Natalie reintroduced to the wild, the last step towards her true home

Text by BSBCC

Photos by BSBCC & Scuba Zoo

Finally able to breathe true freedom in the wild…

Natalie, the beautiful adult female sun bear at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) forest enclosure

Natalie, the beautiful adult female sun bear at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) forest enclosure

Just before Christmas 2010 baby cub Natalie was rescued from illegal pet trade and sent to Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) on December 23rd. It was claimed that she was found alone and abandoned by her mother. However, we suspected that her mother was killed by poachers and she was captured and illegally kept as a pet.

A 5 year old adult female beautiful Natalie built up her survival skills, independence and learned to behave like a wild sun bear. Her improvement in her survival skills in the forest enclosure has been excellent. She became an exceptional climber and tree nest maker.  After learning in BSBCC for five years Natalie is ready to be released back to where she belongs – the forest. The ultimate goal of BSBCC is to return rehabilitated sun bears back to the wild and on Sunday May 17th, 2015 it was time to follow this goal; BSBCC started the journey to release Natalie back to the protected forest. Previous to her journey she was fitted with a satellite collar to keep track of her even after her release.  In order to transport the sun bear to the forest as far as possible we chose to use a helicopter. After a long discussion, Wong decided that the helicopter model Layang-Layang Aerospace Sdn Bhd (BO105) was suitable for our purposes because it could fit transportation cage. This is the first time that a captive sun bear got reintroduced to its natural habitat in Sabah using a helicopter and is monitored post release with the help of a satellite collar. Natalie is ready to live a new life as a truly wild sun bear in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve. The experience she has gathered throughout her 5 years at the rehabilitation centre will help her explore her true home in the core area of Tabin Wildlife Reserve. The core area encompasses 120500 hectares and is a pristine rainforest with no human disturbances but lots of big trees, fig trees and a variety of wildlife.

It was a challenging day. All hopes and prayers were solely for this release activity to go as smoothly as planned. The release team’s preparations already started at 3pm on May 16th, 2015 at the bear house of BSBCC when Sabah Wildlife Department vet, Dr. Laura Benedict started the sedation process. A full physical health examination showed that Natalie was completely healthy at 45kg of weight. Dr. Laura Benedict inserted a microchip into Natalie’s body.

Health check starts with Natalie being put on anesthesia by Dr Laura Benedict, Wildlife Rescue Unit veterinarian.

Health check starts with Natalie being put on anesthesia by Dr Laura Benedict, Wildlife Rescue Unit veterinarian.

After sedation, Natalie is transferred out of her cage for a medical check up

After sedation, Natalie is transfered out of her cage for a medical check up

Dr. Diana Ramirez, Dr.Laura Benedict and BSBCC team perform a full health check on the bears’ health to make sure Natalie is fully ready for the reintroduction

Dr. Diana Ramirez, Dr.Laura Benedict and BSBCC team perform a full health check on the bears’ health to make sure Natalie is fully ready for the reintroduction

Dr. Diana Ramirez, Dr.Laura Benedict and BSBCC team perform a full health check on the bears’ health to make sure Natalie is fully ready for the reintroduction

Dr. Diana Ramirez, Dr.Laura Benedict and BSBCC team perform a full health check on the bears’ health to make sure Natalie is fully ready for the reintroduction

Dr. Diana Ramirez, Dr.Laura Benedict and BSBCC team perform a full health check on the bears’ health to make sure Natalie is fully ready for the reintroduction

Dr. Diana Ramirez, Dr.Laura Benedict and BSBCC team perform a full health check on the bears’ health to make sure Natalie is fully ready for the reintroduction

Dr. Diana Ramirez, Dr.Laura Benedict and BSBCC team perform a full health check on the bears’ health to make sure Natalie is fully ready for the reintroduction

Dr. Diana Ramirez, Dr.Laura Benedict and BSBCC team perform a full health check on the bears’ health to make sure Natalie is fully ready for the reintroduction

Dr. Diana Ramirez, Dr.Laura Benedict and BSBCC team perform a full health check on the bears’ health to make sure Natalie is fully ready for the reintroduction

Checking Natalie’s teeth condition

Checking Natalie’s teeth condition

Measuring Natalie’s Hind Paw

A microchip is inserted into Natalie’s body by Dr.Laura Benedict

A microchip is inserted into Natalie’s body by Dr.Laura Benedict

Natalie’s unique chest mark

 

Natalie was then moved to her translocation cage.  Natalie’s journey started on a WRU truck to Wildlife Department Quarter Lahad Datu in the east of Sabah, two hours from BSBCC. Natalie was kept in the translocation cage overnight close to the veterinarians, the WRU team and the team of BSBCC. She was under constant observation and fed with water, honey and banana. Natalie seemed to be stressed in the translocation cage, but freedom was just around the corner.

Wong Siew Te and BSBCC staffs move Natalie to translocation cage

Wong Siew Te and BSBCC staffs move Natalie to translocation cage

Natalie loaded onto the Wildlife Rescue Unit truck

Natalie loaded onto the Wildlife Rescue Unit truck

The team woke up early in the morning on May 17th 2015, and got ready at Tabin Headquarter at 6.30 am. After a full assessment, the weather was considered safe for the helicopter to land at Tabin Headquarter. Once the helicopter arrived, the operation was split into three different trips. With the first two trips the team entered the mud volcano of Tabin to evaluate and identify the most suitable release site.

Helicopter provided by Layang-Layang Aerospace Sdn Bhd arrives in Tabin Headquarter

Helicopter provided by Layang-Layang Aerospace Sdn Bhd arrives in Tabin Headquarter

Final discussion on Natalie release operation

Wong Siew Te is feeding Natalie with water

Wong Siew Te is feeding Natalie with water

First team will evaluate the release area and identify the proper release point

Wong Siew Te – the CEO & Founder BSBCC

First team will evaluate the release area and identify the proper release point

First team will evaluate the release area and identify the proper release point

Tabin rangers, WRU team and BSBCC team are assist uploaded the translocation cage into helicopter

Tabin rangers, WRU team and BSBCC team are assist uploaded the translocation cage into helicopter

Tabin rangers, WRU team and BSBCC team are assist uploaded the translocation cage into helicopter

At 10.17 am, it was Natalie’s turn to be flown to Tabin mud volcano

Once Natalie arrived, the team set up the translocation cage in the correct direction for release. Dr. Laura conducted a final check, to ensure that Natalie was ready to enter her new home!

The BO 105 Helicopter carrying Natalie in her translocation cage landed safely on the Tabin mud volcano

The largest protected wildlife area in Sabah, Tabin Wildlife Reserve which rich diversity of plants and animals

The BO 105 Helicopter carrying Natalie in her translocation cage landed safely on the Tabin mud volcano

The BO 105 Helicopter carrying Natalie in her translocation cage landed safely on the Tabin mud volcano

The BO 105 Helicopter carrying Natalie in her translocation cage landed safely on the Tabin mud volcano

The BO 105 Helicopter carrying Natalie in her translocation cage landed safely on the Tabin mud volcano

The BO 105 Helicopter carrying Natalie in her translocation cage landed safely on the Tabin mud volcano

The BO 105 Helicopter carrying Natalie in her translocation cage landed safely on the Tabin mud volcano

Natalie is unloaded from helicopter

Natalie is unloaded from helicopter

Natalie is unloaded from helicopter

Natalie is unloaded from helicopter

Natalie is unloaded from helicopter

Natalie is carried to the release point

Natalie is carried to the release point

Natalie is carried to the release point

A 20 m rope was tied to the sliding gate of the cage. The team stood 15 m away from the translocation cage.

Preparation before the Natalie release

Preparation before the Natalie release

Preparation before the Natalie release

Preparation before the Natalie release

Natalie awaiting her release

As soon as the door of her cage was opened, Natalie straight headed into the forest. She explored everything, sniffed the air of Tabin and assessed her new environment before disappearing into the tall tree canopy of the forest. Tabin Wildlife Reserve has welcomed her into a new protected home.  The emotions running through the forest while watching Natalie enjoying her newfound freedom are un-describable. A heart-warming moment filled with tears of joy.

Once the cage door opened, Natalie quickly steps out from the translocation cage and slowly discover her new home

All of sudden she realized she was free !

Look at this precious Natalie, how can we not want to give her a second chance of freedom?

Making her way over tall trees displaying natural bear behavior. Natalie finally got her first taste of freedom in the wild

 

Wildlife Rescue Unit team, Tabin Rangers, BSBCC team and Scuba Zoo Filming Crews in Tabin Headquarter.  Thanks for all your support in helping sun bear and release work.

 

Natalie! Stay healthy, happy and keep growing gracefully!
You will always be in our hearts!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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