Helping Lawa be Wild Again

Text and Photos by Brad Josephs

The sun bear, with its 18 inch long tongue, 7 inch long claws, is the smallest and one of the most endangered bears on earth.

Sun bears are mostly arboreal, meaning they love to climb. They specialize in foraging for fruits and insects high in the canopy of tropical Asian rainforests.

This past April I had a two week gap between guiding trips in china and Borneo for natural habitat adventures this past April and I could think of no better to spend the time than support the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center (BSBCC.). The founder of the program, Wong Siew Te, is one of the great conservation champions of today. click here to read about Wong, The Sun Bear Hero of Sabah.

Wong was actually in my freshman class at the university of Montana wildlife biology program in the mid 90″s, and we remember each other, but i transferred to UAF before I really got to know him. He went on to become the first sun bear biologist and founder of the BSBCC, which focuses on public outreach and education, rescuing orphaned bears, or those confiscated by local authorities from the illegal pet trade, and rehabilitating them through introduction into semi wild enclosures. The final goal is to release rehabilitated bears that have regained wild instincts back into the wild to bolster numbers and genetic health of existing wild populations.

Wong took me as a volunteer and my duties were diverse. I cleaned the bear house daily, prepared and dispersed meals of rice, fruits, vegetables and eggs, collected treats such as fresh leaves and insects from the surrounding jungle, photographed the Bears for the center’s use, and set up an Instagram account to supplement their social media campaign. I learned so much and it felt so good to work up a sweat every day to help care for these orphaned sun bears, and take some pressure of the dedicated staff.

During dinner one night I asked Wong what I could do to help him the most and he said he needed funding for the release of a female bear named Lawa, a nine year old female bear who was rescued as a orphaned cub and rehabilitated at the BSBCC. Lawa is an excellent climber, builds nests in trees to sleep, forages for termites and other insects, and shows a healthy disassociation and avoidance of humans, which is a crucial behavior for released bears. She has been a candidate for release for a year, but the funding wasn’t there. It costs around 13000 U.S. Dollars to charter helicopters for Lawa and the staff to reach a safe wilderness zone, and pay for the radio collar equipment to track Lawa after her release. Monitoring and documenting the status of a released bear is crucial for biologists to learn how rehabilitated bears adjust to the wilderness.

Lawa is quite elusive, and this is the only photo I got of her as she was normally high in the canopy, or hidden in the jungle of her large (300 square meter) enclosure. You can see the wild in her eyes.

I decided to try a Gofundme campaign to see if I could help with the financial constraints. A few days later I received an email from Natural Habitat Adventures saying that they would like to sponsor the campaign with an impressive 5000 dollars! I was so proud of my company, but not surprised since we are the most conservation focused travel company in the world.

After 10 days around 40 generous donors put up 5000 dollars into the GoFundMe campaign, including one of my high school friends, Ben Bourne, who gave $1000. I guided my trip in early May, which includes a visit to the BSBCC. Tim Brown, one of the travelers in my group pulled me aside and told me that he wanted to donate as much as was needed to finish the campaign, and donated $3000 right there. It was done in three weeks! Lawa will be a wild bear again before this summer is over.

My time volunteering at BSBCC was the most rewarding things I have done in many years. I learned that sun bears are a species unknown to the world, and are in dire circumstances as a species due to poaching and habitat loss. Building a rapport with the bears, and with the dedicated workers specializing in sun bear conservation was an amazing experience. I would recommend this program to anyone who is passionate about wildlife conservation, and can withstand hard work in an oppressive tropical climate.. I hope to return again to support this program, as it needs lots and lots more help. Lets keep fighting!

Sun bears at the BSBCC’s semi-wild forest enclosures interact with each other. As Wong told us, the best enrichment for sun bears in captivity are other sun bears.

Sun bears are the smallest of the world’s 8 bear species, but they are as tough and intense as any animal I have ever encountered.

Damai napping on a branch, exhausted from exploring the forest enclosure, searching for food we hid for her, as well as termites and other natural food sources.

Every sun bear has a unique honey colored chest patch. This is the famous, charismatic Fulung.

Intimate moment with a curious sun bear at the BSBCC.

Wong spoke to our group about his work conserving sun bears during our visit to the Sun Bear Conservation Center in Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.

We watched this sun bear find a nice place to relax in the treetops from the observation platform at the Sun Bear Conservation Center. Sandakan, Borneo.

Happy Kala and The Forest

Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May

Kala is a one year old, female bear. She is at BSBCC because her previous owner surrendered her to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit with the intention to save her after they found her on Kalabakan-Sapulut Road near Meliau Basin. Kala got to walk in the forest with a bear keeper when she was still a cub. However, it had been a while since Kala had experienced the forest. Walking a cub is not an easy task. The task becomes harder while the cub is growing up because they can be very hard to control. Now, Kala is growing well. Hence, there is no more need for her to walk with a bear keeper. But this does not mean that she will not go back into the forest anymore.

Fence training is a very important step before the bears can go out to the forest enclosure. This is because the forest enclosure is surrounded with high voltage hot wire. The hot wire is to prevent the bears escaping from the forest enclosure.

In the beginning, we made a food trail for Kala and encouraged her out to the training pen. The training pen was a strange place for her and hence why we prepared lots of food and her favourite, honey, to encourage her. She was doing well. After that we scattered food near the fence and observed how she responded with the hot wire. Unsurprisingly, she was zapped by the hot wire. After she had been zapped, she ran back to her cage and did not going to the training pen anymore. After a few tries, she became alert when she went inside the training pen. She knew that once she was too close and accidently touched the hot wire she would get a zap. Hence, she kept a distance with the hot wire. Besides that, she knows how to avoid being zapped by the hot wire. She was using her claws to grab the food near the fence. When she was able to walk in between the buffer cage and training pen with confidence, this meant that she had passed her fence training.

After fence training, it was time for her to go back to the forest. In order to encourage Kala out to the forest enclosure, we prepared an attractive food trail on a ramp. Once the guillotine door opened, Kala showed her curiosity with the new environment. She sniffed the guillotine door and the ramp first. Then she took a look at the outside and sniffed the forest.

Smells are different here.


When she was trying to grab the food on the ramp, she placed a front leg out and then both front legs touched the ramp. But, her two hind legs were still inside the cage. She was trying so hard to get the food on the ramp. Once she grabbed the food, she brought it inside and ate it in the cage.

Let me think a while. Hmm.. In or Out?


Tasty and juicy fruits on the ramp and that are why I am here.

After days passed, there was a sunny day on the 6th of June. When Kala tried to grab the food on the ramp, the ramp was too slippery and she slipped on to the ground.

I am on the ground.


After she touched the ground, the very first thing she did was explore the environment. She walked and sniffed around the forest enclosure. There were lots of things that attracted her attention, soils, trees that she had not seen for a while. When she saw the trees, she climbed up them.  When she saw soil, she started digging it. There are lots of activities that she can do in the forest enclosure. She spends her days in there.

This is my dream land, the forest.

Tree, I love trees.

What is that on the ground?

I am tearing off a big dead wood.

Here got a big tree.

Yeah, I am climbing up on a tree.

Let me enjoy this beautiful sunlight.

I got a bit sleepy now.

Soil is her favourite enrichment since she was small. She’s smelt, touched and tasted the soil. Even when she feels tired, she lays on the soil and continues to play with it.

This is my soils.

Friends are so important for humans and also for bears. Kala joined a big family with Sunbearo, Loki, Ronnie Girl, Momtom, Susie2 and Damai. They encouraged her when she went to the training pen and also back to the forest as well. And now, Kala can learn survival skills from her friends such as foraging and digging in the forest. They love playing and enjoying the natural environment together. Sometimes they play fight with each other and sometimes they forage together. In the forest Kala learns and plays with her friends and the most important thing is that she is happy.

What are you doing out there, Loki?

I should learn from Susie2 that how she foraging.


General Medical Check Up for 40 bears and Satellite Collaring on Second Release Candidate – Lawa

Text by Seng Yen Wah

Photos by Chiew Lin May

After a year, it’s time for the bears to do their annual health check.

We really appreciate Dr.Pakeeyaraj Nagalingam, who is a Veterinarian from the Sabah Wildlife Department, Wildlife Rescue Unit, to conduct this health check for all the bears in BSBCC with his valuable time and great efforts.

Each bear requires a full general anesthetic with the purpose of putting them under sedation for doing an extensive health check. After the bear has been darted, it takes some time for the bears to be sufficiently sedated. The bear can only be carried out from the cage once they are sedated enough.

Bear keepers carrying the bears from their cage to the medical table.

The very first thing done on a health check is to measure their weight.

Before we cover the bear by using a blindfold, we put a medicine on their eyes to prevent their eyes undergoing dryness during the health check.

Dr.Pakee and Wong were checking the bear’s dental condition.

Sun bears have strong and sharp canines.

Dr.Pakee conducted a full physical examination including dental condition, paws and wound problems. Growth measurements such as zoological length, head circumstance, neck size, chest girth and shoulder height, and the shank length was taken by bear keepers. All the measurements were recorded in measurement form. We also took hair samples and saliva for research purposes. Blood samples had to be taken by the vet and the samples will be sent to a laboratory in order to get more detail on the health status of the bears.

Dr.Pakee was taking blood samples with the help of Roshan.

Everyone was playing their part for assisting in the health check.

This is the way we do measurements on the bear’s paw.

We always need 2 people for doing a paw print. One is for holding the paw and another one is for holding the paper.

We were recording the wounds that showed on their paws.

We took photos for every claw as a record as well.

During the health check, it is a good time to clean the tartar on their teeth as well.

And also, for trimming their long and curved claws too.

Lastly, this is the chance for taking a good picture of their chest marks.

All the bears can be considered as healthy bears. However, take the bears away from the wild and keep them in inappropriate conditions can cause many chronic health problems for the bears. They will lose their instinct to take care of themselves.

Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan stayed in quarantine. Now, these three little sub-adult sun bears have moved from quarantine to Bear House 1 to join a big family. Their moving was given a hearty welcome by all the sun bears in the bear house through lots of welcoming barks.

Bear Keepers moved Boboi from Quarantine to the Bear House by using a transport trolley.

Boboi was being carried to Bear House 1.

Boboi was the first one who was moved to Bear House 1. He was depressed in the first day. He had no appetite and stayed on the hammock most of the time. Having no friend staying beside him was making him a bit aggressive. Luckily, this situation did not hold for too long. After one day, Kitud was moved to the bear house. Boboi tried his best to take a look at his dearest friend, Kitud, through the cage bar. After Kitud woke up from the health check, they could not wait to stay together. So, keepers integrated them inside a cage. They seemed so happy to have each other. They always stay together in the basket or on the hammock. Boboi grew an appetite after meeting Kitud. They were sharing a tray. After one day more, Tan Tan joined them. Finally, these three little friends met again. And, they help each other to adapt in this new environment. This is because the best enrichment for a bear is other bears.

Where are my friends?

Hey, I am here.

Let me stay with you.

When we are together with a log.

When we are together on the ground.

I see you.

I am so happy to play with my friends.

My dead wood

Did I look like a surfer?

The happy news for the health check this time is not only Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan joined a big family, but also the very big and special event for Lawa, a 9 year old adult,female bear. Maybe you will be wondering what is the special event for Lawa?  And now, we are so happy to share our happiness with you. On June 3rd, 2016, was the collaring for our second release candidate, Lawa. Lawa was surrendered to the BSBCC in 2008 when she was only a one year old cub. She had lost her mother and her forest home, and it was hard to imagine that she ever thought her life might change to be better again.

Lawa is ready to live a new life as a truly wild sun bear! Lawa showed all the signs of an excellent candidate for release after being rehabilitated for nine years. She built up her survival skills and independence and quickly adapted to forest living. Lawa is excellent in climbing trees, foraging for food, nest building and she avoids people! She has explored and stayed in the forest every day for the last nine years.

There was a sunny and challenging day. With the excellent team from the Sabah Wildlife Department, Dr. Rosa Sipangkui and Elis Tambing, Wong Siew Te (BSBCC Founder & CEO) and the BSBCC staff, Lawa was tranquilized without any upset in her forest enclosure. This was so we were able to attach a satellite collar on her before her release into the wild. Our mission of the day was to find Lawa in pen K with the presence of Cerah and Kuamut. All the bear keepers had a short meeting before going to find Lawa.  They were fully geared up on this operation. They split into 2 groups, one group went inside the pen and one group stayed outside as backup. We spent some time searching for Lawa due to her high survival skills. She showed up a few times but once she realized something was not right around her, she just ran away from the bear keepers’ eye sight. After a few attempts, finally one of our bear keepers, Thye Lim, found her. She had hidden herself in dense bamboo bushes.  With the help of Dr.Rosa Sipangkui and Elis Tambing she was successfully darted in one shot.

Dr.Rosa and Elis were preparing the dart.

Bear keepers moved Lawa from pen K to the bear house once she was under sedation for the health check and collaring. A general health check starts with weighing, she currently weighs 41.3 kg and after an assessment of potential sickness, functionality of organs and physical condition, Wong Siew Te helped fitting the collar on Lawa.

Lawa’s dental condition

We were doing measurements on Lawa’s hind paw.

Dr.Rosa was taking blood samples.

Wong helped fitting the collar on Lawa.

Finally, Lawa was collared!

After all that had been done, Lawa moved to Pen G.

After the health check Lawa was placed into the new forest enclosure. A one month observation will be carried out to make sure the satellite collar functions well and Lawa gets used to the collar. This is a precious opportunity for a bear to be released back to the wild. They belong to the wild. Captivity will never be their first choice. Natalie is the first release candidate bear. Now, Lawa is the second bear candidate for release. It’s time for her to return back to her real home, the forest. It has been a long time but it will never be too late for her to be home. Lawa is extremely curious and has started to explore her new forest environment as a wild sun bear.

It is a pleasure to see a bear given the second chance to return back to where they belong! Thank you to Brad Josephs for your support in helping the fundraising for Lawa’s release. Her journey to freedom has been made possible with generous support and kind contributions from you all!


Volunteering in BSBCC – An experience of a lifetime

Text and Photos by Tammy Tan Kar Yee

My name is Tan Kar Yee, people call me Tammy. I was a volunteer in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) for two short weeks, starting from May 10th, 2016 until May 23rd, 2016. I wasn’t a student of any wildlife biological or forestry studies, I majored in multimedia design in my studies. Everyone was wondering why did I applied for volunteering in BSBCC, actually, why not? The reason I participated in BSBCC volunteering was merely a simple “I love animals,”. I am locally from Sandakan, as I grew up I was taught of the importance of balance in nature, and the responsibilities we bear (no pun intended), so I applied and started my time as a volunteer.

What I learnt from my volunteer experience

  1. Sun bear poop is not as smelly as you think it is.

Sun bears have a rather healthy fibre-ish diet consuming fruits, veges, honey, earthworms, termites and et cetera. Sometimes their poop smells like rotten(actually digested) fruits, and sometimes its stronger depending on what they ate. I would say it’s actually better than someone’s acidic fart that made me ran for miles.

2. Sun bears are arboreal, they can stay on a tree for as long as they want.
Being arboreal, sun bears are really really great tree climbers. So if you see one in the wild, you’re not gonna be safe climbing a tree. They can stay on a tree sunbathing, taking a nap, digging for termites/ honey. Until they actually feel like coming down from the tree, to look for food, to do their “business”, or another tree to climb.

3. Sun bears are opportunistic omnivores.
Being opportunistic omnivores, it means they eat whenever and whatever they find. (That’s kinda like me) Some of the bears are obese because they would try to eat everything they find. It is in their natural instinct to store fat in case they can’t find any food for a some time.

4. They are uncontrollably adorable animals, but they are not your pets.Sun bear cubs are so small you would mistake it as a puppy, but they are not meant to be pets for human beings. They are shy bears, but they are not afraid to attack when threatened. Just like your pet dog at home, sun bear cubs needs the protection of their mother, to teach them climb trees, find food and survive.

For now I’ve been talking about sun bears, but there are still a lot that does not know about sun bears at all. That is why they are also called the least-known bears, the forgotten bears. As much as i want to tell you more about sun bears, I find it much more memorable and easier to learn about them if you visit them in BSBCC.

When I joined the volunteer programme i was ready for all the hard work, but the process was too fun and inspiring I hardly felt any fatigueness (after the first 2 days, due to my lack-of-exercise body). I get a group of amazing people guiding me throughout the two weeks, teaching me what they know.

I get to wash and clean bear pens, help prepare food, help with feeding, and make enrichments for the bears. David, Mizuno, Roger, Thye Lim, Lin May, Lester, Azzry, Yen Wah has been great companions throughout my two weeks in the bear house.

They taught me more than I could ask, i am very grateful of that. (And those who helped me washing trays, you’re the best XD ) Through highs and lows (slopes), water supply and electricity supply dying, occasional visits by orangutans and macaques adds on to the awesomeness of this experience.

Other than being in the bear house, I also helped BSBCC designed a few banners for the 2nd observation platform and aerial walkway launch. I am very glad that I was able to put my design skills to use, and it was great to hear compliments on my designs.

My experience with BSBCC has been life fulfilling and really enjoyable with all the great people. I would like to thank Mr. Wong Siew Te for starting BSBCC, which had made such big difference to these lovely bears that are vulnerable. Thanks to all the lovely staffs in the bear house and also office + platform. I have learn so much from each and everyone of you, thank you for being a part of this wonderful organisation, spreading the love for sun bears.

There are so much to tell, and I can go on for days, but I will let you experience this yourself. Actions taken and efforts made by all these wonderful people will make a difference for these sun bears, I enjoy this so much I will probably be back again! Wildlife and sun bears conservation needs all the help it can get, not only people related to the field, you can make a difference too. 14 short days of volunteering, friends for a lifetime, a life fulfilling journey.

The Better Along and Simone

Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May

Along, a 6 year old male bear and Simone, an 8 year old female bear, are the newest arrivals at BSBCC. Both of them were kept in a Mini Zoo and Hot Springs in Tawau. In the January of 2016, they were surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department and were quarantined at Lok Kawi Zoo, Kota Kinabalu.


I’m Along.

Hi, My name is Simone.

Along and Simone arrived on the same day. Along the journey, the hot weather and long hours meant they had gone through a lot in a same day. When Along first arrived at BSBCC, he was pacing aggressively inside the cage and kept barking at people, especially when they went close to him. Compared to Along, Simone was much calmer. Bear keepers used a lot of effort to move them to our cages. Now BSBCC is their new home.

I love my new home!!

In the very first week, the bear house was still a very new and strange place for them. Most of the time they stayed on the basket. They were very alert, especially Along. When people got close to Along, he would give them a warning bark and showed aggressiveness. Simone adapted faster than Along in this new environment. She likes to explore the enrichment. Before they were here, bear keepers prepared enrichment for them such as dry leaves and decayed wood. Simone shows a lot of curiosity and interest in the enrichment.

I love the smell of dried leaves.

My enrichment, dead wood.

All this enrichment is mine. Thanks Bear Keeper.

Besides that, they had no appetite in the beginning. This may be because we serve foods which are different than what they usually have and they were still very alert with the environment. Hence, we started to introduce different foods to them like nicely cut papaya, watermelon and so on. Lastly, we found out that both of them like to drink oats with milk. When we brought them the tray, they climbed down from the basket and waited for you and it’s their favourite food as well. Besides that, Simone loves honey. Conversely, Along likes coconut. Along likes to spend his time opening the coconut. When he swapped cage with Simone, he ate Simone’s coconut too. Simone did not mind her coconut being eaten by Along.

Oh, my coconut is here. I got a little bit busy with my coconut.

Now they have a good appetite. Along appears less aggressive. He spends more time exploring the environment through staying on the ground with dry leaves and dead woods. Simone spends most of her time on the enrichment. Besides this, she enjoys resting on the basket or sitting on the water container too. Now they are better, Along and Simone are staying happily in BSBCC.

Bamboo leaves smells good!

Oh Oh, why all my bamboo leaves gone?

Never Give Up for Little Wawa

Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May

Do you remember the story of the motherless bear cub which was found by a ranger in Forest Management Unit (FMU) 16, Pinangah, Telupid District? Our little Wawa is not so little anymore. Sun bear cubs grow very fast, especially when they are 4 to 10 months old. She is now 6 months old and her body weighs 11.90 kg. She has started to learn to eat solid food. Her favourite foods are soft fruits like papaya, banana and milk!

It is one month until little Wawa finishes her quarantine period. She should be brought out to the forest to learn all the survival forest skills that she needs. Due to the emotional trauma that resulted from being kept as a pet or the suffering from losing her mother, Wawa does not want to step out from quarantine into the nearby forest and becomes more scared if we let her paws on the forest floor. She becomes grumpy and starts growling! She still feels safer and prefers to stay in quarantine compared to out in the forest. This is the problem when you keep a sun bear as a pet for long periods in captivity. We will never know exactly what happened to her. Her history was told that she was found lifeless and alone without her mother.

This is a challenge for us and our bear care keepers to encourage the cub to forage and climb trees like a wild bear. The love and care of a mother bear can never be replaced but BSBCC bear care keepers provide as much love and support as they can to the sun bear orphans. In order for little Wawa to gain trust and confidence, bear cub keepers provided many natural enrichments to stimulate and prepare her for life back in the wild. She will practice her “wild bear skills”. We let Wawa have a larger exercise den. During the day she is in a larger den with a nice view over the playground. At the den she will be able to view the forest. The den equipped facility features natural habitat enrichment, places to hide away, play objects such as termite mounds, bird nests, logs, dead wood, branches, twigs, dry leaves, and fresh plants to encourage natural behavior such as searching for food, foraging skills, climbing, etc. She is relishing the opportunity to explore the larger den. Wawa is being encouraged to climb and explore around. These are the skills essential for survival in the wild. She is particularly fond of treats and any form of enrichment. She is good at exploring and investigating the enrichment. She has explored, played, climbed, and rested in the big exercise pen. We hope Wawa has her days filled with fun and not fear!

See the beauty of the forest!

Wawa will be given time to become adjusted to her new surroundings. She will slowly gain strength, confidence and develop her independence to survive in the forests of Borneo. She is now learning to enjoy her life again after suffering the pain from the loss of her mother. For sun bear cubs, it means that she will now get her second chance to live in the wild as she was born to do.

My Volunteering Experience

Text and Photos by Viktoria Forstén

My name is Viktoria Forstén, I´m a 19 year old animal lover from Sweden. I got the amazing opportunity to volunteer at the BSBCC through a scholarship from my school. For that I am forever grateful. I travelled across the globe together with my three friends Emelie, Evelina and Kim, and it was the greatest experience of my life.

First of all I want to say how amazing everyone at the center is. That goes for Mr Wong, the bear keepers and everyone working in the office. I feel so blessed to have gotten to meet you all and working alongside you guys.

Unfortunately we live in a world full of destruction, made by us. If we shorten the earths’ lifespan into 24 hours then that means we’ve been here for one day. If we keep looking at it in that perspective, do you know how long it has taken for us to destroy forests and made so many animals go extinct? Three seconds. In three seconds we have done all this, and yet we keep doing it. This isn’t supposed to be a depressing text but it’s true. When I first saw how much rainforest that has been burnt to the ground and been replaced with palm tree plantations it broke my heart. We call ourselves Homo sapiens, which means wise man. But if we are so wise then how could we let this happen? How could we destroy our home that has done nothing but give us life? This earth that we call ours is so beautiful and brings us so much joy. We have the pleasure to explore the deepest of oceans, climb the highest mountains and watch how life begins and how it ends (naturally). We share this earth with amazing creatures and can even create strong bonds with some of them. We have the nerve to claim this earth and everything that comes with it, ours… But we are only guests here. Now you’re probably confused as to how this has anything to do with volunteering at the BSBCC. The point I’m trying to get across is that we have, and are currently ruining not only the sun bears’ home but all the other animals’ home too. By volunteering you are trying to help make a difference to save this species, but how can we save them if their home is being taken away from them in such a raging pace.

In all this chaos there is still a few good people out there, people like the BSBCC crew, who I would call heroes. We need more people like that, to clean up the mess we’ve created. I’m happy centers like this one exist but at the same time I’m sad that we’ve done so much damage that we now need to put a massive amount of money and energy into something the nature once had under control.

What the center does for these bears deserves an award, honestly. Personally I didn’t mind the hard work because I thought it was a lot of fun. My favorite task was getting dead logs from the forest and giving to the bears as enrichment. Since all of the bears can’t go outside due to their traumatic past, enrichment is very important. We used lots of natural materials like logs, leaves, bamboo etc. to give the bears. It was usually made to hide food inside of it, for example we made little nest like balls made out of leaves and grass that we stuffed with fruit and honey. Even fire hoses were greatly appreciated; those were used to put peanut butter inside of them so that the bears got to utilize one of their natural behaviors, which are using their long tongues to get food.

This is what I call “the rope log”, an enrichment made for the bear Amaco.

When you volunteer you get to see a totally different side of the bears that you don’t see as a visitor. It is great being on the platform watching them foraging for food, climbing trees and behaving like a bear should behave. Although once in the bear house you get a feel of each and everyone’s different personalities. My favorite bear was Chin because of her playful ways; I could sit and watch her play with her logs all day long, if that was possible.

If you’re coming from a colder country like me, the climate change is going to have an impact on you. I remember how red and sweaty I would get from cleaning the cages in the morning. The key is to drink lots of water. Even walking the daily feeding route made me look like a tomato. Being pale and not being used to the heat made me look all kinds of crazy, the staff probably thought I was going to pass out several times but I was fine, haha! It was fun and that’s all that matters.

Let’s talk about our accommodation! The volunteers live in a big house kind of, with numerous rooms, an outdoors kitchen with an amazing view and a few toilets and showers. It is simple living but I guess that won’t be a problem for anyone coming to Borneo to volunteer. I loved it anyhow! The place is called Paganakan Dii and there’s even a café that belongs to the accommodation that serves drinks and food. An advice from me is to not cook your own dinners. It is way cheaper, faster and easier eating at the café.

The kitchen view

The gorgeous view over the house!

This is what the accommodation looks like, the rooms and kitchen at the top floor and toilets + showers behind the white doors downstairs.

I’m not going to lie I was a little nervous about meeting the staff for the first time. I’m somewhat of a shy person and the fact that we had to communicate in English was a bit nerve-racking to me. Once I met everyone there was nothing to worry about at all. They were so nice to us and they made me feel really welcome. The language barrier was not a problem; they were really good at explaining everything in English so that we understood. They told me that I was going to cry on my last day, because apparently that is very common among all volunteers. I did not think they were going to be right, but believe me when I say this, you will cry. Saying goodbye to the bears on our last day felt like someone had died. I was crying rivers, it was kind of bad.

Being there for five weeks was truly the best time of my life. The mixture of the warm weather, the cool insects, the amazing people I met and the bears made the experience awesome. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have gotten that opportunity. For everyone reading this, please consider going there to volunteer, I promise you it will be a time worth remembering.

I love leeches; here is my one and only leech I had the pleasure to feed 

Mamatai enjoying the outdoors

A huge thank you to the bear keepers and everyone at the center for making our time there better than ever imagined! I miss you and the bears!

Huge hugs/ Viktoria



Lawa gofundme Campaign

Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May


Lawa has been thriving since she was rescued. She is eager to show that her world is in the forest! Lawa is an agile and cheerful sun bear.  She is become excellent in foraging, digging for grubs, sniffing out bee hives, climbing trees and building a tree nest on her own. It makes you realize how wild these sun bears are meant be.

With her strong natural instincts and mastered all the survival skills, Lawa will soon be a great candidate to release in the wild. Please help us to make Lawa’s freedom possible and give her a future where she belongs! Your support is vital to us. We cannot do it without you!

Here is the site just specify for Lawa gofundme campaign.

Your donation is much appreciated!


Strong Natured Leader – Wawa

Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May

Weighing her, noting down health status, giving her warm milk formula, preparing favorite fruits, providing different types of enrichment, endless loving care of her bear cub keeper and seeing her as affectionately and protectively as her mother could.

Let read story from little Wawa to know more about her rescue and rehabilitation process:

” I was found alone without my mother and appeared weak in the Forest Management Unit 16, Pinangah, Telupid District on the 11th of March, 2016.”

” I was handed to BSBCC on March 18th, 2016 when I was four months old and weighted 4.5kg.”

” I was placed into quarantine.”

” On March 20th 2016, Dr. Laura Benedict, a veterinarian from the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Rescue Unit and the BSBCC team performed a general health check on me.”

” Dr. Laura sedated me, then made a full assessment of my health status. The assessment included a valuation of my overall health, potential sickness (e.g. signs of distress, ill-health, disease, injury etc.), functioning of the internal organs, pulse, respiration and temperature.”

Then an inspection of my claws and teeth. Blood and hair samples were collected also.”

Then an inspection of my claws and teeth. Blood and hair samples were collected also.”

” The blood test results have shown I am healthy.”

” I am has gained weight and grown up so fast over the past few months. Today I weighs 8.60 kg.”

” It is a great joy to report that I finished my quarantine period on April 18th, 2016.”

” I am more bright and alert !!”

” I started to climb, move about and build my confidence each day at BSBCC with a good appetite.”

” My favorites are milk, termites, papaya, banana and honey!”

” My favorites are milk, termites, papaya, banana and honey!”

” My favorites are milk, termites, papaya, banana and honey!”

” My favorites are milk, termites, papaya, banana and honey!”

” My favorites are milk, termites, papaya, banana and honey!”

” My favorites are milk, termites, papaya, banana and honey!”

” I love to explores, enjoying my new journey and recovering from trauma and pain.”

Sun bear cubs often play fight to help develop the defense skills they need in the wild. “This is not an exception for me too. I loves pawing and biting my bear cub keeper. I will show off my small canines and claws while playing.”

” I absolutely loves all and continues to smile – showing off my silly dark snout and small claws.”

” I tends to spend more time digging dead wood, playing and take naps on the small platform.”

” I always alert with surrounding sounds and smells.”

” Then will hides inside the platform !”

” I can be a bit fussy with the things I does not like and will saying “get out of my territory !”

” I absolutely loves all forms of enrichment.”

” I absolutely loves all forms of enrichment.”

Sun bear cubs are dependent on their mother for two to three years in order to know about survival in the forest. Wawa lost her mother and now she has to learn by herself. Wawa will soon be taken for walks in the forest. She will have a second chance to behave like the wild bear that she is. We will be looking forward her rehabilitation process. She has the strong nature of a leader!

Kala is not a lonely bear

Text by Seng Yen Wah (Intern Student from University Malaysia Sabah)

Photos by Chiew Lin May

Kala was bought by a person who with the intention of saving cub on Kalabakan-Sapulut Road near Maliau Basin and then the owner surrendered her to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit. When she arrived at the BSBCC, she was weak. This may cause by the early separation of Kala and her mother. A small cub usually will stay with her mother until 2 to 3 years old. What is the reason will cause a mother to separate with her own cub when they are still in a very young age? The answer is, they had been killed by poachers in order to poach the cute bear cubs. We will say that, the overload cuteness of bear cubs is a horrible curse for them. Kala may have a horrific early life, but now she is growing up and starting her new happy life in BSBCC.

” HELLO” – Kala and Ronnie

Kala used to stay with our other sun bear cubs Boboi, Tan-Tan and Kitud. However the way Kala played made her little to no friends and the other little bears did not like to play with her. After Kala moved from the quarantine to bear house, she had to stay alone. And in order to find some companions for Kala, bear keepers were trying to integrate Kala with our sub-adult group, the bears Sunbearo, Loki, Ronnie Girl, Montom, Susie2 and Damai.

” I see you” – Kala

“Let me get closer” – Kala

The integration between Kala and the sub-adult group was closely monitored to see whether Kala could be integrated with this group or not. If one of the bears in sub-adult group could not be integrated well with Kala, it usually means the integration within the entire group does not work. One has to bear in mind the integration is not simply putting bears together, it is also depended on their age, weight and sex. Their age and weight have to be similar, if not the worst case scenario would be the smaller bear could be injured or during the integration.

Moreover, if the condition of any bear is of lesser healthy, the integration may have to be halted to prevent the spread of disease etc. that may cause other bears illnesses eventually.

” Can I come and play with you?” -Kala

” I’m ready to play! ” – Ronnie

Starting any integration, 30 minutes of time spent together is seen as the limit. Later, if they play well with each other, the time of the integration periods can be extended. During the integration, bear keepers have to observe and if needed step in. Before any integration starts, at least 2 buckets of water and a fire extinguisher are ready and prepared in close proximity of the observing bear keepers. So, in case of any aggression, the bear keeper can step in and use the water or fire extinguisher to separate the aggressive bears or stop aggressive behavior. If the situation becomes worse a loud horn can also be used but we see this as a matter of last resort because the sound might cause other bears distress. The ultimate separation tool in any case of aggression is the use of a water jet to separate them. All actions during the integration sessions are carefully recorded by observers in an integration form.

” Why don’t you see my canine? ” – Sunbearo

” See my canine !” – Montom

The integration for Kala is having an additional purpose, which is let Kala learn and eventually know how to play with other bears. Most of the time, Kala is the one who first enters to other bears cage. She loves to play by moving backwards without looking who she is actually with. And Kala is a very playful bear, she likes to play fight, to chase and run after other bears. However to be honest, Kalas play is really rough, she often paws and snaps after other bears. And hence, Montom, Ronnie Girl, Sunbearo and Susie2 reacted aggressive when they played with Kala during the very first days. The good news is, they are getting to know Kala better after they met for few times, at lately no more aggressive behavior was shown.

Please do not disturb, we are playing well here. – Loki and Kala

Montom and Loki are the ones who always approach Kala. Both of them have showed much more interest in playing with Kala. Sunbearo plays with Kala too, but not as much as Montom and Loki do. On the other side, Kala always approaches Ronnie Girl and Susie2. But, the way she plays seems not acceptable to them. Susie2 always tries to avoid Kala. Damai on the other hand is a solitary bear. She shows the least interest in playing with Kala among the group. Most of the time, she was just stays in a hammock and looking at Kala from hammock.

” This platform is so comfort, see me. Do you want to try? ” -Kala

Don’t be afraid. I can be your good friend. – Loki

For now, Kala was integrated with 2 of 6 bears in one session. In the future we will try to integrate her with at least 4 of the 6 bears at one time. We are looking forward to the integration of Kala with the sub-adult group and hope she can be friends with them soon. After the little bears would not play with her, we want to find her some companion. Now she will get new friends, and is not a lonely bear anymore.