Volunteering in BSBCC – An experience of a lifetime

Text and Photos by Tammy Tan Kar Yee

My name is Tan Kar Yee, people call me Tammy. I was a volunteer in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) for two short weeks, starting from May 10th, 2016 until May 23rd, 2016. I wasn’t a student of any wildlife biological or forestry studies, I majored in multimedia design in my studies. Everyone was wondering why did I applied for volunteering in BSBCC, actually, why not? The reason I participated in BSBCC volunteering was merely a simple “I love animals,”. I am locally from Sandakan, as I grew up I was taught of the importance of balance in nature, and the responsibilities we bear (no pun intended), so I applied and started my time as a volunteer.
What I learnt from my volunteer experience
  1. Sun bear poop is not as smelly as you think it is.
Sun bears have a rather healthy fibre-ish diet consuming fruits, veges, honey, earthworms, termites and et cetera. Sometimes their poop smells like rotten(actually digested) fruits, and sometimes its stronger depending on what they ate. I would say it’s actually better than someone’s acidic fart that made me ran for miles.

2. Sun bears are arboreal, they can stay on a tree for as long as they want.
Being arboreal, sun bears are really really great tree climbers. So if you see one in the wild, you’re not gonna be safe climbing a tree. They can stay on a tree sunbathing, taking a nap, digging for termites/ honey. Until they actually feel like coming down from the tree, to look for food, to do their “business”, or another tree to climb.

3. Sun bears are opportunistic omnivores.
Being opportunistic omnivores, it means they eat whenever and whatever they find. (That’s kinda like me) Some of the bears are obese because they would try to eat everything they find. It is in their natural instinct to store fat in case they can’t find any food for a some time.

4. They are uncontrollably adorable animals, but they are not your pets.Sun bear cubs are so small you would mistake it as a puppy, but they are not meant to be pets for human beings. They are shy bears, but they are not afraid to attack when threatened. Just like your pet dog at home, sun bear cubs needs the protection of their mother, to teach them climb trees, find food and survive.

For now I’ve been talking about sun bears, but there are still a lot that does not know about sun bears at all. That is why they are also called the least-known bears, the forgotten bears. As much as i want to tell you more about sun bears, I find it much more memorable and easier to learn about them if you visit them in BSBCC.

When I joined the volunteer programme i was ready for all the hard work, but the process was too fun and inspiring I hardly felt any fatigueness (after the first 2 days, due to my lack-of-exercise body). I get a group of amazing people guiding me throughout the two weeks, teaching me what they know.

I get to wash and clean bear pens, help prepare food, help with feeding, and make enrichments for the bears. David, Mizuno, Roger, Thye Lim, Lin May, Lester, Azzry, Yen Wah has been great companions throughout my two weeks in the bear house.

They taught me more than I could ask, i am very grateful of that. (And those who helped me washing trays, you’re the best XD ) Through highs and lows (slopes), water supply and electricity supply dying, occasional visits by orangutans and macaques adds on to the awesomeness of this experience.

Other than being in the bear house, I also helped BSBCC designed a few banners for the 2nd observation platform and aerial walkway launch. I am very glad that I was able to put my design skills to use, and it was great to hear compliments on my designs.

My experience with BSBCC has been life fulfilling and really enjoyable with all the great people. I would like to thank Mr. Wong Siew Te for starting BSBCC, which had made such big difference to these lovely bears that are vulnerable. Thanks to all the lovely staffs in the bear house and also office + platform. I have learn so much from each and everyone of you, thank you for being a part of this wonderful organisation, spreading the love for sun bears.

There are so much to tell, and I can go on for days, but I will let you experience this yourself. Actions taken and efforts made by all these wonderful people will make a difference for these sun bears, I enjoy this so much I will probably be back again! Wildlife and sun bears conservation needs all the help it can get, not only people related to the field, you can make a difference too. 14 short days of volunteering, friends for a lifetime, a life fulfilling journey.

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