Text by Timothy Ng Cheuk Fung Photos by Sumira Muis@APE
My name is Timothy Ng and I’m studying to be a Veterinarian at The University of Melbourne. My 2 weeks here at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) was filled with excitement, as well as countless learning opportunities. It is definitely an experience for all wildlife enthusiasts.
By the end of the first day, our brains were saturated with information and facts about sun bears, thrown at us by the friendliest team of people that work at the centre. The staff were excellent teachers, and there was bearly any language beariers. Within the next few days, we were quickly taught a wide variety of skills that allowed us to work like bear keepers: food preparation, feeding, cleaning, and installing enrichments.
However, the learning experience didn’t simply end there. Throughout the programme, we ventured out beyond the scope of the Bears and their enclosures. As many might know, bear husbandry does not only include activities that directly correlate to the bears. It also requires knowledge, for example, on the bear’s habitat. Therefore, we were also able to learn about other interesting matters, such as where to find termite mounds, other animals that share the rainforests with the bears, how the animals interact, the plants in our surrounds, and how to build enrichments.
The heat, humidity, and downpours made tasks much more challenging. Fortunately, the work environment created by passionate staff, and the frequent visits from free roaming wildlife made our work much more bearable.
Although its only for 2 weeks, I’m very grateful to be able to take part in BSBCC’s mission to improve the bear’s welfare and help in the rehabilitation process. I highly recommend this programme to anyone who is eager to learn, and wouldn’t mind getting a few leeches on them.
Text by Olivia Carleen Phoon Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
I am Olivia Phoon, a 23-year old from Subang Jaya (I can already hear the jokes). I am a second year DVM student at University of Sydney, Australia. As part of my preclinical placement, I spent 2 weeks at the BSBCC.
Armed with very little knowledge about sun bears, non-profit organisations or the local wildlife. I had 2 weeks to learn as much as I could and in return be of some help to them. Within that period, I discovered the bears’ histories, diets, necessities, behaviours and nuances as well as the challenges and threats affecting them. I was made aware of the rescue, rehabilitation and release protocols. As well as the struggles to run and maintain an ethical conservation centre; and the intervening departments involved. On top of that, I was introduced to the beautiful local culture, language, nature and insects. I was immediately attracted to the welcoming and positive attitude held by the BSBCC team. Working closely with a community who is not only passionate about animals, but also diligent, inspiring, caring and funny was an opportunity I will always be grateful for. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I was present when a bear escaped. I witnessed the compassion and determination of the bear care team in the search and recapture of the confused little bear.
Sun bears are curious, sensitive and very intelligent creatures. Their gorgeous, golden-yellow chest mark, black coats and short stature distinguish them from the other 8 bears species in the world. Equipped with a brilliant sense of smell, long tongue and sharp claws, they can be found ripping up termite mounts, tree barks and extracting honey (one of their favourite food), thereby earning them the nickname ”honey bear”. Threatened by deforestation and poaching, BSBCC was founded with a clear set of goal to conserve the vulnerable sun bear population. This involves rescuing and rehabilitating the bears in the hope of releasing them, educating the locals and the world through outreach programs and social media and continuous research in sun bears. As of today there are 44 bears in the care of BSBCC.
During my first week here, I struggled to recognise the 40 bears at the bear house and remembering every bit of information provided. Nonetheless, the bear keepers were always there to remind me and showed me the bears’ distinguishing features. As the oldest and longest-serving bear keeper (and employee), my buddy, David was ever ready to share a snippet of his wisdom and experience whilst protecting us from the thieving macaques during the outdoor feeding time. While we do differ in interests (avid forestry and army folks, he will be your best buddy!), I believe we share similar work ethics (sans banana washing) and the love for the animals. His knowledge in forestry, experiences in the jungle, the ins and outs of the bear house, and admirable work ethics should be cherished and applauded. Roger and Sumira acted as my alternate buddies and I learned so much from them as well as from the other bear care staffs. While I enjoyed the day to day activities of cleaning, preparing food, feeding and making enrichments, I will always remember the mini road trips to collect banana leaves, dry leaves, ‘ketapang’ sapling, the setting of the live trap, jungle tracking, watching the bears climb trees and eat coconut. Observing the bears interact with each other and the environment, exploring their enclosures and enjoying their enrichments were definitely one of the main highlights of this placement. As a highly curious person, I am very thankful for everyone’s openness to my plethora of bear and non-bear related questions. If I was ever too direct or “unbearable”, I hope you will accept my sincere apologies.
I already missed the bears, the camaraderie, the shared laughter and teasing, the singing and the enriching information shared. Every moment is filled with so much positivity that it helped me forget the problems I was boggled with leaving Sydney. Thank you so much to Dr. Wong for the amazing opportunity, Azzry for arranging my placement and to the bear care team (you know who you are!) for teaching and looking after me. Special thanks to Melynda, Emma and Sara for working and putting up with me. Finally, but most importantly, to my Bjorn Hala family (Rebecca, Mizuno, Jeniur, Andy, Yen Wah and Panda), thank you so much for opening up your home to me and for always being so concern of my well-being. Please take care of little Si Panda for me :)
I hope I will have the privilege to work with all of you again one day. Fingers crossed, by then, Phin would have passed his fence training and be exploring the outdoor enclosure, Ronnie (boy) and/or Bermuda will have the chance to do the same, Debbie and Damai would be successfully released, the trios- Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan would be the next release candidates, Amaco and Kudat will be less stressed out, and my sweet Si Manis will enjoy the rest of her life comfortably with her honey porridge and new hammock. Regardless, I know the bear care team will do their best to nurture and provide the bears with the life they so deserve. I hope the BSBCC team realize that the Bornean sun bears are very blessed to have people like you fight for their place in this world.
For everyone else out there, don’t just be bystanders. Ever sat down and wonder what you can do to help the sun bears? Email BSBCC today and ask to volunteer, donate, adopt or just spread the word about the least known bear species in the world. Every individual has a role to play, so do you. Lots of bear hugs, Olivia
A visit from Pusat Tuisyen Cerdik Minda visited BSBCC today. There are 80 students with their teacher involved in this visit. The students were given presentation on sun bear by Ms. Gloria. Before they went to the observation platform to see the sun bears roaming in the forest enclosure, they were given a task to test their understanding on sun bear from different topics about sun bear. This activity encourage creativity in a child as well as to increase their understanding on sun bear. The children together with their teachers enjoyed their time at our Centre learning about sun bears and the environment.
Text by Chiew Lin May Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
We are delighted to report that we have successfully released our third and fourth release candidates to the core area of Tabin Wildlife Reserve, located in Lahad Datu, Sabah on the 7th of March, 2018. Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) aims to give back freedom to our rescued bears. Damai and Debbie are ready for reintroduction to their natural habitat. It has stolen our hearts to know that they are behaving like wild sun bears. This is an exciting moment and is wonderful to see our sun bears getting a second chance at life.
Debbie was purchased by a guy from Tuaran. She was surrendered to Sabah Wildlife Department and sent directly to BSBCC in January 2012. Debbie has grown into a healthy sun bear. She is a keen explorer! She developed a strong set of survival skills with her agility and superb climbing abilities, she adjusted to forest life with confidence and ease. After six years in rehabilitation, Debbie has grown to be the perfect candidate for release. She is now able to return to a life of freedom!
Damai arrived at BSBCC way back in November 2012, when she was found wandering in a car park near Kota Kinabalu. She was then rescued and transported to BSBCC. Now at six years old, beautiful Damai weighing 39.6 kg is ready to say goodbye to BSBCC after years of rehabilitation. Damai is independent in nature. She knows what she wants and tries to take care of her own needs all by herself.
Both Damai and Debbie are now in excellent condition and are progressing well in BSBCC rehabilitation, where they are learning their survival skills. Both have become very skilled tree nest builders by using branches, liana and green leaves. They love to spend time up in the treetops! They are also excellent in foraging for termites, grubs and invertebrates. They have quickly picked up forest skills. These two rescued sun bears had completed their rehabilitation and are ready to live independently in the wild. They are looking forward to enjoying life in the wild! We cannot wait for Damai and Debbie to enjoy this freedom!
On 6th March 2018, Dr. Nabila Sarkawi from Sabah Wildlife Department veterinarian, sedated the release candidates at around 2.50 p.m. and moved the two bears to the medical tables for a final health check, and then safely transferred them into the transportation cages. They were placed at the bear house for a night with close monitoring by our release team.
Ready to depart!! On 7th March 2018, at 3.00 a.m. Damai and Debbie were loaded onto the vehicles at BSBCC, ready for the long journey. They were very well cared for by the release team throughout this process. The journey from BSBCC to Tabin Wildlife Reserve took about three hours by car.
It is time!!
We are wishing the best of luck to Damai and Debbie as they begin their new lives in the wild.
After many years of undergone rehabilitation, Damai and Debbie have been released back into the forest to start a new life of adventure!
After many years of undergone rehabilitation, Damai and Debbie have been released back into the forest to start a new life of adventure!
Upon reaching Tabin Wildlife Reserve, the team quickly prepared the transport cages to be airlifted by helicopter (model Sabah Air Aviation Sdn Bhd (Bell 206) Longranger Underslung). Damai and Debbie were then airlifted to their new home!
In the meantime, our release team entered the mud volcano of Tabin Wildlife Reserve before the bears arrived in order to evaluate and identify the suitable release site.
This is the moment that everyone was waiting for. Once Damai and Debbie arrived at the core area,
Flying over the spectacular dense rainforest of Tabin Wildlife Reserve.
Release team prepare to release sun bear back into the wild at Tabin Wildlife Reserve.
The team carried them to the release points deep in the forest.
It was amazing to see them getting back their freedom!
Curious Damai peering through her cage, try to look at her new environment.
We started by releasing Damai first, and then followed by Debbie.
" This will be a goodbye to us" - Wong and Damai
" This will be a goodbye to us" - Wong and Debbie
As soon as the transportation cage door opened, Damai explore the nearest tree to begin her life of freedom.
While Debbie walk straight into the forest without becoming agitated.
We kept our distance and continued to observe them through the tall trees! Damai and Debbie were released into their Borneo forest and could taste true freedom in their new home! We were delighted to see Damai and Debbie thriving in our care. They have all made long journeys in their lives, and now is it the right time for them to return back to where they belong. Stay healthy and strong Damai and Debbie!! We also will monitor their movement via satellite collar to ensure they are thriving.
BSBCC would like to express gratitude for the support of all parties, their contributions and dedication to assisting with this release process and our sun bear conservation efforts!
This is where you can help make a difference! Every donation helps orphan sun bears like Damai and Debbie here back to the their true home - FOREST. You can donate to http://www.bsbcc.org.my/donate.html Your donation is much appreciated!
On the 7th March 2018, a session with kids at Vision School, Sandakan was conducted by BSBCC's education team where the kids learnt about sun bear's anatomy. They get to learn about special features of sun bears and create their own chestmark patterns. The kids also get to share with their friends their special features if they were a sun bear. It was a fun session and the BSBCC team will be visiting the school again in April. Looking forward to meet these kids again!
One of the teachers, Ms Chris introducing the session to the students
Mdm Sharon conducting an introduction session about sun bear anatomy to the students