By WONG Siew Te, CEO and Founder, BSBCC
Debbie the latest rescued sun bear cub was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit on Jan 6th and sent to Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre the following day. Unlike other sun bear cubs we have rescued in the past, Debbie was an aggressive and feisty little baby bear. Her aggressiveness can only mean that she was captured from the wild and keep in captivity for a relatively short period of time. She was still retained her “wildness”, a skill that all wildlife must possess to survive, and not fully “domesticize”. Her aggressiveness also mean that she was suffering from a lot of stress, fear to the new environment, and most of all, lost of her mother.
I went to attend the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Colloquium in Kota Kinabalu from Jan 8th to the 11th. During the three days of absence at BSBCC, I called Wai Pak on the daily basis to keep the latest update about Debbie. Because of her shyness and stress, her appetite was not as good as the rest of the rescued sun bears in the centre. Nonetheless, despite of her lack of interest to eat, she defecated normally. Normal defecation is a sign of good health – eat well, no gastrointestinal infection, and illness. Wai Pak told me that she was sleeping, more like hiding to be accurate, either in the basket or on the tree branch in her den most of the time. When the keeper and volunteers were around to clean the cage, she felt very uncomfortable, stressed, and came down to the ground and started pacing. Pacing is the most common behavior that sun bears do when they are under stress, and feel unsafe or threaten in captivity. She would bark at the keeper if they come too close from where she was. One other thing that Wai Pak told me was her eyes looked so sad. Both Wai Pak and me know what “sad eyes” mean to us after both of us taking care of many orphan sun bear cubs. They missed their mother very much, just like all of us do when we lost our mom or love ones. (sob)
I went back to BSBCC on the evening of 11th, day before yesterday, and saw what Wai Pak told me on the phone. Debbie was a sad orphan baby bear cub for an obvious reason. Yesterday I decided to spend some time with her. I want to teach her not to fear the new environment at BSBCC. I want her to gain trust on me and our keepers so that she feel safe and protected under our care and our presence, just like Fulung and Mary. I used a method, the only method that I used over the years to calm down a wild angry sun bear in a bear trap – honey!
Debbie responded to honey really well. Her love of honey is typical of how much sun bear resemble Winnie the Pooh bear. In fact, the Malay name of sun bear is Berung Madu, the honey bear. I first used a pole with smear of honey at one end so that the honey can reached her in her basket. She like it and licked it. I repeated this for few time. When she climbed down on the ground, I gave her the honey from the bottle at the same time calling her “Debbie Debbie my girl”. After few sessions of honey exercise, I finally can called her down from her resting basket and she would licked the honey from the honey bottle and from my hand for the first time.
Today I did several sessions of calling and honey feeding. She responded really well. She moved more in her den to explore the new environment and chewed some decayed woods that we gave her. I can tell that she is much more comfortable today than yesterday. She can licked the honey from my hand without hesitation and I keep my all of my fingers and hand intact at the end of the day!
P/S: The two photos of Debbie was added on Jan 14th. Today she let me touch her little hairy hand!