8/19/17

Little Me, Little Bears and A Big World

08/08/2017

Text by Ng Li Shuen
Photos by Ng Li Shuen and Seng Yen Wah



Hi everybody! My name Ng Li Shuen, 21, studying Environmental Science at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, Malaysia.

One month of volunteering at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre has been a valuable and unforgettable experience. I was first introduced to BSBCC by my friend/course mate Darren who encouraged me to apply as a volunteer and as a companion for him during our summer break. We also attended the Wild Wildlife with Kancil and Friends event held by Malaysian Heritage and History Club (MHHC), where we got to meet and talk to Dr. Wong for the first time. Malaysia being one of the megadiverse countries in the world is losing its wildlife and biodiversity, thus learning about conservation and working with wildlife has never been a more crucial and timely task. In the hopes of uncovering how conservation work is done in our country and exploring my potential career path, I applied for BSBCC and anticipated the adventure that awaited me.

It wasn’t long before I was working in the heart of conservation and it was a thrilling experience. Upon arriving at the Bear House, I met my buddy Brandon who briefed me thoroughly on the operations of the Bear House and guided me through all the tasks. Day by day, we worked alongside other bear keepers (collectively known as Bear Care Team) with a daily routine of cleaning cages, kitchen work (E.g. preparing porridge, fruits and vegetables, and other dietary needs), feeding the bears inside the Bear House and in the forest enclosure, fence checking and making enrichment for the bears. I also got to work under the Environmental Education unit where I’m tasked to interact with visitors at the centre’s observation platform, educate and raise awareness on sun bear ecology and the importance of not only their conservation but also of their forest habitat.

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Outdoor feeding at Pen C. Once the bears have passed the electrical fence training, they are reintroduced into the forest enclosure where they have plenty of space to roam.

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Feeding time

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Me, Darren and peanut butter-filled fire hose.

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Making egg carton enrichment!

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Sawing belian wood for Nano and Noah’s bear house. It's hard work but hey, how often do we get the chance of using a saw?

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Cutting banana leaves~

​As all volunteers are required to build a special enrichment for the bears, I designed a structural + food enrichment called The Heavenly Bear Tree for Phin, a 9-year old adult male sun bear’s enclosure. Enrichment functions to emulate conditions of the natural environment and bring out the bear’s wild instincts, it also helps reduce the time spent on unhealthy behaviours like pacing. Because some bears have yet to reach the criteria to be reintroduced into the forest enclosure, enrichments are important in the rehabilitation process especially for bears who spend a lot of their time in their dens. So, I thought why not make a tree in its den? This enrichment aims to encourage movement and climbing and enhance the bear’s sensory stimulus (E.g. using their tongue, claws and scent). Though I hoped Phin would climb the log, he climbed on the grills instead to get to the banana-filled fire hoses. My guess is that Phin probably doesn’t yet understand the function of the “tree” since he is still undergoing fence training (or maybe this tree is simply un-climbable XD) Nevertheless, it did make Phin climb all over the cage to get all the juicy bananas.

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Here's me setting up Phin’s enrichment. Tying fire hoses filled with bananas and peanut butter through holes drilled across the log.

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Climbing on top of the cage with Mizuno to secure the log. How exciting!

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Darren (Bottom left), Andy (Top left) and Mizuno (Bottom right) were there to help. Ginger leaves were added to bring life to the tree (and of course, to get in the way of the bear)

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Roar!

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Voila, The Heavenly Bear Tree is completed~ Doesn’t it look heavenly hehe

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Phin got excited when he smelled the enrichment from the adjacent cage. He finally got his treat.

Though some tasks were physically challenging for me at first, I felt myself grew stronger every day as the weeks passed. Believe me or not, I even have muscles (small ones la haha!) now from scrubbing cages, scooping porridges, lifting fruit baskets, sawing logs and woods, walking around the forest enclosure xP But if I were to be completely honest, doing all the physical work was so much fun and fulfilling. Challenging and proving myself wrong about my strength was what fueled me to keep going. And I must thank all the staffs, especially buddy Brandon for being so kind and understanding towards my physique and always lending a hand when I needed it!

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Brandon buddy and me

During my free time, I like to walk around the bear houses to observe and admire the bears and recognize them. Brandon was always there to help me recognize special features like their chest marks, facial appearance, and behaviours. One day after work, I walked around bear house 2 to refill the water containers just to make sure the bears have enough water to drink over the night. The minute Linggam’s water container was filled, he stood up and started splashing the water onto his body and occasionally looking into my eyes and sniffed as if to acknowledge and say thank you! Something about this had me in awe that I left the water running for him as he continued to splash for a good 5 minutes. From then on, I grew fond of Linggam and so did the obligation to fill all the water containers in bear house 2! It feels good seeing the bears healthy and thriving in the centre. If it wasn’t for BSBCC, I can’t imagine countless sun bears being held captive and have lost their ability to survive in the wild.

But what really made my whole volunteer experience worthwhile was how amazing the people here are. Everyone had been friendly, welcoming and caring since I first arrived. The staffs welcomed any questions we had and did not stinge on sharing their knowledge, experience and stories of the bears. And not forgetting my days in Bjorn Hala! From sweating through multiple power cuts to cooking and showering in the dark, feet chewed by the overly affectionate and adorable Miko, I did not even miss home. I sincerely thank the staffs for being so kind to us and treating us like family. Thank you for making Bjorn Hala such a homely place, I really felt a sense of belonging when I was here. No matter in the Bear House or Bjorn Hala, I will never forget the conversations, the jokes, laughter and stories we shared. Of course, not forgetting Darren who walked this one-month journey with me 😊

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Miko in Bjorn Hala <3 span="">

And last but not least, or should I say, leaving the best for last! Thank you, Dr. Wong, for giving us this wonderful opportunity to be part of BSBCC. It has been an honour and privilege serving the bears and working alongside an amazing crew in a Bornean rainforest and engaging in meaningful discussions with you during our Q&A sessions! Despite being so busy, you never neglected us and took pride in having volunteers as part of your centre’s conservation efforts! The story of your journey and endeavor is truly inspirational and will always remind me that it takes not only passion but also determination and hard work to make your dreams become your vision and mission. 

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Picture with the incredible founder Dr. Wong Siew Te aka Papa Bear, Wira Negaraku (My country’s hero), CNN Hero 2017

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I was also luckily enough to be interviewed by CNN

Only after volunteering at BSBCC had I known the existence of this beautiful bear species in our country, only after volunteering in BSBCC had I known that world’s only conservation centre for the world’s smallest bear species is proudly situated here in Sabah, Malaysia. Only after volunteering in BSBCC had I met the most genuine, passionate and dedicated people that go out of their way to care for the bears and rehabilitate them back into the wild. Only after volunteering in BSBCC that I realized.. I really need to improve my Malay speaking.

The main ingredients of successful conservation work, I’d say? A passionate founder and leader like Dr. Wong, a dedicated crew and a handful of curious and inspired volunteers/interns. Thank you again for opening my eyes to the world of conservation, for exposing me to the Sabahan slang and culture, for generously sharing your stories and experiences, for introducing the knowledge and insights on what it takes to conserve our Malaysian Biodiversity.

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With them crew

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You wanna work for the bear, you gotta be the bear! Top row: Chee Yoong (Left), Athira (Middle), Batrisyia (Right). Bottom row: Syaqil (Right), Me (Middle), Darren (Right)

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Azzry rewarding me Linggam’s tag :D

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Sun bears are currently facing the threats of deforestation, poaching and illegal pet trade. They are deemed the least studied bear but BSBCC is slowly changing that. I hope more and more people start to cherish our biodiversity and become part of what protects them. I strongly encourage anyone to volunteer at BSBCC because why not for an experience of a lifetime for a good cause!

Ending my story with a flashback and a quote that is now engraved in my heart.. In one of my last sessions with Dr. Wong, to answer a question asked by one of the volunteers he turned around to his magnificent bookshelf where he stores his treasured sea of knowledge, picked a book- Jane Goodall: 40 Years at Gombe, and recited:

“Only if we understand, can we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help, shall they be saved.”

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It has been an incredible journey. Until then BSBCC <3 span="">

Love,

Li Shuen



MOU Signing between BSBCC, Dolphin Discovery Centre and Borneo Ecotourism, Solutions and Technology Society (BEST)

02/08/2017

Today, 2nd August 2017, a MOU between the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), the Borneo Ecotourism, Solutions and Technology Society (BEST) and Dolphin Discovery Centre (base in Australia) has been signed. This MOU is a 5 years agreement between the organizations where they have agreed to work together to develop and improve international tourism relations. We look forward to work with BEST and Dolphin Discovery Centre for the next 5 years.

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Dr. Wong Siew Te, the Founder and CEO of BSBCC deliver a presentation before the MOU signing

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MOU signing between BSBCC, Dolphin Discovery Centre and BEST.

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Token of appreciation from BSBCC to Mr. Albert Teo, the chairman of Borneo Ecotourism, Solutions and Technology Society (BEST)

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Token of appreciation from BSBCC to Mr. Rod Kroon, the chairman of Bunbury Dolphin Discovery Inc.

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Token of appreciation from Dolphin Discovery Centre to BSBCC

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Token of appreciation from BSBCC to Mr. Mark Exeter from the South West Development Commission Australia.

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After the presentation and MOU signing, they had a tour to the bears observation platform

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After the presentation and MOU signing, they had a tour to the bears observation platform

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8/18/17

Eye Opening Experience: When your customer is a sun bear…

30/07/2017

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

Kicking off this month, we focus on more enrichment activities! Enrichment is one of the important key aspects for rescued sun bears in rehabilitation and plays a huge role in the volunteers work. Spending time in the forest is not always easy, but we are always grateful to the volunteers who spend their time and skills to help sun bears. The bear care team will tell you what volunteering life is like on a typical day in Borneo as a sun bear assistant, and why volunteers play such an important part in contributing to the causes. It will never be the same experience twice, but that is all the more reason to keep volunteers coming back to BSBCC!

It feels like it had only just begun! Groups of volunteers were split into smaller working groups with bear care team leaders and were assigned to varied tasks. Everyone has been busy working alongside the volunteers to complete the maintenance, construction and making enrichment project. Volunteers learnt as much as they could and soaked everything in. The team’s constantly were coming up with new ideas to stimulate and challenge these rescued sun bears. Volunteers got their hands dirty and ended up with stinky clothes!


​Team A’s Project
(Azzry, Sumira, Chee Yoong, Georgia and Sophie)


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The team built an “Olivia Tower” inside the forest enclosure of Pen E. In Latin, the meaning of the name Olivia is Olive, a symbol of peace. This Olivia Tower is specially made for one of our rescued adult female sun bears, Chin. It is her playground. The variety of climbing frames is for helping Chin to build strength and she can also take a sweet nap. This tower helps to stimulate Chin’s natural behavior in the wild. They can observe how Chin makes her way into the forest for her daily rehabilitation process. The teams focus was on building, mixing cement, and digging!

​The team carried the hardest wood (i.e. Iron wood) with foundations been dug, installed the woods and vanish the wood to avoid termites. When it comes to sun bears, the tower structures have to be sun bear proof! It is amazing to see the creativity they build. 

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Many thanks to Team A for working hard in the sun and rain to get the Olivia Tower finished in time. The team was very enthusiastic and created a great learning environment. Again, big thanks to our awesome volunteer, Barbara Katsifolis, for your donation and supportive voice for the sun bears.

Team M’s Project
(Mizuno, Batrisyia and Alexander)

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The team focused on building a rustic-looking house for Bjorn Hala’s dog – Momo. The wooden house will serve as a safe den for Momo to deliver and raise her puppies. They made it out of recycled iron wood and made sure they provided the puppies with enough space to eat, play and sleep. The wooden house will keep them warm and cozy. The team has worked tirelessly to spread love for Momo. It was brilliant fun for everyone who took part! Congratulations! On July 15th, 2017 Momo gave birth to two cute puppies. Momo looks quite happy inside her little home! 

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Team R’s Project
(Roger, Syaqil, Simon and Shannon)

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This team is helping to design and build an essential access walkway outside the perimeter of Pen A and Pen K. The old walkway was facing deterioration and was muddy. They will construct a new walkway with durable material to ease the access for staff to the outside perimeter to observe, check or feed the bears. This project involves lots of sawing and hammering. Doing whatever else is useful! 

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Team B’s Project

(Brandon, David, Athirah and Lawrence)

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Cleaning and general upkeep of the enclosures is an important task for us. It is challenging to maintain structures in the Bornean rainforest. The team makes sure the sun bears have a comfortable and safe forest enclosure to use by taking good care of their living spaces. Thanks to the dedication from the team who got the project done.

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All teams also engaged fantastically with the enrichment activities! We had so much pleasure observing these sun bears as they rolled around and were quite playful with the enrichment created by volunteers and staff. The juvenile bears enjoy rotating through a list of toys. There is nothing more rewarding than discovering some enrichment that lights up the day of sun bears!


Photos shows the difference types of enrichment:


  • Bamboo Feeder 
  • Hanging Ginger Leaves
  • Ginger Leaves Proposal
  • Burger Cotton
  • Nest Ball
  • Stick Paradox
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  • Ice Block

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  • Termite Mounds

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  • Gunny Sack Bag

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  • Install Hammock

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  • Sun Bear Cot

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  • Dry Leaves Cage

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  • Log Feeder

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  • Aussie Dog Ball filled with Honey

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  • Phin's Ramp (On progress)

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​The volunteers have fallen madly in love with each of the sun bears. They were a hardworking, dedicated bunch from all walks of life! They worked tirelessly to provide these bears with the needs to survive and had many laughs. We can see that each project offered a very difference experience and was unique. Enthusiasm was always high and we were able to achieve great goals to save the forgotten bear - Sun bear. Knowing that we have made a big difference…

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​Sumira, Syaqil, Athirah, Batrisya, Chee Yoong, Laurence, Shannon, Simon, Sophie, Georgia, Kimberly Louise and bear care team, thanks for being a part of our enrichment project! Good job team! A loud cheer for all your efforts!