Text by Fetysella Olyndra Juli
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Everyone of these three bears has their own history, especially Simone and Along, both of them were kept in a Mini Zoo Hot Springs in Tawau while Kudat was kept on display in a private mini zoo with another female sun bear named Panda. Kudat was formerly named after the district of Kudat even though he originally is from Tawau. Along is a 6 year old male bear, Simone is a 8 year old female bear, and Kudat is 7 years old adult male sun bear. Kudat, Simone and Along were then surrendered by the Sabah Wildlife Department to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC).
Upon arrival at the BSBCC, the three bears showed their different personalities, where Along is considered to be more energetic and hyperactive, Simone is calm while, Kudat on the other side can sometimes be aggressive towards other bears, as has happened in the past when integrated with another female sun bear Panda. But Kudat is also playful even though he plays rough. Since all three bears are kept in the same row of cages, at first, we integrated Along and Simone. Along becomes somewhat hyperactive when meeting with Simone and at times he will start to pace back and forth at a fast rate when Simone is in the same room.
During the integration process interactions between Along and Simone became more and more aggressive, so the decision was made, to slow down the integration intervals. After possible times of no aggression Simone tries to play with Along, which will result in likelihood of Along developing aggressiveness towards Simone due to her manor of play. Sometimes Simone will be the aggressor and we realized that, as Along pacing can not be interrupted as long as Simone is in the same cage. The occurrence of any kind of aggression therefore is unpredictable.
Then, we decided to integrate Simone with Kudat. The first results of the integration process were positive, both bears played together, even though Kudat play very known to be rough. The first time Kudat met Simone, he started to sniff Simone first especially her sex organs. Realizing that Simone is a female sun bear, Kudat became excited and begin to play with her. We have been having integration sessions for a few days and so far no aggression occurred.
Then, we proceeded on to our next mission, which was the integration of Kudat and Along. First we were quite concerned, because both are male sun bears, and aggressive behavior is more likely to happen. Surprisingly, both Along and Kudat got along well, Kudat approached Along and sniffed him out first. Then, Kudat try to play with Along. Along struggled at first a bit, because of Kudat rough play. However, after some time, Along got used to it. After a few days of integration sessions between Along and Kudat, no aggression occurred.
Now, our final task is to introduce Simone into the group. First, we placed Along and Kudat in the same cage. Then, we opened Simones cage to get access to the males. At first, when Simone entered the cage (where Along and Kudat were playing), she did not pay attention, she just passed by. But we realized that even with Simone present, Along did not start to pace and continued to play with Kudat. Once he stop playing with Kudat, Along showed positive results towards both Simone and Kudat. This process continued for quite some time and there was aggression noticed. It seems that the presence of Kudat affects the situation between Along and Simone, but when we fed the bears coconuts during their integration session, Simone showed to be the dominant in the group. This may be due to Simone being the oldest in the group. In the end, we hope that, these three bears can continue to integrate well and can go out to forest enclosure together in the future.
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.
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.
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!
Text by Seng Yen Wah