Cameron Watson, a geography graduate from Glasgow Scotland, spoke to us about his personal experiences as a Sun Bear Volunteer in Sepilok, Borneo. He put his previous experience in charity work and his physical ability from sports to good use at the rehabilitation centre.
My 2 weeks at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre have simply flown past!
I had no idea starting out where all this time would go so quickly. From the rewarding work, to the welcoming staff and, of course, the magnificent bears themselves, I would highly recommend choosing a placement at the BSBCC if you want to do meaningful environmental work. Really, you can see it makes a difference, working as a sun bear volunteer in Sepilok.
My only worry before starting the project was that it would be a bit of a fad. For instance, with the volunteers given token jobs to do, whilst the bear keeping staff themselves actually got on with it. This could not have been further from the truth! As a volunteer here, you very much find yourself right in the thick of it, doing hard work, which to be honest is exactly what I was wanting. You will work up a sweat here. The day usually begins with this more laborious work of general maintenance of the bear house and to prepare the bears’ meals. Then the afternoon brings the more creative and diverse building of enrichments for them. This is a great day split, and really leaves you feeling that you have made a positive impact on these bears’ rehabilitation after every shift.
Buddy with a bear keeper to learn the ropes
As a sun bear volunteer in Sepilok, it’s easy to settle in. On day 1 you will be buddied up with a bear keeper to show you the ropes. Me and my buddy Danny got on great, as did the rest of the team. They are very much a close knit team. The thing that really struck me, even very early on, was everyone’s passion for what they are doing here. You will not find anyone doing it just to pay the bills. Everyone genuinely wants the best for these bears and will give it their best work to help achieve this. It is a great team to be a part of, and the camaraderie is excellent. Outside of this, from start to finish, the support network makes a placement here seamlessly smooth – from the volunteer coordinators, to the “before you go” information, to the airport transfers and accomodation. This makes applying easier and meant less admin and stress for me as a volunteer, allowing me to focus my time and energy on what was really important.
The unforgettable thrill of seeing the magnificent bears
This brings us on to the bears themselves. The first time seeing them is unforgettable. Honestly, the thrill of seeing them never once wore off during my time there. This is where the main draw of working at BSBCC lies as I have never done more fulfilling work in my life. There are few things more satisfying than spending a few hours building enrichment toys for the bears, only to watch them be torn apart right before your eyes. The enrichments are meant to stimulate and encourage behaviour that the bears would have in the wild. So you know that every one of these that you do will enhance its rehabilitation and bring that bear one step closer to its release.
During my time at BSBCC I was lucky enough to see Sika – a young 2 year old – take her first steps out of the bear house and into the outside world. Knowing her traumatic background story and then seeing those steps is a moment that will stay with me forever. It is moments like this, shared with bears that you will gradually learn the names and personas of, that make a placement at BSBCC well worth it.
So if you are someone who has a passion for conservation and the environment and are not afraid to put in some hard work to see it saved, then I couldn’t recommend a placement at BSBCC highly enough. You will likely leave, as I have, with a greater awareness of the dangers facing wildlife conservation, as well as a lasting urge to do more about it.
A personal account by Cameron Watson