Category Archives: Volunteers

Monika’s Volunteer Experience

Text by Monika Lapka
Photos by Chiew Lin May and Seng Yen Wah

My name is Monika and I’m 24 years old from Australia. I worked as a zoo keeper with mainly giant pandas for 3 years before I decided to quit my job to travel around Asia volunteering at a number of different animal conservation organisations.

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is the third organisation I have volunteered at since starting my travels. I found out about BSBCC during an Advancing Bear Care conference in Vietnam a few years ago, where I met Dr. Wong the founder and CEO of BSBCC. I spent 1 month volunteering at BSBCC and loved every second! I have learnt so much about Bornean Sun Bears, their husbandry requirements and the steps needed to successfully rehabilitate and release them into the wild. I am very grateful to have worked and helped such a beautiful centre who’s main priority is definitely the welfare and survival of the species. Dr. Wong and his amazing team are doing an outstanding job for the sun bears.

I felt apart of the keeping team straight away, feeling very appreciated and respected.The keepers and staff that I worked with were extremely friendly and incredibly funny, always making me laugh. The amount of care and passion that the keeping staff have for the bears is very inspirational.

Manual labour and cleaning makes up most of the daily tasks. Cleaning the dens every morning can be quite challenging especially when the weather is very hot and humid. But it doesn’t matter that you get all sweaty and smelly because what really is important is giving these beautiful rescued bears a lovely and clean space to spend their time.

One of my favourite parts of the day is making enrichment. A definite highlight was actually the first day when all the keeping staff, interns and volunteers gathered together in the afternoon to make enrichment for the bears. Everyone was sitting around making nest balls out of vines we collected earlier and egg carton sandwiches filled with ginger leaf and bananas. It honestly felt like a big happy family all talking and joking. It was a very heart warming moment for me, I felt apart of something special and a family away from home.

Another highlight was making one of my enrichment ideas come to life for one of my favourite bears, Bermuda. I got the idea from a picture I saw of a similar type of enrichment but for elephants! I thought a mobile, like what hangs over a baby’s cot, could potentially be fun and mentally stimulating with the items attached rotating 360 degrees around above the bear. One of the staff, Tommy, helped me put it together and I had an absolute ball making it with him. We called it Bermuda’s Lullaby and it turned out exactly as I imagined it in my head. It also looked very neat and pretty, very important I know, especially when a bear is potentially going to destroy it in seconds. We installed it in his den with a few peanut butter and honey smears in the PVC pipes and Bermuda loved it! Swinging it around and grabbing for the PVC pipe. It was wonderful to see that he enjoyed Tommy and my creation so much.

In my final week volunteering I was fortunate to see 2 new arrivals Kina and Sika. 2 tiny little bears that had been rescued and brought to BSBCC for a new start and potentially be released back into the wild in the future. Sika is only 6 months and Kina a year old. I had made firehose cubes before and one of the staff members, Lin May, asked me to make one for the new arrivals. I ended up making a loose cube which turned out to look like a ball. It wasn’t until the day after the arrival of the 2 bears that Lin May showed me a video of Kina playing with the ball I’d made! Kina was rolling it around, lying on her back biting it, scratching at it and throwing it with her mouth. It brought tears to my eyes seeing this tiny little bear who had been stolen away from her mother and kept as a pet, in an environment far from her natural habitat being able to feel joy and start feeling more comfortable to  settle into her new home. This was the most rewarding experience for me.

The biggest thank you to Dr. Wong Siew Te and the staff at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre for having me volunteer at their beautiful centre! Volunteering at BSBCC has been an amazing experience that I will remember forever. I have absolutely fallen in love with Sabah, it is such a magical place that I plan to return as soon as possible. I have met some of the kindest, generous and absolutely hilarious people here in Borneo, making life long friends. I was truly sad to leave and say goodbye to what felt like home. The work, passion and determination that the BSBCC team have for sun bears and their conservation is truly inspirational! Keep up the amazing work and I will return soon to finish my Sabahan training!

My Volunteering with APE Malaysia at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre February 2017

Text By Peter Lowe
Photos By Sumira Muis

Hi,
I am Peter Lowe, 66 years of age, retired chef/catering manager/restaurant manager. I am British and have resided in Prague, Czech Republic for the past 22 years and this is now my home :-):-)

I have had a love for animals from a very young age and I wanted to be either a Zoo Keeper or a vet. However I realised this required a great deal of study/expense and I was not the best student. At this time I became fascinated with Borneo and it’s unique fauna and eco system, especially the wild men of Borneo = the Orangutan :-):-)

One autumn evening in 2015 I was surfing the net when I spotted an advertisement for volunteering at Melaka Zoo helping to care for the Primates for 2 weeks and 2 weeks volunteering on the Kinabatangan river, helping to clear previous logging areas of undergrowth, clearing creepers etc. from newly planted fruit trees, planting fruit trees, spotting wildlife from the river, recording the species No’s and the map co-ordinates, helping in the community.

I contacted the agency concerned and got a placement for the month of March 2016. Whilst volunteering at Melaka Zoo I helped care for the Malaysian Sun bears there and fell in love with these delightful bears:-) The final day in Borneo we visited the Orangutan Centre, The Rain Forest Discovery Centre and the Bornean Sunbear Conservation Centre. Whilst at the BSCC I had the good fortune to meet briefly with Dr.Wong, the founder of the centre then later, at lunch, most if the team from Ape Malaysia and I vowed, my health and stamina permitting, I would return to volunteer at the BSCC in 2017  🙂

I’m now into the second week working at the Borneo Sunbear Conservation Centre. The work can be hard and messy however it is so rewarding = it is a privilege to work with these very special bears, the smallest and, in my opinion, the cutest bears in this World plus the  people at the BSCC are very special = welcoming, positive, kind and full of enthusiasm and it is catching :-):-):-) I just love being here, being given the opportunity to have this very unique experience and to learn so much. Absolutely priceless.

The volunteers stay near to the BSBCC in accommodation overlooking rain forest. The views are spectacular. There is a restaurant, sun deck and hammocks for relaxation. The volunteers have their own cooking facilities, western style toilets, showers with hot water and a washing machine!! They are driven to the BSBCC daily, leaving the accommodation at 7.45 each morning to start work at 8.00.

The work will sometimes be hard and messy and will include weighing out each bears morning feed of rice according to their diet weight requirements. Preparing the fruit for the morning feed = weighing, washing and then weighing the fruit for the individual pens, scrubbing, cutting and cooking sweet potatoes and sweet corn to kill any pesticides etc. and to enhance the smell for the bears. Cleaning out the bears night cages, washing the food trays and identification tags, checking the electric fences, feeding the bears in the enclosures/cages.

Lunch is from 12.00-13.30. In the afternoon work will include preparation and weighing the afternoon food trays for the bears, work on enrichment for the bears. The aim of enrichment is to stimulate the bears to make them stand and climb, use their sense of smell, use their claws, teeth and long tongues. This can be pieces of bamboo drilled with holes, filled with rice, honey, peanut butter, then suspended in the bear’s sleeping den with rope or more elaborate structures using fire hose and fallen wood found in the surrounding rain forest. The bamboo is also cut from the surrounding rain forest.

The team here at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre are wonderful. By volunteering you are guaranteed to learn a lot and at the same time have great fun and be working for a very worthwhile cause. Do not hesitate = volunteer with BSCC :-):-)

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 😉