Text by Chiew Lin May Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Two kilograms of heavy metal chain with a brass lock tied on Kuamut’s neck may look amusing but the story behind it is heartbreakingly sad. Kuamut was a sub adult when she was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department from illegal pet ownership and being kept in a small iron cage at a village on the Kinabatangan River on 13th January, 2009.
When she arrived, she was in a bad condition from where her neck was tied with an enormously heavy metal chain since she was a cub. Her neck was found thin and worn.
She was extremely stressed during the arrival and had a fearful expression in her eyes. It was heartbreaking to see such a young sun bear without her mother to comfort and protect her.
We are absolutely delighted to have rescued her and will give her the best chance of surviving and returning one day to her forest home where she belongs. She has settled into her new environment very well. BSBCC provides different types of enrichment – such as toys and food based ones to encourage natural behaviors and stimulation. She explores all the enrichment but sometimes will struggle to figure them out. Kuamut is very fond of eating and loves all her meals. She really enjoys her fruits, especially tropical fruits and honey! She will slowly gain strength, confidence and develop her independence to survive in the forest.
After she finished quarantine, she was moved to the bear house and was introduced to the adult females in April 2010. She is a beautiful bear. Kuamut developed good relationships with adult female, Tokob. They loved to spend time sharing bear stories and play wrestling a lot.
But sadly, Kuamut has lost her best friend, Tokob. She passed away on 25th April 2015 due to respiratory and circulatory failure. Tokob with her beautiful yellow “batman” shaped crescent and the most slender, will be missed by Kuamut. Then after a year of Tokob passing away, Kuamut slowly displayed trust towards her other bear pals. She now is closer with an eleven year old, adult female sun bear, Susie. The only one she will play wrestle with. Susie loving the attention, has helped Kuamut grow in confidence.
Kuamut is now ten years old, her sleek, dark coat and muzzle make her adorable. During rehabilitation at BSBCC where the rescued sun bears can learn to climb trees, forage for food, make a nest to sleep in at night in the forest enclosure and develop all the wild behavior they need to survive in the wild.
Kuamut finally took her brave first step out into the forest enclosure in June 2010. She walked out into the sunshine with the confidence of knowing her life was now safe and displayed wonderful bear behavior! She was able to adapt in the forest just like a wild sun bear and equipped with the survival skills.
She loves to play, climb trees and occasionally loves to borrow and stay at other sun bear friends’ tree nest!
She loves to borrow and stay at other sun bear friends’ tree nests!
Her enthusiasm can be seen where she loves breaking branches, climbing trees, foraging in termites nests and digging deep into the soil. These seem to be her favourite activities throughout the day. She likes keeping herself busy at all possible times. This is not a problem for her as she is very skillful in foraging for natural foods like termites, beehives and invertebrates. She has proved to us that she is an exceptional tree climber and is eager to explore.
She will find her favourite trees to climb. Slowly she recovers from a life of hardship and embarks on a new way of life. She grows up peacefully in the forest. She never gets along with Cerah and Jelita. Whenever Cerah and Jelita try to climb a tree that is her favourite, she will make a noise and give warning to chase them away. Be warned not to alarm her with sudden movements or noises! She will immediately climb up into the trees where she feels safe.
Kuamut is a quiet and gentle bear. We are pleased to report that she is doing really well in the forest. Every day she goes on her independent adventures in the forest. She has found a new big log and will spend time there together with Susie.
Kuamut can be easily spotted and never misses an afternoon nap on the platform near the bear house.
Sometimes she will just sit and sniff around, perhaps enjoying the smell of freedom!
Commercial hunting and poaching remain the biggest threat to sun bear survival. Sun bears have declined by at least 30% over the past 30 years and will continue to decline at this rate if NO action is taken. Sun bears are protected by law in Sabah under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997. Please help us protect sun bears from extinction before it is too late. You can make the difference!
Text By Leonardo Jainih (Intern Student) Photo by Chiew Lin May
The primary goal of Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) is to promote sun bear conservation in Borneo by creating the capacity to rehabilitate and release suitable ex-captive bears back into the wild forest again. In order to achieve this goal, one of BSBCC’s efforts or actions is by allowing the bears to explore and forage the beautiful forest enclosure around them. Building up a forest enclosure is not as simple as just putting up a fence as sun bears love to dig the ground and to climb over the fence. The fence cannot be too close to the tall trees in the habitat or the more adventurous chaps might be able to venture out into the wild. From rehabilitation program, it actually encourage the natural bear behaviour and reintroduce them to the forest environment. For example, they dig to find food such as earthworms, termites, ants and bettles, climbing trees to sleep, search for honeybees and feed on fruits. In August this year, some exciting for the bears (Cerah, Jelita, Susie, Kuamat, Lawa and Manis) to experience await them. They are all adult female sun bears aged from 8 to 9 years old except for Manis (14 years old). The bears had been waiting for their new forest enclosure (Pen K) after they were moved to the second bear house when medical check were conducted on them weeks ago. This process of releasing the bears to their new forest enclosure start with slowly open up the guillotine door for them to start their new chapter of life. Fruits such as papaya, watermelon, rambutan and honey dew were scattered around the ramp and on the forest floor. Usually, the bears will start sniffing their new environment and surely eats the fruits prepared for them. However, almost all the rescued bears at BSBCC had this one tricky habit which was trying to grab the fruits at the ramp and left at least their hind leg inside the den, as if to say, “I bet you would not close the quillotine door as long as parts of my body is still inside the den”. Cerah was the first bear to come out from her den and began her journey to the new forest enclosure (Pen K). She was hesitant to go outdoors at first, sniffing the air and fruits near the entrance to her indoor enclosure. However, after nearly a week with food laid out on a ramp, Cerah took her first official step out to the forest.
Cerah is sniffing and peeking out her new home curiously.
As expected, it took a while for the bears to venture, but after a few sniffs and a scan through the new forest enclosure as well, they became more curious and anxious. No one said that this was an easy task as there were few bears took about 6 months to finally stepped out from their den and foraging the forest.
Jelita and her friends are eating the fruits and sniffed their environment.
Susie and Jelita taking their time to step out to the forest enclosure.
Kuamut slowly taking her steps on the ramp.
Kuamut carefully climbing down from the ramp to the forest.
Susie taking her brave steps exploring the forest.
Cerah relaxing and laying down on dead wood during the day.
Cerah curiously observing the environment outside perimeter of forest enclosure.
Cerah is one of Jelita’s bestfriend and roommate. She is a clever and curious young lady-bear, who tends to welcome new faces with a friendly sniff. Whenever new enrichment activitiy is introduced, Cerah is not one to follow her stomach. Unlike Jelita, Cerah is always curiously to seek out and explore the new toys before finding the food, even if it is one of her favourite treats. That is why Cerah was the first one to come out from her den to the forest enclosure.
Cerah and Jelita digging the soil to look for foods such as ants and termites.
Finally, Manis was the last bear among all six bears stepped out from her den and start exploring her new environment with high curiousity. In the end, Manis get to shares her enclosure with five other sun bears (Cerah, Jelita, Susie, Kuamut and Lawa). Despite all of this she equally likes her own space and if she is not in the mood for company, she lets the other females know quickly to leave her alone. It can be concluded that this plan is a successful one as it took only a month for all the bears at Pen K step out to the forest enclosure everyday. In no time, they remembered how to be wild sun bear again by digging at dead wood in search of insects like termites and beetles, and exploring and roaming the forest in peace.
A faraway look in Manis’s eyes in the forest.
Manis went back to her den from foraging the forest.
Our hope is that one day they will confidently walked out and be ready for the wild forest but this is not an easy task. It really requires a huge amount of resources if it is to be done successfully. Therefore, it is very important to help them to remember how to be bears again so that they can survived in the wild without our help.
Text by Gloria Ganang & photo by Dawn Serene Tukalan It has been a rainy weather in Sandakan these few days. However it was lucky for the kids from the Sandakan Tzu Chi Buddhist Merit Society that they get to spend a sunny day doing fun activities at the BSBCC yesterday (9th Dec 2012). They arrived at 8.20 in the morning all excited and ready to see the sun bears. The kids stood in 4 lines according to their groups when we met them at the Seplilok car park.
Greetings from BSBCC
Introducing "uncle Wong"!
The kids were then divided into 2 groups before we guided them towards the BSBCC platform. Along the way, they were also thought about the importance of the environment and a little appreciation and practice in reusing materials, such as the "Organic Bridge" which was built out of reclaimed Belian wood a.k.a. Bornean ironwood.
"You're standing on an organic bridge!"
As we reached the platform, everyone was running everywhere, excited to meet the bears at their enclosure. They were welcomed by one of our bears, Kuamut resting on a log in the enclosure.
Say hi to Kuamut!
For most of the kids, it was their first time seeing a sun bear! Lucky for them that their first sight of a sun bear is in a natural forest and in good condition. Although these bears have unfortunate histories, but they knew that they will have a much better future. Next, it is time for sun bear story with Wai Pak.
The types of bears of the world
Sun bears are meat eaters!
Paying attention to the sun bear story
Later, the kids for told to make "toys" for the sun bears. We had used cardboard, ginger leaves, peanut butter, honey and many kinds of local spices for the kids to spread on their handmade "toys". This is to encourage the bears to tear the cardboard into pieces to get a taste of the ingredients .
A brief instructions on the process and procedure of making "toys" for the sun bears.
She definitely wants to create the best toy for the bears!
This place has turned into a toy factory!
The end product!
Well done guys! these are amazing!
After the toy making activity, it was the end of their programme. Before they left, we took the opportunity to thank them for visiting us and made some enrichment for the bears to play with.
The moment that we all have been waiting for are finally here. After all the sun bears were settling down in their new home, the next challenges for us would be the electric-fence training, integration of different bears, and the introduction of the bears to the new forest enclosures were something that will happen over the next few days. These processes are all crucial and important parts of the “bringing the sun bear a better home.”
On April 9, we first introduced the young female group to the hot wire (electric fence) training pen so that the bears could learn to avoid the hot wire in the forest enclosures and will not escape. This is also the day when Annemarie Weegenaar from AAF have to leave us to go back for the moon bears in China. It is like the fellowship of bears slowly leaving again. Separation is always sad. However, we understand that the moon bears in China needed Annemarie's cares and loves for the moon bears. The training session went well, although slow. Of the 4 young females, Jelita was the champion of all who first understand the message of the hot wire and later feel much comfortable foraging in the training pen and avoid touching the wire. The other bears- Cerah, Kuamut, and Lawa, pretty much followed Jelita but felt less adventurous to wonder around the hot wire training pen and spend most of the time in their own dens relaxing in the bear basket and playing. They never seem to complain much although the den is concrete floor and iron bars wall, maybe this is what they grow up with and get use to- without touching the real soil and without nurture of the forest.
Jelita in the hot-wire training pen- checking out the surrounding.
Jelita found some insects in the logs and start breaking the wood to find potential food items.
By now we mixed these four young female up. They occupy 4 dens/cells where they can move freely as they wish. We give them and other bears plenty of enrichments such as leaves, browse, logs, ice block, kong toys, Aussy balls, coconuts, water bath, etc. to keep them busy. During the hot wire training session that last most of the day, we open the doors between their dens to the training pen so that they can come in and out of the training pen as they wish. We want to make the bears have a positive experience with these training so that they eventually learn to avoid the hot wires surrounding the enclosures and hence discourage them from climbing the fences in the forest enclosure when they go out one day. We do not want to push them to do something that they are feel less comfortable to do. We work according to their clock.
Jelita foraging on teh decayed wood for termites.
On April 12, three days after their training, we decided to let this young female group out to their forest enclosure. We open the door of the den for the first time. We thought today will marked history for the captives sun bears at BSBCC because the forest enclosure is the second items beside the new bear house that we all have been working hard for them. The moment that the bear step out from their den and put their feet on the forest's floor will be a historic moment for sun bear in BSBCC and sun bear as a species-a big step forward to save the species. However, what happen in the next few hours to the next few days after the doors of the bear's den opened was something that we did not expect - Only Jelita show interest of the outside world by sniffing the forest air over and over again. She made one step on the ramp that connect the den to the forest enclosure and hesitate to wonder any further. For the rest of the three girls - Cerah, Kuamut and Lawa, they preferred to enjoy their basket nap and stay put in their spacious den.
Jelita pocked her head out to check on the outside world.
Jelita sniffing the forest air- she was almost there to enjoy the forest.
It is understandable why these four bears hesitate to come out to the forest enclosure. First they are still young (> 3 year old) and sense of wariness to the new environment still very strong. In the wild, they would still be accompanied by their mother who give them security in term of protection and food. Second, perhaps they grow up in a small space and confine to cages pretty much all their life and feel more comfortable in their new house now than the outside world. Nonetheless, we are sure that they will come out from their den one day to enjoy their forest, their home.
The three other girls prefferref to stay put in their den and relax...
We have been working around the clock since our multinational bear moving team arrived in Sandakan last Saturday. We have been sweating more than 10 hours a day over the past 4 days working really hard to make this event go smoothly, from cleaning the bear house, enriching each bear den, checking the bear enclosures, and finally, moving the bears into our new bear house. Today is the second day of the moving. We moved the four young females in the morning: Kuamut, Lawa, Jelita, and Cerah,, followed by the big dominant male Bermuda in the afternoon. The move went smoothly and the bears settling down in their new home smoothly.
Sun bear is the smallest bear species, yet, like canines, there claws are the longest proportionally to their body size.
All sun bears have a unique chest patch. No two individual share the same pattern. Here are the chest patch of Kuamut (upper) and Bermuda (lower photo)
The coordination of the medical and the moving team is getting better and better today. We can process a bear in 20 mins. Thanks for all the Sabah Wildlife Department staffs, experts and volunteers helping us at BSBCC!
Weighing Jelita, the young female sun bear.
Performing physical and health check on Cerah. Cerah was featured in Beartrek. Now she is an young adult bear weighing 34 kg – a fat bear, so to say.
Position Jelita in her new home for recovery. She too is another fat and good looking bear.
The fifth bear we moved today was Bermuda, the dominant male bear in our centre. Although not the heaviest, he is by far the most fierce and aggressive.
Finally, these bears are settling down smoothly in the new home. Sun bear is the most arboreal bear. Our new bear den give them a lot of opportunity to climb high above the ground and observe the surrounding from higher level.
The bear basket that we provide them 5 feet above the ground is the best thing to give them comfort and security.
Susie was the first bear who moved into the new cage. Elis, SOURC ranger, sedated Susie and then she has a medical checked by Dr Cecilia. According to Dr., Susie health was much better compare to the first day Susie arrive at BSBCC last August. Anybody can tell the different on its fur and coating, it’s more shining now! Due to the shortage of bear cage, she was put into a 122 x 92 x 106cm cage for the last few months. However, now she can have a more spacious cage to stay and hang around! Nevertheless, she can go out to the exercise enclosure that full with dried leaves and branches!
Susie was kept in this small cage for several months while waiting the new bear cage to be finished. Susie also has a new neighbor, Kuamut. She was moved into the cage beside Susie. We hope that Kuamut will get used to her new home and neighbor very soon. Of course, she also can explore the exercise enclosure just like others. If you are our loyal reader, you will remember Kuamut was a pet before with two heavy chains on her neck. Please read story about Kuamut at http://www.bsbcc.org.my/bear-talk-blog/kuamut-our-latest-rescued-sun-bear The last bear we moved was Suria, the youngest in the centre. She was put into the cage beside Kuamut. For sure, Suria likes her new home very much. Suria was so keen on her cage and started to explore at every corner once she was recovered from the sedation. She even started to climb for the first time! However, we found out that her arm muscle was not strong enough, and need to depend on her teeth to grab on the bars. We are still optimist that Suria can build up her muscle and climbing skills very soon!
Susie was just recovered from the sedation in her new cage.
Susie is an elegant and healthy bear here.
Kuamut, is neighboring with Susie and Suria. We hope she can get used to the new environment very soon.
Suria was so excited in her new cage, and she even did not need time to get used to the new environment after sedation. She just wants to play and have fun!
After several hours climbing, breaking log and branches, Suria was exhausted and slept peacefully in her new sleeping basket for the first time. I can’t describe how happy when I saw these three bears were released into their new and more spacious cages. However, I still have to pray harder and hope that BSBCC new bear house can be started to build soon. That is because I know more bears are still keep in bad condition, in small and dirty cages without proper care of the their “owners”. I also hope the forest will stay healthy so that the sun bears will never lose their natural home.
On the morning of January 19, the staff from the Wildlife Department sent in a new bear to Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. Her name is Kuamut. She is a sub adult female sun bear captured in Kuamut area, a village near to Kinabatangan River in Sabah. Kuamut is another unfortunate sun bear that share similar story with other caged bears. She was kept as a pet as a small cub, with her mother probably being killed by poachers. When her size was getting bigger, stronger and more dangerous, the owner decided not to keep her any longer. The owner released her back to the forest (luckily not slaughter her for her body parts) but she kept coming back to the village because she was habituated to people and associated human with food. At the end, the villagers contacted the wildlife department, who confiscated the bear and sent her to our centre. She was kept inside a small iron cage when she arrived, slightly skinny but in good health. We were so shocked to see she had a long-thick chain on her neck! She was pacing non-stopped, and extremely stressful. The chain was dragged inside the iron cage, made a very uncomfortable noise to everybody and the bear. I am sure the bear’s feeling was even worst! Kuamut is sure an unlucky bear sun bear but lucky enough to sent to us at BSBCC. With her age, size and habituated behavior, she could be easily killed by poachers and angry villagers who concern their safety! She should not be released to a forest that is near to human settlement in the first place. Hopefully, she can accommodate herself very soon in our center and gone through the rehabilitation process.
There were two chains put on her neck! I believe she was wearing these since she was a baby. No body dares to chain her when she was in this size.
We cut off the chains and it was weighted 2 kg!
We named this 26kg bear as Kuamut, to remember the village where she came from. Hopefully, she can have a more comfortable place to stay in the very soon. With no chain on her neck, she soon will live like other bears in our center. Once our new bear house is finished, we hope she can enjoy the forest once more with better quality of life. We hope one day she could be a candidate to be rehabilitate into the wild again. Let hope for that!