Text by Seng Yen Wah Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Mamatai is one of our adult female bear who is around 17 years old. The name Mamatai comes from the local Dusun language meaning ‘killer’ and she earned this name due to her previous aggressive attitude. Mamatai was originally kept in Sepilok before being sent to the Lok Kawi Wildlife Zoo and she returned to Sepilok in November 2010 to join us here at BSBCC.
Mamatai is a gorgeous bear with her beautiful grey colour eyes. However, she has unusually short legs compared to other bears and she moves around very slowly. We never thought such a round bear could become an expert in tree climbing, however Mamatai has surprised us and is one of the few bear who has learned how to build a nest using tree leaves and branches. Despite the tree nest being small and messy, she enjoys resting up there. Mamatai is our resident ‘Yogi bear’, as she loves doing various yoga poses when she is resting.
Enrichments are an essential part of the rehabilitation process for our bears. People often ask “what are enrichments?” An enrichment is a ‘toy’ that we make for the bears in order to encourage their natural behaviours. BSBCC staffs and volunteers make daily enrichments for Mamatai including objects such as wooded swings, tyre swings, dead logs and many others. Mamatai really enjoys playing with the large variety of enrichments that we create for her.
On 14th August 2013 Mamatai and her friend (Wan Wan) were released into one of our forest enclosure ‘Pen D’ for the first time. Although Wan Wan and Mamatai had been close friends since they both arrived at BSBCC, conflicts soon developed and resulted in Mamatai being relocated into ‘Pen H’. Today Mamatai is a brave and independent bear who loves to spend her time resting on a large log in her enclosure.
Mamatai is a perfect example in showing the role that sun bears play in the forest. Many plants and trees rely on sun bears to disperse there seeds. The sun bear consume a variety of fruits and as they travel they leave seeds spread throughout the forest, giving the sun bear the title of the ‘forest planters’. Sun bears are also excellent climbers, able to reach heights of up to 60 metres and this leads to their role of ‘forest engineers’. Sun bears climb in order to harvest honey from beehives and use their claws and canines to tear the tree trunks leaving a cavity in the tree. This can provided nesting sites for other animals, such as hornbills and flying squirrel. Sun bears are also considered to be the ‘forest doctors’. They help trees to stay healthy by controlling the population of termite. Last but not least, sun bears are the ‘forest farmers’ as they love digging helping to mix the poor soil and the rich soil together and enhancing the nutrient cycle.
Although Mamatai is getting older she is still enjoying her life here at BSBCC, she continues to climb, forage and rest, building nests in the forest. The sun bear is a forest-dependent species and the forest is also dependent! Say NO to illegal logging and protect their natural habitat for them! They cannot speak but you can and the actions we take can help them to have the life that they deserve!
New Straits Times, 22nd February 2014 By Evangeline Majawat he Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre recently opened its doors to the public. Evangeline Majawat was thereON the last tracts of remaining forest at the edge of Sandakan, some of Sabah’s best conservationists gathered to celebrate six years of hard work and congratulate each other on a job well done. The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), the fruit of their labour, is finally open to the public. Located next to the famed Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, it serves as a sanctuary and rehabilitation centre for the world’s smallest bears or beruang madu (Helarctos malayanus). “Getting the centre up and running is a big achievement. But the real work starts now,” said BSBCC founder Wong Siew Te at the soft launch recently. “Now, we have to work even harder.” The not-for-profit centre is significant, not only because it is the first and only such facility in the country but it is also the first institution which was borne out of the successful collaboration between two State government departments — Sabah Wildlife Department and Sabah Forestry Department — and non-governmental organisation Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP). Before this, conservation projects in Sabah were undertaken by the respective departments. LITTLE KNOWN BEARS The hulking figure paced uneasily before it stopped to sniff the air. Its nose twitched furiously as it sauntered to the nearest tree. With surprising speed and dexterity Wan Wan, an 8-year-old sun bear, scaled the tree. Below it, Wan Wan’s loyal companion Mamatai inspected a pile of leaves. Wan Wan and Mamatai are among the 28 rescued bears that live in BSBCC. Their stories are similar: They were either rescued from poachers or people who kept them as pets. The bears are usually found in dire conditions — malnourished and imprisoned in small cages. Like the orang utan, sun bears are listed as totally protected species under Sabah’s wildlife laws. Despite a blanket ban on hunting or owning the animal, or any of its parts or products, illegal hunting and poaching are rampant. Bear bile is popular in traditional medicine and its parts, the paws, especially, are considered a delicacy. Due to its relatively small size, people have attempted to keep these mammals as pets. One bear was found straying in the affluent suburb of Damai, about half an hour’s drive from Kota Kinabalu. The bear named Damai was believed to have escaped from her cage, and was discovered when a resident got up to check on his pet dog that had been barking incessantly. At the centre, the sun bears get a taste of life in the wild in one hectare of tropical rainforests, an area slightly bigger than a football field. The sun bears roam the forest and learn skills that their mothers would have taught them in the wild. There are many trees to climb and dead logs to explore. BSBCC IS SPECIAL When Sabah Forestry Department director Datuk Sam Mannan said in his speech that he was “really, really most impressed” by the centre, he echoed the thoughts of those present at the soft launch. Unlike the standard government building designs that feature tinted windows, endless tiles and air-conditioned rooms, BSBCC’s visitor centre is spacious, naturally lit and well ventilated. Arkitrek, the architecture firm behind the plans, applied passive design theory to keep the building naturally cool at all times. The BSBCC office is the only air-conditioned space. Arkitrek also recycled timber from the old rhinoceros enclosure which is now the site for the bear houses. The timber posts and planks were turned into counter tops and furnishings in the visitor centre. One particular timber post is a poignant memorial for Gelugob, one of the last 10 Sumatran rhinos in captivity, which died on Jan 11. The post, polished smooth by Gelugob and the other rhinos’ constant rubbing, stands tall by the entrance boardwalk. Award-winning Singaporean landscape architecture firm Salad Dressing was roped in to beautify and create a welcoming atmosphere. NEXT STEPS There are four key pillars to sun bear conservation according to Wong. The first is to get the centre up and running. “The second is education. Then there is research and rehabilitation of the sun bears.” He says the BSBCC team will engage schools, corporations and traditional medicine practitioners as well as shop owners this year. “We will reach out to these medicine men one by one, and via their associations. We must convince them not to sell bear parts or products. We must tell them how bad the situation is,” says Wong. “We want to educate them and the public about sun bears and their role in the jungle. It’s about giving people the big picture about protecting our environment.” “My bid is to protect the (wildlife) habitat so we don’t need another sun bear conservation centre. It serves a great purpose but it is because somewhere along the lines, we didn’t do better,” says Mannan. LEAP executive director Cynthia Ong struck a chord when she emphasised that sincerity about conservation efforts is of utmost importance. “Some of us get lured by being heroes and martyrs and getting funds and fame from the purpose. This is a reminder to myself and to all of us that that is losing the plot,” she says. “(When) you see the bears in the forest, (you will see) that it is about them, how we’re coexisting together and what has happened to their habitat so that we need this centre. We didn’t need it in the past.”
Visitors will be able to observe the rescued sun bears from the observation platform. Picture courtesy of Cede Prudente
(From left) Sabah Wildlife Department director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu, Ong and Manna. Picture courtesy of LEAP
Sun bears are the smallest of the eight bear species in the world. Picture courtesy of BSBCC.
On August 14, 2013 Wan-Wan, a seven year old female sun bear and Mamatai, an eleven year old female sun bear were released into the forest enclosure. The two bears are very different in appearance; Wan-Wan has a light pinkish nose and Mamatai has short legs and a stocky build. The two bears arrived at the BSBCC together from the Lok Kawi Wildlife Zoo, and have become quite the pair.
First steps to freedom!
Wan-Wan who known as "Light Pinkish Nose" was took a peek though door.
Mamatai (in Dusun language) mean aggressive attitude and she also known as "The Fatty".
Wan-Wan try to get back in bear house.
For the first time in their lives, Mamatai and Wan-Wan have a safe place where they can live a peaceful life in a natural habitat. In the forest enclosure they can roam around, dig in the soil, rest in the tall trees, and truly enjoy the natural forest.
Once the door was opened, they were very eager to get out into the forest enclosure, but are carefully observing their new home; studying unknown scents, sounds, and movements around them.
Both of the sun bears is starting to learn what to eat in the forest.
I am in the real forest!
Using her keen sense of smell, Wan- Wan is very focused on digging in search for invertebrates.
A long and agile tongue for reaching into termite colonies.
Wan- Wan is scenting her new surroundings.
Mamatai is so happy and enjoys the freedom in forest.
Mamatai likes to spend most of her day sleeping and sunbathing under the tree.
Mamatai enjoys eating the King of Fruits-Durian.
Sun bears are important for seed dispersal in the forest ecosystem. After Sun bear eat the fruit, they will disperse the seeds in forest.
Sun bears are very good at skimming through the jungle to find any kinds of food (insects) they can get their paws on.
I am become a tree hugger bear!
Mamatai climbs a tree for a better look.
She learn how to split open the decayed wood and dig for termites and other insects.
Over the next few months both bears will be learning, growing, and enjoying life within the forest enclosure.
Sun bears are a very important part of the ecosystem and more people need to know why they are so important while there is still time to save them. Please lend a helping hand and spread the word. The sun bears need you!!
Last week there was a phonecall announcing that 2 new bears were to be delivered to us from a zoo on the west sdie of Sabah. On the day before they arrived it was revealed to us that one was called Mamatai and the other Wan Wan. Matatai earned her name because of her aggression (I believe it approximates to “killer” in the Dusun language). However, the same has been said for other bears in thre past -such as Linggam- who seem quite gentle when here. She is an interesting animal as she is the first sun bear I have ever seen with dwarfism. Just as in humans, her condition means that her limbs are much shorter in proportion to the rest of her body. She seems to have Achondroplasia dwarfism. In humans, this type of dwarfism has a prevalence is approximately 1 in 25,000 in the population and accounts for most dwarfism cases. Usually this is due to a random mutation associated with advanced paternal age, in other cases the mutation is inherrited.
The Wildlife Rescue Unit from Sabah Wildlife Department and the staff of Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and BSBCC acknowledged for the delivery of the two bears.
Mamatai being taken to quarrantine.
Her dwarfism probably has some effect upon her ability to compete with other bears in the wild, but her main issue seems hunan in origin; she is chronically obese. She has already being eased onto a special diet that can hopefully make her a a much healtheir and happier bear. I regret that I shall soon have to leave, as I am very interested to see the progress she makes.
Wan Wan on her way to a better life.
The other bear, Wan Wan (??) is also a female and is overweight, too, though nothing like Mamatai. Mamatai seems very fond of Wan Wan and will follow her around the exercise pen in quarrantine. This is quite good as already it seems Wan Wan is inspiring Mamatai to climb, something we’d certainly like to encourage.
Mamatai and Wan Wan exploring their new environment.
With good care, a proper diet and the environment they are now going to have access to, I’m sure that these 2 bears are going to have a brighter future. I look forward to seeing how they are doing when I return next.