Volunteer with bears in Borneo
Volunteer with sun bears, the world’s smallest species of bear, at an inspiring rehabilitation centre in Borneo. Taken illegally from the wild at a young age, these sun bears have been imprisoned as pets in tiny enclosures. Rescued from this cruel captivity, they now have the opportunity to start a new life living in freedom. Become a part of this moving journey of rehabilitation and giving these bears the life that they deserve.
Often considered to be the “cutest” bear in the world due to its size, the tiny sun bear is sadly under threat thanks to habitat loss and captivity. A victim of its own appeal, many sun bears are taken from the wild at a young age to live life as a pet. As they become older and more wild, their lives are often tragically restricted to chains and cages. This sun bear rehabilitation centre was established in Borneo in 2008 to help rescue these bears from cruel captivity and return them to a life in the wild that they deserve.
Bornean sun bears are native only to Borneo and are faced with extinction. Most of that is down to the pet trade, habitat destruction and illegal hunting for their meat and bile. Volunteering at this rehabilitation centre means working towards curbing this awful trend. Currently providing a home to more than 40 sun bears, this is an inspiring haven for these mistreated bears. Volunteers work alongside staff to ensure that the bears can be successfully rehabilitated and released back to the wild where possible. The role is varied, but common activities include:
- Enrichment: The sun bears have spent their lives in captivity, and so it is important to help to stimulate their wild instincts. This helps them to rehabilitate fully, and ultimately prepares them for life in the wild. Enrichment tasks include hiding food to encourage foraging behaviour, hunting out termite nests in the jungle, layering leaves for bedding and nesting purposes and creating extra climbing areas to stimulate their muscles.
- Monitoring and observation: These bears have never had to fend for themselves before, so settling into a new life in the semi-wild can be a difficult transition. Volunteers help to keep an eye on the health of the sun bears, monitoring how they are adapting and how their health is.
- Construction: Basic construction work to help maintain the bears’ dens or enclosures can sometimes be needed. Volunteers have also helped out with painting work to improve the facilities and basic board walk construction.
- Husbandry: The least glamorous but the most important role! Help to clean the enclosures and prepare their food. A real highlight involves helping to feed the sun bears!
- Education: Help to prepare displays for visitors to the centre and even chat to school groups about the importance of conservation. A weekly blog is written by volunteers, and you will help to contribute to this too.
Accommodation and food
Volunteers live a short distance away from the rehabilitation centre in a traditional long house on the edge of the jungle. The setting is absolutely stunning with a balcony overlooking the jungle. A series of lakes and a country park are just on the doorstep. Volunteers share a room between two with a safe, clothing storage and mosquito net provided. There is a well-equipped kitchen on site where volunteers do their own cooking. A food budget is provided to help you to save money.
There are western toilets and refreshingly cool showers just downstairs from the bedrooms. There are plenty of areas to relax overlooking the lake, in the hammocks on site or on the kitchen balcony.
When should I book?
Whilst late-availability is possible, we would advise booking as soon as you can to guarantee your ideal dates. Our projects are very popular and spaces can fill up several months in advance, especially for the summer volunteering months of June to September.
- Work with the smallest bears in the world, and help to prevent their extinction.
- Volunteer with animal welfare experts at this leading rehabilitation centre, and learn more about conservation.
- Live in a traditional longhouse in a beautiful jungle setting.
- See orangutans in the wild in a neighbouring rehabilitation centre.
Whyshould I do this?
Sun bears are on the brink of extinction. Not only is this a problem for biodiversity and for the loss of the smallest bears on earth, but they are also key species for the survival of the jungle. Working alongside locals to preserve these species is not only an important task, it is an incredibly rewarding one. Seeing sun bears on a daily basis is certainly part of the appeal, but coming away knowing that you have made a genuine contribution is something that you will keep for life. Whether you are keen to volunteer with animals abroad as part of your gap year, career break or holiday with a difference, this project is a great place to start.
Volunteers fly in to Sandakan (SDK) on the 5th of each month. You will be met at the airport and taken to your long house accommodation on the edge of the rainforest.
What is provided
- Before booking: Dedicated period of time on the phone or in person to discuss the project, answer any questions that you might have and find out more about you.
- Access to your personal ‘My Oyster’ account – our online portal where you can find out much more about the programme and manage your booking.
- Met at Sandakan airport and transferred to your accommodation
- Self catering accommodation in shared rooms in a beautiful jungle setting
- Welcome meal on your first night
- Transport to and from the project
- Food budget to cover your food on project days
- Return transfer to Sandakan airport at the end of your trip
- Donation to the project
- Pre-departure information covering medical, safety and placement advice
- Help and advice from our UK office before departure and whilst away
- Advice on visa and health requirements for project
- Local support in Malaysia from English speaking staff
- ATOL financial protection (if Oyster books your flight)
- Oyster Worldwide volunteer t-shirt
- Oyster luggage tag
On your return:
- Call from Anne to gather your feedback
- Welcome home pack
- Certificate of Recognition (on request)
- References (on request)
What do I need
- A passport valid for a minimum of 6 months from your date of entry in Borneo
- Flights to Sandakan (SDK)
- Camera fees
- Pocket money
- Any associated visa costs- no visa is necessary for under 90 days from UK and most western European and western countries.
- Meals are not provided on days off
- Funds for any independent travel
- A letter from a doctor stating that you are free from Tuberculosis and Hepatitis