Little Romolina Foraging Bird's Nest Fern


Video by Chiew Lin May

What was the highlight of your weekend?
"I think mine was foraging the bird's nest fern!" - Little Romolina


Think for sun bears, Act for sun bears!


Text by Mayuko Takeda
Phots by Chiew Lin May & Sumira Muis@APE Malaysia

Hello, I’m Mayuko. I’m 20 years old and from Japan!  I’m studying biology in Japan. I wanted to be a volunteer in animal related projects and then my professor told me about BSBCC  when I consulted him. This is why I came here.

My daily tasks in BSBCC are preparing food, husbandry work and making enrichment for the bears. My typical day started from weighing the amount of the fruit first and then bear house cleaning. Sun bears eat vegetables. So the smell of their feces was not as bad as I thought. However, my teammate and I had to clean the walls and doors too. It made me tired. If we didn’t clean the night dens carefully, they’ll get sick. So, I did my best!

I like to make enrichment for sun bears.  For example, we put some apples and honey in the Aussie Dog balls which has a hole in there. To make the enrichment harder, we also put leaves and egg cartons in the Aussie Dog balls so it is harder for the bears to get apples and honey. So they can enjoy getting the treats while playing with it.

Collecting termites from jungle is also part of the enrichment for the bears. We can see how they use their long tongue to forage. All of the bears are individuals with different personalities. In the case of food, some likes sweet potatoes while others like cucumbers. How could I understand that? When I cleaned the night dens, I checked what is left. On the other hand, one thing I was worried about was that I was afraid I couldn’t remember every bear’s characteristics within just 2 weeks.

Actually, I have one more reason why I wanted to come here. The reason is that I wanted to know what I desire. To tell the truth, I’ve lost my way. Of course my passion towards animals is undoubted but should I get a job or should I go to university to get a master degree? When I said to Mr. Wong, he advised me that I should choose what I think makes me happy. One day after collecting banana leafs on the way going back to the center and blown by the wind, I thought suddenly this is what I always wanted to do. I want to learn about wildlife and I want to do anything for their well-being. This 2 week volunteering experience would be a chance to reflect on myself again.

Finally, Thank you to all of the people I met here!!  Sometime it makes me really happy when they talked to me in Japanese. They are kind and funny. Also they taught me Malay - “saya mau makan”. Actually I felt nervous on the first day because I’m not a English native speaker, but it was groundless apprehensions. I was so excited to volunteer at the BSBCC from the second day.

I had a fulfilling and unforgettable time when volunteering at BCBCC. This is an irreplaceable experience. I swear I’ll come back!

Protecting Rescued Bears


Text by Oona Lily Mcginty
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Sumira Muis (APE Malaysia)

My name is Oona and I am a University student volunteer from Bristol in the UK. Initially I chose to come and work with the bears here because my dream is of eventually working as an anti-poaching ranger, to protect endangered animals from poaching, habitat destruction and the illegal wildlife trade in countries all over the world.

Getting the opportunity to experience working in-situ in the jungle for the first time was fantastic, and it was incredibly useful to get to try out working as a keeper in this environment, as I already have at a number of sanctuaries and wildlife rescues at home in England. Learning how the role differs from country to country and having to quickly adapt to the differences in local wildlife and climate was a very valuable skill for me.

Doing quite a lot of art in my spare time was certainly put to good use here as well, as a few days into my work I noticed that there were some partially finished murals that had been started by a previous volunteer on some of the walls between bear houses one and two. With our volunteer co-ordinator’s permission, it was hugely satisfying to be able to then sit for a while in the afternoons to finish them off, refreshing that area of the centre for the bears and workers to enjoy throughout their time there.

Learning first-hand about the specific husbandry of the kinds of animals that I will later strive to protect, as well as the uses of different kinds of enrichment for their care and what the bears gain from interacting with each one was very interesting. Getting the chance to go out into different areas of the jungle with the other keepers to do things like gather natural greenery for their enclosures, as well as learning about their diet and collecting different types of native fruits for the bears to eat was absolutely a highlight of my trip. It was nice as well to see that because of the daily effort put into these keeper activities, living in this environment prior to re-release was not so restricting to the bears’ natural diet, or their instinctive interactions with the sorts of surroundings that they might otherwise encounter in the wild.

More than anything however, I think that having the chance to venture out on my days off from work and witness first-hand some of the deforestation and destruction of the land outside of Sepilok and Sandakan has been the biggest eye opener for me.

It has made me even more determined in committing life to working towards alleviating the necessity of housing rescued animals in protected areas such as these, and further served to ignite my passion for protecting these amazing creatures and all others like them.

So I would like to say thank you to the BSBCC for this incredible opportunity, and as long as you are needed in the world, please never stop doing the wonderful work that you do here for these beautiful animals.

Logan Eating Rat Carcass


Video by Chiew Lin May

The omnivorous sun bear relies on primary on fruits and insects to meet its needs.
​Logan found a rat carcass at the forest! Cravingsss!


Bear In Mind, We Do It For The Bears


Text by Anna Martinsen
Photos by Chiew Lin May

Hello BSBCC Bear Talk Blog!

My name is Anna, I’m 20 years old and have just spend 30 days working as a volunteer at the Bornean Sun bear conservation center. I’m from Denmark, so getting here took a lot of time! In Denmark, I just finished a 1-year dance education and now I’ll be having a gap-year, where I will be working, travelling, dancing, living. I found out about this place because I went here (Sabah) with my mom two years ago, and on the way made a very good friend. Just before I finished my dance education, I found the flyer for the BSBCC volunteer program and decided to just do it..

First week working at the center offered a lot of work in the kitchen! These bears, I tell you, they eat a lot. Chopping up 36 kg of sweet potato or pumpkin, not even to mention the bananas… so many bananas every day. The work in the kitchen is fun when everything is flowing, one person is cutting, another is rinsing, a third is weighing. One time, while I was weighing bananas, a big spider jumped out and onto my shirt. Something you get used to while working here.

Some of the male bears also get porridge with animal proteins, such as cooked chicken, egg, etc. They also get a fair amount of beans, because like human children, they have to eat their greens. They get so excited when they see you with the tray, and even though it is so tempting, you really cannot touch those sweet, furry creatures. 

Later on during the first week, we had a presentation from one of the interns, Nathalie and later from Lin May about the sun bears and why we’re doing this work. It was literally heartbreaking to see how people treat these animals. Sun bears are small animals, the size of a big dog, so some locals catch them and keep them as pets. This is bad for several reasons such as:

1) Diet - local people don’t know what a sun bear eats and they feed it like a pet or, if the family is poor, then they’ll feed it with whatever, even with Milo. You can ask about Montoms story.

2) People don’t realize they are wild animals and that they grow bigger and stronger as they become adults.

3) The last thing people might do is poach wild sun bears, is if they believe in traditional medicine and kill it to get the gallbladder, paws, teeth and fur for a variety of uses.

The second week was a bit more “active”. We started a lot of different projects and had a lot of fun. Starting out, the bear house needs to be cleaned daily. This is not as hard or smelly as people make it out to be, but then again I have some experience from working at my aunts farm. First you have to clean out poop, which there’s a lot of, and in a lot of different colors (from their diet). Then we washed out the cage with a lot of water and scrub everything, and finished off with drying the floor.  

It’s not just work, work, work. The staff in the bear house are so friendly and fun, so everything becomes more fun. Some of the cages have leaves, logs, enrichment all made/brought in from the staff. 

We made a lot of enrichment during 1st and 2nd week. Enrichment is a tool we use to stimulate natural behaviours, like using sense of smell to find delicious food, rip cotton bags apart to get food. A lot of it has to do with using either paws or mouth to get to food in some ways.

While making the enrichment, you’ll get a great opportunity to chat with the keepers (the staff). You talk a lot about what’s different from back home, ask questions about their cultures, things to try, and of course, you learn a bit of Malay. Enrichment can also be sticks or branches, banana leaves and we even went trekking in the jungle for termite nests.

This week and the 3rd also offered bigger projects! In one of the pens they needed to build a platform for the bears to cool down under, play on and use for enrichment. With blood, sweat and tears, we finished the big platform within 1 1\2 weeks! The bears absolutely love the platform now, and they’re often seen sunbathing or playing on it. 

During the 2nd and a part of the 3rd week I got to train and observe one of the bears, Sigalung. He is a bear with fear of heights, so we tried to lure him out with food on the platform and then on the steps down to the ground. It was a slow process, but he made some progess. After some observation, Sumira and I decided that the stairs were too steep, and that’s why he is not going down. We talked to my Buddy Keeper (You get “assigned” to a keeper when you start working), Mizuno, and we made some sketches for a ramp that wold make the ground seem less terrifying. We measuared, found supplies and got to work, but just three days after we mounted to skeleton for the ramp, some of the other keepers saw Sigalung on the ground. In his pen. Looking for food. That little jokester played a prank on us, but we still managed to finish the ramp. 

During the 3rd and 4th week we still did the usual duties, cleaning, prepping food, building a ramp for Sigalung, but we also got something extra! I got to join some health checks. First one was on a big male, Bermuda, second one was little Chin, third was Mary and fourth was Wan-wan.  While doing the check up, as a volunteer, you monitor pulse, respiration and temperature. You also carry the bear from the bear house to the truck and vice versa. 

Another memorable health check was Wan-Wan. Wan-wan is 12 years old and has a lot of dental problems, so while doing her dental check, they found out that 7 teeth needed to be extracted otherwise she’d be in too much pain to eat. 7 teeth! Crazy.

This week we also had fun going rambutan picking! It’s like apple picking but with rambutans (like lychees). You get to see the nature, talk with your co-workers and eat rambutans, #perfect. While collecting rambutans, a bird’s nest fell from the tree. A bit later we found the egg and Natalie and I decided to try and rescue the nest, so mama bird could find it. 

Before finishing up my rambling about this dreamy work here, I want to mention the people. The people working here all have a heart of gold and are so friendly. We went out to dinners, events, they care about your well-being. If you ever even thought of volunteering, you should do it because of the people!

Biggest, warmest, most loving thanks and bear hugs to everyone here from Anna Banana! I will definitely come back! 

​Thank you, you’re welcome, goodbye. 

Aboriginal Adventure Time


Text by Sajidah Khadijah Meor Mohammad Fared
Photos by Sajidah Khadijah Meor Mohammad Fared & Chiew Lin May

Hi! My name is Saji (short for Sajidah Khadijah) and I’m a first year veterinary student from University Putra Malaysia. I am a self-proclaimed nature lover and an aspiring wildlife enthusiast. I am truly, truly stoked (and GRATEFUL) to be given this opportunity to do my industrial training at BSBCC. I could barely contain my excitement and the urge to explore everything around me during my 2-weeks stay and thus, I’ve compiled a list of the things I did and experienced throughout this journey.
9 First Things I Did & Never Regretted: -
1. hopped on a plane to Borneo for the sake of the world’s smallest (and CUTEST) bears alive! This is my first time volunteering in BSBCC and hopefully not my last!

I get that they’re cute but they ARE NOT naturally domesticated to become pets! Kudos to BSBCC for giving these rescued Bornean sun bears a second chance at being rehabilitated back into the wild.

2. encountered orangutans, elephants, macaques and of course sun bears all within the same day (there are other animals worth mentioning as well but these are the most common creatures you are bound to meet/hear/get peed on during volunteering hours! One time, I was doing a forest feeding with my buddy keeper and a macaque peed on me as it was perching on top of a tree. I already smelt bad (because of perspiration) so I didn’t really mind. Disclaimer: these wild animals are of course just for see, not for touch!

3. visited the centre’s bear cemetery, which is located in a pretty good spot surrounded by the lush canopy of the forest and unbeknownst to the public. It was a very poignant moment for me as I paid my respects. They were gone, but not forgotten. Rest in peace dear ones.

4. did enrichments for the sun bears. This serves as a way for them to cope with the stress or boredom of being in captivity for a long time. Some of the bears here will never be released and it’s due to the fact that they have found security within the walls of the bear house. They are afraid and reluctant of stepping out of their comfort zone and so, it is vital that we provide them with enrichments to nurture their natural behaviour such as foraging, digging, clawing, climbing and such.  I was assigned to take care of Amaco with the guidance from my buddy, Adneen. He is the oldest bear in the centre as he is about 26 years old. I’ve been told that their typical lifespan in the wild is about 15-18 years but because they are well taken care of when in captivity, they can reach up to 30 years of age!
Each of the bears have their own personality and as for Amaco, he is the typical “orang tua” or old man in the bear house. He’s a picky eater, doesn’t really want to stand up on his 2 hind paws and so my buddy built this structure that would help Amaco to stand up and at the same time, forage for special treats (hint: bananas and mealworm. Yum)  

This structure was built by my buddy. I stuffed the Aussie dog ball with some bananas, egg carton, ginger leaves, meal worm and a drizzle of honey for Amaco’s enrichment.

This was literally taken on my first day of volunteering. It felt nice to just mingle about with the other volunteers as we made enrichments for the bears.

I sliced some apples and placed them onto a sack cloth and dusted some curry powder on it. This is a form of sensory enrichment in which the bears will be able to sniff out the curry and try to get the apples from the sack.
5. assisted a team of veterinarians performing a health check on Logan, one of the trio of the youngest bears in the bear house. I basically helped my buddy keeper to carry the sedated bear to the Sepilok Orangutan Clinic where they conducted the check-up and tooth extraction. Also, I attended the check-up on a 13-year-old male orangutan named Ceria on the next day. Thank you so much Lin May for allowing me to attend these 2 sessions as I could get a glimpse of what wildlife veterinarians do! 
6extracted incisors from a dead dog! This was one of the most exciting things I’ve experienced as a vet student so far. Basically, Dr Anwar and Dr Serena from Singapore were assisting us on how to extract canine teeth because some of the bears here have poor dental hygiene because of their diet and so the residential vet will need to perform dental care for the sun bears.
7. learnt to become more competent in the kitchen. Meal preparation for 43 bears is tough as heck! From weighing the food, to chopping and slicing and rinsing them clean and even boiling them, I honestly salute the keepers for being able to do this efficiently, even without having extra helping hands on some days.
The bears are fed with an omnivorous diet which mainly consisted of starchy vegetables and fruits like bananas, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and carrots. They are also given local fruits such as rambutan and langsat. Some bears are fed chicken meat and boiled eggs to increase their body condition scoring because they are too skinny.
My biggest achievement was being able to chop the watermelons, sweet potatoes and pumpkins and I even deboned the chicken once! For someone who spends minimal time in the kitchen, volunteering at BSBCC has surely changed me for the better.
8. my buddy taught me how to saw wood!! It was frustrating at first because I wasn’t getting through with the sawing but Adneen and Roger showed me that perseverance do go a  long way and so, I managed to saw wood for one of the enrichments. HOORAY! After sawing the wood, we drilled holes onto them and I stuck some bits of apple into the holes and smeared peanut butter all over. The wood pieces were either thrown overhead into the bear enclosure or I went in and placed the wood on the hammock or on the floor for the bears to play with. 

Okay so these are the peeps who taught me so many invaluable things while working in the bear house: Adneen (my buddy), Roger, Azzry and Brandon. They have guided me through cleaning the enclosures, forest feeding, meal preparation and my favourite part which is making the enrichments. 

This is by far my favourite enrichment, Stuffed Log. It was fun sawing wood but let’s face it, I am no where near to becoming a lumberjack.

9. went cave hiking and cruising at the Kinabatangan River! I had a day off so I hired a local guide to take me out for some insane adventure time! Gua Batu Tulug and Gua Gomantong are must-visited places!

​Full time job: Veterinary student.
Part time job: Dora the Explorer.
Shot taken at the peak of Agup Batu Tulug
Archaeological findings of coffins from the old age.
The Cave of Wonders (aka Gomantong Cave). It is the most popular site to find bird’s nest in Sabah.
In a nutshell, I’m glad I spent my semester break here in Borneo. It truly is a beautiful place imbued with the natural rainforests, humble and kind local people and home to the cutest bears alive.

Shot taken behind Bjorn Hala (staff quarters) and where I had built my temporary nest for 2 weeks. Thanks again for having me BSBCC! 

My Borneo Adventure


Text by Jens Söderlund
Photos by Jens Söderlund & Chiew Lin May

My name is Jens Söderlund! I was really fortunate to be born in Sweden. I can afford almost anything I want and because of that I think it’s my obligation to be helping less fortunate. I have been volunteering at an orphanage in Ghana, that was in 2015. After that I decided to volunteer with some kind of animal next. I talked to Anna Shrotti at a photo/adventure convention. My first thought was that I would be going to Borneo to help the orangutans. She then told me of the sun bears, so I decided to combine the two things. First two weeks I was here at the sun bear center, then I’m going to Sukau to help at the reforestation project.
On the first evening I met Sumira and the rest of the volunteers. We had dinner and Sumira was informing us about the project. The next day this was followed with an induction at the Bear center and we got to meet our buddy keeper that who was going to be the “team leader”. We went on a tour to see the facilities and the surroundings. There is one building separated in two sections, Bear house 1 and 2. Bearhouse 1 is for bears that have not come as far in their training as the bears in bear house 2. When the bears have passed their training they are able to venture outside their cages into the pens. The pens are located in parts of the rainforest so they can adjust to their natural habitat. If the bear learns all the needed skill to survive in the wild, it can be released into the jungle.
The third day was the first day that we worked for real. I started in the kitchen (with three other people) preparing the food for the bears. We were cutting vegetables and fruit, and then we portioned it in different buckets. The buckets were tagged so we would know where food would go. The bears are fed 4 times a day, and the volunteers often get to assist  the keepers. The feeding is done in the bear house and in the pens. There are two platforms connected by a walk way. These platforms allow visitors to watch the bears in their natural habitat. We also give the bears enrichments which we create, so they learn how to search for food.
Cleaning the cages from food leftovers and fences from the day before is done every morning. You have do sweep, flush everything, scrub, flush again and finally refill their bin with fresh water and squeeze the water from the floor.
I also helped build a new platform in pen D, slightly raised from the ground. It was build because in there are not a lot of trees in pen D and the bears can’t hide anywhere during the hot parts of the day. The platform is made of ironwood. We started digging holes so we could place 4 big logs of ironwood as posts and then poured concrete to steady them. After that we bevelled two beams in the logs and put three beams on top of them to hold the floor. The second level was build the same way.
I have really liked these two weeks of working and helping the bears, although I know a lot more has to be done. But I think that many small things can build up to a greater good.

On my days off, I got to do my hobby, wildlife photography. I have seen and capture a lot of new and cool animals on this trip.

Sun Bear - Taken at BSBCC
Kingfisher - Taken at Paganakan Dii

Pit Viper - Taken at BSBCC Observation Platform 2

Macaque - Taken at Kinabatangan River

Sun Bear Action Plan Proposed for Sabah


Borneo Today

Members of the Technical Working Group on Sun Bear Action Plan for Sabah (Copyright: DGFC).

KOTA KINABALU: International and local scientists, government officers as well as NGO players convened for the past two days at a local hotel here to identify major recommendations for the conservation of the Malayan sun bear in Sabah.

These will be included in a State Action Plan, just a few months after three other plans, for the proboscis monkey, the Sunda clouded leopard and the Bornean banteng, were approved by the State Cabinet.
For the next two days, Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) are jointly organizing the 2nd International Symposium on Sun Bear Conservation and Management.

A wild sun bear in a protected area in Sabah (Copyright: DGFC).

Experts from the region will present updates on sun bear population status in the different species range countries such as Cambodia, India, Indonesia (Sumatra and Kalimantan), Lao, Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam and West Malaysia, said Dr Wong Siew Te, CEO of BSBCC.

“Several open forums will present the opportunity to discuss some critical issues on sun bear conservation such as poaching and trade; sun bear release, translocation and monitoring; sun bear captive breeding; implementation of Global Status Review and Sun Bear Conservation Action Plan; and ex-situ research prioritization,”he said.

Wild sun bear sustaining injuries to a snare in Danum Valley (Copyright: BSBCC).

“On the second day of the symposium, we will present to the different stakeholders the several recommendations we plan to include in a Sun Bear Action Plan for Sabah.”

ProfessorBenoit Goossens, DGFC director said they hoped to come up with a long-term vision for the future of the sun bears in the wild in Sabah.

“Uncontrolled hunting of sun bears for Traditional Chinese Medicine, pet trade and habitat loss and fragmentation are considered to be the major threats to the survival of the sun bear in Sabah,” added Professor Goossens.

Carcass of a sun bear poached in the Kinabatangan.

“It is therefore critical to increase effectiveness of enforcement on the ground, improve the intelligence of the different government departments, and establish connectivity between sun bear populations in the state.”

For the past year, the Sabah Wildlife Department has worked with its partners to produce conservation action plans for most of the Schedule 1’s (Totally Protected) terrestrial species.

Last May, the State Cabinet adopted the proboscis monkey, Sunda clouded leopard and Bornean banteng action plans 2019-2028.
Sun bear gallbladder sold in Gaya Street, Kota Kinabalu. A sun bear was killed in order to retrieve this gallbladder (Copyright: Wong Siew Te/BSBCC).

The Elephant Action Plan and Orangutan Action Plan 2020-2029 are being finalized, and focus is now on producing the Sun Bear Action Plan 2020-2029.

“It is crucial that those three new plans are adopted and implemented by the Sabah state government as they are backed by scientific research and expert opinions as well as input from industry leaders and several government departments,” added Professor Goossens.
Wild sun bear that was snared in Maliau Basin and venturing at the research centre. The animal was rescued by Wildlife Rescue Centre, treated and released back in Maliau (Copyright: Diana Ramirez/WRU).

The Technical Working Group Meeting on the Sun Bear Action Plan and the 2nd International Symposium on Sun Bear Conservation and Management were funded by BSBCC and DGFC.

The organizations that contributed to the two-day technical working group meeting on the sun bear action plan were Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department, Sabah Foundation, Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, Danau Girang Field Centre, WWF Malaysia, TRAFFIC, Animals Asia, Free the Bears and Sunway University.