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!
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre provided me a really good opportunity for my internship in order to complete my study in Universiti Malaysia Sabah. When people asked me, what are you doing in BSBCC? Why are you helps to clean the cages in everyday? Cleaning cages is the basic but important animal husbandry for the sun bear. Because a clean cage can helps to decrease the chances for them to get sick. In the early morning, the man power of bear care team will divide into three which are bear house 1, bear house 2 and kitchen. If you assign in the kitchen, prepare the food for all the bears in the day will be your task.
Afternoon is the time for us to make enrichment for the bears. Enrichment, actually is a toy for the bears but these toy is helps to encourage the bears to utilize their own strength. You can have a million of creative way to build an enrichment for the bears but bare in mind, animal safety always comes first.
APE volunteer, Kim and Viktoria with me and bear keeper, Roger were preparing ‘fire hose pocket’ to the bears. Within the fire hose pocket, we put a layer of peanut butter and put some dog biscuit to encourage the bears to utilize their tongue to get the foods inside.
APE volunteers and I were preparing egg carton. Egg carton have the same concept with the Sandwich. In between the egg carton, we put some treats like bananas, honey and ginger leaves. And hence, they can spend some times to get the foods in between the egg carton that tied hardly by ropes.
Ice block is an ice cream for the bears because ice block can helps to relieve their heat in the hot weather. APE volunteer, Sabine and I were preparing the fruits for making ice block.
Other than woods, bamboos are one of the general materials for making enrichment to the bears. And hence, we collect the bamboos and cut it into smaller pieces for different enrichment purpose such as bamboo feeder and many more.
When there is a good weather in the day, we went out from BSBCC and collect the dry leaves at the road side. Dry leaves are used to provide a dry cage for the bears. So the bears can enjoy a natural environment even they stayed inside the cages.
Staircase platform is an enrichment that made by my bear keeper buddy, Mizuno and I for Sigalung, 8 years old male bear. This staircase platform can provide him a resting place and encourage him to do more climbing.
I like this enrichment – Sigalung.
BSBCC is using the terms of conservation which covers with animal welfare, rehabilitation, education and research. Integration, fence training and release back to the forest enclosure are included in rehabilitation. One of the rehabilitation purpose is provides to the bears have a second chance to back to the forest along with learning and practicing natural survival skills. Within these six months, I got the chance to take part on helping in fence training and release Kala, Boboi, Kitud and TanTan to the forest enclosure, Pen D and Pen C. Besides that, they were integrated with sub-adult group, Sunbearo, Loki, Ronnie Girl, Momtom, Susie2 and Damai. And now, Mary joined them as well. There are 40 bears in BSBCC with different history. But, most of them were kept as pet before. They were kept in a small cage without experienced the real forest. How could their home become a strange place for them? So, rehabilitation takes time for them to adapt the new environment and confront their traumatic early life.
Kala underwent fence training in training pen.
Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan were played fight in training pen.
Say Hi from Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan
Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan were integrated well with sub-adult group, Sunbearo, Loki, Ronnie Girl, Momtom, Damai, Susie2 and Kala.
Finally, Kala touched on the ground in the forest enclosure.
This is the way how Kala enjoy herself in forest enclosure with the beautiful sunlight.
The different ways of Tan Tan playing on a tree.
I had learnt a lot in BSBCC. And here, I would like to thank you, all the bear care team member, Thye Lim, Lin May, Azzry, Lester, Roger, David, Ronny, Tommy, Andy and my bear keeper buddy, Mizuno to guide me, share their knowledge and experience with me along my internship at BSBCC. They always make my day and lots of joy and laughter in every moment I spent in BSBCC. Thanks for all the help and taking care of me.
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.
Text by Seng Yen Wah (Intern Student from University Malaysia Sabah) Photos by Chiew Lin May
Kala was bought by a person who with the intention of saving cub on Kalabakan-Sapulut Road near Maliau Basin and then the owner surrendered her to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit. When she arrived at the BSBCC, she was weak. This may cause by the early separation of Kala and her mother. A small cub usually will stay with her mother until 2 to 3 years old. What is the reason will cause a mother to separate with her own cub when they are still in a very young age? The answer is, they had been killed by poachers in order to poach the cute bear cubs. We will say that, the overload cuteness of bear cubs is a horrible curse for them. Kala may have a horrific early life, but now she is growing up and starting her new happy life in BSBCC.
" HELLO" - Kala and Ronnie
Kala used to stay with our other sun bear cubs Boboi, Tan-Tan and Kitud. However the way Kala played made her little to no friends and the other little bears did not like to play with her. After Kala moved from the quarantine to bear house, she had to stay alone. And in order to find some companions for Kala, bear keepers were trying to integrate Kala with our sub-adult group, the bears Sunbearo, Loki, Ronnie Girl, Montom, Susie2 and Damai.
" I see you" - Kala
"Let me get closer" - Kala
The integration between Kala and the sub-adult group was closely monitored to see whether Kala could be integrated with this group or not. If one of the bears in sub-adult group could not be integrated well with Kala, it usually means the integration within the entire group does not work. One has to bear in mind the integration is not simply putting bears together, it is also depended on their age, weight and sex. Their age and weight have to be similar, if not the worst case scenario would be the smaller bear could be injured or during the integration.
Moreover, if the condition of any bear is of lesser healthy, the integration may have to be halted to prevent the spread of disease etc. that may cause other bears illnesses eventually.
" Can I come and play with you?" -Kala
" I’m ready to play! " - Ronnie
Starting any integration, 30 minutes of time spent together is seen as the limit. Later, if they play well with each other, the time of the integration periods can be extended. During the integration, bear keepers have to observe and if needed step in. Before any integration starts, at least 2 buckets of water and a fire extinguisher are ready and prepared in close proximity of the observing bear keepers. So, in case of any aggression, the bear keeper can step in and use the water or fire extinguisher to separate the aggressive bears or stop aggressive behavior. If the situation becomes worse a loud horn can also be used but we see this as a matter of last resort because the sound might cause other bears distress. The ultimate separation tool in any case of aggression is the use of a water jet to separate them. All actions during the integration sessions are carefully recorded by observers in an integration form.
" Why don’t you see my canine? " - Sunbearo
" See my canine !" - Montom
The integration for Kala is having an additional purpose, which is let Kala learn and eventually know how to play with other bears. Most of the time, Kala is the one who first enters to other bears cage. She loves to play by moving backwards without looking who she is actually with. And Kala is a very playful bear, she likes to play fight, to chase and run after other bears. However to be honest, Kalas play is really rough, she often paws and snaps after other bears. And hence, Montom, Ronnie Girl, Sunbearo and Susie2 reacted aggressive when they played with Kala during the very first days. The good news is, they are getting to know Kala better after they met for few times, at lately no more aggressive behavior was shown.
Please do not disturb, we are playing well here. - Loki and Kala
Montom and Loki are the ones who always approach Kala. Both of them have showed much more interest in playing with Kala. Sunbearo plays with Kala too, but not as much as Montom and Loki do. On the other side, Kala always approaches Ronnie Girl and Susie2. But, the way she plays seems not acceptable to them. Susie2 always tries to avoid Kala. Damai on the other hand is a solitary bear. She shows the least interest in playing with Kala among the group. Most of the time, she was just stays in a hammock and looking at Kala from hammock.
" This platform is so comfort, see me. Do you want to try? " - Kala
Don’t be afraid. I can be your good friend. - Loki
For now, Kala was integrated with 2 of 6 bears in one session. In the future we will try to integrate her with at least 4 of the 6 bears at one time. We are looking forward to the integration of Kala with the sub-adult group and hope she can be friends with them soon. After the little bears would not play with her, we want to find her some companion. Now she will get new friends, and is not a lonely bear anymore.
One of the happiest moments since her arrival at the centre has been her growing fondness of the forest, where he loves foraging and eating soil.
Our one year old, female sun bear cub Kala is growing up! Kala was bought by someone on Kalabakan-Sapulut Road near Maliau Basin with the intention of saving the cub they then surrendered her to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit. She had never even been given the chance to experience life as a wild bear - poached from the wild as a cub after her mother was killed; this horrific life was all she had ever known.
When she first arrived at BSBCC, Kala was emaciated, dehydrated and malnourished. Back then her weight was just 3kg and she was very thin.
We are very glad that Kala health is now in a stable condition. She has been relying on FIDO Premium Milk Powder for her growth. A huge thanks to our most generous and certainly loveliest supporters from TTL Distributors Sdn Bhd who have given our orphaned sun bear cubs a life full of meaning and joy.
During her rehabilitation, Kala was taken out for daily forest walks to learn important forest skills by our bear care staff for almost one year. She is making good progress through gaining confidence while climbing in the trees, loving to be outside and finally learning how to be a bear. When she was about one year and three months old, she had reached the age where she was no longer vulnerable for a human to walk with her in the forest.
Our “mother bear” is leading the climbing skills to little Kala.
It is truly heart-warming to see little Kala take his first few climb on trees.
Last year in November we tried to let Kala meet new cubs and make friends (Boboi, Kitud and Tan-Tan). Unfortunately, Kala was not accepted by her three companions due to her rough play fighting, but we will continue to look for other bears who she might find some companionship with. This is a time for little Kala to make new friends and go out into the sunshine. On February 23rd, 2016 a veterinarian from the Sabah Wildlife Department, Dr Laura Benedict, and Wong Siew Te with our bear care team helped in the moving process. During the process, a general health check on Kala was conducted to assess potential sickness, functionality of organs and physical condition. The blood tests concluded that Kala was a healthy bear and she now weighs 23.35kg.
Process moving Kala to Bear House starts with Kala being put on anesthesia by Dr Laura Benedict, Wildlife Rescue Unit veterinarian.
After the sedation procedure, Kala was carried out of her den and put into the transportation trolley.
Bear care team help to transfer Kala to Bear House.
Reach new home at Bear House!
Dr.Laura Benedict and Bear care team perform a full health check on Kala.
Dr Laura took blood samples, give deworming and multivitamin injections, while Bear care team were busy monitoring TPR (temperatures, pulse rate, and respiration rate), taking body measurements and photos, collecting hair samples (for future DNA studies).
Checking Kala’s teeth condition
Kala’s unique chest mark! The sun bear's name comes from this marking, which looks like a rising sun.
Carrying Kala to her new dens once the health check process has completed.
When moving Kala to her new dens, the other neighboring bears showed curiosity to the little cub. Kala’s den is designed in a semi natural style to give her a real taste of freedom and to stimulate her natural behavior in the wild.
Curious with neighbour bears !
Kala is gradually settling down to the new environment.
The bear care team has given Kala various enrichment items – these have included puzzle feeders, fire hose bags, fire hose pockets filled with peanut butter, green leaves, logs, and hidden treats encouraging Kala to forage. Little by little she tried out every enrichment and ventured around the new den. Kala is extremely playful and loves to investigate new toys! When it comes to food, she eats all her meals with relish!
She is playful, energetic and loves spend hours playing all kinds of enrichment.
She enjoys taking her nap inside the basket.
Incredibly long tongue, perfect for extract honey and insects!
These events have given Kala a new journey in life. Beautiful Kala has been so strong and brave in shaking off her past and loves her freedom today. We will continue to help Kala develop the forest skills she needs until she returns to the wild again. The next step for Kala is she will be introduced to the bears who are the same age as her and slowly will have access to the natural forest enclosure. So stay turned!