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!
Did you know that in the wild sun bears build a safe, comfortable nest to sleep in? Tree nests protect them from predators as well as serve as to be comfortable, safe places to sleep. This is one of the vital skills that their mothers would have taught them in the wild… Check out how one of our rescued adult female sun bear, Damai builds her comfy nest on tree!
There are no words that can tell how much I love to walk in the forest in the sun.
Every bear carries different baggage arriving to BSBCC. But they learn everything necessary from the beginning in the forest enclosure with their friends.
In nature, sun bear cubs stay with their mothers until they two to three years old. When people take cubs away from their mothers, they also take away their chance of learning the survival skills from their mothers as well. If people only keep them as a pet in a small cage, they can never learn what they need to survive in the wild. This is the reason why our integration program becomes so important for the bears. The best enrichment for a bear is another bear. When they spend their time with their friends, they can learn relevant skills from them. Besides that, socialization can help to reduce bears stereotypical behavior. The forest enclosure provides them with a natural environment and enough space where they can explore with lots of activities, such as foraging, digging, climbing and play fight with each other.
Loki, you see I found a watermelon here and lots of delicious fruits. –Sunbearo
You got one and I got one too.
There is no one to disturb our nap time.
Sun bears are the smallest bears among the bear species. But, they have the longest tongue amongst their peers. Their tongue is about 25cm to 30cm long. They not only use their long tongue to lick the honey out of bee nests, but also eat small insects found in decayed wood, such as ants and termites. By using their long tongue, they can reach the deep inside of bee nests or decayed wood to get themselves lots of yummy treats.
Sun bears have a keen olfactory sense. In order to encourage them to utilize their sense of smell, food is scattered around in the forest enclosures by bear keepers. This will encourage them to do more foraging. In the forest enclosure, they can also forage for the small insects.
Let me use my sense of smell to find the small insects for my yummy snack.
I think I found a small insect in the dead wood.
Sun bears have very strong canines and sharp claws. They are the excellent climbers. With the help of their curved shape claws, the can climb up trees reaching to 60m heights. Sun bears are the arboreal animals. They climb up on trees for sunbathing and resting. Besides that, there are using their claws for tearing apart the dead wood to get their important source of protein, the small insects as well.
These leaves smell good!!
Opps, my belly.
Let me do some exercise.
Should I climb up higher?
I think I need to take a rest first.
You see how I’m using my canines to bite on the tree branch.
I got busy foraging here.
Sun bears are a forest dependent species. The expertise of sun bears in their habitat makes them survive in the wild. However, poaching issues are still threatening their survival even though sun bears are a totally protected species under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment of 1997. Poachers are continuously hunting them illegally for consumption, medicine or decorative purposes. Please save the sun bears. They deserve to stay in the wild free and happy. Thank you!
Tan-Tan was bought by a person with the purpose of rescuing her from being sold in the remote region of Paitan. After the person bought Tan-Tan, he informed the Sabah Wildlife Department and the Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit sent her to BSBCC on August 5th, 2015. On the other hand, Boboi and Kitud were kept together in a cage before they were handed over to the Sabah Wildlife Department in Singgaron Village, Ranau district. They were originally from Pitas, Sabah and only arrived at BSBCC on October 30th, 2015.
Boboi, Kitud and Tan-Tan stayed together in quarantine. Boboi is like a big brother that always backs up Kitud and Tan-Tan. Tan-Tan is the little one. She likes to follow behind Kitud so that she can get more comfort. If Boboi and Kitud are not around her, she will seek for them. Kitud is dominant, even though her size is not as big as Boboi. But, she always leads them to take an adventure with her. After the health check, they were moved from quarantine to the bear house. This was the time for them to meet the sub-adult group.
The sub-adult group and also the big group was very welcoming for them to join as new members. The sub-adult group members included Sunbearo, Loki, Ronnie Girl, Momtom, Damai, Susie2, Mary and Kala. They were playing well together, even though Kitud and Tan-Tan have a smaller body size than them. Here we have a little warm story about Tan-Tan and Susie2. Susie2 had trauma with her early life. This made Susie2 avoid herself from others. But, little sweet Tan-Tan would approach her and follow her when she met Susie2. She would accompany her silently from behind. Momtom and Sunbearo, the big brothers and Mary, Loki and Ronnie Girl, the big sisters, have shown more interest to play with them. Damai has no interest to play with them. She prefers to stay in the hammock and when they try to disturb her, she will give them warning. Also, the way that Kala played was too rough for them. But they did not have serious aggression with each other. And now, they can share a cage and stay with the sub-adult group.
Before they went back to the forest, they had to go through fence training. Fence training is a training to let the bears know that the hot wire may zap them if they get too close to it.This is because all the forest enclosures are surrounded by hot wire. These three little bears are full of courage. From the first day they got zapped, they climbed on the electric fence and began barking. Now, they can move freely between the buffer cage and training pen. They even can play fight in the training pen. Most of the bears do not like the training pen. This is because every bear has been zapped in here before. But, not for Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan. From the first week, the three of them almost had been zapped everyday. But, they never gave up learning. After that, Tan-Tan knew to use her claws to get the food that was near the hot wire without getting zapped. Once one of them knew how, the rest of them would learn from her. After 20 days of training, they finally passed.
The day came! Once the guillotine door opened, their first actions were sniffing the surroundings and looking outside at the forest. They tapped on the ramp just like they were testing whether the ramp was safe for them or not. There was lots of tasty treats, fruits and honey on the ramp. They slowly stepped out and saw the outside world. Kitud was the bravest bear among them. She was the first who touched the ground. Tan-Tan followed Kitud back. When Kitud and Tan-Tan took their first steps outside, Boboi was looking at them through the guillotine door. He went in between the buffer cage and training pen, and tried to find a way out with different styles. After 20 minutes he struggled and he finally joined them in the forest. They explored the forest together. When they met with others, they’d play fight with them as well. Now they enjoy to stay in the forest. Once the guillotine door opens, they just go out and take their adventures all day long in either pen C or pen D with their big brothers and sisters. Let’s see how they enjoy life in the forest.
Watching Boboi, Kitud and Tan-Tan growing healthy and adapting well in the forest is undoubtedly one of our greatest pleasure. They will never again live in fear and well entitled to do anything they love!
Kala is a one year old, female bear. She is at BSBCC because her previous owner surrendered her to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit with the intention to save her after they found her on Kalabakan-Sapulut Road near Meliau Basin. Kala got to walk in the forest with a bear keeper when she was still a cub. However, it had been a while since Kala had experienced the forest. Walking a cub is not an easy task. The task becomes harder while the cub is growing up because they can be very hard to control. Now, Kala is growing well. Hence, there is no more need for her to walk with a bear keeper. But this does not mean that she will not go back into the forest anymore.
Fence training is a very important step before the bears can go out to the forest enclosure. This is because the forest enclosure is surrounded with high voltage hot wire. The hot wire is to prevent the bears escaping from the forest enclosure.
In the beginning, we made a food trail for Kala and encouraged her out to the training pen. The training pen was a strange place for her and hence why we prepared lots of food and her favourite, honey, to encourage her. She was doing well. After that we scattered food near the fence and observed how she responded with the hot wire. Unsurprisingly, she was zapped by the hot wire. After she had been zapped, she ran back to her cage and did not going to the training pen anymore. After a few tries, she became alert when she went inside the training pen. She knew that once she was too close and accidently touched the hot wire she would get a zap. Hence, she kept a distance with the hot wire. Besides that, she knows how to avoid being zapped by the hot wire. She was using her claws to grab the food near the fence. When she was able to walk in between the buffer cage and training pen with confidence, this meant that she had passed her fence training.
After fence training, it was time for her to go back to the forest. In order to encourage Kala out to the forest enclosure, we prepared an attractive food trail on a ramp. Once the guillotine door opened, Kala showed her curiosity with the new environment. She sniffed the guillotine door and the ramp first. Then she took a look at the outside and sniffed the forest.
Smells are different here.
When she was trying to grab the food on the ramp, she placed a front leg out and then both front legs touched the ramp. But, her two hind legs were still inside the cage. She was trying so hard to get the food on the ramp. Once she grabbed the food, she brought it inside and ate it in the cage.
Let me think a while. Hmm.. In or Out?
Tasty and juicy fruits on the ramp and that are why I am here.
After days passed, there was a sunny day on the 6thof June. When Kala tried to grab the food on the ramp, the ramp was too slippery and she slipped on to the ground.
I am on the ground.
After she touched the ground, the very first thing she did was explore the environment. She walked and sniffed around the forest enclosure. There were lots of things that attracted her attention, soils, trees that she had not seen for a while. When she saw the trees, she climbed up them. When she saw soil, she started digging it. There are lots of activities that she can do in the forest enclosure. She spends her days in there.
This is my dream land, the forest.
Tree, I love trees.
What’s that on the ground?
I’m tearing off a big dead wood.
Here got a big tree.
Yeah, I am climbing up on a tree.
Let me enjoy this beautiful sunlight.
I got a bit sleepy now.
Soil is her favourite enrichment since she was small. She’s smelt, touched and tasted the soil. Even when she feels tired, she lays on the soil and continues to play with it.
This is my soils.
Friends are so important for humans and also for bears. Kala joined a big family with Sunbearo, Loki, Ronnie Girl, Momtom, Susie2 and Damai. They encouraged her when she went to the training pen and also back to the forest as well. And now, Kala can learn survival skills from her friends such as foraging and digging in the forest. They love playing and enjoying the natural environment together. Sometimes they play fight with each other and sometimes they forage together. In the forest Kala learns and plays with her friends and the most important thing is that she is happy.