By Marianne Sim
It was a great privilege to work as a volunteer for the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) at Sepilok for four weeks (Feb/Mar 2011). I was greeted on arrival at Sandakan airport by the forever smiling Wai Pak Ng, BSBCC Project Manager.
My first day commenced with an induction by the Sun Bear keepers David and Daniel. I was introduced to all 19 Sun Bears, safety procedures were explained and the keepers demonstrated how to perform the work required. I assisted David and Daniel by preparing food, cleaning pens and providing enrichment for the bears. The keepers were a pleasure to work with and my enrichment ideas were welcomed.
As a volunteer you really get to know and recognise the bears individually. They all have different pale orange-yellow markings on their chest and all have their own personality. The youngest bear is around 6 months old and the oldest bear around 16 years old.
I was very impressed with the design of the new bear house. It has a lot of natural light, is well ventilated, easy to clean, and has a well designed feeding/watering system. The outdoor enclosure is a large primary forest area with many tall trees. This allows the bears to exhibit natural bear behaviour e.g. climbing trees, digging, breaking apart rotten logs searching for insects.
The Sun Bear is a ‘vulnerable’ species and could become endangered unless the circumstances threatening its survival improve. Sun Bears are threatened by habitat destruction, conflict with humans, poaching for bear body parts and bear bile used in Chinese medicine and the pet trade. The Sun Bears natural habitat has been destroyed as the land is taken over by palm oil plantations. Palm oil is found in a variety of products on our supermarket shelves including margarine, chocolate, biscuits and soap to name a few. It is important that we all take responsibility for the products we put in our supermarket trolleys and we keep the pressure on governments, manufacturers and supermarkets to improve product labelling so we can make informed choices about the products we purchase. There are many medicinal alternatives to using bear body parts and bear bile in Chinese medicine. Please use these alternatives and end the bears suffering. Sun Bears make very bad pets. Although they appear cute as babies they have long claws, sharp teeth and are very strong. They soon grow up, become difficult to control and end up depressed in confined cages. Their home is the forest and they should never be kept as pets for human entertainment.
I particularly enjoyed observing the bears in their forest enclosure and during their enrichment activities. The youngest bear Natalie, approximately 6 months old, is a joy to observe (http://sunbears.wildlifedirect.org/2011/01/16/update-of-natalie/). Natalie has endless energy, is constantly playing and exhibits natural bear instincts. Natalie has the right qualities to be released back into the wild but in order to do this funds are required to start the rehabilitation process. Staff are required to care and monitor her until she can confidently display all the skills needed to survive in the forest on her own. With your donation (http://www.leapspiral.org/content/support_leap.php) or merchandise purchase (http://www.zazzle.co.uk/gifts?ch=theborneansunbear) the BSBCC will be one step closer to this happening. Funds are also required to build a Sun Bear visitors centre at Sepilok. This will be an important educational facility and gives visitors the opportunity to learn about this charismatic bear species.
While working as a volunteer I observed first hand the hard work, long hours and dedication of Siew Te Wong (CEO and Founder of BSBCC) and Wai Pak (BSBCC Project Manager). They are great ambassadors for the Sun Bear. They are men of integrity and are extremely committed to helping the Sun Bear. I am 100% confident that any donation you make will be wisely utilised and benefit the Sun Bears greatly.
Thank you Wong and Wai Pak for an unforgettable volunteer experience. I feel extremely privileged to have worked with such dedicated people and remarkable animals. I will miss the people and the bears but look forward to coming back and seeing how the bears have developed and progressed to their final destination, their true home, THE FOREST.