Sun bear generally is a solitary animal in the wild. The only times when wild sun bears are not solitary is during the breeding season when male and female bears travel together for several days until mating takes place, and female sun bear with their cubs. These bear cubs can live with their mother for at least two years until they reach adulthood and are as big as their mother. Different male sun bears overlap their territory at a minimum level. They are territorial and defense their territory from other bears. Six out of the 7 adult male sun bears that I caught in the wild had bite marks and scars on their body especially neck resulting from severe fights with other bears. One male adult bear was known to kill a young female bear known as “Little one”, the sun bear that appears in the logo of BSBCC. Little one was a 10-month old female sun bear that was killed by a 3-year old male sun bear in the forest. The territorial and aggressive behavior of sun bear is a result of competition in a habitat where food is a limited resource and the male bears compete for access to female bears. Compared to other sun bear habitat in SE Asia, the rainforest of Borneo has the lowest productivity, which intensifies competition among the bear population. Sun bears are also known to be more aggressive to each other as compared to Asiatic black bears in captivity. Sun bears can live in groups in most captive situations where food is not a limiting resource and competition for mates is not an issue. However, the initial stage of integration or introduction of non-familiar bears can be the most stressful events that a bear can experience in captivity. In the wild, a bear can have the choice of interact with a strange bear based on environmental, familiarity, and safety conditions. In captivity, such choices may be limited.
At BSBCC, Om and Ah Chong are two male bears that we would like to integrate so that they can live together because we simply do not have enough enclosures for individual bear. This is the first integration for male bears at our centre and we hope the integration go well. We would like to pair them up as they have been live in adjacent cages for years with no aggression behavior in our old bear house and both of them have similar size. So finally on April 10th, we integrate them for the first time. This is what happen over the next two hours:
Today saw one small step for a sun bear, but one giant leap for BSBCC. On Tuesday 20th April at approximately 10am, Om one of the adult male bears, took his final step into the new Jungle enclosure. The process of giving the sun bears a better life started many years ago, but today it was actually happening. I had the incredible privilege to be present at the time, alongside Waipak and Charlie Hoare, a professional wildlife photographer, who has kindly volunteered to photograph the sun bears in their new home, following working with Raleigh Borneo.
Om had been thinking about venturing outside for a few days, but was always leaving just one paw inside for security. However this morning after the hatch to the outside had been opened for nearly an hour, Om finally crawled down the ramp and onto the forest floor. It was an amazing moment to watch with Charlie lost for words. He couldn’t believe his luck, he is use to waiting days to get the desired shot and Om had provided it in only an hour.
Once on the ground Om ran back and forth with enthusiasm, this was followed by loud excited barking. He only stayed outside for a few minutes returning back inside bounding up the ramp. He didn’t venture out again, most likely resting from the adrenalin of the mornings activities.
So now we hope that the other bears will soon follow Om into what is their natural habitat. Good luck to everyone working at the centre in the coming weeks, especially the sun bears themselves. Jim Clements, Country Director, Raleigh Borneo Photos by Charlie Hoare
The very first step of Om getting out to the forest enclosure.
There is nothing more happy for Wai Pak to witness such moment that we all have been working hard for.
Behind the bear house is the 1 ha forest enclosure in Sepilok Forest Reserve.
Our state of the art new bear house is one thing for sure that make us all very proud at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. It cost about USD400,000 and took 8 months to build. However, there is another important element at BSBCC that make us even more proud is our 1-hectare forest enclosure that our bears will spend most of their time playing, foraging, climbing, digging, sleeping and resting. This forest enclosure is priceless, there is simply no monetary value on this piece of 1 hectare of primary forest, and it takes millions of years to build. When I first visited this piece of forest few years ago when searching for an ideal site for BSBCC, I cannot tell the difference between this forest that will be the our forest enclosure for the rescued sun bears and the natural forest that I spent years to study wild sun bears. This is it! This is the best living environment that we can possibly give to our rescued sun bears. Here, the bears can do what they use to do in the forest. It is also going to be here that visitors- ordinary people, not sun bear biologist, can see what I used to see sun bears did in the wild, in their natural habitat, in a primary lowland rainforest of Borneo.
Big tress and big decayed logs - sun bear: " I am home!"
Through the chain link fence is another forest enclosure with huge tree.
Huge tree in the forest enclosure and the iron wood fence with hot wires.
On behalf of BSBCC and all the rescued sun bears at BSBCC, I would like to thank Sabah Forestry Department and Sabah Wildlife Department, especially directors Datuk Sam Mannan and Dr. Laurentius Ambu, for their kind support to give us this piece of priceless forest enclosure. Lastly but not lease, thank you all for giving loves, cares, and supports for our works to help this special bear call sun bears.
The moment that we all have been waiting for are finally here. After all the sun bears were settling down in their new home, the next challenges for us would be the electric-fence training, integration of different bears, and the introduction of the bears to the new forest enclosures were something that will happen over the next few days. These processes are all crucial and important parts of the “bringing the sun bear a better home.”
On April 9, we first introduced the young female group to the hot wire (electric fence) training pen so that the bears could learn to avoid the hot wire in the forest enclosures and will not escape. This is also the day when Annemarie Weegenaar from AAF have to leave us to go back for the moon bears in China. It is like the fellowship of bears slowly leaving again. Separation is always sad. However, we understand that the moon bears in China needed Annemarie's cares and loves for the moon bears. The training session went well, although slow. Of the 4 young females, Jelita was the champion of all who first understand the message of the hot wire and later feel much comfortable foraging in the training pen and avoid touching the wire. The other bears- Cerah, Kuamut, and Lawa, pretty much followed Jelita but felt less adventurous to wonder around the hot wire training pen and spend most of the time in their own dens relaxing in the bear basket and playing. They never seem to complain much although the den is concrete floor and iron bars wall, maybe this is what they grow up with and get use to- without touching the real soil and without nurture of the forest.
Jelita in the hot-wire training pen- checking out the surrounding.
Jelita found some insects in the logs and start breaking the wood to find potential food items.
By now we mixed these four young female up. They occupy 4 dens/cells where they can move freely as they wish. We give them and other bears plenty of enrichments such as leaves, browse, logs, ice block, kong toys, Aussy balls, coconuts, water bath, etc. to keep them busy. During the hot wire training session that last most of the day, we open the doors between their dens to the training pen so that they can come in and out of the training pen as they wish. We want to make the bears have a positive experience with these training so that they eventually learn to avoid the hot wires surrounding the enclosures and hence discourage them from climbing the fences in the forest enclosure when they go out one day. We do not want to push them to do something that they are feel less comfortable to do. We work according to their clock.
Jelita foraging on teh decayed wood for termites.
On April 12, three days after their training, we decided to let this young female group out to their forest enclosure. We open the door of the den for the first time. We thought today will marked history for the captives sun bears at BSBCC because the forest enclosure is the second items beside the new bear house that we all have been working hard for them. The moment that the bear step out from their den and put their feet on the forest's floor will be a historic moment for sun bear in BSBCC and sun bear as a species-a big step forward to save the species. However, what happen in the next few hours to the next few days after the doors of the bear's den opened was something that we did not expect - Only Jelita show interest of the outside world by sniffing the forest air over and over again. She made one step on the ramp that connect the den to the forest enclosure and hesitate to wonder any further. For the rest of the three girls - Cerah, Kuamut and Lawa, they preferred to enjoy their basket nap and stay put in their spacious den.
Jelita pocked her head out to check on the outside world.
Jelita sniffing the forest air- she was almost there to enjoy the forest.
It is understandable why these four bears hesitate to come out to the forest enclosure. First they are still young (> 3 year old) and sense of wariness to the new environment still very strong. In the wild, they would still be accompanied by their mother who give them security in term of protection and food. Second, perhaps they grow up in a small space and confine to cages pretty much all their life and feel more comfortable in their new house now than the outside world. Nonetheless, we are sure that they will come out from their den one day to enjoy their forest, their home.
The three other girls prefferref to stay put in their den and relax...
We have arrived at a pivotal moment for sun bear conservation in Borneo: the completion of Phase 1 of the Borneon Sun Bear Conservation Centre. After more than two years of dreaming and hard work by many of us around the world, the bears are at this very moment being moved http://www.bsbcc.org.my/bear-talk-blog/three-bears-moved-9-to-go to their new home with forest enclosures within the virgin jungle reserve of Sepilok. For most of these bears, it will be their first "home-coming" into the forest since their captivity into the pet trade at infancy.
In November 2008, we raised RM1.3 million (approx. USD400,000) at the Bear Necessities fundraiser in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, through private sector, philanthropic and government funding. This was the cost of construction for Phase 1. Construction began in early 2009 and the attached annual report documents the work throughout the year.
We are now raising funds for Phase 2 which requires RM1,000,000 (approx. USD300,000). Please find attached conceptual perspectives of the visitor/education centre and observation deck/gallery, which are the Phase 2 components that will enable us to open to public and generate revenue to help the centre towards self-sustainability. The beauty of this project has been the collaboration between government, NGO, industry, scientists, zoos, the philanthropic community and volunteers-- no one group could have achieved alone what we have achieved together. The government matched one-to-one the funds we raised for Phase 1. In a recent meeting with government leadership, I received the pledge and assurance that they will match us one-to-one for Phase 2!
I am writing to call on that spirit of collaboration and ask if you will join us on this journey to freedom for the sun bears. Once they are in the centre they will be studied and prepared for eventual release, where appropriate and ready, into safe, wild areas. Phase 2 is essential for us to transition away from donor-funded operations and bring in revenue that will be ploughed back into the running of the centre. We need to raise RM500,000 (approx. USD150,000) and the government one-to-one match will bring us to the total need for Phase 2. If you wish to see the proposal and budget for this, I will be glad to email it to you.
Sorry for not be able to blog last night. I was so tired to blog after another long day of moving the last four bears from the old bear house to the new one. I am so pleased to announce that I have kept my promise I made to these bears six years ago- a new home, a new life. The new home and new life of the sun bears in BSBCC would not made possible without the enormous helps from many people, including you who are reading this blog.
Like the first two days, the move yesterday went smoothly. The weather was not too hot with scatter shower throughout the entire day. We first moved Tokob, the most sensitive bear we had, follow by Manis (“sweet” in Malay), Susie and finally Keningau. The joy of placing Keningau into her den to recover from sedation was something that was difficult to describe by words. I hope that the bears understand what kind of difficulties that we all have gone through in order to give them this new home and new life. We do not expect them to repay anything except from having a stronger will to live longer and propagate their species. In fact, we the human species owe them a big apology because it was human who are being cruel to them in the first place to destroy their home, end their life, and keep them in pain. I am so glad that we have come this far, really thank you all for your helps.
Another happy news to share is all of the bears seem happy with their new home. They seem to adapte to this new home slowly. They seem to be more relax, less pacing, and spend most of their time resting and playing. I let these pictures speak for themselves. The moving of these bears has come to an end, the next stage is electric fence training, and then releases them into the forest enclosure. I will keep you all up-dated.
The BSBCC sun bear moving team (from left to right): Wai Pak (BSBCC Acting Project Manager), Elis (SWD Senior Ranger), Rosli (SWD bear keeper), Rufina (SWD Vet assistant), Howard (Volunteer), Dr. Cecelia Boklin (SWD veterinarian), Audrey (Volunteer), Maria (Oakland Zoo senior vet tect), me- Wong (BSBCC CEO and founder), Annemarie (AAF bear manager).
We have been working around the clock since our multinational bear moving team arrived in Sandakan last Saturday. We have been sweating more than 10 hours a day over the past 4 days working really hard to make this event go smoothly, from cleaning the bear house, enriching each bear den, checking the bear enclosures, and finally, moving the bears into our new bear house. Today is the second day of the moving. We moved the four young females in the morning: Kuamut, Lawa, Jelita, and Cerah,, followed by the big dominant male Bermuda in the afternoon. The move went smoothly and the bears settling down in their new home smoothly.
Sun bear is the smallest bear species, yet, like canines, there claws are the longest proportionally to their body size.
All sun bears have a unique chest patch. No two individual share the same pattern. Here are the chest patch of Kuamut (upper) and Bermuda (lower photo)
The coordination of the medical and the moving team is getting better and better today. We can process a bear in 20 mins. Thanks for all the Sabah Wildlife Department staffs, experts and volunteers helping us at BSBCC!
Weighing Jelita, the young female sun bear.
Performing physical and health check on Cerah. Cerah was featured in Beartrek. Now she is an young adult bear weighing 34 kg – a fat bear, so to say.
Position Jelita in her new home for recovery. She too is another fat and good looking bear.
The fifth bear we moved today was Bermuda, the dominant male bear in our centre. Although not the heaviest, he is by far the most fierce and aggressive.
Finally, these bears are settling down smoothly in the new home. Sun bear is the most arboreal bear. Our new bear den give them a lot of opportunity to climb high above the ground and observe the surrounding from higher level.
The bear basket that we provide them 5 feet above the ground is the best thing to give them comfort and security.
Today marked history of BSBCC as we are starting to move the 12 bears in the old bear house to the state of the art new bear house 1. Our plan today is to move Om, Ah Chong and Suria in the morning but the move have to delay because we have found a problem with the locking device of the bear den’s door in the new bear den during our final checking an hour before the move. Luckily, the issue has been solved immediately and everything went according to plan.
This is the last day for Jelita and Cerah to stay in their old bear house.
We start the entire procedure with Om, one of our three males bear in the centre. Om is a 5 year old bears who was confiscated by the Wildlife Department from private owner some 5 years ago. I have the privilege to witness his growth over the past 5 years and have been taking good care of him over the past 5 years.
We sedated the bears for the moving. We took this opportunity to perform a complete physical check on the bears. Om’s teeth showing a healthy adult tooth growth. The canines of sun bears are particular huge. In fact, their teeth is the biggest proportionally among all other species of bears.
The sun bear medical team. From left to right: Veterinarian Dr Cecelia Boklin from Sabah Wildlife Department who station at Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and BSBCC, me, Annemarie from Animal Asia Foundation, and Maria from Oakland Zoo.
Dr. Cecilia and senior Ranger Elis taking blood from Om.
Om recovered very well after the sedation. It was very interesting to see how he carefully checked his new home by sniffing every single inch of his cage and genteelly tapped with his claws, just like aye-aye use their finger tapping on tree trunk to pin point the location of the beetle larvae.
The next bear we moved was Suria. A bit more than one year old, she is the youngest female bear in our centre, weighing 25 kg.
She had a wound on her body and Dr. Cecilia is treating her.
Volunteers Audrey and Howard come from Australia to help us documenting the entire process with video camera and still photo shots.
Suria’s front paw.
Suria’s hind paw. Is their feet human like or what??
Ah Chong is the last bear we moved today. He top the scale at 65 kg, the fattest bear in our centre and the biggest I have ever seen for the Bornean subspecies. He is just huge!
At the end of the day, Om manage to settle down in his new basket.
Like everyone who work really hard today, Om too was tired and sleep in his basket like a baby!
Suria also recovering well from her sedation and exploring her new home after she recovered from her sedation.
After 30 hours in the international flight, Maria and I finally arrived in Kota Kinabalu (KK), the capital of Sabah state at 11 pm on the April fool evening. Maria is the senior veterinary technician from Oakland Zoo who is volunteering her time to help us on this historic event. Wai Pak, my newly promoted acting project manager, came to pick us up at the airport. We spend the next day shopping for supplies in KK and meeting at LEAP office with Cynthia Ong, a.k.a., mama bear, and Sylvia Yorath, program manager of LEAP.
The next day, Wai Pak, Maria, and me took off for the 7 hours-350 km drive from KK to Sandakan. For the first time, Maria was so sock to witness the immense scale of deforestation in Borneo where vast lowland tropical rainforest, home of sun bears, orangutans, Sumatran rhino and many other precious wildlife, have been replace with sea of oil palm plantation.
Tired (from driving all day long), excited (from finally being here), depressed (from seeing the deforestation and plantation), and a bad headache (from jet lack), we finally arrived at Sepilok. We were greeted by Audrey Low, Howard Jackson and Vuthy. Audrey and Howard is a husband and wife freelance film producer from Australia who will help us documented this historic event voluntarily. Vuthy is the project manager from Free the Bear Inc who manage the 105 rescued sun bears and moon bears in Cambodia, “Really thank you all for helping us!” follow by a big bear hugs pretty much summaries all the appreciation to these volunteers who travels tens of thousands of miles to help us . I did not see the bears until the next day because the bears do not wish to be disturbed after dark.
Yesterday, we spend all day cleaning the new cages and final checking the fences of the our state of the art forest enclosures. Annemarie Weegenaar, manager of the Animal Asia Foundation’s Moon Bear Rescue Centre in ChengDu, China , arrived in the morning to join the bear moving process. Like the Load of the Ring, the fellowship of the sun bear moving team is growing better and stronger. Just like Frodo, my role to bring a better life for the caged sun bears is getting closer and closer. Under the hot tropical sun and the sprinkled rain shower on the off, we sweated for more than 8 hours to a point where sweat, rain, and mud on our body were difficult to tell apart. In the future, I would like to form a volunteer group call “Sweat for Animals” with the mission to help and save animals. Our work did not end after we had our delicious home cooked dinner at Uncle Tan Jungle Lodge who feed us three meals a day for free. (Thank you so much Uncle Tan!). For four more hours until midnight, almost all of the managers of bear rescue centers in Asia were discussing and strategizing the best approaches of the bear moving and releasing in to the forest enclosures in our country style staff house. The results of the meeting were presented to the wildlife department’s veterinarian Dr. Cecelia Booklin and senior ranger Elis today.
Just now I go through my bear drugging and handling kits to make preparation for tomorrow’s bear sedation, medical checkup and moving. Wai Pak said, “Just like the old days when we trapped and handled sun bears in the forest.” The bear moving countdown has begun.