Category Archives: rainforest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First part of the process is the weighing Lawa.

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

Teeth and mouth are checked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion on Lawa release operation.

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

Aerial View of Tabin KM-22 Mud Volcano.

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

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

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

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

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

Could not wait to be free in the forest!

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

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

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

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

Wong Siew Te is feeding Lawa with honey water.

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

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

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

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

 

The Bare Necessities about Bornean bears

Text and Photos by Jessica Prestage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bear Necessities

Text and Photos by Lee Jia Wei

Tomorrow? Oh boy, how time flies! Just a flurry of constant diggings at the bearhouse and suddenly I’m going off real soon! Suddenly 20 days doesn’t seem that long at all, haha!

Being able to volunteer here was honestly, such a blessing from the start. Initially BSBCC had so many interns and volunteers, that they couldn’t afford to take in anyone else until September! However, I was determined to volunteer here, and finally a chance came – an intern student pulled out, and I was given the opportunity to be at the place I wanted to be! When I was told I got accepted, I was literally running around the entire top floor of my house, as if I struck a goal in football, haha!!

How is volunteering in BSBCC? I would say it was exactly I imagined it to be! We did so many things in a day, that lunch break became a luxury, and sleep was heaven, haha!

Everyday, as I am staying in the volunteer hut ‘Bjorn Hala’, I would wake up and make breakfast with my fellow housemates, and around 7.30am, we would go off to BSBCC. We’ll clock-in and start work at 8am when we reach there.

First, we will see which job we are assigned to. On some days, we help to clean the cages. I love how this particular chore tends to bring some people out of their comfort zone, as we have to deal with bear poop and leftover food scraps! In my opinion, cleaning the cages is the toughest of the day’s work, but once you finish cleaning a cage and it’s squeaky clean, you’ll have such a wonderful sense of achievement when you realize the bears would feel comfortable too!

Also, we have to check the electric fences, just to make sure there are not foreign matter obstructing its current. This is also fun, as I get to enter the bear jungle enclosures! (They made sure there aren’t any bears in the enclosure first before me and a staff went in) I got to see the jungle environment the bears explore in the day and it was great to see how big it was!

Then there is another job – the kitchen. I love being in the kitchen! Here, we help prepare the bear’s daily meals. From cooking porridge to washing, slicing, measuring and dividing fruits and vege – it is a blast for me!

Other side chores in which everyone helps everyone to do include feeding the bears in the bear house, feeding the bears out in the enclosures:-

Making enrichments (stuff in which bears can play with):-

Finding materials needed for enrichments:-
(Ginger leaves, dried leaves)

(Logs and sticks)

(Trekking to find termite nests)

(Bamboo and banana leaves)

And of course, giving the bears their enrichments!

Some of the small enrichments we make include:-

Bamboo feeders,

Fire hose feeders,

Nest balls,

Fruity ice blocks, aussie dogs (a sturdy ball with food in it) and Kongs (small rubber toy in which food can be inserted in it); and the big enrichments we make include hammocks, wooden structures and structures made from the fire hose. Usually in the afternoon, we will work as a team to prepare the enrichments, and give them to the bears in the late afternoons to play.

In overall, in my opinion, volunteering here is a “daily routine filled with surprises”. Sure, you know what to expect every single day, but there are so many aspects on what you actually DON’T expect, that makes your days different from the other. Like there was one day, a huge liana plant toppled from the top of a huge tree, and blocked our walkway. We have to cut and remove all the liana in the afternoon, and boy, some of the liana were spiky!

Also, we had to scare some cheeky macaques away because they were blocking the walkway. I also got to see the bear who is going to be released this month, Lawa, in her nest on a tree in her enclosure!

On some days, we get sessions with the founder of BSBCC, in which he was eager to share his knowledge with all of us. I was really happy I finally got to meet him in person as I am going to do the same course as him in university next year!

Not only that, I got the chance to go onto the platforms and talk with the visitors about the sunbears!

As an added bonus, I got to see three cubs – Boboi, Kitud and Tan-tan – being released into the wilderness for the first time. They have never set foot in the forest, and, seeing them slowly tapping the wooden ramp, putting their first paw onto the ground and hearing the staff proudly announce that “they have touched the ground!” felt like I was part of the Apollo 11 mission, except it was the phrase “one small step on the jungle, one giant leap for bearkind”! ^-^ I was really beaming with pride, as when I first came here, they were all still undergoing fence training and playing with one another. On that day, I saw these three bear friends help each other overcome their fear of the unknown, and took their first step onto the soil and grass – they looked so happy!! ^^ One day, I bet, they’ll be roaming in the forest of Tabin once again, back to where they belong.

Boy, I learnt so many incredible things here. I saw how humanlike the bears are! It was so surreal realizing that I am working with bears the first time I stepped into the bearhouse. Seeing them climb everything reminds me of myself when I climb everything in playgrounds! They are so curious, and so intelligent too. Seeing them figure out what to do with their enrichments really made me feel, “Wow, how similar they are to us!” And every bear had his/her own unique behavior and facial features, just like humans, that my initial thought of recognizing the sunbears via their chestmarks dissipated as quickly as it came. Chin always is having so much fun playing with wood, Along is always curious at my washing brush, Kitud loves to stand and watch you, Linggam loves your sincerity, Simone loves to try everything, Cerah and Jelita are friendship goals…. It resolidified my thoughts – We are all animal. We are all equal. No being is superior to the other. Why do us humans put ourselves higher than every other being? The mere fact is we are all the same. We are all breathing. We are all, Life.

And the people. Oh the people! They are probably the definition of “smells like team spirit!!” They ARE team spirit. Everyone in the bear house helps each other like no one else. Not one is selfish. Everyone, literally EVERYONE, is as friendly as anyone can get. At first, as I am from Penang (West Malaysia), I felt a little left out as I wasn’t too fluent in Malay and couldn’t exactly express what I wanted to say. As the days went by I slowly got used to their way of speaking and now “apa-apa saja yang mereka bilang pun saya tau bah” 😀 We had so much fun together after work. They took me out for Hari Raya, watch a movie, have a bbq party together, grocery shopping, tour the orangutan center, eat outside, hear a talk given by Mr. Wong in Sandakan city, and Mr. Wong even brought us to his house to try the food he made himself! It doesn’t feel like a routine when I’m around them – they will crack the silliest jokes and tell the most amazing stories, experiences, even randomly throw in incredible facts, and anime. Oh yes, and I’ve met so many people who studies/studied about the environment like I do – in which in Malaysia, we are a rare breed! Haha! Think this volunteering opportunity is serious? Yes, everyone takes the work seriously. But the atmosphere around the people? Not!! They’ll make any serious atmosphere disappear in an instant! This is the power of Sabahans!

Will I come again? Are you kidding me? Of COURSE! I can’t wait to see more and more bears released into the wild, and more bears rescued and rehabilitated. A LOT of the public think this is only a “center” and what they don’t know, is that ALL bears are RESCUED and are given a second chance to go back into the wild. I really want to see them released back into the Bornean rainforests, where they belong, and I know they are going to continue doing a great job at this, as long as they stay true to their mission. 🙂

I’m not sure if he minds this, but I’m going to quote a particular staff because this sentence has such a positive impact on me:-
BSBCC Staff: “I’m going to quit this job, when there is no need for it anymore.”

Me: *thinks sadly that he means that when the sunbears are extinct* “What do you mean no need for it anymore?”
BSBCC Staff: “When there are a lot of sunbears in the wild, and they are not even endangered anymore.”
Me: :’)

This is hope. And I’m hopeful for the sunbears.
This is a dream. And they are driving it.
I expect big things from you guys 😉

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.

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.

 

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.

https://www.gofundme.com/savethesunbears

Your donation is much appreciated!

 

Volunteer Period

Text and Photos by Julia Riverstal

Hi, my name is Julia Riverstål I am currently 18 years old and I am from Stockholm, Sweden.I am on my final year at an animal care program in Sweden at Spånga Gymnasium. It is thru my school that I have got this amazing chance to see and actually be a part of the amazing work that they do at the Bornean sun bear conservation centre for a total of 5 weeks.

In April 2015 I visited the centre for 4 days with a few others from my school and it is totally stunning to see the progress that some of the bears have been doing in less than 10 months! When I was here the first time some of the cubs were still in quarantine and to see them high up in the trees at the big bear house is just the best receipt to understand that the centre is really making a difference!

My Swedish immune system have unfortunately not handled the Bornean flora of bacteria so good so I have been sick a lot and sadly I had to stay at home for some time. But even if i were sick and had to stay at home I could still help the centre with translating a Swedish TV program about Sun bears, so at least I could do something. I have never felt so appreciated and welcomed at another place and all of the staff at the centre is just outstanding in their way of showing their appreciation and kindness to the volunteers.

Some of the things that you do is routines and are pretty much the same every day, you clean the cages, prepare the food and feed the bears. But even if you do this every day it is never the same, one day the cage is almost clean and the next day it is filled with enrichment or you just have to clean a cage where there has been a complete poop party, haha! With the feeding, both inside and outside you get a perfect chance to see that everything is good with the bear, not being interested of food is a big indicator that something is wrong. Of course it is just a blast to see the bears playing around trying to crack coconut or to see them lie on their back eating sugar pipes. In the afternoon you focus on doing enrichment and if you ask me this is the most fun thing to do, to build or make something that will keep the bear busy for a while. It is not as easy as it seems, there is a lot of things you have to keep in mind when doing this.  First of all it has to be safe for the bears to play with and then you have to adjust the enrichment to the bear that you are going to give it to and I can tell you that it is a lot of different personalities in those bear houses.  The last week we got to be a part of BSBCC´s educating program, I was able to talk to visitors and spread the word about the sun bears situation and what they do at the centre. Educating the people is just as important as talking care of the bears in the bearhouse and it felt really good and surprisingly I met a whole group of Swedish people!

My time at the centre has been amazing, it has been a roller coaster journey for me as a person but it has opened my eyes and given me perspective that has enriched me as a person! I have would not have changed it for anything and if someone is given the opportunity that I was given, take it, you will not regret it!

I want to thank my school, every staff member of the centre and the sun bears for this amazing journey!
A big Swedish brown bear hug from me!
?
// The pale, chubby and red faced volunteer 😉 <3

Doing bamboo feeders!

I the making of a table for the quarantine and also the result with a Thye lim on top!

Insects, huge insects!

Very sleepy sun bear!

Hungry sun bears!

Some of my new friends.

The weather that welcomed me back to Sweden…

Memorable 5 weeks at the BSBCC

Text and Photos by Emelie Siippainen

My name is Emelie and I am a student from Stockholm, Sweden. I study animals so that I can become an animal keeper one day. My school gave me the opportunity to travel to Borneo and volunteer at the BSBCC and off course I took that chance! Ever since I was a little kid I loved animals, actually the first job I ever wanted was being a farmer because I wanted to milk all the cows. That dream soon developed into a life of loving animals and being an environmentally conscience person.

The first day at the sun bear center I was super nervous but very excited. But after meeting the BSBCC team I felt much better and quickly realized I was finally there, for the amazing bears. I got used to the daily routine quickly and started to learn the names of all the bears. During the first days the work was a bit challenging and very physical, but after a couple of days things got easier and easier. I got to do everything from cleaning the indoor enclosures to giving the bears porridge, fruit and corn, like a real bear keeper.  In the afternoons we were working on enrichment projects. I loved the enrichment project time, I found it fun to come up with ideas and use my imagination to challenge the bears. After giving the bears the enrichment, I could have stayed and watch them for hours! It was so much fun being a volunteer in Borneo!

Also the climate was a huge change for me; Borneo is hot and very humid, whereas in Sweden it is cold and grey. And the food is so different. But just to be able to come to a country, live there and be a part of different culture is amazing! Everyone is so friendly and happy all the time, there is never a dull moment. I absolutely want to come back and met everybody again, and especially the bears. The work that is being done at the BSBCC is not easy and it is not cheap, the entire team has to deal with pessimists that are questioning them and the work that they are doing all the time. But their purpose is to preserve the sun bear and to educate the public about them.

Charlie, Me, Filippa and Julia preparing some enrichment.

 

Charlie, Me (Emelie) and Koo with our bamboo enrichment.

 

I spent 5 weeks in Borneo at the BSBCC working with these amazing animals. I have learned so much, not just about the sun bears but also about conservation work and what I can do to make a difference. It is a once in a lifetime life changing experience. I have met so many wonderful people and I had a blast working with the staff at BSBCC.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank BSBCC for having me as a volunteer and the staff that helped so much during my period of volunteering. I hope that Centre will create greater awareness and educate the public about the sun bear.

 

Filippa, Harith, Charlie and Me out for a ride to collect dry leaves for the bears.

Sunbearo, Loki and Ronnie Journey to Wild

Text by Koo Wei Chee (BSBCC Intern Student)
Photos by Chiew Lin May

There was a project that I assigned for to upgrade myself to do something more advance besides the regular routine of what volunteers and interns can do and I got myself one, Thye Lim and Lin May gave me a big project to do, the objective is rehabilitate young sun bears Sunbearo, Ronnie 2, and Loki back to the wild.

Sunbearo, a 1 year old a male juvenile, was kept in a Mini Zoo Hot Spring, Tawau, South Eastern of Sabah before he was handed over to the Sabah Wildlife Department and BSBCC.

Loki, a 1 year old female juvenile, was discovered in the backyard of an inn, where she had been illegally kept as a pet for about five months. It was confiscated by the Sabah Wildlife Department and sent to BSBCC on 24th March 2014.

Ronnie 2, a 1 year old female juvenile, has an unknown history but we believe that she was kept as an ex-pet and was sent to the BSBCC on July 15, 2014.

     They had already been integrated and became very good friends, rolling and playing around every day.

    Fence training is a session for the bears to be aware of electric fences. The place where they are trained is in a moderate size indoor enclose den called training pen with 6 lines of electric wires from top to bottom in the inside perimeter. It is a nightmare for them but a very crucial and important stage to let the bears know that they should not touch those wires or else will be zapped in an electricity. One bear is only allowed in the training in one time if the bear was the first time training in the training pen because if there were two or more newly introduced bears in the training pen and one got zapped, it will immediately thought that it was the other bear which made the torture where will result a bear fight. The fence training period depend on the bears’ progress and it may take up to three months for the bears to get used to the training pen or never. Fruits were scattered near the sliding gate to encourage the bears to go into the training pen, fruits were then scattered near the electric fence once they feel confident to enter to the training pen. Each session of fence training is 30 minutes, the keepers and volunteers in charge have to observe carefully and write down in a table quickly of any moments and behaviours of the bears during the fence training session, this is the most tiring part when keeper in charge sometimes have to recall back what has not been written after the training session. A bear is considered pass the fence training is when it can be able to move freely between cage and training pen in normal behaviour without zap be able to avoid the fence. The bears will then be able to proceed to the next training, the forest enclosure training.

It was hard to watched when we saw them got zapped the first time and they barked, becoming very stressful and will start to pace in the furthest dens they can be from the training pen. Sunbearo was the one the which got the most zap, he did not know what to do at one time but to climb up and got even worse to be zapped in the second electric wire, Lester quickly run to switch off the electricity of the training pen, Sunbearo then climbed down and run to the furthest den and started to bark and moaning, he knew the pain, looking at us and keep moaning for doing this to him.

Sunbearo stands up in the training pen and see what’s going on outside while Loki continues foraging in search of foods.

So glad to see the Sunbearo, Loki, and Ronnie are in the training pen at the same time foraging for food.

    Integration sun bear is one of the rehabilitation process in BSBCC. Integration between rescue sun bears is one of the rehabilitation process in BSBCC through which the bears can learn pertinent skills for survival in the wild. There are some facts which needs to evaluate before targeting any two or more sun bears for the integration training to prevent or decrease bear fight possibility: (1) age, size, and weight have to be similar, if they have big difference, a bear would definitely be killed if they fought; (2) the bears have to be healthy. Younger bears and group bears seem to have a high possibility in successful integration because they have less thought, more curious, and have social group experience for the group bears. Before integration process, few pails of water and a fire extinguisher have to be prepared near the integration cage in case of emergency. Integration lasts for one hour, a paper with a list of table, behaviour codes, and remarks was used to write down the behaviours of the bears in any movement during the integration, this is the detail or data which will be the appendix of the research on how those bears react with each other.

Integration Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Allow two or more bears to live in the same cage.
  • Save more cages for more rescued bears.
  • Allow bears to be less stressful where it turns out that group bears will have less pacing because they have companions to play with and to promote other positive behaviour.
  • The best enrichment for a bear is another bear

Cons

  • Bears are solitary animals, they may think is normal to have another bear as companion, becoming less defensive to wild sun bears, resulting a concern for rehabilitation.

  Sun bears appears to be solitary because their food are scattered all around the forest and they need their own territory to maintain their own food supply, thus for those integrated captive sun bears in the forest enclosure, we need to scatter enough foods all over the area to prevent them for fighting for food supply. Bears and others animal are solitary mainly due to the food shortage issue, in captive condition, foods are always been provided, so we encourage them to stay in a group to promote positive behavior development. Although there is a conflict between the bears natural characteristics and integration, it is used to assist the bears to get along well with each other so that they can be in a single forest enclosure because the main issue is about the centre’s limited number of forest enclosures and dens. Newly rescued captive sun bears need their own space, thus the integration stays an important role for the bear care unit.

 On 22 November 2015, we integrate Sunbearo, Loki and Ronnie with Montom (a 3 years old sub adult male bear) and Susie (a 4 years old adult female bear).

“Come on! Let’s play, what you are waiting for?” says Loki bites Montom’s neck softly to try to pull him to the mini platform.

Montom sniffs Ronnie as a welcome greeting to his place

Sunbearo gave Montom and Susie an alarming growl

 

   We were surprised that Sunbearo, Ronnie, and Loki had a very fast progress in the integration and fence training with Montom and Susie where they played, foraged, and eat together without aggression. Three weeks after the training, the management team decided to let Sunbearo, Loki, and Ronnie to enter the last stage of training, the enclosure training in forest enclosure.

Forest enclosure training is the practice of the applications given to the sun bears in the previous stages of all training and enrichment such as giving them the second chance to climb, toys to improve their senses of smell, sight, touch and taste, integration training and electric fence training. Before the bears went out to the forest, prepared fruit pieces are placed near the cage or guillotine door to encourage the bears to go out and eat, time by time when the bears are confident with the area, the fruit will then be placed further from the cage to encourage them to go further to the forest. At least two keepers have to take a broom and keep an eye of the bears around the forest enclosure outside perimeter to prevent the bears to climb out from the enclosure because the bears may still not get use to the electric fence and may climb up if they got zapped. The training duration for keepers to watch over is the same as training pen, it may take months to have a success for the bears to touch the ground or even not, but the training is not over as it lasts until the bear can really be able to take care of itself for example searching foods in nature, climbing trees and make nest. This is the last stage for the bears before they can be the candidates to be released back to the wild, thus this training is crucial, giving the bears a second chance to go back to their natural wild habitat in a very large area of natural forest.

Sunbearo, Loki and Ronnie are surprised to see the world outside.

“Hey Loki, I think I’ve found something there, should we try to take a look?” says Ronnie on the ground.

Ronnie in den 10, watching far away to see the world; Loki was too hungry, keep on eating through the way; Sunbearo still don’t seem dare to go out.

 Within two weeks the three bears got their first zap from the electric fence near the dens. They still got zapped because they were introduced to a new environment although they already knew there is electric fence which results an environment shock to them. In the first week, I put their prepared cut fruits near their dens to encourage them to go out and explore the enrichment and environment. When they got used to the area, I then started to put further from the den and deeper to the forest enclosure time by time to encourage them to explore more.

Sunbearo feels more comfortable with the place and starts to explore deeper to the forest

Wow! Loki is eating honey bees, she should be enjoying it to lick some honey on the ram and eat some bees as bonus protein

Ronnie, foraging on the forest floor

Loki was checking the ram to see if there’s any remaining honey left

“What are you doing there, can’t you go away?” said Loki as she was very alert to the movements of the surrounding area when she was foraging

Loki took a quick rest after foraging for so long

Loki wondering around on the A-frame platform build by our volunteers

Sunbearo was wondering how to climb down from the A-frame platform

“Ah! Where’s my food?” said Loki when she saw us but didn’t see any fruits more which we scattered on the forest enclosure

Ronnie was alert to the movements and sound on the surrounding area

  The training on forest enclosure E has some issues not only the bears character and behaviour but also the location itself as it is located near the bear house entrance. Keepers who are not in charge of the training will sometimes do their work outside the bear house which made those sound-sensitive bears to be extra alert, thus whenever there’s a sound, even footsteps of us, the bears which are still not used to it will rush back to their dens.

At 24th December 2015, it was a very special day because guillotine door was ordered to close after the bears had gone outside forest. When the guillotine door was shut down, the bears were in alert and stayed very closed to the door, but after a few minutes, Loki and Ronnie started to do what they did as usual, foraging, eating bugs, ants, and termites. Sunbearo then followed them and went even further, he went to all the areas of the surrounding fence and unluckily got zapped again, and he pulled back but not long and went deep in the forest in search for ants and termites. It was a special day indeed that all the bears start confident explore the environment.

Sunbearo, having his precious coconut on the forest floor

Sunbearo had a coconut found as a reward which we threw inside the forest to encourage the bears to explore more. Oops! Loki (on the right) saw that.

It was the first time ever for a bear to sit on this newly made fire hose hammock, Sunbearo is the one who made the record at 24th December 2015.

Sunbearo was finding his way to climb down from the mini-platform while Loki was having her precious coconut.

Sunbearo finally got his way to climb down after searching for around one minute; Ronnie (on the right) kept on searching and digging for her favorite ants and termites

“What is going on right there?” said Ronnie standing up to explore

Sunbearo had a thought once to climb the tree and he then went to forage again, we were very concern about this because the bears should know how to climb a tree to build a nest in order to be one of the candidates to be released back to the wild.

Loki wants to climb down to join Sunbearo to forage for ants

“My precious coconut water” said Loki drinking up as much as she can

On day (28th December 2015), my supervisor, Thye Lim, had a plan to make some food enrichment to be hanged on trees to encourage them to climb. It is a huge success because Loki finally climbed a tree for the first time in her life and successfully climbed her way to get the fruits as her reward. We were then felt extremely happy that Sunbearo and Ronnie also made their first time climbing a tree on the following day (29th December 2015), not only climbed a tree but several trees in the enclosure.

Loki, first climb !! Sun bear have long and curved claws that help them in climb trees.

Loki climb trees to get at the honey and honey bees in the Pipe Feeder

Sunbearo even decided to climb on the tree to have a better view !

Ronnie playing hide and seek on trees

They find a way to get the tasty food out the bamboo feeder.

Sun bear learns how to climb when they are young.

It was a nice pleasure and glad to see the bears given the second chance to touch the earth for the first time in their whole life. I like to see them exploring the environment, foraging, digging, climbing trees and sometimes stand up to watch further in alert to the surrounding area, these are what bears should do, and I really hope they can have a good progress to become candidates to be released back to the wild.