Text by Seng Yen Wah Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Chin – The Curious Bear
Chin is a female adult bear aged 10 years old. She was rescued from Tawau district, located in southeast Sabah. She was kept at a mini located in a primary school, where she was displayed illegally in a small metal cage. She arrived at the BSBCC on the 22nd of July in 2014 from Lok Kawi Wildlife Zoo.
Chin is a curious bear. She is curious about everything that you offer to her. She will happily spend her day exploring. Tearing things, such as coconuts and dead logs, apart is one of the ways she explores. She does not mind getting dirty. Her happiness is seeing a dry cage with some dead logs. She will spend her time rolling on the dry leaves and try to roll the dead logs on her body. She likes to keep the smell of the wood on her, nature’s scent. Chin can nap anywhere such as a hammock, basket or even a branch that is in the right position. Chin can be kept entertained easily with just a simple enrichment that can make her day.
When Chin first arrived at BSBCC and entered quarantine for 30 days.
Lot of enrichments were offered to Chin
The Bear Cot
Chin loves to play with dead logs and she does not mind being dirty!
Aussie Dog Ball
Or just day dreaming
And, of course resting!
Chin had been integrated with many bears. First, she tried with Cerah and Jelita, Tokob, Susie and Kuamut but they did not seem to get along. So in October 2016, she was introduced to two older bears – Amaco and Gutuk. They interact well and love to play fight together, especially Gutuk. Gutuk is her playmate. She loves to follow what Gutuk was doing. Gutuk loves to lie on the ground and enjoy the temperature and Chin would copy whatever Gutuk did. They are such good bear friends! However, Gutuk passed away on the 22nd of July, 2017. She seemed different after Gutuk left her alone. Her face looked sad and she clearly misses her best friend. However, Chin is using Gutuk’s memories to move on with her life and be a better her!
Chin playing with Gutuk
Gutuk is her playmate and this is the activity that they like the most!
After Gutuk passed away, Chin still missed Gutuk most of the time.
In January 2015, Chin took her first steps out into the forest. She enjoys every moment in the forest such as digging, foraging, resting, and napping. She loves to explore every corner of the forest enclosure, where everything seems interesting to her! In October 2017, she once again stepped out into the forest with a different forest enclosure. She enjoys when the sunlight is shining on her body. There is a small natural pool that is ready for her when she is finished sunbathing. She likes to splash water on her body or soak in the water to reduce the feeling of sweltering heat.
Being curious in the forest!
Enjoy every moment in the forest!
Chin may look like a heavy and grumpy bear but she is actually gentle and friendly. She does have a hot temper, but she is the bear who enjoys every single moment. It is never too late to protect a bear like Chin. They deserve more than that! The forest is their home! Sun bears are a ‘Totally Protected’ species under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 which means those who hunt sun bears will be fined RM100,000, or jailed 10 years, or both. Share the awareness and spread the word. Sun bears need more attention to get more protection!
Sun bears are a ‘Totally Protected’ species under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.
We need your attention to get more protection! - Chin
Hi. My name is Barbara and I am a travel agent from Melbourne, Australia. I volunteered at the BSBCC in Sandakan for two weeks in February 2017 and not one day goes by where I don’t think back to my placement. I have so many wonderful memories and learnt so much.
I visited the Sun Bear Centre as a tourist a couple of times and I remember clearly telling my local guide that I will be back to take part in the volunteer program. Four months later I found myself in gumboots with a hose in my hand in the bear-house, sweating profusely. The whole experience was incredibly well managed by the dedicated local Ape Malaysia staff. Sumira and Mark on the ground in Sandakan are just wonderful and there was nothing we could not approach them for. Ape Malaysia has a fantastic process in place to make sure volunteers are well prepared and understand what this placement is all about.
The same goes for all the staff at the centre. I wished I could speak at least enough Malay to follow the conversations because there was always laughter in the room. Everyone was very easy going but at the same time incredibly dedicated to the purpose of the centre. I felt welcome the minute I walked in and not long after I was just one of the team.
One of the biggest challenges for me during the two weeks was to remember names and I do apologise if I don’t mention everyone I have met. It’s because I just can’t remember them all but I will come back and try harder next time. The same goes for the bears; 44 bears are a lot even though they all have distinctive chest marks. Two weeks just wasn’t enough for me to remember them all. Thank you to the keepers and Sumira for patiently showing me again and again at feeding time who was who.
We spent most our time in the bear house and someone asked me the other day, “Was it heart breaking?” It’s a valid question. I would have rather seen these beautiful animals out there in the forest where they belong but I came well prepared and with a purpose to support the staff in creating the best possible environment for the bears that cannot be released into the forest at this stage.
I must say that I was just so impressed how the whole bear house was run. It’s a huge job to look after 44 bears and everything that goes along with it, and yet there were smiling faces all around and there was always time for a little joke. I am not an expert on wildlife behaviour but I am sure the bears pick up on this positive attitude around them. Of course, many of them show typical stress behaviours which relate back to their traumatic periods while being kept as pets prior to being rescued. Apart from that the atmosphere was mostly that of contentment.
After the first few days we understood the daily routines, and started to have more and more time to concentrate on creating enrichment items. These range from structures that make the bears more comfortable, to toys out of bamboo, wood and old fire hoses which are donated to the centre. Every bear has a different personality and respond differently to enrichment items. Therefore a lot of thought goes into the creation of various structures and some of them may not turn out to be as appreciated by the bears as we hoped. After spending so much time with the bears, I did start to have a bit of a weak spot for Gutuk who has very poor vision and spends a lot of time on the ground, while other bears climb up into their hammocks to have a rest. One of our bigger enrichment projects was to build a “bear bed”. The idea was to encourage Gutuk to step off the floor and use this bed rather than the concrete floor.
In theory, it was a great idea and we were very excited to put it into action. After a little while of investigating I did catch Gutuk once with all 4 legs on the bed.
However, in the end I think the bed turned more into a toy for Chin who is Gutuk’s companion and one of the most playful bears. He had a great time standing on top trying to rip it into pieces. Sometimes the simplest things are the most successful and I think piling up lots and lots of dry leaves in Gutuk’s cage was probably more successful than building a nice piece of furniture. Staying as close to nature as possible seems to be a good approach to keep in mind.
There is a lot of trial and error when making enrichment items. The staff are open to any suggestions and will help the volunteers turn any idea into a workable option. In fact, the most memorable moments were the afternoons we all spent together crafting for the bears. It showed how much can be achieved as a team and it was just so much fun having everyone together joking around while being incredibly productive.
I would like to thank Dr Wong and all the staff at BSBCC for inviting me into the team for a short while and for Ape Malaysia who facilitate such a wonderful program.
As a travel agent specialising in responsible tourism, I have made it my goal to educate as many of my clients as possible about what a good volunteer and wildlife experience should be. I am super keen to return once a year to the BSBCC and encourage people to participate with me.
As travellers, we must start to play a role in protecting the last remaining rainforests we all crave to see and support some of these amazing people that just don’t give up and put their heart and soul into wildlife rehabilitation and conservation. You are all wonderful role models and I can’t wait to come back. In the meantime, I will talk about my experience back at home and hope to raise a little awareness about sun bear conservation.
See you all in 2018. That tree better still be there. 😉
This rescue did not change the world that we lived in, but it definitely changed the whole world of these three rescued bears!
Why does sun bear’s survival threatened? Sun bears are threatened for various reasons; one reason in particular is humans. Human activities pose many threats to sun bears and their habitat. Intensive illegal logging paired with increased agricultural expansions are just two ways in which humans are forcing sun bears out of their homes. Illegal animal trade is also leading to the extinction of sun bears. Mothers are being killed so that their cubs can be taken in as pets; many of which end up in small cages, and due to a lack of knowledge on how to properly handle the babies, often times they become malnourished and traumatised. This needs to stop if we ever want to see wild sun bears living happy and free in the rainforest!
This past July, the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre received three rescued sun bears named Ronnie, Susie and Chin. These three rescued sun bears arrived at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre from the Lok Kawi Wildlife Zoo in Kota Kinabalu.
On July 15, 2014, 2 rescued sun bears (Ronnie and Susie) successfully unloaded at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre at around 5pm.
On July 22, 2014, Chin, an adult female sun bear is the 8th bear to arrive at the Centre this year.
We prepared a quarantine area for the bears which included a den enriched with decayed wood, climbing structures, hammocks, and green leaves. Upon arrival to the centre we unloaded the bear’s cages and secured it safely to the gate of the den. When we opened the doors the bears were hesitant to go inside. All three of them were slightly stressed from the move, but eventually each one entered its new home and began to explore.
Let the bears into their quarantine dens for the start of their new lives.
All newly rescued bears must undergo a month long quarantine period so that wildlife veterinarians can conduct an extensive health check, blood and hair examinations, and monitor the body measurements of the bears.
We conducted Ronnie physical check up at the BSBCC. It went on very smoothly with the help from the SWD vet, Dr Laura and Dr. Sandy.
Susie physical check up.
Chin physical check up.
Ronnie, a five month old female sun bear cub is always capturing people’s attention! Her history is still unknown but we believe that she was kept as a ex-pet and was sent to the BSBCC on July 15, 2014. Her mother was most likely killed by poachers, and now, this kind natured gentile sun bear is quickly adjusting to her new surroundings.
Meet Ronnie, one of the youngest sun bear cub at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre
When Ronnie arrived at the centre, she weighed only 7.9 kg and took the spot as youngest bear at the centre, as well as one of the smallest. Now her weight is 10.8 kg.
She is learning all the skills pertinent to survival in the wild. She is also enjoying this learning process very much, and loves to play in the dirt! She also likes to dig, and tear apart the dead wood around her.
So wonderful to see her grown up very fast!
Learn climbing tree time!!
If we give her ginger leaves or decayed branches, she will spend an entire day biting, twisting or tearing apart her enrichments.
During play fights, Ronnie likes to show her small curved canines and sharp claws.
Now that Ronnie is getting plenty of milk and fruit to eat she is developing a big belly too!
She has a nutritious diet that comprises fruits - Durian, Tarap, Mangosteen, Rambutan, Banana and etc.
Yummy! Enjoy Ronnie!
We special made a new sleeping platform for Ronnie so that she can seek shelter and hide when she encounter strange condition.
Aside from playing in her new environment, she also enjoys her nap time and snoozing on her sleeping platform.
She is simply a beautiful sun bear, and returns our smiles with an open mouth!
The chest mark of Ronnie similar to sun shaped with sprinkled with light black dots.
Susie, a 3 year old sub-adult female sun bear came to the centre on July 15, 2014. She was kept illegally as a pet by an individual who bought her from the Pensiangan Village in the Keningau District while she was still cub. He paid RM 200 for Susie. The owner's son then surrenders Susie to the Sabah Wildlife Department on June 2014. The previous owner fed her primarily rice, meat, honey and fruits. Susie now weights 23 kg.
Susie, one of our recent arrivals at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.
Susie can be short tempered and rather sensitive, and is quite aware when strangers are around. When food is present, especially her favourite varieties of fruits, she eats extremely fast.
Susie has a large and broad chest mark with a “meteor” at the middle of her body.
Chin, an adult female sun bear, arrived to BSBCC from Lok Kawi Wildlife Zoo on July 22, 2014. Chin is named after the primary school that she was rescued from in Tawau, a town in the southeast region of Sabah. Chin was kept at the primary school’s mini zoo for a very long time and was displayed illegally in a small metal cage. She was previously fed fruits, bread, and milk while she was kept at the school.
Introducing Chin, one of the latest arrivals to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre!
Upon arrival we discovered that Chin is missing her left hind claw, which for a human would be the ring finger on the left hand.
Chin may look like a heavy and grumpy bear but she is actually a gentle and friendly bear.
We believe that Chin was never given any enrichment when she was kept at the mini zoo, which explains her curious behaviour towards enrichment activities. Here at the centre she is finding more and more activities to enjoy! Chin loves to tear things into pieces, such as dead logs and coconuts, and is a big fan of ginger leaves! She also loves playing in the water and enjoys splashing water out of the water basin onto her chest.
Tired of play...taking a rest first!
Her first time taste the durian fruit!
Showing her special long tongue!
"Growl" Alert with surrounding sound...
Chin's chest mark
Well, these three new bears are doing well at BSBCC now! The bears slowly put their past behind them and are learning to live like wild bears again! Next step for the rescued sun bears will be integrating them with other bears, and slowly giving them access to the natural forest enclosure. The bears are in good hands with our caring staffs, and have been nurtured back to health. Throughout the day we provide different types of enrichment for the bears, and allow them the ability to freely explore, play, and forage. These activities stimulate their natural behaviour and help to prepare them for life back in the wild. Currently the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is taking care of 35 rescued sun bears, and is delighted to care for these bears!