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Raleigh Volunteering Experience at BSBCC

Our Volunteering Experience at BSBCC – “we can’t wait for the day to come when the first bear gets released into the wild!”

Text and photos by Joyce Malmo

Twelve curious, excited and eager faces were staring at myself (Joyce) and Katy – volunteer Project Managers for Raleigh, on the 8th of July when we finally arrived at Mile 14 in Sepilok. For most of us, it had taken 14.5 hours by airplane and 6 hours by bus to get here.

Where are the sun bears? When will we start working at the BSBCC?  The 12 Raleigh volunteer venturers had received a brief on the BSBCC and the volunteer work to be carried out, but the majority had never heard nor seen this special bear species before joining Raleigh.

However, knowing very little about the sun bears did not stop the young Raleigh venturers embracing and committing themselves to the construction work at the BSBCC for the next 2.5 weeks. And the goal: to build the foundations of a boardwalk around the sun bear enclosure to provide easier access for the keepers at BSBCC.

From the left (back row): Dean Izzudin, Stephen Nunes, Alexandra Gell, Charlotte Grimstone, Katy McDonald, Sarah Luton, Arina Latif. In the front from the left: Finlay Macleod, Stephen Longfellow, Elizabeth Bird, Phillip Ly, Joyce Malmo and Danielle Lightfood.

From the left (back row): Dean Izzudin, Stephen Nunes, Alexandra Gell, Charlotte Grimstone, Katy McDonald, Sarah Luton, Arina Latif. In the front from the left: Finlay Macleod, Stephen Longfellow, Elizabeth Bird, Phillip Ly, Joyce Malmo and Danielle Lightfood.

Before the 12 enthusiastic venturers and impatient Katy and I could deploy on the work site, a few things had to be organized first. On the top of our list was to settle into our new home: JUNGLE CAMP, located in the beautiful Bornean rain forest approx. 3 km from the BSBCC. It welcomes you with an open longhouse with 15 comfortable bashers, a small community area, and three outdoor showers and a long drop. Most importantly, it is surrounded by wildlife and you wake up to the sounds of the jungle. People still find it strange that we would live in the jungle whilst there are plenty of resorts in Sepilok, however there is no place like jungle camp.

We were welcomed by Wai Pak at the BSBCC on the 9th of July for a presentation. He gave us an introduction about the sun bears, which none of us will easily forget. With a greater understanding about the threats these special bears are facing and being shocked by the captivity and treatment some of these sun bears have experienced in their lives, we couldn’t wait to go on a tour to the sun bear house. For most of us, it would be the first time we had ever seen a sun bear. It was amazing to step into the newly opened sun bear house. Some of the bears were playing around while others were having an early afternoon nap. We were very impressed with the new sun bear house. It has high ceilings, is very spacious and plenty of day light can enter into the house.

Do they really bark? Are they social animals or do they live alone? How often do they reproduce and how many cubs can a female carry? The questions were vast and the day ended with a group of very motivated venturers and 2 Project Managers eager to start work on the 10th of July.

The first week at BSBCC consisted of clearing and sorting out wood around the enclosure. Our lunch breaks on the jetty next to the Orang-utan nursery became one of the main highlights of the day. On days when the amazing “man of the forest” appeared just across the jetty to climb into the trees, big gazing eyes and a sudden silence would appear among us. We sometimes felt that we were in a “BBC open air documentary”. All that was missing was the voice of David Attenborough. 

We could also hear the barking sound from the sun bears from time to time. Though, the bears have the opportunity to go outside every day, there was only a few days while we were there that a sun bear took a step outside of their newly opened sun bear house. Embracing the opportunity to be in the wild, where they belong, seemed like taking a big step into the unknown for them. This again shows how important the BSBCC is and we can’t wait for the day to come when the first sun bear is to be released into the wild.

The second week at BSBCC consisted of sweat and tears. We had started drilling and bolting together the foundation for the boardwalk. Unfortunately, the drill pieces we had were a bit worn out and it took us hours to drill just a couple of holes through the tough iron wood. If we continued like this, it would take us several weeks to complete the boardwalk. Time we didn’t have. Luckily, Bob Hartley and Wai Pak came to our rescue and helped us getting some new sharp pieces from the local hardware store. We were back on track again!

It made a world of difference to Sarah Luton and Stephen Nunes with the new drill pieces in place!

It made a world of difference to Sarah Luton and Stephen Nunes with the new drill pieces in place!

Our last week at BSBCC flew by so smoothly. We had managed to lay most of the foundations for the boardwalk, but we were all curious to see what the completed boardwalk would look like once the next Raleigh group had finished it. So, we decided to make a prototype boardwalk and on Wednesday the 21st of July, we had our prototype boardwalk ceremony!

What an amazing feeling to hammer in the last nail into the prototype boardwalk.

What an amazing feeling to hammer in the last nail into the prototype boardwalk.

It was sad to leave BSBCC on the 27th of July, but what an amazing time we have had at BSBCC. We have learned so much about the sun bears and again we can’t wait for the day to arrive when the first BSBCC sun bear will be released into the wild. We would like to thank Wai Pak and Bob Hartley for your support during our first phase.

News from the ‘Front’


by Jungle Bob

Bear Action Teams (BATs)

 Well, it’s been a few weeks since we had any updates from the Bear House and the BSBCC project in Sepilok. So, let’s get up to speed.

‘Suria’ has a ‘poorly’ paw and is confined to ‘quarters’ whist it repairs itself. Doc Cecillia has been in attendance and prescribed antibiotics.

‘Manis’ is doing well but has decided she doesn’t actually like other bears, she much prefers humans, especially Wai Pak (if anyone out there does understand the workings of the female brain, answers on a post card please). She has been taking some time out to check out her birthing pen and seems to like it. She is under constant surveillance at the moment which smacks of voyeurism but is a necessary evil.


Pregnant Manis

Soon, we hope to hear the pitter patter of little bear paws…


All the other bears are fit and well and enjoying a brief respite from the commotion of bagpipes and sweaty volunteers. Not for long though!

The Bear House is advancing well with the floor level completed and the first floor columns being poured right now. We are hoping to get them all in and set before ‘Hari Raya’ so that we can get on with the roof after it. It really does look like a building now and is very exciting.


Bear house… columns and stairs are up – almost there!


The plants on the Scots wall are clinging to life and will, hopefully, soon help it to look more natural and to blend in. Hadrian would have been proud of this wall!



The wall


Camps International are due in soon to help us to create a Biogas Digester (if you don’t know what that is then check it on the internet or speak to Ian!)

Raleigh has done a great job in the enclosure and has dug a trench around the whole circumference so that we can install our secret weapon. The Portcullis! This is basically an underground fence designed to stop the bears digging their way out once they are free to roam in the forest enclosures. Digging trenches in the jungle is probably one of the most unglamorous and backbreaking jobs so well done guys.

Whilst we are singing Raleigh’s praises, here is one more significant advance they have completed. The jungle camp is now operational and will be used by their first ‘guests’ when Camps Borneo move in there on the 20th of this month.

We are all looking forward to the next Raleigh invasion and further advances on the enclosure. It is our intention to have the enclosure ‘on line’ as the Bear House is complete and have the bears ready to take a stroll in the woods.

Bob Renshaw has kindly donated a couple of his days (plus his three hundred years of experience-yep, he really is that old!!) to come down later this week and conduct a full survey for the boardwalk and bridge which will, in time, bring our visitors into the centre. Well done Bob.

Donations from previous BATS (Bear Action Team’s volunteers) have been promised and t’shirt sales are bringing in a little bit more cash. Thanks guys, every little bit helps.

New BATS – I am currently talking to a scientific group from New Zealand who are willing to put their backs into a bit of hard work and we have recently had visits from the project managers of World Challenge Expeditions (UK)- (Jen Mullier) and Dragon Fly Hong Kong- (Adula) who are promising further volunteers for later this year and the beginning of 2010. As I tell every group “each day you work for us is a day we don’t have to pay a contractor”

Thanks to the previous BATS, every one of you is a star!


Wall Party

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On Tuesday night we had our wall concreting party which spread onto Wednesday night also. Late into Tuesday night people where seen sleeping with their hands in buckets of concrete, everyone was exhausted. As it got close to three in the morning panic hit as we were running out of concrete. Heading home at four am, people were pretty tired but happy to be heading home to a long lie-in before the next long night.

Thursday morning, one am and the wall was finished. Everybody went home buzzing -) , the wall was finished and there was only half a day of work was left!!