Specialties of the Sun Bear

Text and Photos by Seng Yen Wah

There are no words that can tell how much I love to walk in the forest in the sun.

There are no words that can tell how much I love to walk in the forest in the sun.

Every bear carries different baggage arriving to BSBCC. But they learn everything necessary from the beginning in the forest enclosure with their friends.

In nature, sun bear cubs stay with their mothers until they two to three years old. When people take cubs away from their mothers, they also take away their chance of learning the survival skills from their mothers as well. If people only keep them as a pet in a small cage, they can never learn what they need to survive in the wild. This is the reason why our integration program becomes so important for the bears.

The best enrichment for a bear is another bear. When they spend their time with their friends, they can learn relevant skills from them. Besides that, socialization can help to reduce bears stereotypical behavior. The forest enclosure provides them with a natural environment and enough space where they can explore with lots of activities, such as foraging, digging, climbing and play fight with each other.

Loki, you see I found a watermelon here and lots of delicious fruits. –Sunbearo

Loki, you see I found a watermelon here and lots of delicious fruits. –Sunbearo

You got one and I got one too.

You got one and I got one too.

There is no one to disturb our nap time.

There is no one to disturb our nap time.

Sun bears are the smallest bears among the bear species. But, they have the longest tongue amongst their peers. Their tongue is about 25cm to 30cm long. They not only use their long tongue to lick the honey out of bee nests, but also eat small insects found in decayed wood, such as ants and termites. By using their long tongue, they can reach the deep inside of bee nests or decayed wood to get themselves lots of yummy treats.

Sun bears have a keen olfactory sense. In order to encourage them to utilize their sense of smell, food is scattered around in the forest enclosures by bear keepers. This will encourage them to do more foraging. In the forest enclosure, they can also forage for the small insects.

Let me use my sense of smell to find the small insects for my yummy snack.

Let me use my sense of smell to find the small insects for my yummy snack.

I think I found a small insect in the dead wood.

I think I found a small insect in the dead wood.

Sun bears have very strong canines and sharp claws. They are the excellent climbers. With the help of their curved shape claws, the can climb up trees reaching to 60m heights. Sun bears are the arboreal animals. They climb up on trees for sunbathing and resting. Besides that, there are using their claws for tearing apart the dead wood to get their important source of protein, the small insects as well.

These leaves smell good!!

These leaves smell good!!

Opps, my belly.

Opps, my belly.

Let me do some exercise.

Let me do some exercise.

Should I climb up higher?

Should I climb up higher?

I think I need to take a rest first.

I think I need to take a rest first.

You see how I’m using my canines to bite on the tree branch.

You see how I’m using my canines to bite on the tree branch.

I got busy foraging here.

I got busy foraging here.

Sun bears are a forest dependent species. The expertise of sun bears in their habitat makes them survive in the wild. However, poaching issues are still threatening their survival even though sun bears are a totally protected species under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment of 1997. Poachers are continuously hunting them illegally for consumption, medicine or decorative purposes. Please save the sun bears. They deserve to stay in the wild free and happy. Thank you!

Please save the sun bears.

Please save the sun bears.

Unforgetful Memories with Sun Bears

Text by Fetysella Olyndra Juli

Photo by Chiew Lin May

 

            My name is Fetysella Olyndra Juli, I’m 22 years old and I am originally from Sabah, Malaysia. I am actually a practical student from Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, studying Biological Sciences and this year I am doing my internship at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC).

            At first, BSBCC was my first choice when applying for internship place. Therefore, I was very delighted when I received an email, staying that there will be phone call interview for placement at BSBCC. I was introduced to BSBCC by my close senior from same university. She recommended this place because BSBCC do welcome students to do their internship here. This encourages me to go to BSBCC. Besides that, I never know that there is a rehabilitation centre in Malaysia for sun bears, which located in Sepilok, Sabah. By applying here, this will allow me to get to know more about the least known species in Malaysia, which is sun bears.

            During my first day at Bear House in BSBCC, I was given an induction by co-supervisor Chiew Lin May about the rules and regulations, and what kind of work I will be doing at Bear House as well as the enrichments project. I was also assigned with one of the bear keeper, Roger, as my buddy and was greeted by the Bear House staffs, which they are very friendly and kind enough to show me around and teach me to do various kinds of activities. Those who are working at Bear House will be following the daily scheduled prepared by the staff. There are duties such as food preparation in kitchen, feeding session, Bear House cage cleaning and in afternoon, sometimes we will be working on enrichments, collecting banana leaves and bamboo, searching for dried leaves and termites nest and much more.

Roger explaining about my first enrichment, hanging bamboo feeder.

Roger explaining about my first enrichment, hanging bamboo feeder.

Collecting and trying to figure out which bamboo parts need to cut from nearby place at Sepilok.

Collecting and trying to figure out which bamboo parts need to cut from nearby place at Sepilok.

We are helping the Bear House staff collecting bamboo at Sepilok.

We are helping the Bear House staff collecting bamboo at Sepilok.

            During my first week in Bear House, it is very tiring doing the works at Bear House because it required lots of stamina and energy, but after few weeks, I kind a used to the duties, especially when cleaning the bear cages. In afternoon, collecting bamboo was the hardest part for me because it requires me to use a lot of stamina and strength to carry the bamboo from another place to Bear House. However, it was a lot of fun because this is new to me and being able to do this has taught me about team work.

We are preparing to carry the bamboo back to Bear House for enrichment making.

We are preparing to carry the bamboo back to Bear House for enrichment making.

            I got know most of the bears based on their face expressions and distinctive physical body. However, I was having quite a hard time recognizing the juveniles bear due to their looks was almost the same to me and by the way, my favorite bear is Bermuda. Bermuda is the dominant male bear and even though he known to be vicious by the staffs, his silly appearance captures my attention despite of his nature. Some of the bear have their own personalities which make it possible and easier for me to create enrichment for specific bear.

            During my internship here, I also assists Lin May doing Integration for Along, Simone and Kudat as well as Fence Training for both Along and Simone. Integration is important to encourage the bears to develop positive behavior when interact with others, as well as learning skills from each other in preparation to go out to forest enclosure together. During my last week of internship, I have the opportunity to joined my supervisor, Thye Lim attending a community talk at Pitas, entitled ‘Bengkel Pengurusan Sumber Secara Lestari Berasaskan Komuniti’. Through this talk, I gained a lot of information in which how they are related with the conservation issues.

My supervisor, Thye Lim getting ready to give his presentation about Sun Bears.

My supervisor, Thye Lim getting ready to give his presentation about Sun Bears.

                For me 84 days of internship days at BSBCC is a very short period. I’m very grateful to be part of the team in helping the staffs to take care the sun bears. I wish to learn more about the bears and the company itself. Last but not least, I would like to wish good luck to Mr Wong Siew Te and the Bear Care Team for their continuous effort in rehabilitating sun bears. Thank you so much again for all the memories and opportunities. May God bless you guys always.

Cheers,
Fetysella Olyndra Juli

2 weeks of Incredible Voluntary Experience, Definitely Unforgettable

Text by Khushalinie Kalayarasu
Photos by BSBCC

My name is Khushalinie Kalayarasu, people call me Khusha most of the time. It has definitely been a privilege to be given the opportunity to volunteer in the BSBCC. A remarkable experience it was and I have no regrets. In the hopes of becoming a veterinarian one day, this experience has indeed given me the knowledge and built up awareness in keeping the wildlife as safe and competent as possible for all animals to survive.

I certainly have to thank all the people that are working there. They have guided me through this journey with such compassion. I was mesmerized by their dedication towards the bears and it makes every second more worth than it already is. Seeing them show the same amount of dedication every single day has made my experience more memorable. They care so much about these bears and it leaves me felling in awe. Not only that being said, they were the same crew that has enlightened me with the knowledge about the sun bears behaviour and characteristics.

I believe that we are truly lucky to have these sun bears being a part of our wildlife habitat and the thought of them being endangered is very devastating. It took me by complete shock when I heard about how people would capture and keep sun bears for their own benefit. Poaching and illegal hunting should be taken under serious consideration as these wildlife animals are losing their habitat due to human being’s selfishness. These bears are one of a kind and should be cherished, not tortured.

These past two weeks has been an experience to never forget. Being a part of such a welcoming team and helping the bears to heal and grow in their natural habitat the best way possible was indeed the cherry on top of this experience. I would be part of their enrichment making process in order to challenge the bears hence preparing food for them. It is definitely physically challenging but I believe that this experience is truly worth it. Gaining the knowledge about sun bears have opened my eyes to the importance of the wildlife community.

My buddy and I working on the bamboo

Banana Leaves for the bears

working togetherrrrr !!

Given a second opportunity, I would embrace this amazing experience once again and share it with the world. Knowing sun bears are a vulnerable species, they deserved to be loved and taken care of. I really do hope that all of us can give back what has been taken from Mother Nature. The freedom of animals, the majestic forest and the love of an unborn bear. Said threatened sun bears should be loved equally as any other animals. This experience does more than opening my eyes to the actual world.

Once again, I would just like to thank everyone that had stood by me throughout this journey. Thank you for the opportunity, knowledge and accepting me with open arms.

Yours truly,
Khusha

Big Bear Hugs xx

The Life of Freedom is Perfect for Dodop

Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May

In Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) we have had a busy month with big changes for the rescue sun bear. Some introduced and meet new bear friends, give them environment which is as close as possible to life in the wild, given regular environmental enrichment to stimulate their natural bear behaviour, some going through fence training before out to forest enclosure and some learning and reintroduce to forest environment, some explore in the wild.

Dodop had been kept illegally as house pet by residents in Singgaron village, Ranau district Sabah who had spent over one year in the smallest cage we had ever seen. She was found missing all four milk canines before she been rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department.

Dodop has much tame or attach to human who have been kept for long periods in captivity. She need special attention during her rehabilitation process but her wounds from being kept as pet have healed well, she shows great progress, gaining weight, no more cry or growling, four permanent canines is growing and…

growing and she love play with a nine months old female sun bear cub, Wawa. They seems have a wonderful relationship.

Next rehabilitation phase for Dodop is taking her out for walks in the forest. Having been without her mother since she was a tiny cub, Dodop has never been taught the survival skills she will need to survive in the wild. Now she will have to learn from her surrogate mother.

We are delighted that on August 14th, 2016 once the quarantine door was opened, Dodop makes a speedy getaway!

Dodop was not sure at first that she step on the forest soil, she spent her first moments of freedom just digs soil,

digs dead log and

sniff forest air.

Then her surrogate mother carried her to put her on tree which reintroduce or encourage her to climbing to improve Dodop’s mobility. She had no clue what is these big tree is all about…

but slowly she realized there were so many tall trees around her.

Real forest!

Dodop is bright and curious always.

She contact with variety of plants, trees and animal (insects, long-tailed macaques and pig- tailed macaques).

Dodop quick to settle in and started exploring environment.

Everytimes walk her in the forest, she immediately started to look for wild food first by digging it. She is quite curious and getting deep into it.

Dodop sense is tremendous, enabling her to locate termite nests! She will expose the termite nests with her long claws and lick out by using superb long tongue.

She has been eating many kinds of foods such as termites, beetle larvae, snail and earthworms.

Sun bears are arboreal living and good in tree climbers. They climb trees to get honey in the bee hives. Dodop is no exception as well.

She will climb high trees and looks though as she knows everything here!

She enjoys sunbathing on trees. She feel the cool breeze.

Sometimes Dodop will interacting more with her surrogate mother. She will play fight and learn defense skills or suckle on surrogate mother shoulder to seek comfort and feel safe being with her mother. This behavior seen in the wild where the baby will suckling for mother’s milk make the baby feel comfort and safe.

Dodop will still being guided by her surrogate mother and develop, master her forest skills she needs to become independent.

Our bear team will monitors Dodops’ behavioural development is her new home. We love learning about sun bears and have been inspired by these magnificent creatures.

Watching beautiful freedom dash about Dodop life, you will have no idea that this is the sun bear life should be!

As the sun bear cub at the Centre, Dodop is quite a character with a strong sense of nature with beautiful yellow sun bear crescent chest mark.

She is free and happy to put her old trauma life behind her.

Dodop has learnt two lessons at an early age – that is in indeed a forest out there and that there really is no place like forest home! She has never stop try and appreciate it! Please help us stop the illegal keeping and exploitation of sun bears. Sun bears belong in the wild and should not be kept as pets!

 

168 memorable days in BSBCC

Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by BSBCC

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre provided me a really good opportunity for my internship in order to complete my study in Universiti Malaysia Sabah. When people asked me, what are you doing in BSBCC? Why are you helps to clean the cages in everyday? Cleaning cages is the basic but important animal husbandry for the sun bear. Because a clean cage can helps to decrease the chances for them to get sick. In the early morning, the man power of bear care team will divide into three which are bear house 1, bear house 2 and kitchen. If you assign in the kitchen, prepare the food for all the bears in the day will be your task.

Afternoon is the time for us to make enrichment for the bears. Enrichment, actually is a toy for the bears but these toy is helps to encourage the bears to utilize their own strength. You can have a million of creative way to build an enrichment for the bears but bare in mind, animal safety always comes first.

APE volunteer, Kim and Viktoria with me and bear keeper, Roger were preparing ‘fire hose pocket’ to the bears. Within the fire hose pocket, we put a layer of peanut butter and put some dog biscuit to encourage the bears to utilize their tongue to get the foods inside.

APE volunteers and I were preparing egg carton. Egg carton have the same concept with the Sandwich. In between the egg carton, we put some treats like bananas, honey and ginger leaves. And hence, they can spend some times to get the foods in between the egg carton that tied hardly by ropes.

Ice block is an ice cream for the bears because ice block can helps to relieve their heat in the hot weather. APE volunteer, Sabine and I were preparing the fruits for making ice block.

Other than woods, bamboos are one of the general materials for making enrichment to the bears. And hence, we collect the bamboos and cut it into smaller pieces for different enrichment purpose such as bamboo feeder and many more.

When there is a good weather in the day, we went out from BSBCC and collect the dry leaves at the road side. Dry leaves are used to provide a dry cage for the bears. So the bears can enjoy a natural environment even they stayed inside the cages.

Staircase platform is an enrichment that made by my bear keeper buddy, Mizuno and I for Sigalung, 8 years old male bear. This staircase platform can provide him a resting place and encourage him to do more climbing.

I like this enrichment – Sigalung.

BSBCC is using the terms of conservation which covers with animal welfare, rehabilitation, education and research. Integration, fence training and release back to the forest enclosure are included in rehabilitation. One of the rehabilitation purpose is provides to the bears have a second chance to back to the forest along with learning and practicing natural survival skills. Within these six months, I got the chance to take part on helping in fence training and release Kala, Boboi, Kitud and TanTan to the forest enclosure, Pen D and Pen C. Besides that, they were integrated with sub-adult group, Sunbearo, Loki, Ronnie Girl, Momtom, Susie2 and Damai. And now, Mary joined them as well. There are 40 bears in BSBCC with different history. But, most of them were kept as pet before. They were kept in a small cage without experienced the real forest. How could their home become a strange place for them?  So, rehabilitation takes time for them to adapt the new environment and confront their traumatic early life.

 

Kala underwent fence training in training pen.

Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan were played fight in training pen.

Say Hi from Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan

Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan were integrated well with sub-adult group, Sunbearo, Loki, Ronnie Girl, Momtom, Damai, Susie2 and Kala.

Finally, Kala touched on the ground in the forest enclosure.

This is the way how Kala enjoy herself in forest enclosure with the beautiful sunlight.

The different ways of Tan Tan playing on a tree.

I had learnt a lot in BSBCC. And here, I would like to thank you, all the bear care team member, Thye Lim, Lin May, Azzry, Lester, Roger, David, Ronny, Tommy, Andy and my bear keeper buddy, Mizuno to guide me, share their knowledge and experience with me along my internship at BSBCC. They always make my day and lots of joy and laughter in every moment I spent in BSBCC. Thanks for all the help and taking care of me.

 

 

My time at BSBCC

Text and Photos by Estee Lim Siew Teow

Sun bear is not a pet, not for cuddle nor taking any close up photo with … this is the only way to take photo with sun bear  like below.

I was ex volunteer for BSBCC four years ago …prior that I had no idea about sun bear this type of species, and their existing in Borneo as well , like many other Malaysian !!

I was introduced to BSBCC and to Mr Wong by my old classmate, we came to this centre together as volunteers for two weeks ! At that time there was only four staff in BSBCC, including Mr Wong, plus few volunteers and 20 sun bears. To be honest I had great time and experience working at the Bears house, on the same time came to know more about sun bears and other wildlife in Borneo !!

Four years later (2016) I came to visit to BSBCC and be one of the volunteers again during my six months sabbatical leave,  I have witnessed a huge transformation of BSBCC before and after it open to public. The centre even have second viewing platform, what an exciting news !! Congratulation to Mr Wong and good job to the A team.

Proud to be part of the A team, even only for more than one week volunteering at the BSBCC.

The first viewing platform

Ariel walkway to 2nd platform …me with the spotting camera !! So cool ….

 

This time I was not involved in Bear house to care for sun bears, coz they had enough volunteers in the bear house and I was here only for  short period !! On the other hand, it was a good sign to show that more young people are involving in voluntary work at BSBCC.

I was allocated to education team with Gloria , Jeremy and Inna …All of them are friendly, nice and helpful !!! Learning a lot during the time at the viewing platform when they talked to people about the individual sun bear and the centre.

Inna and the kids from kindergarten

I felt comfortable to answering questions for the visitors after few times I was at the viewing platform with Gloria and Inna. I also managed to operate the spotting camera and help visitors to take closed up photos of sun bears.

Sun bear was resting at the tree. Photo was taken through spotting camera.

Sun bear was climbing the tree. Photo taken at the 1st viewing platform

Involving in the project of the 3 difference positions of the sun bear sculptures …Hopefully for my next visit 4 years later I can see the end result !!!

Involving in the project of the 3 difference positions of the sun bear sculptures …Hopefully for my next visit 4 years later I can see the end result !!!

Big and miniatures sun bears sculptures. So cute …..Get ready the miniature paper craft sun bear for ROR festival.

I was lucky to be able to involve in the 3rd year ROR festival (Borneo Rhythms of Rimba Wildlife Festival). My first time to teach people how to make paper craft …. first craft to make a sun bear !

D.I.Y paper craft sun bear and painting mask done by the visitors at ROR festival ….. nice to chit chat with the young and adult visitors ! Quite a good response of making DIY hand craft sun bear from the adult and teenagers.

ROR festival 20/8 to 21/8/2016

Fun at ROR festival….

Selfies….everyone smile !

Dancing in the rain …..I was just watching only.

My favourite little girl ….

First couple who made the paper craft sun bears …..they enjoyed this activity.

Helping Inna at the ROR festival during the film showing for the kids from Chinese kindergarten and their parents….. Explaining to some of the kids in Chinese !!!

Helping Inna at the ROR festival during the film showing for the kids from Chinese kindergarten and their parents….. Explaining to some of the kids in Chinese !!!

Me and Gloria at RDC in the evening….waiting for the red giant flying squirrel. At last I saw it flying …

Morning view at Kinabatangan river

In front of Gomantong Cave

During my volunteering time at BSBCC, I managed to make a 2 day one night trip to Kinabatangan river and Gomantong cave on my day off, to see the wildlife and back to nature.

Time flies my short period volunteering time at BSBCC end quickly…I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to Mr Wong and his team members for having me at BSBCC.

I hope I will come back again in the near future …

A Future Trio (Simone, Along and Kudat)

Text by Fetysella Olyndra Juli
Photos by Chiew Lin May

Everyone of these three bears has their own history, especially Simone and Along, both of them were kept in a Mini Zoo Hot Springs in Tawau while Kudat was kept on display in a private mini zoo with another female sun bear named Panda. Kudat was formerly named after the district of Kudat even though he originally is from Tawau. Along is a 6 year old male bear, Simone is a 8 year old female bear, and Kudat is 7 years old adult male sun bear. Kudat, Simone and Along were then surrendered by the Sabah Wildlife Department to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC).

Upon arrival at the BSBCC, the three bears showed their different personalities, where Along is considered to be more energetic and hyperactive, Simone is calm while, Kudat on the other side can sometimes be aggressive towards other bears, as has happened in the past when integrated with another female sun bear Panda. But Kudat is also playful even though he plays rough. Since all three bears are kept in the same row of cages, at first, we integrated Along and Simone. Along becomes somewhat hyperactive when meeting with Simone and at times he will start to pace back and forth at a  fast rate when Simone is in the same room.

Along tries to approach Simone, but Simone is aware of Along behavior

During the integration process interactions between Along and Simone became more and more aggressive, so the decision was made, to slow down the integration intervals. After possible times of no aggression Simone tries to play with Along, which will result in likelihood of Along developing aggressiveness towards Simone due to her manor of play. Sometimes Simone will be the aggressor and we realized that, as Along pacing can not be interrupted as long as Simone is in the same cage. The occurrence of any kind of aggression therefore is unpredictable.

“Hey, look at my canine”-Along “Here’s mine RAWWR”-Simone

“This is how I play” *bite*-Simone “Hey you. It’s too rough”-Along

Then, we decided to integrate Simone with Kudat. The first results of the integration process were positive, both bears played together, even though Kudat play very known to be rough. The first time Kudat met Simone, he started to sniff Simone first especially her sex organs. Realizing that Simone is a female sun bear, Kudat became excited and begin to play with her. We have been having integration sessions for a few days and so far no aggression occurred.

Kudat meet Simone for the first time “Hmm? Hey there, who are you?”-Kudat “OH!!! There’s another bear here?”-Simone

Then, we proceeded on to our next mission, which was the integration of Kudat and Along. First we were quite concerned, because both are male sun bears, and aggressive behavior is more likely to happen. Surprisingly, both Along and Kudat got along well, Kudat approached Along and sniffed him out first. Then, Kudat try to play with Along. Along struggled at first a bit, because of Kudat rough play. However, after some time, Along got used to it. After a few days of integration sessions between Along and Kudat, no aggression occurred.

Along and Kudat meet for the first time. “Hey there buddy. Let’s play” *show canine*-Kudat

Along tries to show Kudat that he also can play rough. “You’re a tough cookie”-Kudat

Along is playing by pushing Kudat down

Now, our final task is to introduce Simone into the group. First, we placed Along and Kudat in the same cage. Then, we opened Simones cage to get access to the males. At first, when Simone entered the cage (where Along and Kudat were playing), she did not pay attention, she just passed by. But we realized that even with Simone present, Along did not start to pace and continued to play with Kudat. Once he stop playing with Kudat, Along showed positive results towards both Simone and Kudat. This process continued for quite some time and there was aggression noticed. It seems that the presence of Kudat affects the situation between Along and Simone, but when we fed the bears coconuts during their integration session, Simone showed to be the dominant in the group. This may be due to Simone being the oldest in the group. In the end, we hope that, these three bears can continue to integrate well and can go out to forest enclosure together in the future.

 

Journey to the forest for Boboi, Kitud and Tan-Tan

Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May

Tan-Tan was bought by a person with the purpose of rescuing her from being sold in the remote region of Paitan. After the person bought Tan-Tan, he informed the Sabah Wildlife Department and the Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit sent her to BSBCC on August 5th, 2015. On the other hand, Boboi and Kitud were kept together in a cage before they were handed over to the Sabah Wildlife Department in Singgaron Village, Ranau district. They were originally from Pitas, Sabah and only arrived at BSBCC on October 30th, 2015.

Boboi, Kitud and Tan-Tan stayed together in quarantine. Boboi is like a big brother that always backs up Kitud and Tan-Tan. Tan-Tan is the little one. She likes to follow behind Kitud so that she can get more comfort. If Boboi and Kitud are not around her, she will seek for them. Kitud is dominant, even though her size is not as big as Boboi. But, she always leads them to take an adventure with her. After the health check, they were moved from quarantine to the bear house. This was the time for them to meet the sub-adult group.

The sub-adult group and also the big group was very welcoming for them to join as new members. The sub-adult group members included Sunbearo, Loki, Ronnie Girl, Momtom, Damai, Susie2, Mary and Kala. They were playing well together, even though Kitud and Tan-Tan have a smaller body size than them. Here we have a little warm story about Tan-Tan and Susie2. Susie2 had trauma with her early life. This made Susie2 avoid herself from others. But, little sweet Tan-Tan would approach her and follow her when she met Susie2. She would accompany her silently from behind. Momtom and Sunbearo, the big brothers and Mary, Loki and Ronnie Girl, the big sisters, have shown more interest to play with them. Damai has no interest to play with them. She prefers to stay in the hammock and when they try to disturb her, she will give them warning. Also, the way that Kala played was too rough for them. But they did not have serious aggression with each other. And now, they can share a cage and stay with the sub-adult group.

Before they went back to the forest, they had to go through fence training. Fence training is a training to let the bears know that the hot wire may zap them if they get too close to it.This is because all the forest enclosures are surrounded by hot wire. These three little bears are full of courage. From the first day they got zapped, they climbed on the electric fence and began barking. Now, they can move freely between the buffer cage and training pen. They even can play fight in the training pen. Most of the bears do not like the training pen. This is because every bear has been zapped in here before. But, not for Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan. From the first week, the three of them almost had been zapped everyday. But, they never gave up learning. After that, Tan-Tan knew to use her claws to get the food that was near the hot wire without getting zapped. Once one of them knew how, the rest of them would learn from her. After 20 days of training, they finally passed.

The day came! Once the guillotine door opened, their first actions were sniffing the surroundings and looking outside at the forest. They tapped on the ramp just like they were testing whether the ramp was safe for them or not. There was lots of tasty treats, fruits and honey on the ramp. They slowly stepped out and saw the outside world. Kitud was the bravest bear among them. She was the first who touched the ground. Tan-Tan followed Kitud back. When Kitud and Tan-Tan took their first steps outside, Boboi was looking at them through the guillotine door. He went in between the buffer cage and training pen, and tried to find a way out with different styles. After 20 minutes he struggled and he finally joined them in the forest. They explored the forest together. When they met with others, they’d play fight with them as well. Now they enjoy to stay in the forest. Once the guillotine door opens, they just go out and take their adventures all day long in either pen C or pen D with their big brothers and sisters. Let’s see how they enjoy life in the forest.

Watching Boboi, Kitud and Tan-Tan growing healthy and adapting well in the forest is undoubtedly one of our greatest pleasure. They will never again live in fear and well entitled to do anything they love!

Lawa is Home At Last : Second Rehabilitated Sun Bear Returns to the Wild in Sabah

Text by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Photos by Tee Thye Lim & Chiew Lin May

One day in May 2008, a one year old female sun bear cub came from Lok Kawi Wildlife Zoo named Lawa to Sepilok. She had a beautiful face which would catch your eye. But, how does such a gorgeous bear end up at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre? Normally, cubs stay with their mothers until they are two to three years old. However, in Lawa’s case, she was separated cruelly by killing the mother in order to get a cute sun bear cub, kept illegal as pet or sold on the illegal wildlife pet trade. Sun bear populations are estimated to have declined over 30% in the last three decades, leading for those bears being in danger of imminent extinction in the wild very real. Now, sun bears have been stated as totally protected species under Sabah Wildlife Enactment in 1997. People who keep them illegally and hunting them, will be fined up to RM50,000 and can be send to jail for 5 years, or both.

Lawa lost her mother when she was still a cub. She had no chance to learn the natural survival skills from her mother. The BSBCC provided her with a second chance, reintroducing her to natural forest enclosures.  Lawa has grown into a smart, agile and independent bear. She is now nine years old, weighs 40.5 kg. She has spend most of her days eagerly exploring up in the trees. She can make beautiful tree nests by using liana and tree branches. Nest building is one of the important but rare survival skills of a wild bear. After six years going through rehabilitation at the BSBCC there is now a happy ending for Lawa as she has acquired many vital survival skills and she is ready to return to her real forest home.

Release candidates are chosen based on their age and survival skills. They have to be fit in four conditions, they need to know how to forage, climb, nest building and lastly, the most important condition is they need to not attach to human and know how to avoid humans, in order to be at low risk of being killed by poachers or turn into a nuisance bear.

Health check starts with Lawa being put on anesthesia by Dr Rosa Sipangkui, Sabah Wildlife Department veterinarian.

On 24th July 2016, the BSBCC is preparing the final stage for the release of Lawa to a core area of Tabin Wildlife Reserve. Located in the Lahad Datu, Sabah encompasses 120500 hectares of pristine rainforest. Before the big day, the bear team again needed to find Lawa in Pen G at 4 pm. Dr. Rosa Sipangkui, a veterinarian from the Sabah Wildlife Department, sedated Lawa. Once sedated, Lawa was moved from Pen G to bear house in order to undergo a full medical examination to ensure she is in good health before her release. Besides that, Wong Siew Te, BSBCC Founder and CEO made sure that Lawa’s satellite collar is functioning and well fitted on her. Finally, Lawa was moved into the translocation cage. She was then placed at the bear house area for a night. Our bear care keepers spent the night monitoring Lawa. She might not have known it, but after today her life will be totally different!

Dr. Rosa and bear team enter the forest enclosure to prepare dart Lawa.

After sedation, Lawa is carried out of from her forest enclosure for a medical check up.

First part of the process is the weighing Lawa.

Dr. Rosa, Wong Siew Te and BSBCC team perform a full health check on the bears’ health to make sure Lawa is fully ready for the reintroduction.

Teeth and mouth are checked.

Dr. Rosa, Wong Siew Te and BSBCC team perform a full health check on the bears’ health to make sure Lawa is fully ready for the reintroduction.

Dr. Rosa, Wong Siew Te and BSBCC team perform a full health check on the bears’ health to make sure Lawa is fully ready for the reintroduction.

Dr. Rosa, Wong Siew Te and BSBCC team perform a full health check on the bears’ health to make sure Lawa is fully ready for the reintroduction.

Dr. Rosa, Wong Siew Te and BSBCC team perform a full health check on the bears’ health to make sure Lawa is fully ready for the reintroduction.

Dr. Rosa, Wong Siew Te and BSBCC team perform a full health check on the bears’ health to make sure Lawa is fully ready for the reintroduction.

When all the data has been collected and recorded, Lawa is placed into a translocation cage.

When all the data has been collected and recorded, Lawa is placed into a translocation cage.

It is time to go! On 25th July 2016, when it was still dark, the bear release team was getting ready to depart from Sandakan to Tabin Wildlife Reserves on two trucks, taking Lawa to her second chance in the wild. The release team started in full force for the release of second sun bear back into the wild.

Lawa is loaded on a truck for the ride to a new home in the wild.

The team arrived at Tabin Wildlife Reserve Headquarter at 8.15 am. The morning sun and clear sky reminded us to start moving.

When arrive the entrance of Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Lawa peeks out!!

Sabah Air Aviation Sdn. Bhd Bell 206 Jetranger landed at Tabin Wildlife Reserve Headquarter.

This year our release team will be using helicopter model Sabah Air Aviation Sdn Bhd (Bell 206 B3) Jetranger Underslung to reach our final destination.

Discussion on Lawa release operation.

We made the final release preparation and inspections to ensure the safety. The operation was split into two difference trips. The first trips, the team entered the mud volcano of Tabin forest to evaluate and identify the suitable release site.

Aerial View of Tabin KM-22 Mud Volcano.

They checked the wrapping net thoroughly.  After final checks on Lawa by Dr. Rosa and Wong Siew Te, the team took the transportation cage and loaded it into the wrapping net. The process went smooth.

At 10.15 am, Wong Siew Te (BSBCC CEO & Founder) and Lawa was finally lifted up into the blue sky, heading to Tabin mud volcano. At 10.35 am, Bell 206 Jetranger that carrying Lawa landed safely on the Tabin mud volcano.

The weather cleared as it felt the joy of welcoming Lawa to her true home in the Tabin forest

The Bell 206 Jetranger Helicopter carrying Lawa in her translocation cage landed safely on the Tabin mud volcano.

The arrival of Lawa was greeted by the sound of birds in Tabin Widlife Reserve. The sights, sounds and smells of Tabin Wildlife Reserve will be very new for Lawa. Immediately Lawa was taken to the release side by BSBCC team. Lawa looked well rested, happy and ready. She realized there were so many higher trees in pristine rainforest around her. She will soon free and ready to live a new life as a true wild sun bear!

Could not wait to be free in the forest!

The experience Lawa has gathered during six years at the rehabilitation center will help her explore her true home in the core area of Tabin Wildlife Reserve.

The team is carrying the translocation cage into the release site inside the forest.

The team is carrying the translocation cage into the release site inside the forest.

The team is carrying the translocation cage into the release site inside the forest.

Wong Siew Te is feeding Lawa with honey water.

After everything was set up, the moment to open the door and let Lawa take a deep breath with the sense of freedom arrived. Once the translocation cage was opened at 11.10 am , Lawa run out of the cage quickly. She was very fast, directly heading into the deep forest! We hope the best for her now! She will be starting to explore, forage and adjust to her new habitat. It was an emotional moment for all of us watching her walk away from the transportation cage and – off course – us. One moment we could still see her and at the blink of an eye, she disappeared into the tall trees. She finally home, in the forest. Enjoy your freedom Lawa! May you have a long and happy life there! Our bear care team will carefully monitor her progress via her satellite collar.

Sun bears are forest animals. They are playing important roles in the forest. They are forest gardeners. After they consume fruits, they travel along and disperse the seeds in the forest. They carry the seeds away from the mother tree, so that the seed has a higher survival rate. Next, they are forest engineers. Sun bears are excellent climber. One of the reasons that they climb up a tree is because they want to harvest the honey from bee hives. They will use their strong canine and sharp claws to tear off the tree trunk and get the honey inside. After that, it will create a cavity that provides a resting place to other animals like hornbills and flying squirrel. Besides that, they also are forest doctors. Termites are small insects which eventually cause a tree to get sick or die. This is because some termite species will build their nest inside the trees. But, sun bears eat termites. So, sun bears can help to control the population of termites and keep the forest healthy. Last but not least, they are forest farmers, because they are good diggers. They do a lot of digging which can actually help to mix up poor soil and rich soil to enhance the nutrient cycle in the forest. And, that is why we call them “the keystone species”.  Lawa is now been released in the forest. She is carrying out a very important task. This is what she needs, the forest and the freedom.

Lawa is ready to embark on a new journey: living in the wild.

We would like to take this opportunity to say a huge Thank Yous to the most amazing partner, the Sabah Wildlife Department, Dr.Rosa Sipangkui, the Sabah Forestry Department, LEAP, the Tabin Rangers, the BSBCC team, our volunteers and Brad Josephs who help fundraise and Kynite Filming Crews who helped and supported us generously with Lawa’s release. Thanks to the years of hard work spent rehabilitating Lawa, she will have the opportunity to roam free in the wild, back where she belongs. Reintroduction programs for sun bears are very costly. We need your support to protect this magnificent species from extinction. Help us release more sun bear back to wild by donating at www.bsbcc.org.my. You can make a difference in the future survival of sun bears!

 

The Bare Necessities about Bornean bears

Text and Photos by Jessica Prestage

My name is Jessica Prestage, I’m 18 years old and I am from England. I have just completed a two week volunteering programme at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sandakan. I finished school in May and I will be starting university in September. During this break, I wanted to make the most of my long summer holiday by volunteering somewhere new, that would allow me to learn about a different country and the conservation systems there. I looked at the opportunities available with a travel gap year company called ‘Oyster’. They have a lot of varied projects, but working with sun bears stood out as the most interesting. At first, I was unsure whether I would be able to travel to Borneo for this project, as it requires a long journey – in total, over 15 hours on a plane. But I decided that I could not pass up the chance to come out here and spend two weeks working with the team to care for, monitor and learn about sun bears. An opportunity like this may not come round again, so I selected this project and started booking it.

On my first day working at the centre, I was shown around with the other volunteer, Jackie. We were both part of the volunteer programme organised by APE Malaysia. Soon after our tour, we started working; the days followed a schedule, which rotated in order to allow everyone to help with different aspects of the bear house. In the morning, the tasks included husbandry (cleaning the cages), which was separated into bear house one and bear house two, preparing food in the kitchen and fence checks. This also meant that every day we worked with different team members, allowing us to get to know each other and work together. The afternoons consisted of creating enrichment; enrichment is what is used to engage the bears’ natural instincts of climbing, foraging and exploring. There were a wide range of materials that we had available to create enrichment, such as old fire hoses, donated by local fire stations, tyres, logs and branches, and bamboo. I enjoyed creating the enrichment, but personally I found the dry cages the most rewarding form of enrichment. Creating a dry cage involves laying a bed of dry leaves, collected the previous day, and adding logs and branches to mimic a forest environment. We also added log feeders, which is simply a log with holes drilled into it, each filled with treats. The normal treats used in enrichment to entice the bears to investigate and engage with it are honey, peanut butter, bananas, dog treats and banana leaves. These have strong smells, added to which the bears enjoy them – consequently the enrichment is regularly destroyed in order to access every crumb of food! The dry cage is my favourite enrichment because as soon as the bears are let back into the cage, they start exploring, digging and ripping open the logs. Dog treats and mealworms are scattered in the leaves to encourage foraging, which is often the first thing they do. It is rewarding when the bears do this as it shows that they still have their instincts and have a high chance of being released back into the wild.

In this photo, Mark and myself are creating a log feeder for the dry cage we created for Wan Wan. The reason for the cameraman also featured in this photo is that for two days we were filmed creating enrichment, for a series called Bornean Rangers. The idea of this is to show the process of rehabilitation at the centre and demonstrate how volunteers can help.

Working as part of the team here was a fantastic experience – as a volunteer, initially I was worried that I would slow the work down and be in the way, but I was quickly just another member of the team. Everyone was very welcoming, and I felt accepted as a team member and a friend. Although I was the only English person on site, everyone was eager to talk to me, asking questions about England and finding out about me. In the first few days, I struggled to adapt to the heat; this meant that I had to have regular breaks and drink a lot of water. Everyone kept an eye on me and checked on me, asking if I was okay, which made me feel comfortable and looked after. I knew that if I did have a problem, I could talk to them. However, I did not have any problems throughout the project – the team are friendly, funny and always up for a laugh. This made my time here more enjoyable, as I was getting to know people and making friends, whilst working with the bears.

This was taken the same day, on our way back down to the main bear house. We had our expert driver in front, Roger, three passengers, (WaWa, Jackie and myself), and the engine was Azzry, pushing us down the slope. This may have been a less sensible idea, as we didn’t quite manage to turn successfully at the bottom of the slope

So perhaps this wasn’t the best idea, but it was fun and we were all laughing for a long time afterwards!

During my two weeks at the conservation centre, I got to know most of the bears. Initially, I memorised the names based on which cages they were in, but as the two weeks progressed I learnt more about each bear. Their chest marks are like our fingerprints; each one is unique and can be used to identify the bear. The size, shape and colour can vary. However, some of the older bears do not climb so much, so they are recognised by their faces and behaviour more than the chest marks. I found it interesting as I got to know more of the bears, as they are all so different. Knowing their personalities made it possible to create enrichment for specific bears to try to engage them for as long as possible. Naturally, I had a favourite; but doesn’t everyone? I became fond of Along, as he was always sitting on the hanging log or hammock in his cage, watching what was going on. He’s a handsome bear, and as with most of the bears in the centre, I hope that he will be released into the wild in the near future. Some of the older bears cannot be rehabilitated, but I can’t imagine a better place for them to live than here at the centre. The staff are incredible and the facilities are brilliant; the bears have all they could ask for and more. I am so lucky to have been able to spend time here with such passionate people, who care so much for the future of these bears and other wildlife that is at risk due to human presence and actions in the natural environments. I have learnt a lot during the project and I hope to return someday to see the progress here and to see my friends again!

I cannot thank the BSBCC enough for giving me this opportunity. It’s been an unforgettable experience, with amazing people. Good luck for the future and I hope to see you again soon!