Category Archives: behavior

The Tiny, Nano

Text and Photos by Seng Yen Wah

Nano is a two years old sub-adult male bear. He was sent to the BSBCC on the 20th of November, 2016. A lady decided to rescue Nano when she saw Nano was kept in a small chicken mesh cage in Kota Marudu, north of Sabah. She purchased him from the seller for a  price of RM1,500, with the purpose of saving his life. Nano was surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department and sent to the BSBCC after that.

He showed aggressive, alert and stressed behaviour when he first arrived. Besides that, he was found underweight, just weighing 9.7 kg. He paced a lot especially when he got stressed. This was due to psychological trauma that he had suffered and it caused stereotypical behavior. Actually, Nano is a very shy and quiet bear. He enjoys staying to himself. If somebody tries to disturb him, he would give a warning and barks or growls.  He likes to rest on a towel. He feels safer staying alone and preferably in dark. Nano just finished his quarantine. But, he is still taking his time adapting. Now, he weighs 11kg. His favourite foods are banana and egg!

We did not know what exactly happened to him for the past two years. But, we believed he was kept as a house pet before. People might think sun bears are cute when they are still a cub. So, people insist on keeping them as a pet. But they never think about the consequences resulting from keeping them in a small cage or feeding them with the wrong diet. The mistreatment of the owner will not only cause sun bears having some relevant health problem like dehydration, and malnutrition but also the psychological trauma can cause stress-related behaviour. The trauma implies their future life. So, Please stop doing that for sun bears!

Nano has suffered a lot. The best enrichment for a bear is another bear. So, we plan to find Nano a friend for accompanying him. The integration of Nano with others can help him to learn more survival skills from his new friends along with helping him to reduce his stress as well. We hope Nano can leave his traumatic early life behind and be happy and gain his confidence at the BSBCC.

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.

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!

 

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!

Just the Way It Should be For a Sun Bear Cub

Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May

“Growling, and bawling loudly” every day from one of the female sun bear cub, Dodop. Sun bear cubs will begin bawling long, and loud when frightened or separated from their mothers. Cubs also scream in distress like human babies. This has happened to Dodop because she was treated like a pet, kept in a house and lost her four permanent canines. She has absolutely no fear of humans and has loss of wild instinct. Usually mother and sun bear cubs will stay together in the wild for two to three years, as they should be. It is likely that Wawa and Dodop’s mothers were killed by poachers. Their mother defends them, warms them, nurses them and teaches them survival skills. Sun bear cubs require around the clock care. This is undoubtedly why Dodop looks so sad and depressed when her care taker is not around.

So our Bear Care unitmade the decision that Dodop and Wawa need to be introduced to have their first ever bear friend. Finally the big day arrived on 25th June 2016, where we integrated Dodop with Wawa. Dodop is 11 months old and Wawa is 7 months old. She is bigger than Wawa. On that day, Dodop was transferred to an adjacent den. It was a new environment for Dodop at the beginning but she quickly adapted to it.

As soon as Wawa saw Dodop, she kept barking in a deep voice at Dodop for the first 15 minutes. Dodop was shocked and barked back. But Wawa being the curious one went into the den where Dodop was located, and tried to approach, and sniff her. Wawa wrestled her and was teaching Dodop to fight back by showing small, strong canines and small, sharp claws! The cubs wrestled and pawed non-stop with one another for about 30 minutes before one of them gave up for a rest.

Wawa was very curious towards Dodop and barked on her during their first meeting.

This is a special day for Dodop and Wawa. This could be their first contact with another sun bear after a very long time.

They still definitely curious!

This friend as something to say…

Wawa already start her curiosity and playfulness.

 

Wawa and Dodop share the same large dens. Wawa is willing to let Dodop explore the world but only on her terms! They spend a lot of time climbing enrichment structures, wresting each other, chasing, sharing the same enrichment and taking naps inside the hammock or basket. They have developed and acquired new survival skills as wild bears. They have big appetites! They keep putting on weight and eating a variety of food, including milk, sweet corn, banana, papaya, honey dew, watermelon and honey. Both of them tend to get more fruits on themselves than in their mouth!  Wawa now weighs 16.10kg and Dodop weighs 20.90 kg. Wawa is the more outgoing of the two cubs. Dodop’s condition is continuing to improve and she has becomea more confident little cub after meeting her new friend, Wawa.

Wawa is the kind of bear who is up for anything…

Dodop has a distinct personality and habits that are unique to her. She enjoys the love and attention she receives.

They spend a great deal of their time playing and wrestling together.

They spend a great deal of their time playing and wrestling together.

They spend a great deal of their time playing and wrestling together.

A great new playmate!! Dodop (left) is pawing Wawa (right).

Wawa show to Dodop that she has strength too!

Wawa show to Dodop that she has strength too!

All happily grasped between grateful paws.

PLAYTIME!!

Bear cub keepers give the cubs various enrichment items – these could be dead logs, puzzle feeders, the Aussie dog ball, dry leaves, green leaves,a fire hose pocket filled with peanut butter and many others. Both of them are extremely playful and love to investigate the new toys together. They socialize with each other and explore their surroundings.

Wawa shows more dominance compared to Dodop. Although being the youngest and smallest, she never feels threatened by Dodop. For the rest of the weeks, they integrated well and cared for each other better. No serious aggression was noted. They spend more time learning how to be in a beautiful friendship, and to be happy, healthy, agile sun bears after all that they have been through. For them, life is full of happiness and filled with new things to explore which is just the way it should be for a sun bear cub.

Even Wawa was smaller than Dodop. Wawa is total boss.

They love to mock wrestle with each other.

They are full of enthusiasm who enjoys making the maximum use of enrichments in the dens.

They are full of enthusiasm who enjoys making the maximum use of enrichments in the dens.

They are full of enthusiasm who enjoys making the maximum use of enrichments in the dens.

They are full of enthusiasm who enjoys making the maximum use of enrichments in the dens.

They are full of enthusiasm who enjoys making the maximum use of enrichments in the dens.

They are full of enthusiasm who enjoys making the maximum use of enrichments in the dens.

Sometimes they play, sometimes they find a tasty snack, and sometimes they nap far above the ground.

So much happier with their pain and trauma removed.

They are many more sun bears suffering due to habitat loss, hunting and illegal wildlife trade. The number of sun bears have fallen by at least 30% over the past 30 years. We need to highlight ending wildlife trafficking which includes ending demand, strengthening wildlife laws and enforcement. We need to stand up and do our part!

Honey Month with The Honey Bears

Text and Photos by Wong Chung Li


BSBCC is a place where I have lovely experience for both my volunteering days and my school tour. Back when I was still a student from Yu Yuan Secondary School on 2013, I had a precious chance to visit BSBCC with my classmates along with teachers before it was opened one year later. It’s a fruitful and fabulous tour as we could see the bears which we have never seen. In addition, the staffs were telling a lot of interesting facts to us and the ways we can conserve these cute creatures. At that time, I hope that I could do something for the bears.

However, I have postponed the plan until three years later. It’s my summer vacation of my university, so I decided to join BSBCC as a volunteer for a month. On my first induction, I was given instructions and rules I have to obey. This boosted me up and I really can’t wait for it to be started.

Morning

Ok! I have to drive 10 miles daily from home to work on early morning. As volunteer, I was offered a chance to stay in Bjorn Hala, a staff house which accommodates some staffs and volunteers but it’s a bit crowded then. On morning, we are assigned to different works according to the schedule but usually we have to prepare the foods or do fence checking first. Fence checking is an inspection of the voltage of our fences surrounding the forest enclosures and confirmation of the bears staying in the forest. We have to remove some branches trapped between the fences which lower the voltage. After that, we back to bear house and do our following works. Sometimes, I was assigned to clean cages. At first, I felt that the faeces and the dirt in the cage smelled unpleasant. After one month of “training”, I can say loudly that I can endure and get used to it already haha!

In cleaning cages, I learned that the faeces of the bear reflect what they eat and the different behaviour of different bears. A few naughty bears love to distract and disturb me from the neighbouring cages and when they grab the things, I can barely get it back due to their overpower strength. In doing kitchen works, I also learn of what bears eat every day and some special diet for some bears.

Afternoon

After preparing the second meal of porridge, we will go outside feeding. Outside feeding enables me to see bears playing in the forest in a short distance and have trained my stamina on carrying buckets of fruits and walk on the forest. When feeding is done, we will do some enrichment for the bears. Bears do pacing while they stress out. Some may injure themselves by doing so. The purpose of doing enrichment is to reduce their pacing behaviour and somehow encourage their climbing and foraging skills. I really enjoy this activity. It gives me a sense of achievement when the bears play it and try to suck the foods out.

After coming here, I start to differentiate each bear by looking at its appearance other than its unique chest mark. I also understand how complex the process of placement of bear from integration to fence training to forest enclosure and finally release is. The release of bear requires a lot of energy and money but it allows the bear to enjoy the wild again. Our bears all have sad past when they were still cubs. So I really hope that they can live happily afterwards.

Mr Wong, the CEO & Founder of BSBCC is a kind and knowledgeable wildlife biologist who has studied sun bear for 20 years. He always shares his stories and experience with us during his free time. He has a lot of books inside the office and he can always remember where the information comes from. His stories of building up the BSBCC and sacrificing his personal life are really inspiring. Other than sun bear, Mr Wong study birds well too. After I tried his foods, I believe he will become a famous chef if he didn’t become a wildlife biologist.

I would like to thank all the staffs, especially the bear keepers and maintenance team which I always work with (Forgive me for not mention the names one by one). Given my limited ability to speak Malay, they can still communicate with me well. They are so friendly and patient in teaching me the ways to use some equipment. We have chit-chatting a lot and know about each other well. I also love to listen to their working experience and other stories.

I would like to give credits to Lester, my buddy. This is because he really helps a lot and provide professional advice to me on doing our enrichment called “Swing Along” for one of our bear called Along. As I know, Along still hasn’t stepped on our enrichment yet haha. Besides, he is a funny guy and always influent in atmosphere. Without him, we always feel like we lack something. At last, I would like to say that it’s a great honor to work along with you guys and being a part in helping sun bear. Thank you!

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. http://www.alaskabearsandwolves.com/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.

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.

A hint of the life that she should be living!

Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May

One of the happiest moments since her arrival at the centre has been her growing fondness of the forest, where he loves foraging and eating soil.

Our one year old, female sun bear cub Kala is growing up! Kala was bought by someone on Kalabakan-Sapulut Road near Maliau Basin with the intention of saving the cub they then surrendered her to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit. She had never even been given the chance to experience life as a wild bear – poached from the wild as a cub after her mother was killed; this horrific life was all she had ever known.

When she first arrived at BSBCC, Kala was emaciated, dehydrated and malnourished. Back then her weight was just 3kg and she was very thin.

We are very glad that her health is now in a stable condition. She has been relying on FIDO Premium Milk Powder for her growth. A huge thanks to our most generous and certainly loveliest supporters from TTL Distributors Sdn Bhd who have given our orphaned sun bear cubs a life full of meaning and joy.

During her rehabilitation, Kala was taken out for daily forest walks to learn important forest skills by our bear care staff for almost one year. She is making good progress through gaining confidence while climbing in the trees, loving to be outside and finally learning how to be a bear. When she was about one year and three months old, she had reached the age where she was no longer vulnerable for a human to walk with her in the forest.

Our “mother bear” is leading the climbing skills to little Kala.

It is truly heart-warming to see little Kala take his first few climb on trees.

Last year in November we tried to let Kala meet new cubs and make friends (Boboi, Kitud and Tan-Tan). Unfortunately, Kala was not accepted by her three companions due to her rough play fighting, but we will continue to look for other bears who she might find some companionship with. This is a time for little Kala to make new friends and go out into the sunshine. On February 23rd, 2016 a veterinarian from the Sabah Wildlife Department, Dr Laura Benedict, and Wong Siew Te with our bear care team helped in the moving process. During the process, a general health check on Kala was conducted to assess potential sickness, functionality of organs and physical condition. The blood tests concluded that Kala was a healthy bear and she now weighs 23.35kg.

Process moving Kala to Bear House starts with Kala being put on anesthesia by Dr Laura Benedict, Wildlife Rescue Unit veterinarian.

After the sedation procedure, Kala was carried out of her den and put into the transportation trolley.

Bear care team help to transfer Kala to Bear House.

Reach new home at Bear House!

Dr.Laura Benedict and Bear care team perform a full health check on Kala.

Dr Laura took blood samples, give deworming and multivitamin injections, while Bear care team were busy monitoring TPR (temperatures, pulse rate, and respiration rate), taking body measurements and photos, collecting hair samples (for future DNA studies).

Checking Kala’s teeth condition

Kala’s unique chest mark! The sun bear’s name comes from this marking, which looks like a rising sun.

Carrying Kala to her new dens once the health check process has completed.

When moving Kala to her new dens, the other neighboring bears showed curiosity to the little cub. Kala’s den is designed in a semi natural style to give her a real taste of freedom and to stimulate her natural behavior in the wild.

Curious with neighbour bears !

Kala is gradually settling down to the new environment.

The bear care team has given Kala various enrichment items – these have included puzzle feeders, fire hose bags, fire hose pockets filled with peanut butter, green leaves, logs, and hidden treats encouraging Kala to forage. Little by little she tried out every enrichment and ventured around the new den. Kala is extremely playful and loves to investigate new toys! When it comes to food, she eats all her meals with relish!

 

She is playful, energetic and loves spend hours playing all kinds of enrichment.

Yummy!

 

 

She enjoys taking her nap inside the basket.

Incredibly long tongue, perfect for extract honey and insects!

These events have given Kala a new journey in life. Beautiful Kala has been so strong and brave in shaking off her past and loves her freedom today. We will continue to help Kala develop the forest skills she needs until she returns to the wild again.  The next step for Kala is she will be introduced to the bears who are the same age as her and slowly will have access to the natural forest enclosure. So stay turned!