Hi, my name is Emma Hambleton, I am a third year environmental science student at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia and I was fortunate enough to have my first volunteering experience at BSBCC in January 2015 with fellow USC students Caitlyn Turner and Hayley Beck.
Myself, Hayley, Azzry & Caitlyn at the water cascade
Feeling excited but nervous to be leaving Australia I couldn’t wait for my BSBCC volunteering experience to begin. Arriving in Borneo was a sense of the unknown, where I knew very little about sun bears to begin with and didn’t know what to expect in terms of what Borneo was going to be like. Our first day at BSBCC was on Monday 12th January 2015. We were first introduced to BSBCC founder and CEO, Wong Siew Te, we had a chat with him before being introduced to Nick who gave us a thorough introduction to BSBCC. We then had our first sun bear observing experience – so beautiful!!
Feeding time for the bears
Our first two weeks at BSBCC consisted of us working around the visitors by either working at the observation platform with other staff or in the information booth. The first few days at the platform gave us the opportunity to learn about the sun bears by listening to the staff talk to the visitors and, by asking them questions. After a couple of days of listening and learning about sun bears, we then spoke to visitors and answered any questions that they may have had about the bears. This helped us to retain the knowledge we had gained and by passing our knowledge on to visitors, it is hoped that they too would spread the word about sun bear conservation.
Mary relaxing in the rain
Our time in the information booth was spent informing visitors about different devices that are used to track bears, entertain bears (such as enrichment toys), or showing visitors pictures of the behaviour of sun bears who had previously been kept in cages as pets. Talking to the visitors was somewhat nerve-racking at first, given the fact that I didn’t know much at all about sun bears before arriving in Borneo. However, after a while, it became a lot easier as I was continuously learning more about sun bears, which then made me more comfortable answering questions from visitors. I particularly liked working at the observation platform as we got to observe the sun bears and watch them as they played, slept, ate or roamed around in a natural setting.
Damai patiently waiting for her food
I was super excited in the third week of our stay, which was when we started working in the bear house! There was never a dull moment. We would begin the day by feeding the bears their porridge which was always fun/interesting watching the bears eagerly await their breakfast. After we cleaned the bears’ trays we began cleaning the cages. Being so close to the sun bears was pretty cool as some tended to watch you as you cleaned the cage beside them. For instance, the very first cage that I cleaned I left my bucket a little too close to Julaini’s cage and Julaini stole the bucket which was a shock at first. After Julaini had the bucket taken off him I could see Julaini’s sharp claws trying to grab my broom through the cage, this happened most days that I cleaned the cage beside him which made me laugh and I could sense Julaini’s playful personality so it’s safe to say Julaini became one of my favourites because of that.
Fulung standing on his two hind legs waiting to be fed
After cage cleaning we got to feed the bears in the indoor enclosures which was always fun and interesting to see that, like humans, most of the sun bears didn’t eat banana peel, the green part of watermelon or the skin on any other fruit. It was cute seeing particular bears eating mannerisms, like the way Sigalung would lay on his back while he ate his fruit. Once the bears in the bear house were fed we would go and feed the bears in the outside enclosures. Fulung was usually the first bear we saw as he walked up the hill alongside us most days and would stand on his two hind legs like a human, waiting for his food – so cute! My favourite days would have to be coconut days. It amazed me to see how these strong little sun bears could open a coconut from the husk to the inside. This just showed how sharp and strong their teeth and claws are.
Mary casually enjoying her coconut
Two besties having their sugar cane