Tree Loving: Romolina

Video by Chiew Lin May

"Basindo nan tenggil"
​Did you know the Malay name for the sun bear means “he who likes to sit high"?

Small Things Make a Big Difference

Text by Eva Wiktoria Wikström
Photos by Chiew Lin May

​Hello! My name is Wictoria, and I am 19 years old. I come from Sweden, and I have been volunteering here at BSBCC for 5 weeks with 4 of my classmates as a part of our internship in school, where we are studying to become animal caretakers. During these weeks, on the other side of the world, I have learned so much about so many things, and I am very glad that I got the chance to experience this.

When we got out from the airport in Sandakan, after our almost 24 hour long journey, we were hit by the gazing sun, and I quickly realized that the upcoming weeks weren’t going to be easy. Working in 30oC when you are used to the Swedish winter with 0oC is very hard, and the first week was very rough. Everything was so new, and the hot weather in combination with the jet lag and the language barrier (I really struggled with my English at first), made everything more difficult, but everything got easier as time went on. I quickly got into the routines, and I got to know the keepers fast, which made everything better. We have been laughing and joking a lot, and they are all very easy to talk to.

Except for the daily routines such as preparing food, cleaning the cages and feeding all the bears etc., we all got one project each to work on with our buddy keeper. I got to help with the integration training with the three bears Phin, Wan-Wan and Mamatai, so that they could share cages (without fighting) instead of staying alone. I helped to observe the bears, and every minute for half an hour, I wrote down each bear’s behaviour. We did this almost every day for a few weeks, and it was very fun and unique – especially to see Wan-Wan and Mamatai spend the days together during my last week here. You really get to see the bear’s different personalities while working so close to them.

I also really enjoyed making enrichments for the bears. Spending just one hour making small, simple enrichments using fire hoses, leaves, dog toys and things like that, can keep the bears entertained for double the time. In this case, you can really say that even the smallest things can make a big difference.
Thank you to everyone at BSBCC, both the staff and bears, for making this possible. This is an experience I will never forget, and I am very happy that I got the chance to do this. I will bring so many memories back home to Sweden. Volunteering is a good and simple way to help endangered species, and since not many people have heard about the Sun bears and their conditions, I now feel like I have a responsibility to spread the word about them and make people more aware of these amazing bears.

Vacation or volunteering?

Text by Kiara Rose Jasmin Villacrez
Photos by Kiara Rose Jasmin Villacrez & Ape Malaysia

Tja tja bloggen! That is a typical Swedish way to begin a blog post. My name is Kiara and I have spent 5 weeks at BSBCC as part of my high school curriculum together with 4 other classmates. It has been THE experience. I have never been to Asia before so that is a big achievement. To also have had the opportunity to help the conservation of a vulnerable species sounds too good to be true for me. It is so much more rewarding to be behind the scenes and do the same hard work the bear keepers are doing instead of just watching as a visitor. Many friends got the idea that I was getting very comfortable and was on vacation. While I had a great time, it was no vacation. Still, I would gladly choose volunteering over vacation any time.

For the first days I was nervous, but I quickly got to know all the welcoming staff and got into the routine of it all. It has been eventful, and the time has passed very fast. During my stay here I have been working together with my buddy keeper, my friend from the same school as me and her buddy keeper. We worked together with other keepers on a project to improve the platform in one of the outdoor enclosures. The project consisted of logs being added to the platform in order to give the bears more opportunities to climb, dig and explore the logs and the whole area of the platform. We carried big logs from the forest to the platforms and used drills to secure them to the platform and to a pillar we put up. The purpose of the project was both as an enrichment for the bears and to get them to be more visible to the visitors. The centre work much with eco-tourism so it is an important part as well. The project involved much hard physical work but the outcome was worth it. Many keepers helped and the teamwork was dope. Sessions with Dr Wong, the founder of BSBCC, was also included which was amazing. He had the answers to all of our questions, and we had a really good time.

During my time at BSBCC I have cleaned many cages, made many enrichments, carried many logs and laughed many times. I have contributed to the rehabilitation and welfare of the bears at the Sun Bear Conservation Centre, it’s amazing to say it and it is an amazing experience everybody should consider. While vacation is fun, and sometimes much needed, volunteering is another level of fulfilment.




Text by Pradeep Gunasegaran
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) has been responsible for the care of 4 bears that were received between 2017 and 2018. These four bears are Soo (5 years old), BJ (4 years old), Kina (4 years old), and Sika (3 years old). All four of them were ‘raised’ by people as cubs before they were handed over to BSBCC through Sabah Wildlife Department or personally by the owner. Soo was bought at Sook Keningau Market, BJ was bought for RM 300 in Pitas and Sika was kept as in a pet in Pensiangan in a chicken mesh cage by her owner while Kina was claimed by her caretaker to have been abandoned by her mother by the roadside at Kota Marudu. They grew up without the care of their mothers as their mothers were probably killed by poachers but BSBCC do see potential in them to behave like wild bears due to their age and with the proper rehabilitation process in the next few years. In order to proceed with their rehabilitation process, they would need to be transferred to the Bear House. Due to the high stocking density at BSBCC, three older bears; Phin, Wan Wan and Mamatai would need to be brought to the quarantine while another two older bears; Om and Ronnie would need to be rotated in the Bear House.
​The transfer process was done through three phases in order for the bears to not get too stress. During the first phase BJ and Kina were transferred into translocation boxes at Quarantine while Phin was darted. Once the 3 bears were ready for transfer, Phin was brought to Quarantine while BJ and Kina was brought to Bear House 2. The second phase was involving the darting of Mamatai and Wan Wan and then bringing them to Quarantine. By the end of Phase 2, Om and Ronnie were transferred to a different section of Bear House 2 using the sky bridge structure. The last phase was then completed with the darting and transfer of Soo and Sika from Quarantine to Bear House 2. The entire transfer process of all nine sun bears followed through really smoothly without any undesirable incidences. 
Honey being drizzled onto the banana slices in the translocation box to coax BJ and Kina
BJ slowly entering the translocation box
Kina being transferred out of Quarantine
Dr. Yeoh Boon Nie, our resident veterinarian preparing the necessary drugs for the operation
Kina being loaded up into Bear House 2
BJ being released into pen at Bear House 2
Ronnie entering the sky bridge and sniffing the banana placed as bait
Sika being examined by the Bear Care unit once she was anesthetized
In order to make the bear feel more comfortable in their new environment, each pen was prepared with a thick layer of dried leaves and also a couple of gunny sacks. The purpose of the dried leaves is to reduce any injuries that could be inflicted on their foot pad due to pacing in a new environment while the gunny sacks are for them to play with. BJ and Kina had no issues with their new environment. As soon as they were in the pens in Bear House 2, they were exploring the entire new space. Both were climbing the structures that were present such as hammock and the vertical log. BJ really seem to like the hammock while Kina liked using the vertical log. Whereas for Sika and Soo, after they woke up from anesthesia, Sika was also as curious as BJ and Kina in her own pen while Soo was alert with the new arrangement; just like how she was in Quarantine. At Quarantine, Phin, Wan Wan and Mamatai was calm after waking up. However, Phin was not used to having dried leaves underneath his feet. He was walking around the pen, taking food that was provided for him but his gait was a little peculiar. Wan Wan was preoccupied sniffing the scent of another bear named Diana at Quarantine. Mamatai on the other hand was enjoying herself with the gunny sacks that were given to her.

One of the many pen that were prepared with dried leaves and gunny sacks for the sun bears
On the following day after the transfer process, Phin, Wan Wan and Mamatai were doing well at Quarantine. Our main priority was with the four that were at Bear House 2. BJ, Kina and Sika consumed all of the food given to them and they showed sign that they were doing well in Bear House 2. Kina clawed the log that was available to her; Sika was resting like any wild bear on the log structures while BJ was in the basket. Because of their calmness, they were all integrated together to ensure that they continue to benefit out of this social enrichment. Soo was on the only bear which was on high alert to her surroundings. She stayed at the highest point in the pen and only came down when the keepers left Bear House 2. In the evening, a few keepers were selected to sit in front of her and coax her with food. Then reason for this exercise was not to get her to be used to the keepers but to be calmer with the presence of the keepers as the keepers would need to provide her with supplementation, medication and application of topical medication in case of any injuries. By the end of the day, Soo came down and took the food that was given to her by the keepers and she also took her supplementation. She also was no longer at the highest point in the cage as she was exploring the ground and eating the ration of food provided for her. Over the following days, the four of them continue to behave positively. Environmental enrichments such as Aussie Dog balls, Fire Hose Pockets and coconuts were also provided to them and they did not hesitate interacting with the enrichments provided. With all these positive progresses, in the upcoming weeks or months, BJ, Kina, Soo, and Sika will undergo fence training in order for them to continue with the rehabilitation towards becoming like their wild counterparts. We at BSBCC hope that the rehabilitation process will go well and we would rejoice to their release into the natural habitat some day in the future.
Kina sitting on her favourite structure; the vertical log just after coming into Bear House 2
BJ enjoying his view from the basket in Bear House 2
Sika interacting with an environmental enrichment that was provided for her

Soo enjoying her Aussie Dog Ball and Ginger Leaves in a basket
BJ, Kina, Sika, and Soo playing together at Bear House 2
Phin getting out of his anesthesia at Quarantine
Mamatai laying down on her comfortable dry leaves at Quarantine
Wan Wan walking around her pen at Quarantine


A Week of Bears


Text by Eileen Nyeow @ Yau Yee Ling
Photos by Chiew Lin May

Hello… my name is Eileen Nyeow. I am 42 years old and currently residing in Peninsular Malaysia. Participating in Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) Volunteer Programme was part of my mission, during my sabbatical, towards doing my little bit to help save animals.  The main reason I chose BSBCC was because of the Founder, Dr. Wong Siew Te. I have read about his passion and relentless effort towards helping and preserving the Sun Bears; and was inspired to come see and experience for myself what BSBCC is all about. 

This was the first volunteer programme where I had to be interviewed (before being accepted) & to obtain a full health check before flying over. Upon arriving, I went through an induction session where I was briefed with more rules of conduct. I realized and understood the need for that measure after.  BSBCC is situated right smack in the middle of the rain forest in Sepilok; surrounded by other wild animals (i.e. orang utans, elephants, snakes, squirrels).  Health check was necessary so that we do not pass on any diseases to the animals.  Volunteering here involves much physical work so one has to be somewhat prepared. Lastly, the bears within the Centre are all waiting for a second chance in the wild and it is of grave importance that the bears do not get overly habituated with people.

My buddy keeper during my Programme was Bithrenly (a.k.a Bit).  Although fairly new with the Centre, he managed to share many of his experiences and stories about the bears with me. Among the many tasks with him, my daily routine usually revolves around preparing food for the bears (4 feedings in a day), cleaning poop and scrubbing enclosures, checking the perimeters of the enclosure fence, making enrichment projects for the bears to play and sharpen their skills. I also had many valuable instances, such as group Q&A session with the “Bear Man” himself, Dr. Wong, assisting the vet (Dr. Boon) during a routine medical check for Julaini.  I mean there are not many non-field related people who can say they have use a thermometer on a bear. Hahaha! I even learnt and got to inspect bear poop for parasites! 

In summary, I am thankful for this valuable experience and I feel privileged to be there, with everyone.  
Being amazed with efforts of BSBCC in preserving the Sun Bears is one thing, learning hands-on about the smallest bear in the world is another.  On top of it, I was also truly amazed with the dedicated members of BSBCC (office staff and bear keepers). One can feel their enthusiasm and love for the bears emanating from them. 

There are many people to thank for making my journey an unforgettable one.  Instead of naming and possibly missing out names, I would like to just extend a huge shout out of appreciation to the BSBCC FAMILY! I hope to see all of you very soon.