons to play.

In overall, in my opinion, volunteering here is a “daily routine filled with surprises”. Sure, you know what to expect every single day, but there are so many aspects on what you actually DON’T expect, that makes your days different from the other. Like there was one day, a huge liana plant toppled from the top of a huge tree, and blocked our walkway. We have to cut and remove all the liana in the afternoon, and boy, some of the liana were spiky!

Also, we had to scare some cheeky macaques away because they were blocking the walkway. I also got to see the bear who is going to be released this month, Lawa, in her nest on a tree in her enclosure!

On some days, we get sessions with the founder of BSBCC, in which he was eager to share his knowledge with all of us. I was really happy I finally got to meet him in person as I am going to do the same course as him in university next year!

Not only that, I got the chance to go onto the platforms and talk with the visitors about the sunbears!

As an added bonus, I got to see three cubs – Boboi, Kitud and Tan-tan – being released into the wilderness for the first time. They have never set foot in the forest, and, seeing them slowly tapping the wooden ramp, putting their first paw onto the ground and hearing the staff proudly announce that “they have touched the ground!” felt like I was part of the Apollo 11 mission, except it was the phrase “one small step on the jungle, one giant leap for bearkind”! ^-^ I was really beaming with pride, as when I first came here, they were all still undergoing fence training and playing with one another. On that day, I saw these three bear friends help each other overcome their fear of the unknown, and took their first step onto the soil and grass – they looked so happy!! ^^ One day, I bet, they’ll be roaming in the forest of Tabin once again, back to where they belong.

Boy, I learnt so many incredible things here. I saw how humanlike the bears are! It was so surreal realizing that I am working with bears the first time I stepped into the bearhouse. Seeing them climb everything reminds me of myself when I climb everything in playgrounds! They are so curious, and so intelligent too. Seeing them figure out what to do with their enrichments really made me feel, “Wow, how similar they are to us!” And every bear had his/her own unique behavior and facial features, just like humans, that my initial thought of recognizing the sunbears via their chestmarks dissipated as quickly as it came. Chin always is having so much fun playing with wood, Along is always curious at my washing brush, Kitud loves to stand and watch you, Linggam loves your sincerity, Simone loves to try everything, Cerah and Jelita are friendship goals…. It resolidified my thoughts – We are all animal. We are all equal. No being is superior to the other. Why do us humans put ourselves higher than every other being? The mere fact is we are all the same. We are all breathing. We are all, Life.

And the people. Oh the people! They are probably the definition of “smells like team spirit!!” They ARE team spirit. Everyone in the bear house helps each other like no one else. Not one is selfish. Everyone, literally EVERYONE, is as friendly as anyone can get. At first, as I am from Penang (West Malaysia), I felt a little left out as I wasn’t too fluent in Malay and couldn’t exactly express what I wanted to say. As the days went by I slowly got used to their way of speaking and now “apa-apa saja yang mereka bilang pun saya tau bah” 😀 We had so much fun together after work. They took me out for Hari Raya, watch a movie, have a bbq party together, grocery shopping, tour the orangutan center, eat outside, hear a talk given by Mr. Wong in Sandakan city, and Mr. Wong even brought us to his house to try the food he made himself! It doesn’t feel like a routine when I’m around them – they will crack the silliest jokes and tell the most amazing stories, experiences, even randomly throw in incredible facts, and anime. Oh yes, and I’ve met so many people who studies/studied about the environment like I do – in which in Malaysia, we are a rare breed! Haha! Think this volunteering opportunity is serious? Yes, everyone takes the work seriously. But the atmosphere around the people? Not!! They’ll make any serious atmosphere disappear in an instant! This is the power of Sabahans!

Will I come again? Are you kidding me? Of COURSE! I can’t wait to see more and more bears released into the wild, and more bears rescued and rehabilitated. A LOT of the public think this is only a “center” and what they don’t know, is that ALL bears are RESCUED and are given a second chance to go back into the wild. I really want to see them released back into the Bornean rainforests, where they belong, and I know they are going to continue doing a great job at this, as long as they stay true to their mission. 🙂

I’m not sure if he minds this, but I’m going to quote a particular staff because this sentence has such a positive impact on me:-
BSBCC Staff: “I’m going to quit this job, when there is no need for it anymore.”

Me: *thinks sadly that he means that when the sunbears are extinct* “What do you mean no need for it anymore?”
BSBCC Staff: “When there are a lot of sunbears in the wild, and they are not even endangered anymore.”
Me: :’)

This is hope. And I’m hopeful for the sunbears.
This is a dream. And they are driving it.
I expect big things from you guys 😉

Honey Month with The Honey Bears

Text and Photos by Wong Chung Li


BSBCC is a place where I have lovely experience for both my volunteering days and my school tour. Back when I was still a student from Yu Yuan Secondary School on 2013, I had a precious chance to visit BSBCC with my classmates along with teachers before it was opened one year later. It’s a fruitful and fabulous tour as we could see the bears which we have never seen. In addition, the staffs were telling a lot of interesting facts to us and the ways we can conserve these cute creatures. At that time, I hope that I could do something for the bears.

However, I have postponed the plan until three years later. It’s my summer vacation of my university, so I decided to join BSBCC as a volunteer for a month. On my first induction, I was given instructions and rules I have to obey. This boosted me up and I really can’t wait for it to be started.

Morning

Ok! I have to drive 10 miles daily from home to work on early morning. As volunteer, I was offered a chance to stay in Bjorn Hala, a staff house which accommodates some staffs and volunteers but it’s a bit crowded then. On morning, we are assigned to different works according to the schedule but usually we have to prepare the foods or do fence checking first. Fence checking is an inspection of the voltage of our fences surrounding the forest enclosures and confirmation of the bears staying in the forest. We have to remove some branches trapped between the fences which lower the voltage. After that, we back to bear house and do our following works. Sometimes, I was assigned to clean cages. At first, I felt that the faeces and the dirt in the cage smelled unpleasant. After one month of “training”, I can say loudly that I can endure and get used to it already haha!

In cleaning cages, I learned that the faeces of the bear reflect what they eat and the different behaviour of different bears. A few naughty bears love to distract and disturb me from the neighbouring cages and when they grab the things, I can barely get it back due to their overpower strength. In doing kitchen works, I also learn of what bears eat every day and some special diet for some bears.

Afternoon

After preparing the second meal of porridge, we will go outside feeding. Outside feeding enables me to see bears playing in the forest in a short distance and have trained my stamina on carrying buckets of fruits and walk on the forest. When feeding is done, we will do some enrichment for the bears. Bears do pacing while they stress out. Some may injure themselves by doing so. The purpose of doing enrichment is to reduce their pacing behaviour and somehow encourage their climbing and foraging skills. I really enjoy this activity. It gives me a sense of achievement when the bears play it and try to suck the foods out.

After coming here, I start to differentiate each bear by looking at its appearance other than its unique chest mark. I also understand how complex the process of placement of bear from integration to fence training to forest enclosure and finally release is. The release of bear requires a lot of energy and money but it allows the bear to enjoy the wild again. Our bears all have sad past when they were still cubs. So I really hope that they can live happily afterwards.

Mr Wong, the CEO & Founder of BSBCC is a kind and knowledgeable wildlife biologist who has studied sun bear for 20 years. He always shares his stories and experience with us during his free time. He has a lot of books inside the office and he can always remember where the information comes from. His stories of building up the BSBCC and sacrificing his personal life are really inspiring. Other than sun bear, Mr Wong study birds well too. After I tried his foods, I believe he will become a famous chef if he didn’t become a wildlife biologist.

I would like to thank all the staffs, especially the bear keepers and maintenance team which I always work with (Forgive me for not mention the names one by one). Given my limited ability to speak Malay, they can still communicate with me well. They are so friendly and patient in teaching me the ways to use some equipment. We have chit-chatting a lot and know about each other well. I also love to listen to their working experience and other stories.

I would like to give credits to Lester, my buddy. This is because he really helps a lot and provide professional advice to me on doing our enrichment called “Swing Along” for one of our bear called Along. As I know, Along still hasn’t stepped on our enrichment yet haha. Besides, he is a funny guy and always influent in atmosphere. Without him, we always feel like we lack something. At last, I would like to say that it’s a great honor to work along with you guys and being a part in helping sun bear. Thank you!

Thank You BSBCC

Text and Photos by Christine Anne

My name is Christine Anne and I am a Lead Zoo Keeper at Woodland Park Zoo (WPZ), Seattle, Washington, USA.  I have worked at WPZ for three years but have been a zoo keeper for 14 years.  At WPZ I work with a variety of species but I specialize in large carnivores and work with African lions, Malayan tigers, and sloth bears to name a few.  I have worked with bears for many years and first met Wong, founder of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center (BSBCC), in 2009 when he presented his research on sun bears at the Advancing Bear Care Conference in San Francisco, California.  I had the opportunity again to hear Wong speak at the Advancing Bear Care Conference in Banff Canada in 2011, where he spoke about BSBCC and its progress and future.  Since first hearing of BSBCC it has been a personal and professional goal of mine travel to Borneo and volunteer.

Through my work with the Malayan tigers at WPZ, the zoo supported me in an opportunity to accompany other zoo keepers from North America to peninsular Malaysia.  We visited the Taman Negara to participate in a citizen conservation program called the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers.   We participated in anti-poaching patrols and experience the forest that presents so many challenges to tiger researchers.  Through the support of the Puget Sound Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers, I was able to include BSBCC in my travel plans.

Upon first arriving at BSBCC I was warmly welcomed by Wong and his staff.  One of the first things I noticed about the conservation center was the amazing signage that they use to help educate visitors about sun bears.  These signs are placed along the path that leads to the viewing platforms for the forest enclosures where the bears live.  These platforms give a great opportunity for guests to see the bears in their natural forest habitat.  As a zoo keeper I notice things that a regular guest may not notice.  Things like the nice high railings on the platforms to keep guests from leaning over the enclosures, the perimeter of the enclosures and how they are situated around the holding facilities, how the staff gains access for feeding and checking fences, and the many natural behaviors being displayed by the bears.

Volunteering
The volunteer orientation was very familiar, since the same rules apply in my daily job.  Things like don’t enter an area that has a bear in it, don’t touch the bears, don’t do anything that makes you uncomfortable or you are unsure of.  Working with animals like bears is a serious business no matter what side of the world you are on.  Although I am a zoo keeper, I also understand that this is not WPZ, these bears are not my normal charges, and it is a privilege to simply be in the presence of these amazing animals that deserve our respect and care.  Care of an animal has many forms, from cleaning holding dens, to grounds work, to the office, and guest services.  As a volunteer I had two assignments:  the bear kitchen, and enrichment making.

Kitchen
The kitchen is the lifeline of the whole animal care program, preparing food that provides the very nutrition that all 41 bears at BSBCC rely on for survival.  Through food preparation I can honestly say that I touched every bear at BSBCC through their food.  It is constant work in the kitchen preparing food for the 4 meals each bear gets each day.  For 41 bears, that’s 164 meals prepared, each day.  The base diet is rice porridge, with each bear getting an individualized amount in the morning and again in the evening.  When you are done portioning out porridge, you make a new batch, there is constantly something cooking in the kitchen, with two large pots of porridge made everyday.  For the other feedings, the bears get keepers choice of fruits and vegetables, with bananas a main staple every day.  I learned of a new fruit called snake skin fruit.  The skin of this fruit really does look like snake skin, and when peeled it has cloves inside similar to garlic but it has the texture of an apple and, to me, tasted almost like mild pineapple.

When we were not preparing food, we were cleaning the kitchen and doing dishes.  I had looked forward to the whole experience for so many years that I was so happy to do something so simple, yet so helpful to the overall operations.  I also had the opportunity to feed some of the bears, either sliding the porridge to them in the bear holding areas, or helping with the scatter feeds for the outdoor forest enclosures.  Both experiences allowed me to see the bears up close and observe more of their behaviors.  I am very interested in animal behavior, so opportunities to observe behavior are always special.

Enrichment
I was also assigned to help make enrichment for the bears with the keepers.  We mainly focused on bamboo enrichment and we went out to collect the bamboo, and worked on cutting it up and building different enrichment items for the bears to receive inside the holding areas.  Bamboo is great because it can be made into all kinds of things, but sun bears are very destructive so we had to balance complexity of the enrichment item with the value to the animal.  We made a variety of puzzle feeders and used different enrichment food items inside like peanut butter and honey.  We used leaves from forage plants to fill the feeders as well.  I was able to observe the bears with the enrichment items that gave the bears opportunities to problem solve and manipulate the items.  One bear in particular received one of the more challenging items and spent about 10 minutes investigating it, ripping it apart and eating the peanut butter off of the ginger leaves and out from the bamboo.  He was very vocal the whole time he was interacting with the item, which may indicate that he was slightly irritated at the complexity of it, but he took the time to fully destroy the whole thing and enjoy all that it had to offer.  It is always nice to watch the animals interact with something that you have made for them.


The opportunity to be part of the BSBCC program and contribute in whatever way I was needed was motivating and inspiring.  Wong’s enthusiasm for his work and the development of a word class conservation center is obvious and contagious, and is the driving force behind its continued success and future development.  It was an AMAZING experience with amazing staff and animals, one that forever stamps a sun bear paw print on my heart as I journey on.