Home Away From Home


Text by Nithisha Nair
​Photos by Chiew Lin May

Hello, I’m Nithisha, a 20-year-old student carrying out my internship for the Animal Health and Production Diploma Course based in University Putra Malaysia, Bintulu Sarawak Campus. I come from Selangor, and have been in Borneo for the better part of 2 years. I have always loved animals and volunteering, but this is my very first time working with our astonishing sun bears.

My 10 weeks being an intern in BSBCC has been nothing short of thrilling, educational and adventurous. I have gained so much, much more than I can ever repay, and so much so that I am eternally grateful.

A team I’ve had the pleasure to be a part of.

I’m certain that I’ll be reminiscing about all the adventures I encountered, from hiking up forests to retrieve termite nests for the bears, to observing the progress of the cubs. Even talking to kids about sun bears during outreach programs. I have learned to use tools I’ve never had the chance to use, make enrichments that I once thought only existed in imaginations, and find amusement in the small things life has to offer.

I’ve been apart of the transfer of the cubs, their fence training, and their release to the forest enclosure. I got the chance to assist several health check-ups, I got to learn and memorise which bears get what supplements, their nutritional needs, who gets the egg yolk and who doesn’t, got to play chef with foods so that the bear who won’t eat would eat again and I’ve got to make so many different types of enrichments. And with that I’ve learned to use the power drill and saw like there’s no tomorrow. None of this would have been possible without the amazing bear house team, and definitely, the buddy assigned me who ensures I get to experience all there is to do. 

Assisting Dr. Reza with respiration recording on an ART procedure.

My buddy and I making egg carton enrichments.

Carrying dead wood out for the cub’s arrival.

Setting up the cubs’ cage.

My 10 weeks here has grown me so attached to the bears, even watching a bear eat could give me so much joy, especially when a sick bear falls back to routine eating habits, almost makes me jump in joy. I’ve come to love the bears, and I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t, they all have their own specialized characteristics and traits. Each with their own quirk to brighten up your day.

I have been treated like family from the day I stepped into BSBCC and Bjorn Hala (local volunteer accommodation). I think It makes you feel like you’ve found your home away from home. They take care of you like one of their own here, I have to applaud the team for their wonderful hospitality, they are always ready to satisfy your curiosities and lend a hand when needed. BSBCC couldn’t have hired a better team than the one they currently have!

Thank you so much for this chance,
This will definitely not be the last I see BSBCC and its jovial team!

‘How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so difficult’ -- Winnie the Pooh

Sharing information on Sun Bears among Kg. Pulau Libaran community


BSBCC is glad to have the opportunity to share interesting facts about sun bears among communities of Libaran Island here in Sandakan. In conjunction with the World Turtle Day celebration, the Sabah Wildlife Department organized a session with the communities here on 20th June 2019, to promote awareness on turtle conservation as well as other Totally Protected Species in Sabah. Communities were briefed about wildlife protection laws in Sabah and how local communities can support the government in these conservation efforts.

DGFC's Environmental & Wildlife Awareness Programme(18-20th June)


[Program Kesedaran Alam Sekitar & Hidupan Liar 2019] The 3rd series - June 2019 (Kota Belud) awareness programme had been conducted by Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC), with joint effort between Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and BSBCC to increase the awareness and knowledge especially on Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, besides giving aspirations to the school kids to be a better leader in the future with wildlife conservation and eenvironment protection in both mind and action. Three schools were selected for this programme: SK Kulambai (18th June), SK Bangkahak Baru (19th June), and SMKA Tun Said Kota Belud (20th June). Programmes were filled with activities such as informative talks, exhibitions, colouring, story telling to the students which aimed to spread the information and awareness in a more exciting way to gasp and retain their attention. We once again would love to express the hospitality and cooperation of the schools involved and also to our partners in environmental education for the on-going efforts to educate our younger generation. Together we save our wildlife and protect our environment!


Protect Sun Bear


Video By Chiew Lin May

"Only we understand, can we care. 
Only if we care, we will help.
Only if we help, we shall be saved." - Jane Goodall 

Poaching and illegal pet trade have brought sun bears and other wildlife to the brink of extinction. 
​Let's work together to protect them from extinction!


A Beary Good Time at BSBCC


Text by Vivian Lee Ker Chuon
Photos by Vivian Lee Ker Chuon & Chiew Lin May

Hi there! My name is Dr Vivian Lee and I am a Malaysian veterinarian from the state of Penang.  I first found out about the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre when I attended a talk by Dr Wong Siew Te, who is the founder of BSBCC. Over the years I have followed the work of him and his team and heard many good things. I finally decided to make the trip and volunteer for two weeks, and I’m really glad I did, because the last two weeks have been amazing!
This is my first time to Sabah, and BSBCC were kind enough to pick me up from the Sandakan airport. It’s easy to figure out who is picking you up because they will have a sunbear shirt on. It’s all about the sunbears here. I was greeted by a smiling Azzry, who pointed out the sights to me on the way to the centre. Once there, we proceeded to do a security briefing (in short, be careful of macaques and orangutans), and then I had a quick tour of the centre before I went to Bjorn Hala with my housemates for the next two weeks.
The next day, I started my first official day at BSBCC. I met my buddy keeper, Roger, and assisted him with his tasks. We were assigned to Bear House 1 that first day, and I worked up a really good sweat! Cleaning up after 43 bears is a lot of work, but I enjoyed giving my muscles a good workout. I really do feel a lot fitter after these two weeks.  Whilst working in the bear house, I started getting to know each of the individual bears, as each of them has a very distinct personality.  You can tell that the staff at BSBCC really care a lot about their bears and the work that they do. The keepers know what each bear likes and dislikes, what health issues they might have, which bear is friends with which other bear, which bear won’t eat their veggies, which bear won’t come back home at night because they’re having too much fun playing in their enclosure, and which bear likes to break all the branches off the tree they’re climbing. After two weeks, I can only identify maybe 3-4 bears by sight, but ask any keeper and they’ll be able to tell you which bear is which.
After all the cleaning tasks are done, we get to do one of my favourite tasks, which is feeding. I don’t think I will ever get tired of watching the bears crunch through a juicy carrot or chase after a coconut. Most of the bears, except the ones with dental disease which I’ll talk about later, get a diet of raw green veggies and fruits, with some starchy foods like raw sweet potato and pumpkin as well.  The bears love fruit the most, enjoying things like watermelon, honeydew, bananas, papaya, and this interesting little fruit called snake fruit or salak, which to me looks like a little pangolin.  Most of them won’t say no to a leaf of Chinese lettuce or a cucumber either. As a little treat or for positive reward training, the bears go nuts over a dab of peanut butter, Marmite or honey.
The afternoons are mostly devoted to creating enrichment for the bears. I got to develop my non-existent carpentry skills, doing sawing, drilling, tightening screws and putting together a structure for one of the pens. The keepers are very skilled at providing motivational support for volunteers, hence even though I was a bit hesitant at first, by the end I was happily sawing and hammering away. During Hari Raya, we even made ketupat stuffed with apple and peanut butter for a festive sunbear treat!

Building the frame for a double hammock.

Making ketupat during Raya.

​I was happy to be able to assist Dr Yeoh Boon Nie, BSBCC’s resident veterinarian, on the days when she was conducting a few annual health checks for some of the bears. We also took the opportunity to conduct dental scaling and polishing of the bears teeth as well. I’ve only ever done dental scaling and polishing for dogs and cats, so this was very interesting for me. Some of the older bears have been eating a soft, cooked diet for a long time, and as such, their teeth weren’t in a great condition. Bears in captivity also live a lot longer than bears in the wild, due to the provision of a steady source of food and absence of dangers in the wild. Thus their teeth have to last a lot longer. As their human carers, we have a responsibility to make sure that they are as healthy and as comfortable as possible.
After sedating the bear, we brought them to the clinic where they were intubated and maintained on a gas anaesthetic whilst we performed the procedure. I also jumped at the chance to be able to place an intravenous catheter in a sunbear (they have really thick skin!). After ensuring that the anaesthetic was stable, we proceeded to do the dental charting, scaling and polishing. Seeing the bears shiny clean and polished teeth after each procedure was very gratifying. Besides the dental, the bears were also given a physical examination, blood was drawn for an annual health screen, and things like overgrown nails were addressed.

Intubating the sunbear after sedation.

Before the dental. Check out the tartar on those teeth.

After the dental. All squeaky clean and shiny.

I found the volunteer program at BSBCC to be very well rounded, as I got to experience so many different aspects of this organization in my two weeks here, gaining an understanding of how the group works as a whole.  Everyone from the bear care team to the education team and the maintenance guys always have a smile for you and are more than happy to have a chat and share their considerable knowledge. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting to Gloria and Jerome about managing visitors (and macaques!) up on the viewing platforms, with Mizuno and Boboy about jungle trekking and night walks, with Thye Lim and Lin May about their exploits in the Tabin reserve, with Azzry about growing up taking care of orangutans, with Wawa about different sunbear personalities, and Dr. Boon on sunbear health and management. Dr. Wong himself even makes it a point to set aside time out of his busy schedule to have chats with volunteers, and you can ask him anything. He has 20 years of experience and lots of helpful advice to share. Two weeks is barely enough to scratch the surface of all there is to learn here. I also had the best time together with my new friends at Bjorn Hala, going out to sample a selection of the best food Sandakan has to offer, night walks to see wildlife, attending Hari Raya open houses, hiking up Bukit Sim Sim and admiring the view of the fishing village, singing in the car, and tasting each other’s cooking. It’s been a great experience and I would love to come back again for another visit. 

Panda, the Sun Bear Exploring the Enrichment Blue Barrel


Video by Chiew Lin May

Sniffing, Tapping, Rolling….

Panda, the sun bear has been enjoying lots of love from our volunteers and keepers doing everything they can to help Panda enhances her foraging skills.


Community outreach at Kg. Sri Darun, Lahad Datu


BSBCC participated in a Community Outreach Programme at Kg, Sri Darun, Lahad Datu, a village located near Tabin Wildlife Reserve where rehabilitated sun bears at BSBCC were released. The programme conducted on 15th June 2019 was organized by HUTAN-Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Programme. A series of sessions was conducted to raise awareness on importance of protecting wildlife in their surrounding forests, particularly orangutans, pygmy elephants and sun bears. Information on the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 was also delivered among the community audience to enhance knowledge on government regulations and efforts in protecting wildlife species in Sabah.