Awesome Life Experience during Internship in BSBCC

Text & Photos by Koo Wei Chee

I always want to work with animals since I was young, but due to the wrong decision that I made in secondary school where I took art and commerce stream instead of science stream. I could not get to the field I wanted after graduated which was zoology or environmental conservation. Thus the only course that I could take was biotechnology which gave me a second chance to enter to bio-related field, Although it was tough to manage the course, I finally maintained the CGPA of 3.0 before taking my last subject which was internship and that was the chance to grab the opportunities to search a job that I liked. After searching for many related companies or organization and even other biotechnology companies when I started to think there was no chance already, BSBCC finally had a positive reply from both the e-mail and online interview, I was very surprised and happy to have this opportunity to enter the field of wildlife. These took me 7 years overall since my mistake in making the wrong decision in year 2007.

This was the first time I travelled so far by myself to Sabah from my hometown in Peninsular Malaysia, I didn’t know what I would face without any experience in handling animals. However, every single moment spent in BSBCC and the wildlife essence in Sepilok had made my four months of this internship period a wonderful experience, memory, and history (16th October 2015 to 3rd February 2016)!

Front view of BSBCC in early morning

I worked in the bear care unit for these four months. I was quite clumsy at first about the daily routine in cleaning the cages and food preparation, then I was able to pick up the skills and found my own way to do it without changing the motives. I was very grateful to work with those passionate, dedicated, and friendly staff in the unit, we had these kind of same thought that we do our job seriously and meanwhile we joke around sometimes to make the works lively.

Volunteers, Myles and Amin, as well as my roommates for three weeks

Selfie with Lester and Azzry during outside feeding

Lawa curiously watching me taking a photo of her

From the left: David, Lin May, Azzry, Thye Lim, Tommy, Roger, myself, Mizuno, Lester, and two volunteers Myles, and Amin

A rare chance to eat Mr. Wong’s delicious own-cooked Penang Chao Kuew Tiaw

The best part I liked in my work is the enrichment part where we manually make different sorts of products to enrich the bears. There are food enrichment such as bamboo feeder, ice blocks, egg carton parcel, PVC tube feeder, termite nest etc., environmental enrichment such as collecting dry leaves, banana leaves, twigs and branches, and also have some clean-up occasionally.

Me trying to pull out the cut bamboo out from the bush

A-frame project done by the volunteers with assistance from bear keepers

A moment when we were collecting banana leaves

Got along in the Sepilok bird trail to collect some termite nest

My own enrichment creation, bamboo column

Selfie after cleaning dry leaves out from the bear house roof top, please don’t try this at home!

After working in the center around 6 weeks, I asked for projects to do to learn more, I got myself an integration, fence training, and enclosure training for 3 bears and. It was not an easy task because those bears were kept in captive and never touch the earth before, every single training was like a start, to see their behavior of things they never seen before. There was a memory which I will never forget, Sunbearo the bear got zapped by the electric fence during its fence training session, he barked in panic, he didn’t know what to do but to climb up, every single climb got more zap. The keeper in charge ran quickly to turn off the electricity, Sunbearo then climbed down when he noticed that the cage next to the training pen was opened and quickly ran into it to climb up to rest in the hammock. The whole session after that (around 20 minutes). Sunbearo and the other bears actually do not need to feel this pain, it is all due to those people who illegally keep them as pets which screw the whole life of those animals. I’m here to express this message to the public, hoping no other people will keep any of those sun bears as pet again. The best thing was that after more than two months of those training, they touched the first time on earth and able to climb their very first tree, that moments really brightened the work I had done for the centre.

 

Me writing down the bears behaviors during fence training

Ronnie (on the left), the first bear among her group to touch the earth the first time

Other things that I needed to cope up with other than the work in BSBCC are basic cooking and languages. The house where volunteers and interns live doesn’t have any grocery shop nearby and I never cook at all before my internship so everything started from zero from cooking even eggs, and slowly to cooking vegetables and chicken lately. I can say that I’m proud to present my own cooked dishes to serve to my parents by now. As about the language, I seldom talk in Malay language due to my education background, I rarely understand a full sentence when people talked to me in Malay and things got even challenging when people in Sabah talk in Malay faster and somehow a slight difference of using words. I knew that this was the chance to allow me to talk more in Malay language so I was very happy that I learnt a lot from the staff. Whenever I didn’t know a word, they were eager to help me to translate it to make my sentence full.

The house, Bjorn Hala (bear den in Swedish), where volunteers live

 What I knew from this moment was that I will show no regrets even if I could not continue my dream work after fighting so hard and the fury persistence in order to get this internship opportunity because I have experienced it. And this is what most people do not have it, the encouragement to do what they want to do. Special thanks to BSBCC founder and CEO Mr. Wong Siew Te for giving me this opportunity and my supervisor Mr. Tee Thye Lim for being such a great mentor. I did have a positive idea for my future career, and I will still continue my first objective to other bio-related field if needed.

Bright New World for Rescued Sun Bear Cubs – Boboi, Kitud & Tan-Tan

Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May

On the 30th of October 2015 we were pleased to welcome two new rescued sun bears to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.

Introducing Boboi (Rescue Sun Bear 45), a one year old juvenile, male sun bear

Kitud (Rescue Sun Bear 46), a one year old juvenile, female sun bear

Both bears were handed over to the Sabah Wildlife Department in Singgaron village, Ranau district. They were both ex-pets. Their names were given to them by their previous owners who surrendered them to authority.

The story reported to the rescue team was that Boboi originally was from Pitas, Sabah and Kitud was originally from Mengkapoh village, Ranau district. Both of them were handed over by people. They were kept together in one cage and were fed with milk, rice and fish.

On the 1st of November 2015, we conducted a health check for Boboi and Kitud. Dr. Pakeeyaraj Nagalingam from the Wildlife Rescue Unit of Sabah’s Wildlife Department performed a general health check. This included an assessment of their overall health, potential sickness, function of the internal organs, and physical condition. Boboi was 15.55kg and Kitud was 12.1kg. The blood test results have shown Boboi and Kitud are healthy.

Boboi undergoes a health check.

Kitud undergoes a health check.

We are glad to report that Boboi and Kitud are showing positive signs of improvement. Kitud is very slow paced when eating and quite well behaved compared to her friend, Boboi, who is a very cheeky and energetic sun bear. He will find ways to enjoy himself. These two bears have a very close bond and can be seen loving to hang out together. They spend their time foraging, exploring, sharing their food, play fighting and climbing together.

On December 15th, 2015 Kitud and Boboi were integrated with Tan-Tan (an eight month old, female sun bear cub). This was a special day for Tan-Tan as it was her first contact with another sun bear after a very long time. They discovered a wonderful new friendship.This allowed them to greatly improve social skills. Tan-Tan seems to become more playful when interacting with Boboi and Kitud. The three sun bear cubs are living together and are sharing one large den. All worked out well with the integration and they did not show any signs of aggression.

Here are some pictures that show how the three sun bear cubs play fight and settling into their new life.

 

 

This is what happen once the sliding gate is open…

Boboi, Kitud and Tan-Tan are given different types of enrichment to stimulate and prepare them for life back in the wild. Boboi is always curious, huffing on the new enrichment toys while Kitud and Tan-Tan will normally without hesitation just destroy or play with it. They like to be dirty while enjoying the never ending enrichment and love getting care from our bear care staff. They are relishing in the extra space to play, run and climb. Boboi and Kitud have quickly adjusted to their new surroundings. They get a balanced diet that comprises of milk, vegetables and fruits. They are not choosy when it comes to food and have a good appetite. These three cubs are happy to leave their past lives behind and are learning to be wild bears again.

The sad reality of each rescued sun bear cub at our center is that they came from having lived through a bitter past; usually kept or traded by humans and having been separated from their mother at a very young age. These three little rescued bears are no different. The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre’s mission is to conserve sun bears through improving animal welfare, raising conservation awareness with education, conducting research, and rehabilitating the sun bears like Boboi, Kitud and Tan-Tan who have a second chance at returning to life in the forest! Sun bears are in grave danger of extinction in the wild and we need to help them as much as we can. Please spread the message that sun bears belong in the wild and should not be kept as pets, no matter what the circumstances.

Sunbearo, Loki and Ronnie Journey to Wild

Text by Koo Wei Chee (BSBCC Intern Student)
Photos by Chiew Lin May

There was a project that I assigned for to upgrade myself to do something more advance besides the regular routine of what volunteers and interns can do and I got myself one, Thye Lim and Lin May gave me a big project to do, the objective is rehabilitate young sun bears Sunbearo, Ronnie 2, and Loki back to the wild.

Sunbearo, a 1 year old a male juvenile, was kept in a Mini Zoo Hot Spring, Tawau, South Eastern of Sabah before he was handed over to the Sabah Wildlife Department and BSBCC.

Loki, a 1 year old female juvenile, was discovered in the backyard of an inn, where she had been illegally kept as a pet for about five months. It was confiscated by the Sabah Wildlife Department and sent to BSBCC on 24th March 2014.

Ronnie 2, a 1 year old female juvenile, has an unknown history but we believe that she was kept as an ex-pet and was sent to the BSBCC on July 15, 2014.

     They had already been integrated and became very good friends, rolling and playing around every day.

    Fence training is a session for the bears to be aware of electric fences. The place where they are trained is in a moderate size indoor enclose den called training pen with 6 lines of electric wires from top to bottom in the inside perimeter. It is a nightmare for them but a very crucial and important stage to let the bears know that they should not touch those wires or else will be zapped in an electricity. One bear is only allowed in the training in one time if the bear was the first time training in the training pen because if there were two or more newly introduced bears in the training pen and one got zapped, it will immediately thought that it was the other bear which made the torture where will result a bear fight. The fence training period depend on the bears’ progress and it may take up to three months for the bears to get used to the training pen or never. Fruits were scattered near the sliding gate to encourage the bears to go into the training pen, fruits were then scattered near the electric fence once they feel confident to enter to the training pen. Each session of fence training is 30 minutes, the keepers and volunteers in charge have to observe carefully and write down in a table quickly of any moments and behaviours of the bears during the fence training session, this is the most tiring part when keeper in charge sometimes have to recall back what has not been written after the training session. A bear is considered pass the fence training is when it can be able to move freely between cage and training pen in normal behaviour without zap be able to avoid the fence. The bears will then be able to proceed to the next training, the forest enclosure training.

It was hard to watched when we saw them got zapped the first time and they barked, becoming very stressful and will start to pace in the furthest dens they can be from the training pen. Sunbearo was the one the which got the most zap, he did not know what to do at one time but to climb up and got even worse to be zapped in the second electric wire, Lester quickly run to switch off the electricity of the training pen, Sunbearo then climbed down and run to the furthest den and started to bark and moaning, he knew the pain, looking at us and keep moaning for doing this to him.

Sunbearo stands up in the training pen and see what’s going on outside while Loki continues foraging in search of foods.

So glad to see the Sunbearo, Loki, and Ronnie are in the training pen at the same time foraging for food.

    Integration sun bear is one of the rehabilitation process in BSBCC. Integration between rescue sun bears is one of the rehabilitation process in BSBCC through which the bears can learn pertinent skills for survival in the wild. There are some facts which needs to evaluate before targeting any two or more sun bears for the integration training to prevent or decrease bear fight possibility: (1) age, size, and weight have to be similar, if they have big difference, a bear would definitely be killed if they fought; (2) the bears have to be healthy. Younger bears and group bears seem to have a high possibility in successful integration because they have less thought, more curious, and have social group experience for the group bears. Before integration process, few pails of water and a fire extinguisher have to be prepared near the integration cage in case of emergency. Integration lasts for one hour, a paper with a list of table, behaviour codes, and remarks was used to write down the behaviours of the bears in any movement during the integration, this is the detail or data which will be the appendix of the research on how those bears react with each other.

Integration Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Allow two or more bears to live in the same cage.
  • Save more cages for more rescued bears.
  • Allow bears to be less stressful where it turns out that group bears will have less pacing because they have companions to play with and to promote other positive behaviour.
  • The best enrichment for a bear is another bear

Cons

  • Bears are solitary animals, they may think is normal to have another bear as companion, becoming less defensive to wild sun bears, resulting a concern for rehabilitation.

  Sun bears appears to be solitary because their food are scattered all around the forest and they need their own territory to maintain their own food supply, thus for those integrated captive sun bears in the forest enclosure, we need to scatter enough foods all over the area to prevent them for fighting for food supply. Bears and others animal are solitary mainly due to the food shortage issue, in captive condition, foods are always been provided, so we encourage them to stay in a group to promote positive behavior development. Although there is a conflict between the bears natural characteristics and integration, it is used to assist the bears to get along well with each other so that they can be in a single forest enclosure because the main issue is about the centre’s limited number of forest enclosures and dens. Newly rescued captive sun bears need their own space, thus the integration stays an important role for the bear care unit.

 On 22 November 2015, we integrate Sunbearo, Loki and Ronnie with Montom (a 3 years old sub adult male bear) and Susie (a 4 years old adult female bear).

“Come on! Let’s play, what you are waiting for?” says Loki bites Montom’s neck softly to try to pull him to the mini platform.

Montom sniffs Ronnie as a welcome greeting to his place

Sunbearo gave Montom and Susie an alarming growl

 

   We were surprised that Sunbearo, Ronnie, and Loki had a very fast progress in the integration and fence training with Montom and Susie where they played, foraged, and eat together without aggression. Three weeks after the training, the management team decided to let Sunbearo, Loki, and Ronnie to enter the last stage of training, the enclosure training in forest enclosure.

Forest enclosure training is the practice of the applications given to the sun bears in the previous stages of all training and enrichment such as giving them the second chance to climb, toys to improve their senses of smell, sight, touch and taste, integration training and electric fence training. Before the bears went out to the forest, prepared fruit pieces are placed near the cage or guillotine door to encourage the bears to go out and eat, time by time when the bears are confident with the area, the fruit will then be placed further from the cage to encourage them to go further to the forest. At least two keepers have to take a broom and keep an eye of the bears around the forest enclosure outside perimeter to prevent the bears to climb out from the enclosure because the bears may still not get use to the electric fence and may climb up if they got zapped. The training duration for keepers to watch over is the same as training pen, it may take months to have a success for the bears to touch the ground or even not, but the training is not over as it lasts until the bear can really be able to take care of itself for example searching foods in nature, climbing trees and make nest. This is the last stage for the bears before they can be the candidates to be released back to the wild, thus this training is crucial, giving the bears a second chance to go back to their natural wild habitat in a very large area of natural forest.

Sunbearo, Loki and Ronnie are surprised to see the world outside.

“Hey Loki, I think I’ve found something there, should we try to take a look?” says Ronnie on the ground.

Ronnie in den 10, watching far away to see the world; Loki was too hungry, keep on eating through the way; Sunbearo still don’t seem dare to go out.

 Within two weeks the three bears got their first zap from the electric fence near the dens. They still got zapped because they were introduced to a new environment although they already knew there is electric fence which results an environment shock to them. In the first week, I put their prepared cut fruits near their dens to encourage them to go out and explore the enrichment and environment. When they got used to the area, I then started to put further from the den and deeper to the forest enclosure time by time to encourage them to explore more.

Sunbearo feels more comfortable with the place and starts to explore deeper to the forest

Wow! Loki is eating honey bees, she should be enjoying it to lick some honey on the ram and eat some bees as bonus protein

Ronnie, foraging on the forest floor

Loki was checking the ram to see if there’s any remaining honey left

“What are you doing there, can’t you go away?” said Loki as she was very alert to the movements of the surrounding area when she was foraging

Loki took a quick rest after foraging for so long

Loki wondering around on the A-frame platform build by our volunteers

Sunbearo was wondering how to climb down from the A-frame platform

“Ah! Where’s my food?” said Loki when she saw us but didn’t see any fruits more which we scattered on the forest enclosure

Ronnie was alert to the movements and sound on the surrounding area

  The training on forest enclosure E has some issues not only the bears character and behaviour but also the location itself as it is located near the bear house entrance. Keepers who are not in charge of the training will sometimes do their work outside the bear house which made those sound-sensitive bears to be extra alert, thus whenever there’s a sound, even footsteps of us, the bears which are still not used to it will rush back to their dens.

At 24th December 2015, it was a very special day because guillotine door was ordered to close after the bears had gone outside forest. When the guillotine door was shut down, the bears were in alert and stayed very closed to the door, but after a few minutes, Loki and Ronnie started to do what they did as usual, foraging, eating bugs, ants, and termites. Sunbearo then followed them and went even further, he went to all the areas of the surrounding fence and unluckily got zapped again, and he pulled back but not long and went deep in the forest in search for ants and termites. It was a special day indeed that all the bears start confident explore the environment.

Sunbearo, having his precious coconut on the forest floor

Sunbearo had a coconut found as a reward which we threw inside the forest to encourage the bears to explore more. Oops! Loki (on the right) saw that.

It was the first time ever for a bear to sit on this newly made fire hose hammock, Sunbearo is the one who made the record at 24th December 2015.

Sunbearo was finding his way to climb down from the mini-platform while Loki was having her precious coconut.

Sunbearo finally got his way to climb down after searching for around one minute; Ronnie (on the right) kept on searching and digging for her favorite ants and termites

“What is going on right there?” said Ronnie standing up to explore

Sunbearo had a thought once to climb the tree and he then went to forage again, we were very concern about this because the bears should know how to climb a tree to build a nest in order to be one of the candidates to be released back to the wild.

Loki wants to climb down to join Sunbearo to forage for ants

“My precious coconut water” said Loki drinking up as much as she can

On day (28th December 2015), my supervisor, Thye Lim, had a plan to make some food enrichment to be hanged on trees to encourage them to climb. It is a huge success because Loki finally climbed a tree for the first time in her life and successfully climbed her way to get the fruits as her reward. We were then felt extremely happy that Sunbearo and Ronnie also made their first time climbing a tree on the following day (29th December 2015), not only climbed a tree but several trees in the enclosure.

Loki, first climb !! Sun bear have long and curved claws that help them in climb trees.

Loki climb trees to get at the honey and honey bees in the Pipe Feeder

Sunbearo even decided to climb on the tree to have a better view !

Ronnie playing hide and seek on trees

They find a way to get the tasty food out the bamboo feeder.

Sun bear learns how to climb when they are young.

It was a nice pleasure and glad to see the bears given the second chance to touch the earth for the first time in their whole life. I like to see them exploring the environment, foraging, digging, climbing trees and sometimes stand up to watch further in alert to the surrounding area, these are what bears should do, and I really hope they can have a good progress to become candidates to be released back to the wild.

21 days to remember

Text & Photos by Myles Storey

 

I decided to work as a volunteer at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre because I am considering wildlife biology as a career and I wanted to gain some experience of working in conservation. Before I arrived, I did not know what to expect. I was afraid that I would not be allowed to do much because of my lack of experience. However, after three weeks of volunteering, I was amazed to have had the chance to work and help out in such a noble organization. The three things I enjoyed most about volunteering at the BSBCC were the environment, the people, and the work that we did.

Although I was born and raised in Sabah, I was never really exposed to our beautiful rainforests. While working with BSBCC, every day, I worked in our rainforests and that was truly enchanting. On top of that, I was lucky enough to see many of the rainforest’s wild inhabitants. Some mornings you could see hornbills soaring the sky and some evenings you could see flying foxes flying around the trees.  I saw semi-wild Orang Utans, Pit Vipers, Squirrels, birds, long-tailed and pig-tailed macaques, and a lot of different kinds of insects. With a passion for wildlife photography, I was in heaven. One day, while searching for damaged termite nests, we stopped by at a small waterfall in the middle of the jungle. It was a fun and memorable moment that I got to experience with some of the keepers.

All the porridges ready to be given to the bears

 

Me on kitchen duty. Cutting the bananas and separating them for each pen.

 

Ready to feed the Bears in the outside enclosures! Brought my camera too in case I spot any animals along the way.

 

And of course, cleaning the cages

?Another aspect of working with BSBCC that I am truly grateful for is the people I got to meet. I had the chance to work with some very passionate, knowledgeable and committed people. All the bear keepers are really friendly and fun to be around, but when it comes to work, they can be very serious and hard working. One time, a tree branch fell and broke the fence of an enclosure with seven bears. When we found out, every single keeper and maintenance worker stopped what they were doing and rushed to the scene. I witnessed a great team working together to solve a major problem. They eventually managed to lure the bears back to the bear house and the issue was resolved the next day. I even got to find out about some of the keepers backgrounds and stories of how they started working with the organization. I gained information that I can hopefully use when trying to get into conservation.

?I have to admit, cleaning the cages was a bit icky sometimes. However, I really enjoyed caring for the bears and making their lives more comfortable. When not cleaning cages, we were preparing fruits and vegetables. In the afternoon, we would make ‘toys’ for the bears for an activity called enrichment. The aim of the activity is to give the bears something to do and to occupy their time. We made bamboo feeders, PVC pipe feeders, hammocks, and used food balls. What is even more exciting, you get to see your creation being appreciated by the bears. It is also interesting to see the different attitudes and behaviours of each bear. Although 3 weeks is really not enough time to form any bonds with the bears, I was able to understand some of their characters and form some attachments to certain bears. On my last day, I was lucky enough to witness, Gutuk (one of the oldest bears), step out of his cage for the first time since they got him 3 years ago. It was a great achievement for him, and I could see the delight on everyone’s face.

Koo, Amin and Roger making PVC pipe feeders as enrichment for the Bears.

 

Me, Amin, Lester and Roger stopped by a nice waterfall whiles looking for termite nests to give to the Bears.

Me and Amin testing out a hammock that we set up for Panda (a female Sun Bear)

Bjorn Hala – the volunteer house

 

Sun rise at BSBCC

?I was sad to leave, but happy that I got to contribute in an amazing field and gain experience as an assistant bear keeper. I feel confident to say that this volunteer experience was one of the highlights of my teenage life. I am deeply grateful to the people who made this experience possible and I would definitely recommend anyone who is interested in conservation and wildlife to give this program a go. You won’t be disappointed. Where else are you going to get the opportunity to work with the smallest bears on earth and an extremely committed team in one of the most beautiful rainforest environments?

Getting the Life They Deserve

Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May

Montom (Left) and Susie (Right)

In August BSBCC integrated Montom (a three year old, sub-adult male bear) and Susie (a four year old, adult female bear) into a new group with one adult, male sun bear (Fulung) and four adult, female sun bears (Mary, Debbie, Damai and Ah Bui). Montom showed positive interaction and easily adapted with his new friends. Montom and Fulung enjoyed epic wrestles together. They have spent a great deal of time sniffing, chasing, and rolling on their backs in a very friendly way. Damai is the exception and has shown less interest in play. Montom is a very sociable bear, whereas Susie is an aggressive bear and has displayed stress due to emotional trauma which resulted from her being kept as a pet. ?For the rest of their weeks, they integrated well and began to understand each other better. Debbie is the dominant female bear in this large social group.

Interaction between Montom, Susie with Ah Bui

Ready for integration with other new friends!

The older group was very curious about Montom and Susie.

Interaction between Montom, Susie with Debbie

Interested sniffing from both before Montom put a friendly paw.

Debbie take a rest first after tired of play together all day long!

?

Interaction between Montom, Susie with Fulung

Both of the bears was discovered a new friendship.

Montom fought back and he try to show that he has strength too!

Interaction between Montom, Susie with Mary

There were pawing, wrestling and chasing in a friendly manner.


?Finally the day came for Montom and Susie to feel the forest floor under their paws again. Although at the beginning it was a new environment for Montom and Susie with having to share the new enclosure with other bears, they are still adjusting themselves and getting along with their new mates. The whole group will be sharing one forest enclosure! It is hard to imagine that both of the bears ever thought their life could change. Susie is still aware surroundings and is having the time of her life. It has been a delight to watch Montom and Susie grow into happy and healthy bears.

Finally free! Montom and Susie will settle into their true home – Forest.

We are using method of combining diffrence treats with encouragement, Montom was the first one began stepped out to the forest followed by Susie.

Montom was curious with this outside door.

Susie was pricking up her ears and looking around alertly.

Montom has been goes outside whenever he desires to participate in whatever adventures lay outside the forest.

Montom has been goes outside whenever he desires to participate in whatever adventures lay outside the forest.

Montom has been goes outside whenever he desires to participate in whatever adventures lay outside the forest.

When Susie first entered BSBCC, she was filled with trauma and fear. Despite her painful early years, she has blossomed into a happy bear and acclimatize herself to new surroundings.

When Susie first entered BSBCC, she was filled with trauma and fear. Despite her painful early years, she has blossomed into a happy bear and acclimatize herself to new surroundings.

When Susie first entered BSBCC, she was filled with trauma and fear. Despite her painful early years, she has blossomed into a happy bear and acclimatize herself to new surroundings.

Montom and Susie spent most of thier time wandering about new forest, digging up termites and grubs and foraging, just like they would have in the wild.

Montom and Susie spent most of thier time wandering about new forest, digging up termites and grubs and foraging, just like they would have in the wild.

Montom and Susie spent most of thier time wandering about new forest, digging up termites and grubs and foraging, just like they would have in the wild.

Susie enjoys the freedom to live and explore the forest with companions.

For now they are sharing the forest enclosure with a three years old female adult sun bear, Damai.

Thankfully Montom and Susie are growing stronger and are progressing well. Their natural ability gives hope to our team that in the future they will learn all the skills they need to return to their natural habitat. From being rescued to their time in quarantine to forming relationships with other bears to stepping out into the forest enclosure, giving Montom and Susie a new journey in life. Sun bear rehabilitation is a long process. It changes many sun bears’ lives. Thank you for supporting our work to help Montom, Susie and many orphaned sun bears. Let’s make second chances for them to be free sun bears in the wild.

13 weeks with BSBCC family

Text and Photos by Bellinda Ramond

Hi, I am Bellinda and I am 22 years old. I come all the way from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan to complete my internship here at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. I was greeted by my supervisor, Thye Lim at Sandakan airport. I remember the first time I entered BSBCC’s office. All of the staffs were gathered for their weekly meeting and everyone was staring at me. I felt very nervous but yet excited to start my internship here.

My first day of internship officially started when Thye Lim gave introductions and briefing about BSBCC and their operations. Later, I started to work at the bear house. Roger is one of the bear keepers who gave me short briefing about the works at the bear house and also about the dos and don’ts while at the bear house. Still at my first week, I am still shy to everyone and do not talk a lot… I only talk when I need to. Hahaha! I started to clean the cages at the bear house. It may look easy to clean the cages but actually it requires a lot of energy! It was quite tiring for a first timer like me to clean the cages. Besides cleaning cages, I also have to prepare food for 35 bears. The foods are being separated according to groups. Some bears have special diet too because of their health condition.

My daily essential at BSBCC. You cannot move around without your boots on!

 

Bear food separated accordingly to make it easier during feeding time

 

35 bears, 35 nametags!

I learn how to recognize and remember every bear by remembering their cage location and their groups. After almost 2 months, I can remember all of the bear’s name and their physical appearances that differentiate them from each other! Seeing the bears every day at the bear house also makes me learn every bear’s behaviour. Mister Linggam, who is picky about his food and doesn’t like dirty cage, Om the karate kid who always make noise playing and swinging the wood, Susie the lazy bear who always growl whenever her food is served late, Jelita the bear who sometimes will soak her head inside the water bowl and Fulung who likes to stand up using his hind legs while suckling his fore feet.

The old ladies group in Pen K – Cerah, Jelita & Lawa. Not in picture: Manis, Susie & Kuamut

The old ladies group in Pen K – Cerah, Jelita & Lawa. Not in picture: Manis, Susie & Kuamut

My favourite part while working at the bear house is making enrichments for the bears. I like to see the bears use their senses and strengths when they explore their enrichments! Different type of enrichments provide comforting environment to the bears and also enhance their natural skill behaviour such as foraging and climbing.

Preparing enrichments (Bamboo feeder) with staffs and volunteers

Preparing enrichments (Bamboo feeder) with staffs and volunteers

 

Collecting rambutan at Anton’s house for bear food

Collecting rambutan at Anton’s house for bear food

 

Group picture with BSBCC staffs and volunteers from APE Malaysia after finished setting up the new resting platform for Susie 2 and Montom!

Group picture with BSBCC staffs and volunteers from APE Malaysia after finished setting up the new resting platform for Susie 2 and Montom!

 

My last activity at the bear house: help to set up a new hammock for Julaini, Rungus and Ah Lun!

My last activity at the bear house: help to set up a new hammock for Julaini, Rungus and Ah Lun!

Besides working at the bear house, every interns or volunteers will go up to the observation platform and interact with the visitors. Talking to the visitors is fun! But it’s not fun when a group of macaques is making chaos at the observation platform…

There are many things that I’ve experienced during my time here including bear annual health check, bears integration, outreach programme to Pitas district and Rhythm of Rimba Wildlife Festival 2015!

Observing bear integration: This is how Kudat and Ah Lun integrated for the first time!

Observing bear integration: This is how Kudat and Ah Lun integrated for the first time!

 

ROR!

ROR!

 

Telling the students the 8 bear species in the world

Telling the students the 8 bear species in the world

I am very grateful to have wonderful people around me especially Daniela who is my roommate, my best friend, and my sister! She is the first one that I miss the most after I left BSBCC. Not forgetting, everyone that I met and spend time with every day, I will remember all the jokes and laughter that we shared together! Huge thanks to the Founder & CEO of BSBCC, Mr. Wong Siew Te for giving me this golden opportunity to be part of BSBCC family for the past 3 months and also to my supervisor Thye Lim, thank you for being a great supervisor and guiding me throughout my time at BSBCC. Thank you to everyone who has been part of my journey at BSBCC!

My beautiful roommate, friend, and sister!

My beautiful roommate, friend, and sister!

 

With Ina, during outreach programme at Pitas.

With Ina, during outreach programme at Pitas.

 

Bjorn Hala – my home during the past 13 weeks.

Bjorn Hala – my home during the past 13 weeks.

 

A picture with the 36th bear at BSBCC! Hmm... I wonder what’s his/her name...

A picture with the 36th bear at BSBCC! Hmm… I wonder what’s his/her name…

Thank you so much and see you again! Pounsikou om kopiruba kito kawagu!

16

Tan-Tan’s Enthusiastic and Playful Nature in the Forest

Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May

                                 Tan-Tan making her way through the forest

During the walk in forest, Tan-Tan interacts with the natural environment by experiencing different sights, smells and sounds. She also comes into contact with a variety of trees, plants and animals. As the youngest sun bear cub at the Centre, she is quite a character with a strong sense of humor.

Soon Tan-Tan is going to be 5 months old, she is growing fast!

She is small but she is an incredibly great climber. She really is an arboreal little bear. Tan-Tan loves to climb. There is no limit to how high she will climb. She is skilled at climbing high in the canopy, eating wild food and taking a nap on trees. Tan-Tan has used a large amount of effort in search of invertebrate food items to meet her energy requirements.

Tan-Tan immediately explore her new home by climbing the trees

 

Tan-Tan climbs her FIRST tree!

Tan-Tan was given the chance to experience one of life’s simple pleasures

This is what pure joy looks like!!

A young and active bear full of enthusiasm

 

Truly amazing – she is well adapt for arboreal living and is excellent climber that                                                               love spending time in trees.

She likes to spend much of her time top of the tree canopy

She tends to climb high to find her preferred foods

Finally learning what is means to be free in forest

Midday nap…

A quick snooze after tired of foraging

Tan-Tan surprised us and broke the record that at only 4 months old she was able to build her first tree nest at 8 meters off the ground! The nest is built entirely from green leaves and branches, but it is not completely done. We observed that she tried to test and sit on the comfortable nest. She took a nap and laid back in her newly built nest. It was great to see that Tan-Tan still has the instinct to build a nest. She will surely develop the nest-building skill.

Being the youngest bear at the Centre, she shows a great skills at climbing                                                               tree and nest building !

Sun bears are omnivorous and she will eat anything edible that she can find in the forest. Beetles, termites and other forest insects are some of the sun bears’ favorite food sources. A sun bear’s sense of smell is tremendous, and because of this it enables Tan-Tan to locate where the insects are! Tan-Tan eats insects and uses her powerful small claws to break into decayed woods to get easy access to them. She has a long, narrow tongue which is perfectly suited for getting at honey and insects inside trees.

She loves digging decayed wood keep her busy all the time

She is digging for termites and sniffing out bees nests

Tan-Tan spend every walking moment digging, puliing, tearing at everything –                                                           just like a wild bear

She stick her long tongue out after wake up from a long nap

One special thing we observed from Tan-Tan during a forest walk was when she was digging soil from the trees, she vocalized by making a suckle sound. Sun bear cubs will suckle to seek comfort. If Tan-Tan’s mother was around, she would nurse Tan-Tan. Tan-Tan probably thought her mother was inside the tree hollow or den. We will never know exactly what happened, but we do know her mother would have been unlikely to abandon her cub so easily. Mothers teach their cubs everything they need to know in the forest including what foods they can eat, how to avoid predators, resting in the same tree, travelling with her and how to build a sleeping nest. All are must needed skills for Tan-Tan to survive in the wild.

Female sun bears den in the hollowed tree trunk or cavities of huge trees in the forest when they give birth and nurse their baby

Sleepy face….

Tan-Tan is happy, healthy and enjoys her free life at BSBCC. It is good that Tan-Tan still has her natural instinct behavior which we can all learn from her. As Tan-Tan becomes a skilled climber, nest builder and forager, we hope she will be a likely candidate to release into the wild. She deserves better, we need to do all we can to help her thrive!

Tan-Tan, enjoying the true forest!!

Sun Bears Integration: Kudat & Julaini, Rungus, Ah Lun, Panda, Chin

Text by Bellinda Raymond (Intern Student)

Photos by: BSBCC

Kudat is a 7 years old adult male sun bear, who was named after a district in the northern part of Sabah. Before he was sent to Kudat district, he came originally from Tawau district. Kudat was kept as a display in a private mini zoo together with a female sun bear named Panda. At the private mini zoo, both Kudat and Panda were on display as ‘black panda’. Later, they were surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department and BSBCC in 2013. At BSBCC, Kudat enjoy his new environment and began to explore the forest around him.

Kudat’s last friend was Panda which is in year 2013. Although sun bear is a solitary animal when they are in the wild, BSBCC encouraged a healthy positive social behaviour among the bears at the centre. At BSBCC, sun bears are integrated according to their body size, personality and age group. Bears integration is encouraged in this centre to bring out the positive behaviour development among the bears such as defensive skills and learning from each other through socializing. The number of cages in the bear house is very limited too where for now it only can accommodate up to 40 bears. Therefore, integration is also one of the ways to save up space in the bear house where the bears are integrated so that they can be in groups.

The first step in integration is integrating the bears cage by cage. The bears will start to sniff around their new environment especially when there is a new bear next to their cage. After that, integration body contact will be carried out where the sliding door between the two cages will be opened and the bears will start to meet each other.

In July 2015, Kudat started to be integrated to a group consisting Julaini, Rungus, Ah Lun, Panda and Chin. Kudat is integrated one by one from the group before they can be in one big group together. The integration of Kudat started off with the bear that is the dominant in the group. Kudat is integrated with Ah Lun first. When Kudat placed next to Ah Lun’s cage, Kudat started to become curious and keep sniffing around. He climbed the cage to have a peek of the bear next to his cage. As soon as the sliding door is opened, Ah Lun went into Kudat’s cage first. When Kudat and Ah Lun met, they took some time to get to know to each other. After they feel confident about each other, they started to play with each other.

Kudat and Ah Lun met for the first time!

After Ah Lun, Kudat is introduced to Chin. When she met Kudat, she was curious at first. Kudat and Chin sniff around their new environment and even sniff at each other.

Kudat standing up with his hind legs while looking at Chin, which is new to him

Kudat is welcoming Chin as his new friend when they first met

Kudat is sniffing his new friend before starts to play

Besides Ah Lun and Chin, Kudat is also introduced to Julaini, a male sun bear who has the same age with him. Kudat is friendly to Julaini when both of them met each other. Both Kudat and Julaini immediately play when they met! The way they play is a bit aggressive compared to Ah Lun and Chin. Maybe it is just a way of male sun bears play with each other? Kudat and Julaini played nonstop and continue to wrestle.

Kudat wrestling with Julaini!

Never tired of playing

It looks like Julaini is not giving up to Kudat!

Oh no… guess that Julaini is tired already but Kudat still want to continue wrestling

Finally, Kudat is reintroduced to his long lost friend, Panda! The integration between Kudat and Panda does not make us worry when they were integrated because Kudat and Panda are best friends!

After being separated for 2 years, Kudat is happy to meet his best friend again!

Kudat is pushing Panda behind using his strong body!

Rungus is the last bear that being introduced to Kudat. Amazingly, Kudat also shows positive reaction to Rungus when they were integrated. Like the other bears in the group, Kudat played with Rungus too! Rungus is the female bear in the group that is most interested to Kudat and they played together and ignored the other bears!

Kudat played with Rungus while Chin watch them playing

The integration between Kudat and all the bears showed positive integration except for Chin. When Kudat and Chin were integrated earlier, they played in a friendly manner. However, after some time Kudat and Chin started to become aggressive and they fighted. Kudat and Chin were then separated by cages. We tried to integrate Kudat and Chin again, but there are still aggressions occurred between them. This means that the integration between Kudat and Chin is negative. We concluded and decided that Kudat and Chin cannot be integrated to each other. Despite this, Kudat’s integration with Julaini, Rungus, Ah Lun and Panda shows positive result.

Kudat’s integration with the other bears is still on going. Hopefully, their integration can be successful in the end. When the integration is successful, Kudat, Julaini, Rungus, Ah Lun and Panda will be in one group and will step into the forest together.

Unforgettable Memories at BSBCC

Text by Leonardo Jainih

Photo by Leonardo Jainih and BSBCC

Hey, my name is Leonardo Jainih and I am now 22 years old. I am here as an internship student from University Malaysia Sabah. First and foremost, I am truly grateful as i was accepted to work and gain knowledges at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). This is a life time opportunity where not anyone can just come and work here. I never regretted that I choose BSBCC to finish my three months internship and this centre is highly recomended to all animal lover out there. So, this unforgettable experience start with fetch by my supervisor, Mr. Tee Thye Lim at the airport and slowly introduced to BSBCC’s founder, Mr. Wong Siew Te and other staffs. After I was explained clearly about the rules and regulations of BSBCC, me and other internship students were brought to explore the surrounding areas of BSBCC from  visitors centre to outside perimeter of forest enclosure. Finally, the end of day, we arrived at the Center’s volunteer house called Bjorn Hala.

Next day, we started working at 8 o’clock in the morning and we were having our induction with the bear keeper, Mr. Roger about the rules and routines at the bear house. Bear house is divided into two areas which are first and second bear house. Every single bear has their own name and usually they got the name either from their previous owner or where the bear was found. At the same time, bear keeper taught us how to clean their cages.

Cleaning bear’s enclosure at bear house one

One of the most interesting and fun thing during cleaning the cages is that you are get the chance to observe yourself in a closer distance their behaviour in the den which is pretty cool. For example, cute little Mary will cling onto the cage waiting patiently for us to feed her, Mamatai the lowered bear struggling to reach her food on top of her cage, Fulung always standing with his two hind leg and Damai whom love to climb her favourite tree whenever she got the chance to be in forest enclosure. On the other hand, you will also continously watched and observed by the bear next to the cage that you were cleaning. They will curiously keep on watching you with the innocent look on their face doing the cleaning but some will just ignored you and continue playing their enrichments.

Working in bear house was never a waste of time as they are so many thing to do other than cleaning cages. For instance, in the morning, preparing food such as plain porridges and fruits for the bear was one of the top prioities as the cleanlinnes in kitchen has to be maintained. Moreover, making enrichments for the bear also ways to minimize stress and abnormal behaviour such as continous pacing. Enrichments includes dried leaves, bamboo feeder, nest balls, wood swing, fire hose hammock and more.

Cut long bamboo into smaller pieces

In making of bamboo feeder with BSBCC staffs

Putting wood swing inside the bear cage

In making of nest balls with BSBCC staffs

Moreover, I was also assigned to become intepreter at the observation platform where I get to talk and explain to the visitors about our centre and the bears. This assignment given actually helps to improve our communication skills and public speaking too. This is where we get to deliver knowledges that we have learned at Centre confidently and get our facts right to the visitors.

Observation platform with visitors

Another routine that I enjoy very much is outdoor feeding where we will usually follow our senior bear keeper, Mr. David to come along with him to feed the bears at the Pen A, B, C, D, F and K with fruits such as papaya, watermelon and banana. Along the way, we scattered the fruits inside the forest enclosures to allow the bears to use their sense of smell to search for the fruits. Here we get to see the bears’s eating behaviour where they will not eat the green part/outer layer of watermelon, didn’t eat the banana peel or the skin on any other fruit. Some are willing to climb all the way down to get their foods as they don’t want to miss their food and stolen by other bears or macaques.

Outdoor feeding at Pen D

Outdoor feeding at Pen C

Bears at Pen D enjoying their foods

Anymore foods for me?!

There is one week that we were all so busy as medical check up was conducted to 5 different bears. We were helped by the Wildlife Rescue Unit and an expert veterinarian, Dr. Sandy during the health check. One of them is Linggam, an adult male sun bear which is currently the heaviest bear among all of our rescued bear with 61kg. I was given an opportunity to take part in his health check and went to clinic at Mile 8, Sandakan for his x-ray appointment.

BSBCC was welcomed to set up an education booth display for an event organized by the Sabah State Computer Service Department at the Sabah Hotel, Sandakan. This event was launched by Y.B Tuan Charles Pang Su Pin, ADUN N44 Karamunting. I was asked to join this education booth to educate the participants and spread the word to them more about sun bears the smallest bear in the world.

Educate the public more about sun bear

Last but not least, my warmest regards goes out to all the staff in BSBCC who have been helpful and supportive in many ways. Every single of you has brought many laughter and put a smile on my face everyday which indirectly lessen my burden and hardship as well as standing by me through thick and thin. Every minutes spent together is special and will be cherished.

My hope is that one day they will confidently walked out and be ready for the wild forest but this is not an easy task. It really requires a huge amount of resources if it is to be done successfully. Therefore, it is very important to help them to remember how to be bears again so that they can survived in the wild without our help.

 

 

Bamboo building and bears

Text and Photos By Jenny Cantlay

How does a British veterinary surgeon find herself in East Malaysia making enrichment activities from bamboo for the world’s smallest bear species? A very good question and the answer is from her joining the volunteer programme at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, coordinated by Ape Malaysia.

I had the opportunity to live in Kuala Lumpur for almost three years before moving to China in 2014. As a wildlife enthusiast, I travelled to Sabah and visited the BSBCC at Sepilok last year. Although the visitor centre had only been open a few months, I was very impressed with their mission to rehabilitate sun bears rescued from captivity as pets. I had watched these small but agile bears clawing their way into logs to feast on termites and climbing up trees in the forest enclosure from the visitor platform. I became curious to know more about this engaging tropical bear species and its role in the forest ecosystem.

My interest in the rehabilitation and conservation of sun bears is both professional and personal. My veterinary training and postgraduate qualification in wildlife conservation meant that I was keen to understand about the management, health and welfare aspects of caring for these rescued bears. Despite numerous wildlife watching trips throughout Malaysia, I had never seen a sun bear until I visited the BSBCC. My interest in Malaysian wildlife meant I understood that their populations in the wild have dramatically declined in recent decades due to the loss of forest habitat from logging and palm oil plantations, in addition to the poaching of bears for pets and to supply the wild meat trade. Therefore, I wanted to learn more about this unique bear and how I could assist the BSBCC in their conservation efforts.

One year later, I returned to the BSBCC as a volunteer, no longer a tourist. On meeting the enthusiastic Ape Malaysia coordinators, Harith and Vicki, who would assist my involvement in the programme, I knew we would get along very well due to our shared love of Malaysian food and wildlife! My first day was spent being introduced to the centre and its staff, particularly the bear keepers with whom I would be spending the most time. I soon realised that although the sun bears may look cute, they have formidable claws and sharp canine teeth, so close encounters with them would be best avoided!

I was enthusiastic to start my work at the bear house and meet the individual animals for myself. The friendly team of five keepers told me that they could recognise each of them from their unique chest mark and facial characteristics. I hoped eventually I would be able to identify some of the individual bears too. After a few days of observing them in their enclosures I started to notice their particular personalities and habits. I liked watching the bold, energetic male called Fulung play-fighting with his mates and also seeing how Mary’s inquisitive nature made up for her small, underdeveloped stature.  One of my favourite bears was one of the largest males called Linggam, who could often be found relaxing upside-down in his nesting basket with his limbs stretched out after his breakfast of rice porridge.

My involvement in the daily routine of preparing food, feeding the bears and cleaning out the indoor enclosures meant that I had plenty of opportunity to watch their activities and they seemed to be interested to see what I was doing too. Their long curved claws and strong forelimbs enabled them to easily scale up the bars to reach the fruit we had thrown on top of the enclosure. Despite their physical strength, they showed surprising dexterity when unpeeling rambutans or bananas to eat the fruit inside. They also greatly enjoyed their twice-daily rice porridge feeding and usually slurped it down in a couple of minutes. The daily dietary intake of each bear was carefully calculated based upon his or her weight and age, with some individuals having specific dietary requirements related to their health status, which was often due to their malnourishment whilst kept as pets. In the wild, sun bears consume a great variety of fruits depending upon the particular fruiting season and also eat huge quantities of insects, such as termites, ants, beetles and larvae. The keepers collected termite nests and logs from the forest and brought them into the indoor enclosures to stimulate their foraging behaviour. I particularly enjoyed walking to the forest enclosures to scatter fruit over the fence for the bears to find amongst the vegetation. After foraging, they would often climb up the trees to digest their food whilst lying in the branches. Giving the bears freedom to explore the forest in the safety of the enclosures teaches them the skills necessary for survival, since their release back into the wild is the ultimate goal for many of them. It was fantastic to see how the lives of these captive bears had been dramatically improved by the efforts of BSBCC.

Another important aspect of the volunteer programme was making enrichment activities to stimulate the sun bears in their captive environment. A personal highlight for me was designing and making a hanging bamboo puzzle feeder, which encouraged the bear to climb up and explore the sections of bamboo, filled with forest vegetation and chopped banana. We placed one into Panda’s enclosure and within ten minutes she had gone up to grab some plants to eat and then spent the next twenty-four hours emptying it all out. Afterwards, I wrote an enrichment record about the activity so that its design and effectiveness could be assessed. This enabled Rodger the keeper to construct two more, but he modified the hanging method for Ronnie and Sigalung who then delighted in swinging on the bamboo before breaking it apart to eat the contents. It was highly satisfying as a volunteer to know that I had contributed to improving the welfare of the bears.

During my second week, our construction abilities were truly tested in the creation of a wooden resting platform for Montom and Susie 2. I certainly lacked the practical skills of using saw, drill and spanner, much to the amusement of the keepers who knew exactly what to do. Thankfully the expertise of the team meant it was built and installed within four days.  Would the bears be impressed with our efforts? Once it was in the enclosure, Montom immediately went in to sniff the new object out, as it smelt of all the humans who had sweated over its construction. Its stability and strength were tested when he climbed on top of it and walked around. Within a short time, he started chewing at the wood, even pulling some chunks off, since sun bears also like to investigate things with their mouths.  When the keepers checked up on the platform the following morning, one plank had already been completely ripped off. We concluded that some modifications in platform design would be necessary to increase its durability and this event gave me further respect for the strength of these bears.

It is impossible for me to write about all the highlights of my volunteering experience, as there were so many. The busy daily routine meant that my two weeks passed by far too quickly. Overall, I was very impressed with the knowledge, dedication and commitment of the BSBCC staff who welcomed me in to their team. The Ape Malaysia facilitators also helped me to understand more about developing enrichment activities and encouraged me to think like a bear when making them.  Who knows when my creative use of bamboo may be needed again!

I am certain that this well-organised rehabilitation process will enable many of these sun bears the opportunity of returning to the wild. The conservation work of BSBCC offers hope for the future of sun bears in Malaysia. So why not volunteer to make your own contribution to their work.

Terima kasih BSBCC and Ape Malaysia!