Hi my name is Ryan and I am from Melbourne, Australia. I recently volunteered at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, and what an amazing experience it was. Where do I start?
I have never worked with such a fantastic, smart, dedicated, motivated, helpful and caring group of people before. All the staff at the centre are truly dedicated and passionate about what they are doing. This comes through clearly when you work along side them. You only have to talk to the founder of the centre, Wong, for a few seconds before you see his passion for the Sun Bears and his vision of what they are working towards achieving at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. Working with all the other staff you can definitely see Wong's passion and drive is shared amongst all at the centre.
The BSBCC Crew (Photo by Thye Lim)
My fellow volunteers and myself with BSBCC founder Wong (Photo by Naomi Clark)
Next up is the beautiful Sun Bears. My time volunteering at the centre was my first ever encounter with the worlds smallest bears. Working with this unique and amazing animals has definitely left a deep and lasting impression on me.
Each of the bears have their own unique personalities and characters. When I first started working with the bears I thought that I would never be able to tell them apart. But with in a few days working I start to figure out each bears unique traits and personalities. From the aggressive male Bermuda, to the independent female Natalie, to the portly Kuamut, or best friends Cerah and Jelita. Each of the bears also have their own unique chest marking which can be helpful in telling them apart.
One of my favourite experiences with the bears was when we gave them new enrichment. It is so fascinating to watch them trying to figure out how to open up a nest ball or bamboo puzzle. A highlight is definitely coconut time. When the bears get their paws on a coconut this is a sight to behold. They start by grabbing the coconut and tapping around the fruit until they find a weak spot. Once the weakness is exposed they immediately sink a claw in and set at ripping it apart. Within seconds the coconut is down to just the centre. The bears then grab the remainder of the nut and repeatedly throw it against the hard ground until they hear it crack open. Now its time to lie on their back and drizzle the watery contents into their mouths.
For me it is sad that the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre even has to exist in the first place (though I am very happy it does exist to help these Bears in need). From the illegal pet trade, to poaching, and palm plantation deforestation, there are many threats to these amazing animals, which all stem from human greed and carelessness.
The bears are very lucky to have the amazingly people at BSBCC looking after them. It is very satisfying to know that all the hard work and dedicating of the staff and volunteers is leading towards the eventual release of the bears back to the forest where they belong.
They don't call it a 'rain' forest for no reason (Photo by Claire Wynn Jones)
Kuamut relaxing chewing on sugar cane - looks like she is playing the flute (Photo by Ryan Pyne)
Bears fighting over the best position in the tree (Photo by Claire Wynn Jones)
Relaxing in the tree (Photo by Claire Wynn Jones)
Working at the BSBCC is a challenging and rewarding experience. The day starts with cleaning. We would set to work on cleaning the bear pens. Scrubbing, brushing, hosing and wheelbarrows full of bear faeces. Good hard tiring work, but enjoyable none the less. Then food preparation. Weighing, washing and cutting of an assortment of different fruits and vegetables (Bananas, Papaya, Sweet Potato, Durian, Coconut, Eggs and Duku)
Next up is the morning feeding of the bears. We started off with feeding the bears that have remained in their cages for the day. We would grab to grab two large handfuls of fruits and throw them to the top of the their cages. This makes the bears climb to the top of their cages, making them have to work for their food and having to try and pull the fruit through the top bars.
Fellow volunteer Naomi feeding the bears (Photo by Ryan Pyne)
We then walked around the Outdoor Enclosure throwing fruit to the active outside bears. We would sit there for a while watching them enjoy their meal before then making our way back to the kitchen to prepare the bears afternoon snack of porridge (I know right… Goldielocks and all).
PORRIDGE TIME! All the bears return to their pens for the night so it is time for their porridge treat. Each bear receives one tray of porridge. The tray is slid into the cage through a slot in the door. The bears know what is going on as they sit at the doors eagerly anticipating their afternoon treat. SLURP. Within seconds the tray is licked completely clean.
Porridge is ready for the bears (Photo by Ryan Pyne)
The afternoon tasks changed daily. From trekking into the forest to collect logs and woods for the bears, to making bear enrichment such as nest balls, or constructing hammocks for the bears to play in. It was always exciting to come back to work after lunch to find out what I would be working on that afternoon.
Other tasks we worked on were decorating the day pen for the young Sun Bear cubs in quarantine with dry leaves, logs and fresh leaves and branches. I also got to assist with installing same sections of electrified fencing in the outdoor enclosure.
Mike and myself bringing in wood for the bear cubs (Photo by Lin May)
Baby Sunbearo enjoying his new playground (Photo by Lin May)
Lavinia working hard constructing the hammock (Photo by Naomi Clark)
Part of the volunteer program also included working at the visitors viewing platform. Here we talked to the visitors about the bears and I did my best at trying to answer any of the question they had about the bears and the what goes on at the centre. I found this a great opportunity for myself to learn more about Sun Bears and the conservation efforts that are being implemented to help them.
Natalies New Hammock
One definite highlight was they day that my fellow volunteers and myself got to construct a new hammock for Sun Bear Natalie.
Azzry (one of the keepers) lead us to the supply closet were we procured 2 large fire hoses, a drill and a bucket of nuts and bolts. We took all of our supplies out into the yard and rolled out the hoses. The hoses were then cut into sections of equal length, and these lengths were then weaved through each others. At the end we fixed the sections of fire hoses together by drilling holes through them and using nuts and bolts to secure them. Once all of the hose sections had been secured together we drilled holes in each corner and passed rope through them (so we could secure the hammock to the sides of Natalie's cage).
Naomi testing out the hammock (Photo by Naomi Clark)
We dragged our creation inside and into Natalie's cage. Using a ladder I secured the hammock to the top corners of the cage. Happy with my work I decided to test out my work (I wanted to make sure that it wouldn't break when Natalie got on it). I jumped into the hammock and to my surprise it was stable and comfortable (and I knew it wouldn't have any trouble holding the bears weight, as I weigh 2 and bit Natalie's.
That is one comfortable hammock (Photo by Naomi Clark)
It was now time to get Natalie's opinion on her new addition to her cage. The keepers secured the door of the cage and let Natalie in so we could get her reaction. The Sun Bear slowly walked into her cage realising that something was different from the last time she was in there. Looking up she immediately noticed the hammock and instantly scaled the side of the cage to get in. Getting in the hammock she sniffed around a little at first, then started rolling and playing on it. This was one of the most satisfying moments of my trip. To see one of these beautiful animals enjoying and playing on something that I worked hard on to build is amazing. It gave me real goosebumps to see her roll around playing on our fire hose construction.
Sad to leave
It has been very hard for me to adjust and return back home to Australia. I miss everything from my time volunteering. I miss Sabah, I miss Sandakan, I miss the rainforest, I miss the constant noises of the forest, I miss the wonderful local people, I miss the wild animals that surround the centre, I really miss the all the Sun Bears, and most of all I miss all the amazing people I had the pleasure of working with at the BSBCC. I am eagerly anticipating the news of the first release from the centre of Sun Bear Natalie.
I will definitely be visiting again soon. Thank you.
Text by Kara Huggins (Intern from the University of the Sunshine Coast) Photos by BSBCC staffs Natalie, Latin for "birthday", referring to the birthday of Christ, or Christmas, seemed a fitting name for the arrival at BSBCC of a 3 month old orphan sun bear on the 23rd of December, 2010. From the time of her rescue by the Sabah Wildlife Department through to her rearing by the BSBCC keepers and her introduction to the outdoor enclosure, Natalie has shown courage, determination and a natural instinct allowing her to quickly develop into a confident, forest loving sun bear and the group leader of Ah Lun, Runggus and Julaini. As soon as the forest door opens in the morning she is out exploring using her boundless energy to climb high into her favorite tree, foraging for a meal of insects using her long tongue and sharp claws.Here are the photos show Natalie in different age and grow.
Natalie is one of the sun bear cub rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department that sent to Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre on 2010. Wong was fed milk to Natalie when she is still 3 month old.
One big step for Natalie to passed her most important stage as an infant and starting to eat solid food and growing stronger.
Natalie is venturing outside the forest.
Her mother was probably killed by poacher and then she was captured by poacher and kept as house pet.
Natalie is becoming a master at sun bear locomotion! At this age, her survival skills is improve so much.
At BSBCC, because of the limitation of forest enclosure, we will integrate the bear together according to their age. Natalie now is the group leader of Runggus, Ah Lun and Julaini. They integrated well and seem to understand and trusted each other better.
After the integration and fence training, it is the time to let Natalie take her first step out to the forest enclosure.
They are enjoying their freedom in the forest with all the tall trees.
Natalie use her strong canines and long sharp claw to rip apart dead wood in search of insects.
Natalie is an excellent climber. She can confidently display all the skills needed to survive in the forest on her own.
Natalie and her friend like to spend time on top of the big tree.
Natalie climbs a tree to get a better look.
Natalie have a strong sense of smell which enabling her to locate the termite nests.
Natalie was took a rest on top of tree.
Natalie is enjoying the true forest ! Do not let sun bears disappear - NO to palm oil and the destruction of their habitat!
Natalie is fiercely independent and has developed all the necessary bear instincts to qualify her to be released back into the wild once funds are found to start the rehabilitation process. Merry Christmas to all! Share the love!
First few moments of freedom for 10 sun bears just climbing and playing around the forest enclosure.
They are interact with the natural environment experiencing with different smells and sounds.
Following up on the indoor integration of the Mary and Natalie groups, today we saw the culmination of the exercise – the whole group outside sharing one forest enclosure! By regularly allowing the indoor socializing and ‘wrestling parties’ these bears so love, the bear house team ensured the two groups remained on friendly terms. Finally the time had come to test their ‘friendliness’ outdoors, where controlling a tense situation or fight would be impossible. A few of us entered the forest enclosure to scatter loads of fruit which would serve to distract from conflict, and fill tummies, hopefully creating a contented environment. Having only fed and observed from the feeding platform into this forest enclosure, I felt a little like being in someone’s home without their permission!
The forest enclosure looked so charming for the sun bears to roaming around.
Then the bear keepers opened the bear house doors while we waited expectantly at the feeding platform, anxious to see who would be the first to arrive in the pen. It took a good 5 minutes before we finally saw Fulung and another of the Mary group trundling along, calmly foraging on the scattered fruit. We had another wait until we saw any of Natalie’s cronies come to investigate the main area of the forest enclosure. Slowly Rungus, Natalie and Julaini began to familiarise themselves with the change of environment. Fresh alliances were forged and tree trunks were explored. Curiosity ruled the day.
They immediately look for insects in trees, climb trees and sleep high up in the canopy.
Sometimes they will just rest at forest floor.
Late afternoon found Natalie relaxing under her new favourite tree with a new found favourite friend – Bongkud, while Ah Bui sunned her tummy as her latest cohort Rungus dug for termites. Debbie showed off her climbing skills and Fulung continued his endless search for tasty snacks.Fortunately the day passed wonderfully uneventfully.
Introduce the ten sun bears that share in one forest enclosure:
-Natalie, 3 years old sub adult female
- Rungus, 5 years old adult female
- Julaini, 5 years old adult male
- Ah Lun, 5 years old adult female
- Ah Bui, 3 years old sub-adult female
- Debbie, 2 years old sub-adult female
-Mary, 2 years old sub-adult female
-Koko, 2 years old sub-adult female
-Fulung, 2 years old sub-adult male
-Bongkud, 2 years old sub-adult female
The bears all headed indoors for their much-loved evening meal; Julaini had chosen to stay indoors during this change of routine, which was probably fortunate as this young male could be a rough playmate with Fulung at times. While Natalie and Bongkud like to stay outside forest enclosure. The next day proceeded to be just as peaceful and without any incidents. This must be a world first - successfully integrating ten bears into a single forest enclosure.
They walked and looked around, choosing a tree. But when they did, they too quickly climbed to the top and rested in the height of the canopy.
Natalie was playing with enrichment made by the students of South Island School, Hong Kong.
Together have a nap in the forest.
Play fight in the forest.
Koko get a nice posture of sleeping.
Climbing tree and grooming together.
Compete in climbing tree together.
Debbie is alert and ready to forage for her food.
Natalie is enjoy roaming and climbing trees.
It was a best place that a bear would lay down and take a midday nap.
Koko is too tired after explore the forest, take a rest first!
Ah Bui climbs a tree for a better look.
Enjoying a wrestling match!!
Debbie is very active , independent and playful sun bear.
Debbie is the only bear at the Centre with a "Y" shaped chest mark and look like a wine.
Koko is using the dead log to scratch her body.
It seem like Julaini was enjoyed in the forest.
Rungus was playing with enrichment made by the students of Ape Malaysia.
Fulung is very careful and keeps its distance.
Ah Bui is explore and very curious of the various things that surround them her - from leaves to leeches.
"Let me have a rest first! "
Wonder what is Mary thinking about?
Obviously this is not ideal, much more space is required. But it shows how well the competent bear staff know their bears - to manage factors like age, sex, character traits, and hierarchies within established groups - to pull this off so smoothly in the limited space available. Congrats, guys, it was a great privilege to be involved in this venture! Now Bermuda can have his turn out in the forest:-)
As the BSBCC presently only has 3 outdoor pens large enough to accommodate several bears at the same time, some seriously strategic ‘bear shuffling’ has to occur in the bearhouse in order to get the right bears into the right cages for the outdoor exit ramps.
There are 2 existing groups that need to be integrated so they can occupy one outdoor pen instead of two, freeing up the second outdoor pen for Bermuda, a large mature male who is eagerly awaiting his outdoor sessions.
The two groups are ‘matriarchal’. The’’ Mary’’ group consists of 6 sub adult bears – little Mary, Ah Bui, Debbie, Koko, Bongkud and young male Fulung. 2nd group is Natalie’s group of four, with Natalie, Ah Lun, Runggus and young male Julaini.
Bear etiquette dictates that a polite introduction is by way of curiously sniffing through an interconnecting gateway - if no sign of aggression is seen, then the gateway is opened cautiously by the bear keeper, and one bear may proceed into the adjoining cage where the sniffing procedure progresses to a stage of playful paw inductions. Hereafter it is quite permissible to raucously cavort around the cage and wrestle in the hammock (or other enrichment provided) until one or both bears are completely exhausted. Suckling on a bear’s ears is a privilege for best friends only.
Integration started on the 9th September by daily introducing one bear from Mary’s group to the Natalie group bears, one bear at a time over an hour or so. These introductions over the week went amazingly well with no hint of aggression as each bear learnt the smells, stature and behaviour of the others, in spite of two females being on heat during the process.
Come get me!
OK, I give up!
However, there came a turning point when the two young males were introduced. All went smoothly at the beginning of the session with 7 of the bears occupying 3 interlinking cages, playing and rough-housing with great abandon. Fulung, the young male from Mary’s group, has a wound that he continuously scratches at and thus it cannot heal. Julaini, the young male from Natalie’s group, curious to see if this could be meat, took a bite, with the ensuing fracas becoming quite violent, and intervention needed.
Lesson learnt! - since then Fulung’s would is treated with medication so he no longer smells like a meal, and all bears taking part in integration sessions are fed copious amounts of fruity treats, so tummies are full and everyone’s content beforehand.
Boys can get quite rough.
Come play in this cage.
Sizing each other up!
After tired of play, taking a break in the basket.
Checking out the new scenery.
Hammocks are also made for wrestling.
I got you!
End result of any good bear wrestling.
Girls just chill and chat.
All 10 bears will continue to mingle for a period every day under the watchful eyes of the bear team until they are deemed ‘’suitably merged’’ to enter the outdoor pen together. Bermuda can then finally be moved up the chain of linked cages to the outdoor exit of forest enclosure, and experience the freedom of the natural forest again!
Text and photos by Chiew Lin May On March 13th 2013, Ah Lun and Julaini stepped foot into the forest for the first time. These 4 sub-adult sun bears are now spending their days roaming, foraging, and digging in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) forest enclosure.
Ah Lun and Julaini watch how and wondering why Natalie go out from door.
Ah Lun, female sub-adult sun bear step foot on forest floor. She follow Rungus roaming around the forest enclosure.
Julaini is the last one who confident to step the foot on forest floor.
Now Natalie and Rungus are confidently roaming the forest. Once the door is open both of them will go out immediately. They are enjoying their freedom. They have large trees to climb, decayed wood/logs, soil to dig in, and a natural forest to explore. Through the forest enclosure they look for a comfortable place to take a rest. They are doing well and spending the rest of their days getting used to the sights and sounds of their new environment where they are learning what it takes to live like wild sun bears. Natalie is an excellent climber, and spends much of her time in trees foraging for her meals, insects, by using her long, sharp claws. Natalie is a great leader. She is very independent and has taught herself how to climb high up in the trees. Additionally, she loves to be outside. Rungus likes to makes a mess by scraping off all the soil or decayed wood she can searching for termites, beetles and other invertebrates. Ah Lun and Julaini surprisingly have shown some confident roaming in the forest enclosure already. Ah Lun prefers to spend her time alone, playing happily in the forest enclosure. It took Julaini a while to come out of his door and take a few steps. He was extremely wary of his new surroundings. He sniffed and foraged around the entire place. It has been very heart-warming to see them grow in confidence and strength, as they become used to using all four limbs and climbing high up in the trees. All these things encourage natural, wild behaviour. They are all making great progress. Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) is in a wonderful location for true rehabilitation as the forest has huge trees sun bears love. Seeing this forest dwelling species digging and climbing happily in the forest all day long is extremely motivating. Here are a couple of photos of Natalie, Rungus, Ah Lun and Julaini roaming, digging and climbing trees at BSBCC forest enclosure.
Natalie, Rungus, Ah Lun and Julaini is happily roaming at forest enclosure.
Natalie, the group leader become an excellent climber.
Natalie loves to spend a lot of their time on trees.
Agile climber, Natalie use her powerful and long claws to climb trees search for food or rest on trees.
Rungus is like to spend time on digging soil and decayed wood foraging for food.
Rungus was keeping an eye out whilst foraging.
Using her long and sharp claws, Ah Lun was busy foraging food from the tree hole.
Ah Lun use canines to chew the dead log.
Julaini likes spend much of the day sunbathing or resting. Sometimes, Ah Lun and Natalie will company and play together with him.
It was hot afternoon, Natalie took rest on the forest floor.
Natalie use long tongues to slurp up the termites or insects.
Rungus and Natalie was grooming each other!!
In the forest, Rungus and Natalie was play together. It is amazing !! They love to explore forest very much.
Keep up to date on Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre news by visiting our website www.bsbcc.org.my
On 16th March 2013, Bongkud had integrated with Natalie. Natalie is famous with “The Group Leader”. Natalie was one of our rescued sun bear by Sabah Wildlife Department that sent to Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). Natalie is a Latin girl name which is to remember her arrival two days before Christmas. Once the gate was opened, an active and playful sun bear, Natalie was the first who went to approached and sniffed to Bongkud. Through the Bongkud expression, she was so happy to get a new playmate again although Natalie’s body size was bigger than her. Bongkud try her best fought back and showed she has strength too. All of the strong claws and canines were showed up during the play fight. None of the sun bears showed any aggression and frustrated behaviour. Both of them spend a whole day for chasing, rolling, mock fight and climbing around together. It was a great integration!! They integrated well and seem to begin to understand and trusted each other better. Natalie shows the most dominance.
Natalie, the group leader (front) and Bongkud (behind) play fight like wrestler.
Bongkud (behind) was press by Natalie. Both of the sun bears want to show who are more stronger.
Natalie (right) started to accept Bongkud (left)’s presence. Both of them play happily.
A great new playmate!! Bongkud (left) was help groom Natalie (right) body.
On that day, ginger leaf was given as enrichment for all the sun bears. Natalie and Bongkud played with the ginger leaf together without fighting. After they were tired playing, both of the sun bears took a quick rest on ground floor which is embedded with dried leaves. So adorable!!
No aggression happened between Natalie and Bongkud when distribute the ginger leaves (enrichment).
Both even share the ginger leaf together !
After a long play fight, Bongkud and Natalie was rest by cover ginger leaf on their eyes. A great integration!!
At the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), all confiscated orphaned sun bears arriving at the centre must undergo electric fence training before they can be released into the BSBCC’s forest enclosure. Entering the forest enclosure is a very important phase for these bears, as they take their first steps onto the forest floor, often after spending many years in cages. Some of the bears may take only one day to enter the forest, whereas some may take one week and others one month or more before they put all four of their feet onto the soil. On 5th March 2013, the door that connects our BSBCC bear house to the forest enclosure was opened to let the sub-adult sun bear group consisting of - Natalie, Rungus, Ah Lun and Julaini access to the forest. As expected, the "Group Leader" Natalie was the first one to lead the group to explore the conditions around the newly opened door. However, none of the bears stepped foot into the forest on that first day.
The Group Leader - Natalie, the first one to lead the group to explore the conditions around the door.
On 7th March 2013, Natalie was still "checking" the surroundings by putting her front two feet outside the door. At times the bears were attracted to and curious about the macaques that were roaming near the forest enclosure.
Julaini (right), showing his long tongue and putting his front two feet outside the door.
The 12th March 2013 was the day that the BSBCC team members had been waiting for!! 10:28am: Rungus walking down the ramp to get the food and honey. Excitement, caution and curiosity were all displayed on Rungus’ face and in her movements.
Unexpected outcome, Rungus walking down the ramp and all four of her feet onto the soil.
he started to explore the surroundings by sniffing around, before heading straight inside the forest without even waiting for Natalie, Ah Lun and Julaini !!
Rungus, heading straight inside forest !!
2.30pm: The "Group Leader" Natalie, started to become confident enough to step outside again. She tried to get the food that was scattered around the forest enclosure. Slowly she stepped onto the forest floor, alert to everything surrounding her. Natalie found some dead wood just near to the open door and started digging into it for around ten minutes before going into the forest to meet with Rungus.
Natalie, slowly stepped outside to get the food.
Have a look at the photos to check out what Rungus and Natalie are doing on their first day out in the forest!!
First try into forest by "The Group Leader" - Natalie !!
Julaini (right), exploring the surrounding of the door.
Natalie, digging the soil on the first day step into BSBCC forest enclosure !!
At Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), the confiscated orphan sun bear will go through the electric fence training before they release into BSBCC forest enclosure. This is a very important phase where the bears will take their first step onto the forest floor after they have been keep in the cage for a long time.
Some of the bear may take 1 day to enter into forest, some of them may take 1 week, and some of them even spend more than 1 month to put four of their feet on the soil.
On 5th March 2013, the guillotine door which connected from our BSBCC bear house to the forest enclosure has been opened to let the sub-adult sun bear group - Natalie, Rungus, Ah Lun and Julaini to access to the forest. As expected, the "Group Leader" - Natalie, is the first one who lead the group to explore the condition around the guillotine door. But none of them step into the forest on the first day.
On 7th March 2013, Natalie still "checking" the surrounding by letting out her feet at the guillotine door. Sometimes they will attracted and feel curious to the macaques who roaming near to the forest enclosure. 12th March 2013, this is the day where most of BSBCC team members have been waiting for !!
10:28am, Rungus, walking down from the ram to get the food and honey. Excitement, precaution, and curiosity were all shown on Rungus face and her movement.
She started to explore the surrounding by sniffing around and straight went inside the forest without waiting for Natalie, Ah Lun and Julaini !! 2.30pm, the "Group Leader" - Natalie, started to get confident to step out again. She try to get food which scattered in the forest enclosure. Slowly, she step on the forest floor, alert to everything surrounded her. Natalie found a dead wood just near to the guillotine door and she digging on it for around 10 minutes before she went into forest to meet with Rungus. Have a look at the photo to check out what are Rungus and Natalie doing for the first day stepping out into forest !!