Today, the BSBCC were glad to welcome group visits from 2 different schools. The group from SMK Keningau, Keningau came early in the morning. This time, the students were required to answer sets of questions in the Sun Bear Explorer Book. They obtained the answers from the signboards along the boardwalk. Through this activity, the students were encouraged to make critical thinking and were able to understand better about sun bears and its environment. At the end of the activity, the answers were discussed together. At 2pm in the afternoon, another group from SMK Kemabong, Tenom came to visit our centre. Due to limited time, they didn't do the Sun Bear Explorer activity but instead they were given short briefings and brought for tour at the observation platforms. BSBCC are very happy to see more young people learning about the Mother Nature.
After Tawau District, the BSBCC Education Team continue organising another Awareness Programme at Sandakan District. The schools visited in Sandakan District were SMK Konven St. Cecilia, SK Sungai Tiram, SK Batu 16 Gum-Gum and SK Mawar. This is the last environmental education outreach organized by BSBCC for this year. In this programme, we also invited our partners to participate. They were the Sabah Wildlife Department, Hutan-Kinabatangan Orang Utan Conservation Programme, Wildlife Rescue Unit, Reef Guardian and Borneo Bird Club. Many activities were held during this programme such as wildlife colouring, talks, games, video show and also exhibitions. Many thanks to the schools in Sandakan for welcoming us and also our partners for always supporting the BSBCC! We hope to continue our outreach programme next year and more schools to be visited. We believe that environmental education is vital to increase awareness especially among the young generations.
Sharon, our Education staff gave a short introduction before the programme starts.
Haslan from Hutan-KOCP gave talk on Orang Utans
Students answering quiz
Students visiting our educational booth
Dr. Laura, veterinarian from Wildlife Rescue Unit presented a talk on elephants
Wildlife game - Guess Who am I?
SK Sungai Tiram, Sandakan
Introduction to sun bear using mascot and pictures
SK Sungai Tiram, Sandakan
SK Batu 16 Gum-Gum, Sandakan
Wildlife mask colouring
Students visiting exhibition by Reef Guardian
Talk from Borneo Bird Club
Sun bear and Bornean Bristlehead mascots
SK Batu 16 Gum-Gum, Sandakan
SK Mawar, Sandakan
SK Mawar, Sandakan
SK Mawar, Sandakan
On the 25th of August 2016, the BSBCC was invited by SMK Beluran, Beluran to their school to set up educational booth for their students. During that day, the school were having programme in conjuction with Malaysia's Independence Day. All of the students including teachers at SMK Beluran were able to visit our booth and learn new things about the environment especially about sun bears. Thank you for inviting us!
Text by Batrisyia Teepol (UNIMAS student) Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Integration is one of the rehabilitation processes which takes place at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center. Although sun bears are known to be solitary in the woods, in this center however, integration between the bears plays a crucial role in the rehabilitation of the bears. It is debatable whether this process is against the bears' nature or not. But know that the bears here in the center are restricted to a lot of things. One example of this is that space is insufficient. Further, having another bear sharing this space is the best enrichment for a bear. What is the best way to learn how to be a bear if it is not learning from one another? Bears can learn from one another as much as we humans can learn from them. With the limited amount of capacity for the bears, integration grants the idea of letting the bears live together (in the same cage). Obviously, you cannot simply decide in an instant whether a particular bear can stay with another bear without doing integration between them first. From the word 'integration', it is pretty self-explanatory on how the process would go down. This process can be done in two different stages where the first step, 'cage by cage', is where the bears are placed in cages next to each other. This is to let them familiarize with the others' scent and presence. Second step, 'body contact integration', can only be taken if you are at least 80% sure that the bears will not try to harm each other. This step starts when the bears make contact with each other. They usually start it off by sniffing and carry on with playing which includes pawing, wrestling, showing their canines and even biting. Integration must be done with the presence of a bear keeper.
This time, we integrated two bears who were already the best of friends (Noah and Nano) with other bears who belong to their own groups. Group 1 who use forest enclosure Pen D (Wawa, Mary and Dodop) and Group 2 who use forest enclosure Pen C (Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan). The criteria which affects the target of integration is that first off, their body sizes are preferably of the same proportion. Secondly, they are of the same age or within a similar range. The main purpose of this integration is to figure out which group Noah and Nano can go out into the enclosure with. So, let's get to know some of the bears!
Nano taken during one of his many rests
Nano’s name carries the meaning of "small" and "tiny", which definitely suits him. He is at the age of 2, which is a little older than Noah, however, is smaller in size. Noah, the youngest male cub, is definitely the most playful and most energetic. In contrast, Nano is always sleepy and shy. Although their personalities are the complete opposite, they however are very close friends. Moving on to our bears who roam around forest enclosure Pen C, Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan (all 2 years old). Boboi is much more playful and bigger compared to his friends in Pen C. Kitud, easily identified with his brownish ears, is quite shy and quiet. Tan Tan is definitely not afraid of heights as she is always climbing trees in Pen C.
For bears in forest enclosure Pen D, Mary, Wawa and Dodop (all female), Mary is the oldest as she is 6 years old, but her body is smaller compared to the other bears of her age. This is due to her unbalanced diet during her days being kept as a pet. However, despite the age difference with Wawa (known as the ‘explorer’) and Dodop (known as the ‘sleepy one’), they have a very good friendship.
So, now you have touched the surface, let's dive deeper! Keep in mind that Nano and Noah have never met any of the other bears mentioned before. In the hope of at least one of the groups would make room for our cute cubs, Nano and Noah, and embrace them into the wilderness, we integrated them.
We started the integration one bear at a time. One bear from any of the groups were placed into a cage next to Nano and Noah (‘cage by cage’). They would start sniffing from between the grill to feed their curiosity! Once we were sure and confident, we slid open the doors between the cages and there you have it, ‘body contact integration’. They would start sniffing the other's sex organs and sometimes their ears. Slowly, they would start to play. Words alone cannot explain how beautiful and amazing integration works for our bears, so these pictures would definitely tell you a thousand words.
Noah playing around with Boboi
Having fun with Mary
When two very playful bears meet each other!
Noah showing off his canines to Wawa
Nano taking a peek at Noah and Wawa while resting
Nano is sniffing, Noah is biting, Mary is bearing
Noah trying to paw Boboi despite their height difference!
Nano wants to join in on the fun
Using the enrichments during their integration
Nano having his rest while Noah is playing with Mary
The more, the merrier!
Once they had already been introduced to one bear at a time, then Noah and Nano were integrated with two bears at the same time. We also did the integration between the bears in the training pen, just to observe whether the bears could share their food or not.
Throughout all the days I did my observation, no aggression was found. Hoping that the other bears would welcome our little boys, Noah and Nano with bear hugs. Their gestures would teach and allow these two little bears to learn and understand the idea of how to be a bear in the wild. As Dr. Wong would say, "The best enrichment a bear could have is another bear".
Text by Seng Yen Wah Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Sika is growing up and now she is a nine months old bear cub. Currently, she is in the stage of curiosity where she is often playful and energetic in everything she gets her claws and nose in.
Halo, my name is Sika. I am nine months old now. Nice to meet you all!
Sika’s hyperactive mode is on!!
Recently, she went into two exercise pens and now she got the biggest exercise pen in the quarantine area. There are lots of TOYS filled in the bear den such as dry leaves, decayed wood, fire hose enrichment, wooden enrichment and a blue barrel. All the enrichment was prepared by the keepers and volunteers with their love and care.
We are done in preparing the cage for Sika! Let us act like a bear!
So many TOYs here!! - Sika
This tyre is so much fun!! - Sika
I enjoy playing everything here!! - Sika
Once the door is open, Sika is very alert with her surroundings. She took her steps slowly and carefully to enter the bear den. She explored everything and every corner of the bear den. Upon realising that her new environment is safe, she immediately found that this new pen is the biggest playground that she has ever seen! She started to pick her favourite decayed wood and began digging her merry way. There are lots of yummy snacks in the decayed wood such as the red ants and the termites thus encouraging a more natural digging behaviour and a more natural diet that will keep her belly rounder.
It is the biggest playground I have ever been!! - Sika
Hey! It is you! My decayed wood!! - Sika
Opps! I think I have eaten too much snacks while I am digging just now!! - Sika
After exploring all the decayed wood, it’s time for Sika to explore what type of enrichment lies in this pen! With lots of sniffing, exploring, and rolling around, I wonder what could make me, a baby cub happy?! The answer is toys! From the day Sika arrived at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, we took note of her progress and development and took note of her enthusiasm and love towards the enrichment tools we give her. What is enrichment, you may ask? Enrichment is a toy/tool for a bear that can help to encourage a natural bear behaviour. When a bear is playing with the enrichment, they are learning how to use their sharp claw, strong canine, long tongue and their natural bear skills. Playing with these toys also help fill Sika’s time with positive reinforcements. Sika’s favourite enrichments are The Proposal, Stick Paradox, Happy Sack and much more. She cannot pick her most favourite enrichment but she loves all the enrichments that she has received.
Do not try to take my Stick Paradox from me! - Sika
I saw some ginger leaves and bananas inside the bamboo feeder! Yummy!! - Sika
It is a termite mound and I love it so much! - Sika
What is this? Let me explore it. - Sika
Other than enrichment, she likes to spend time with her care taker. Sika came to BSBCC when she is just a four month old cub. She had been kept as a house pet in a chicken mesh cage. She lost her mother and was taken away from her natural environment due to the selfishness of human beings. The bear cub is adorable but keeping them as a pet is illegal! Every child needs a mother even animals. Sika has no maternal care thus disrupting the natural cycle of learning survival skills that are important for them in the wild. Therefore, her caretaker in BSBCC becomes her surrogate mother and teaches her some of the skills so she can learn to survive and defend herself in the forest in the future.
I am ready to play fight!! - Sika
Please give me! I want have a taste for the snake fruit! - Sika
Sika is still growing under the care of us. Our hope is that she can one day have courage, gain her strength and head back to the forest once she is ready to be a real bear. BSBCC will always have her back. We believe she can do it!! “ It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” – E.E. Cummings
Text by Darren Sia Hwei Hung Photos by Darren Sia Hwei Hung & Seng Yen Wah
To anyone that is reading this 😊 Hi! My name is Darren Sia, a 21-year-old majoring in Environmental Science at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. In 2017, I’ve decided that I want to step out of my comfort zone and go for a small expedition. I was first introduced to BSBCC by Dr. Wong himself when he came over to Kuala Lumpur for a talk. His splendid presentation about his centre and the bears sparked an interest in me about animal conservation, and soon after that, I sent an application to BSBCC as a volunteer in hopes of getting the opportunity to work with these amazing animals.
Yes, that is me, smiling awkwardly at the camera.
This being my first time going on a journey alone, it was understandable that I was immensely afraid before leaving for Sabah. Now that I’ve finished my volunteering, I can say boldly say that the one month I’ve spent there has been one of the best time in my life.
If you don’t already know much about BSBCC’s operations, the 4 pillars that they are founded upon are Education, Rehabilitation, Welfare, and Research. As a volunteer, we have been given a lot of opportunities to work closely with the bears. One of the most important aspects of running a conservation centre is animal husbandry, which is taking care of the bears. Considering there are 43 individuals of rescued sun bears located in the centre, it is no easy feat. Most of my volunteering period was spent here. As soon as I started work, I was introduced to a “buddy”, which is a staff who is permanently attached to the volunteer, who guides the volunteers through everything in the centre. My buddy was a cool guy called Roger. He was really friendly, and would always point out the different wildlife in the forest when we’re out feeding the bears.
My buddy Roger (I’m the one on the left)
Working in the bear house was not as easy as I initially thought. Our responsibilities include cleaning bear cages, preparing food, feeding the bears and bear enrichment. All the tasks were very physically challenging, and I would always end up exhausted at the end of the day after work. All of this was worth it, knowing that you’re making a big difference for the bears. Let’s talk about the bears, shall we?
Debbie waiting for her food
Sun bears really are such a blast to work with. Every single bear behaves differently! Recognizing each and every single individual bear, learning their behaviours and patterns was one of the parts of the job. And how can I tell my story without introducing my favourite bear?
Simone looking cute as usual.
There she is. This lovely bear goes by the name of Simone. Simone can always be seen sitting on her water bowl, and her adorable look instantly made me fall in love with her. I am also blessed to have the opportunity to be able to work with the education team on the visitor’s platform. It truly is a magical experience being on the platform, meeting people from all around the world, sharing my information and educating them on the various threats faced by the sun bear. The tourists can easily see these otherwise elusive animals in their natural habitat foraging for food and climbing trees. Knowing that they’ve learned something new and thoroughly enjoyed their visit at the centre is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world.
That is one of my favourite picture of the bear, taken through a spotting scope at the visitor’s platform.
What made my experience truly amazing was the people there. I was extremely nervous as I had to meet new people and make friends (I’m bad at making friends), but everyone I met was extremely helpful and friendly. I felt like I was instantly added to their sun bear family. Special thanks to all the members of Bjorn Hala. Yen Wah, Andy, Mizuno and Rebecca, you guys made me feel like I belong there, and I love all of you <3 And how can I forget Li Shuen, my good ol’ pal. I am so happy that you were able to accompany me for this volunteering trip. And thank you so much for always being my chef :P
Every member of the bear care team. I’m the one on the right.
And last but not least, how can I forget Dr. Wong himself. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t even have this experience in the first place. I cannot express how grateful I am, and what a privilege it was working for you. You always manage to find time to interact with your volunteers, even though you’re always having a busy schedule. I really appreciated all the Q&A sessions that you organized, the insights and experience that you shared with us will always be remembered.
Photo with Dr. Wong after our final volunteer session. I’m the one on the left if you’re wondering.
I learned a whole lot during my volunteering period. Being here made me realize how much threat the sun bears are facing in this current day and age, but it is not easy to try and revert that. You will not only need a visionary leader, but also a team of passionate people to make everything work. Luckily, BSBCC is currently blessed with both 😊 If you’re reading this and thinking about volunteering, what are you waiting for?! Drop BSBCC an email right now! I can assure you that you would get an experience of a lifetime doing so. I think this is where I shall end my story. If you’re still here, thank you so much for reading. This is Darren signing out.
Text by Nur Athirah Binti Asrif Photos by Batrisya Binti Teepol, Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Formerly, our rescued sun bears need to undergo some bit of challenges in order for them to endure the bliss of life in the forest. After saving them from captivity or just pure cruel cases, there are some assessments that will be done in order to cultivate their lives for the better. One of the tests includes fence training. Fence training is a prominent test for the bears in order for them to be released inside the forest enclosures. This procedure is conducted as to both teach and test the bears with the existence of the hot wires. This is due to the fact that the forest enclosures in the centre are completely surrounded by hot wires to prevent the bears from escaping, getting into fights with other bears and so forth. This time around, two of our young bears, Noah and Nano had their turn to be tested in the training pen. Before that, a quick sharing of some back stories of these two valiant cubs.
Noah, 'The Pretender', is a 1-year-old male sun bear. It was re-named as "Noah" by the bear care team which brought the meaning of being rescued. Noah was surrendered at Nabawan, an area which is located in the southern part of Sabah. He was mistakenly thought by the villager as a dog and was found in an orchard. The villager, however, took Noah and kept it as a pet, bearing the thought that Noah is a dog. She kept Noah as a pet but then surrendered him to Sabah Wildlife Department. He was rescued on the 19th of August 2016 and was sent to Lok Kawi Zoo. Only on the 10th of October 2016 did Noah come to BSBCC. The first time he came to the centre, he has signs that show dehydration and only weight 8.6kg. Furthermore, four of his milk teeth was found to be crushed off which affected his teeth structure and arrangement.
Next, is our petite spy, Nano. Nano is a 2 years old male sun bear. He was named Nano which brought the meaning of small and tiny in the Latin language. Before he was rescued, Nano was found being kept in a small chicken mesh cage. A lady saw Nano in such condition decided to end his unfortunate life and decided to spend RM 1,500 to rescue him from the seller in Kota Marudu, north of Sabah. Nano was then surrendered by the lady to the Sabah Wildlife Department and was sent to BSBCC on the 20th of November, 2016.
The fence training was started with Noah alone, followed by Nano. A bit change of plan after a day of individual training brought them both together into the training pen. The food that was scattered inside the training pen includes bananas, papayas and watermelon. A stronger element was used which was the honey in order to attract these young bears to the training pen.
Nano is trying to get inside the training pen but making sure his lower body still clings on the sliding door
Noah is licking the honey trail near the hot wire.
During their first fence training together, Noah seems to be really active and adventurous. Once the sliding door is opened, Noah went out to the training pen from the buffer cage with no hesitation. He forages for the food and the strong scent of honey carefully on the ground of the training pen. Nano, on the other hand, is cautious and prefer to stay inside the buffer cage and did not engage himself to rummage for food. Nano occupied himself exploring the buffer cage alone. The first zap was endured by our brave Noah during their first day of fence training. Noah tried to climb the fence and got zapped directly on his snout. His reaction towards his first zap was only followed by a bark and no other aggressive acts.
Noah is exploring the enrichment (log) in the training pen.
The following days of observation, Noah has the constant momentum and positive behaviour whenever the sliding door is opened. Noah is always the first to enter the training pen and ate most of the food in the training pen. Noah got zapped even more as the observation continues. However, Noah still has a very little acknowledgement of the existence of the hot wires. Noah is a very brave and is indeed a lucky bear! Most of the time, it is a close shave for Noah with the strings of hot wires. Although he is still unaware of the hot wires, he did not stop to enter and ventures the training pen. On the other side of the training pen, stood Nano, that watches Noah by the sliding door.
As days passed, Nano managed to bring himself little by little to the training pen. Nano is a very courage bear too and always show improvement day by day by bringing bit by bit of his body parts into the training pen. The first gesture was that he licked the honey trail on the sliding door. Next, was that he brought most his upper body parts to the training pen while his under body parts is still remain clung on the sliding door. The pile of tempting fruits positioned inside the training pen has shown its capability in encouraging Nano to be fearless. Nano sometimes managed to take the bananas from the training pen and brought it back to the buffer cage and eat it. Once, Nano was in full of curiosity and tried to pull one of the log enrichment from the training pen into the buffer cage. However, things had gotten better for Nano as he finally received a full courage to step inside the training pen after 14 days of assessment. His entrance was rather brief and cautious but nevertheless, it was a really an excellent improvement. As the fruit trail was positioned farther from the sliding door, Nano was not able to reach the fruit which forced him to step inside the training pen himself.
Noah and are playing in the training pen while Nano explores the enrichment.
Clock is ticking and our lovely duo, Noah and Nano are almost ready to step outside and play in the forest!
BSBCC was visited by Mr.Rod Smith the Australia's High Commissioner to Malaysia and Jane Bartlett First Secretary for Australian High Commission to Malaysia, the Australian High Commission delegate was welcomed by our CEO & Founder, Dr. Wong Siew Te. Dr. Wong and touring to view the bears from the observation platform. A big thank you to the Australian High Commission Kuala Lumpur for their effort to visit and support us.!!!
Observing the bears from a distance using a spotting scope
Dr. Wong helped them to take photo using a mobile phone through the scope
Token of appreciation from BSBCC to the High Commisioner
Text by Alex O’Keefe (Oregon State University Student) Photos by Sumira Muis & Chiew Lin May
Completing an internship at the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Center (BSBCC) under Ape Malaysia has been a phenomenal and breathtaking journey. As I progressed through my internship I was able to complete and partake in a number of activities that have benefited sun bears and their conservation. Some of these activities include creating enrichments, structure for maintenance and the bears, partaking in feeding, helping educate the public about sun bears and their conservation needs and conducting observations of sun bears. My specific observations were done every day for two weeks to evaluate the readiness of a male bear named Sigalung to be released into first a training pen (an outside pen connected to the inside doors of the bear house) and eventually an outside enclosure based in the forest. Having the honor to observe this bear’s progression from training pen to outside enclosure was for me exciting and something new. By the end of my observations, I would come to be attached and intrigued by the sun bear known as Sigalung.
First before describing the progress of Sigalung, here’s a little background on his journey to and time at the BSBCC. Sigalung along with a bear named Phin were rescued from a logging camp in Sipitang district, Southwest of Sabah. Likely orphaned by poachers, Sigalung with Phin were alone and would likely have been subjected to a cruel and painful life in inadequate captive conditions. Luckily Dr.Wong and the Sun Bear Conservation team found out about the bears and rescued them when they were (9 years old). Two years ago (2015) Sigalung started training pen integration. It took him more than a year to actually come out of his inside pen and explore the training pen due to fear. Often bears rescued are scared and hesitant to explore anything outside of an inside enclosure as that’s the only environment they’ve ever been exposed to pre-rescue. After more than a year of trying every single day,Sigalung climbed down the ladder connecting to the floor of the training pen and explored around. Following this moment, his confidence grew and his visits to the training pen became more consistent. Nearly a year after his landmark stride I started my internship at the BSBCC.
Two weeks in I began to observe him and his actions in the training pen. By the end of a week I had noticed a very predictable pattern for Sigalung. Immediately when his pen doors would open, he would climb down to the training pen walk in a clockwise circle and eat the food placed in the pen; all the while sniffing and exploring. By the end of two weeks I had concluded that he had comfortably and fully integrated himself into the training pen. It was now time to test our luck with the outside pen. Before our first attempt at getting Sigalung to commit to entering the outside enclosure, I put fruit and honey outside to entice Siglung into the forest.
Here you can see me bring a bin of food to the outside entrance. Following this picture I spread fruit (bananas, papaya, watermelon) and honey near the entrance of the forest enclosure.
Once everything was set up we left the area and opened Sigalung’s inside and training pen doors connecting him to the outside enclosure.
Sigalung climbing down a ladder to explore the training pen.
Sigalung conducted his normal routine of climbing down and exploring the training pen. He would look at the open door leading to the forest then quickly move past it with haste signaling anxiety. This pattern of circling past the open door continued until we gave up and decided to try again the next day. The second day offered the same results as Sigalung displayed repetitive behavior comparable to the first day.The third day however, provided different and unexpected results.
The third day stared out similar to the first two days. The doors opened, Sigalung approached the doors but never went outside. He would occasionally army crawl up to the doors stick his head out and grab the food then come back inside to eat. Little progress was being made until a female adult bear named Mamatai in the neighboring outside pen appeared. She came directly face to face with Sigalung then eventually walked away into the forest. Sigalung, be it enticed or aggressive, tried to follow her until he reached the door. He like before stared out but didn’t budge. Then all of a sudden he bolted out of the door and into the forest enclosure! Continuing to sprint, he for the first time stepped on the natural forest floor.
Day 3 of outside integration: Sigalung’s first time in the outside enclosure. Here he is running around the corner away from the entrance and farther into the forest!
His outside reconnoitering lasted for only five minutes as by that time he quickly ran back into the training pen then into his inside enclosure. Though only for five minutes, Sigalung had taken his first steps in becoming a real sun bear and thriving in the forest. The next two days Sigalung went into the outside pen but only for a similar duration of time. Day six would prove different. Sigalung decided on the sixth day he would not only stay out longer in the forest but also explore farther than he previously had done. Sigalung ended up walking around the entire outside enclosure area!
Day 6 of outside integration: Sigalung’s last look at us before disappearing into the dense forest.
Day 6 of outside integration: Here you can see Sigalung exploring far into the forest enclosure.
He had finally conquered his fear of the unknown and is now enjoying the freedom of the outside enclosure based in the rainforests of Borneo! Sigalung has truly come a long way from where he began. From capture to freedom, Sigalung can finally live out his days living as a sun bear should…in the forest.
It was the first time for BSBCC education team to organize and join an educational outreach programme at Tawau and Semporna area. Starting from 7th August until 12th August 2017, there were six schools (primary and secondary) targeted for this programme. This event was also accompanied by our partners from the Sabah Wildlife Department - Tawau district, HUTAN-Kinabatangan Orang Utan Conservation Programme (KOCP), Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC). As part of our mission to promote the wildlife conservation by teaching young children about the beauty and value of our wildlife, various activities were conducted for the students such as exhibitions, wildlife talks, documentary screening, colouring activity and environmental games. Hopefully with this kind of awareness programme, young kids would be more eager to learn more about our wildlife and in future, contribute to any conservation work.
Ice breaking: students need to work together in a team in order to put down the stick using one finger
Students and teachers at the Sabah Wildlife Department booth.
Ms. Nurasyikin from Green Semporna presenting her talk.
Clarice from Danau Girang Field Centre also participated in our programme
QnA session by Suhairing, ranger from the Wildlife Rescue Unit
Norzeela from Hutan-KOCP presented a talk about orang utan
Text by Syaqil Suhaimi Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
One of the requirements of volunteering at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is that one would be required to write a blog entry on their experience during the program. I am tasked to write down about the numerous enrichment activities I took part in during my period of volunteering here. First of all, enrichment activities are defined as anything that would encourage the natural behaviour of sun bears which is essential for survival in the wild. Also, it is to decrease the sun bears’ stress levels and abnormal behaviour such as pacing and finally, it’s supposed to provide them with mental stimulation in the form of new challenges. On top of that, enrichment may be divided into short term and long term, whereby short-term enrichment are those that may last at maximum, up to a day, as the bear would have destroyed the structure built, or in most cases, eaten the food-related enrichment.
One of the activities I took part in was to make a ‘burger carton’ which is basically old egg cartons cut up and folded into burgers with ginger leaves spread with peanut butter/honey as the ‘patty’. This enrichment is one that is short term as it is very easy for the bear to destroy it and most importantly, it is food-related as sun bears love to munch on the ginger leaves (especially if it is smothered in honey or peanut butter!) Here, not only would the sun bears learn to hone their sense of smell, but they would need to use their claws in ripping apart the carton, which in this case is child’s play.
Secondly, I got to install a hammock with the help of another volunteer, Georgia and my Buddy, Roger (he can be seen in the following picture). For your information, the hammock was made by a previous bunch of volunteers from Air Asia, out of old firehoses, so we had the pleasure of installing the structure for them. Installing it was actually challenging as we had to tie four corners of the structure at the top of the bear cage, which involved climbing up a ladder and this was an issue for me, albeit a minor one, as I have a fear of heights. Also, the fact that we had to lock each corner of the hammock with nuts and bolts from at an elevation added to the difficulty of the task as one of us would have to stand on a ledge in the cage – one wrong step and one of us could have hurt ourselves. Luckily for us though, we had an experienced Buddy in Roger who constantly monitored us so everything went smooth. As for this enrichment, it encourages the bears to climb and rest or even sleep on the hammock. Such a behaviour mimics wild sun bear habits as it is a norm for them to climb up trees and build their nests in forest canopies. This is considered a long term enrichment as not only would it be difficult for the sun bears to damage the structure, they would mostly likely use it for sleeping, as the structure is not too dissimilar from a sun bear nest on top of a tree.
As for the final enrichment, Roger and I decided to build a bear cot. The name is pretty self-explanatory – imagine a baby cot, but for bears. We decided to build a bear cot because it’s not an enrichment that has been thought off before and we felt that it would be comfortable and snug for the bears. Nonetheless, as fun as the enrichment sounds (trust me when I say that the building part was anything but fun), it does serve several important purposes in that it would allow the sun bears to mimic their natural behaviour in the wild. First and foremost, to the bear, the cot may function as a log in which the bear could take refuge in. Large hollow logs are also food sources for sun bears so what we would do is to place some dog biscuits on the cot and smother it with dry leaves so that that the bears would ‘forage’ for the food.
Next, once placed upside down (or even sideways), the bear cot could be used as a bunk bed instead whereby one bear would be able to rest inside the ‘hollow log’ and another bear could rest on top of it – such a behaviour would enhance the integration between two or more sun bears.
Once the bear cot was completed, we decided to place it in Chin’s cage as we felt that she’s behaved really well since I started volunteering here (besides being absolutely adorable) but mostly because she hasn’t had any enrichment in her cage. Next, as mentioned earlier, dog biscuits were placed on the bear cot before it was smothered with dry leaves, after which we filled the rest of the cage with dry leaves as well.
At first, Chin seemed apprehensive about the cage, but once she found out where the dog biscuits were she entered the cot and started foraging through the dry leaves. Roger and I were pretty nervous about her wanting to enter the cot in the first place so this sign was very promising. After about 10 minutes she started climbing around the cot instead of resting in it which I found very peculiar and adorable at the same time. Nonetheless, it did show that she was stimulated and that the cot made her active and very curious!
After about another 5 minutes, she got more confident to the point where she sat in the cot, as evident in the picture below. My heart was filled with delight to have observed this and at that point I thought that this was a job well done and that this was all worth it.
All in all, the experience gained from enrichment activities has helped me to build a new interest. Well, at least, it’s something I would want to upkeep in the future – carpentry. Honestly, building the bear cot was very challenging for me in that I felt lost frequently. But with the help of Roger and other Buddies such as Brandon and Nizam, especially by observing them, I gained confidence in going about with the structure to the point where I found myself working on it alone at times! Not only would it be a productive past time, I definitely consider it a life skill which I find valuable.