Text by Amanda Wilson Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Every individual has a story to tell, therefore it is only right that a bear’s story is told; a life behind iron bars displayed for people to see, exploited as money boosters through mistakenly presented for something they are not. This particular case involves two sun bears who were previously displayed as Giant Pandas. One of them was Kudat, an adult male sun bear who currently lives at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) who is now 9 years old. Kudat was rescued from a private mini zoo in a district named Kudat, within northern Sabah, where he was kept alongside another adult female sun bear named Panda. They were both kept in a small cemented-floored cage together, where they were fed chicken meat everyday, which was clearly an unfit diet for a Sun Bear. Kudat was named after the district where he was rescued from, although he originally is from Tawau.
Kudat and Panda were kept on display as Giant Pandas in a private mini zoo in Kudat
It is heart-wrenching to hear that these animals were exploited merely for human’s greed. These animals deserve to be in the wild where they can enjoy being in the forest. According to the rescue report, both bears came from Tawau and were still infants when they were presented as gifts to the zoo’s owner back in 2008 (most likely involving a lot of money). From then on, these bears were labeled as “Pandas” and became the main attraction of the zoo. Fortunately, in 2010, the bears were surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department before being sent to BSBCC. A hopeful journey for these bears began. When they first arrived at the Centre, they were quite tame and adapted to the new environment very fast. In terms of size, both bears were much bigger compared to other bears of the same age, which was probably due to their heavy meat consumption at the mini zoo previously.
Kudat and Panda’s first arrival in BSBCC
As soon as they arrived at the centre, Kudat and Panda were kept in quarantine for specific amount of time before being moved to the Bear House. Due to limited space in the forest enclosure at that time, Kudat had to stay in the Bear House for a few years. Kudat is a playful bear, although he can be perceived as aggressive, this is his manner of playing. He is a sweet and friendly bear. He loves to play with water and is one of the few bears in the centre that eats fruit peels. At the Centre, Kudat is fed with a proper diet and was able to socialize with other bears like Along and Simone. He was introduced to various types of enrichments and learnt to climb, dig and forage for food like any other bear does in the wild. In his den, he loves to lounge up in his hammock. Before he was released to the forest enclosure, Kudat successfully went through fence training. Fence training is a required process for the bears to be introduced to the electric wires. This is so that they recognize the existence of these wires that surround the forest enclosures to prevent the bears from escaping, getting into fights and so on.
Kudat going through fence training in Training Pen 1
“Look what I got! Can I eat this?”
Exploring his basket where he often sits in
Classic Kudat relaxing in his hammock
Happily playing with water in an enrichment made for him
For the bears to be reintroduced to the forest, it takes patience and a whole lot of courage but it is rewarding to see. Being only steps away from the outside, it took some time for Kudat to brace himself and explore his new surroundings for it was pure fear that kept him inside. The bear keepers and volunteers tried various ways to lure him out of his den from drizzling honey on the ramps and forest floor, to placing food as incentives for him to come outside. These tricks did not only help to trigger his sensory smell, but also encourage the bear’s curiosity of the situation. At first, he only took food that was close enough for his paw to grab without stepping outside of the den’s door. He also showed unnatural stretching to grab the food on the ramp whilst keeping his back feet in the door to his den. After some time, he would come out of his den only to grab the food and quickly went back inside.
It took a good two weeks or so for him to have the courage to explore the outside world. We were overjoyed and proud of him! It was touching and rewarding to see him finally roaming around and exploring the greeneries. From only stepping on cemented-floor everyday, he finally got to feel the forest floor. From being cautious of his surroundings, he got more comfortable and acclimated by day. He even climbed up trees and scraped dead logs in the enclosure. He was first released in Pen D of the forest enclosures at the centre before he was moved to Pen L. Recently, due to required maintanence work in Pen L, he had to be abstained from going out into the forest enclosure for some time. However, he is now free to go out again and climb trees, dig and play in the mud like any bear should be able to. We are hoping for more happy stories for more of our beary friends!
He took the courage to step out onto the ramp and then the ground
Great job, Kudat! He’s finally out in the forest
Taking cover under the shade on a sunny day out
Kudat being curious of his new surrounding
Climbing up on trees and playing with enrichments
“Yummmy!” He’s savouring every bit of the sugar cane treat
“Wow! So many tall trees to climb out here”
Eating his meal out in the forest enclosure
Unnatural stretching to grab the food thinking his two back feet are still in the cage
An one year old, male sun bear cub just arrived at the BSBCC. This brings to the total of 46 rescued sun bear at BSBCC currently. Joe (Rescue No.61) was found all alone crying in the forest. His history is still remaining unknown. A person rescued him and sent him to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park on March 2018. Joe has safely settled in BSBCC quarantine. He weighs 22.8 kg.
The team will now be looking after little Joe literally around the clock. There is a long way to go for Joe but he deserves a better life!! Stay tuned with BSBCC to have follow ups on Joe story! Meet Joe!
Text by Ummu ‘Atiyyah Mohamed Talhah Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
My name is Ronnie, and this is my story of my life as a bear at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.
I am one of 45 bear residents at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. There’s two other Ronnies in the centre, so sometimes they may refer to me as “Ronnie Boy” in order to not get confused. Who’s the other two? Well, one of them is Ronnie girl. She must be cute. The other Ronnie is also a “Ronnie Boy” but he’s actually a well-grown man, not a bear, working in the centre.
Sometimes I see the staff staring at me and observing me. Some say that I’m handsome. Some say that I look like a pit bull. They say that I have beautiful blue eyes that can be seen when the sunlight hits them. What I know is that I’m handsome and I have a muscular body. Calling me cute would definitely offend me.
If you're not good at imagining how I look like, this picture should help.
By now you must be asking yourself, “Why is Ronnie here and not in the forest?”. Well, I was kept in a small concrete floor cage together with a friend, Diana at a resort in Tawau. We were kept to be displayed to the resort’s visitors and the small cage was my “home” for years. Luckily for both of us, Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre rescued us in 2013 and I have been in good hands since then.
When I arrived at the centre.
I was diagnosed with heart problem by the vet during my medical checkup. The centre has been taking extra care of my diet to ensure a healthy and balanced is provided to me. My favourite fruit is definitely bananas! During fruiting season they would provide us with local fruits, which I love! However, I don’t really enjoy pumpkin. I would leave it and only eat them when I’m really hungry later on. One time, one of them gave me a pill millipede, which I guess is a food source for us sun bears? It smelled funny. I squashed it, left it and don’t even bother to eat it since it doesn’t look tasty like a banana.
How do I spend my time? I love hanging around especially in my basket, like in the first picture. Unlike other bears that sleep in the basket, I would sit at the edge of the basket and balance myself by holding on to the wall with my long claws. I love chilling there and just enjoy watching the keepers. I would also watch them when they’re cleaning the cages next to mine, and sometimes I would follow the brush that’s cleaning the wall next to me. They smell funny.
Sometimes they would make special toys for me to play with during my free time. I am usually very focused on only one toy at a time. If I’m not done with an enrichment, I won’t be bothered by another enrichment. However, I will surely move on to the next enrichment when I’m done.
One time, I was given an Aussie dog ball. I love that toy! The ball was filled with my meal, porridge. I tried pouring the porridge like how I would do when drinking coconut water but I got startled when the porridge dripped on my body. Silly me! I tried many ways to get my porridge and finally found the best way for me which was to roll the ball, lick the porridge that poured out, roll, lick, and repeat until the ball was empty. Yummy! Another enrichment they always give me is the nest ball. It’s a ball that looks like a nest made of weeds with a sweet surprise inside. Usually I’ll get bananas and some honey. Yum!
A freshly made nest ball.
One day, I was given another Aussie dog ball. Inside, I saw a nest ball. Hmm this is tricky. I must get this! But wait, did my neighbour , Bermuda get the same thing? I climbed up my cage to peek at him and saw him totally focused on a similar ball like the one I got. I must get my treats before he does! Bermuda always thinks he’s a more macho guy than me. I immediately went back to my ball and clawed my way into the hole of the ball to get the weeds out. By the first minute, a small nest ball came out. Turns out, the nest ball is three times smaller than the normal ones but there’s more inside the aussie dog ball. The next one was a little harder but by the fourth minute I managed to get it out and already devoured the second piece of banana. The last mini nest ball was out after five minutes and a half since I started. This enrichment was harder than usual which usually took less than a minute but good things don’t come easy!
A mini nest ball before being stuffed into an Aussie dog ball.
Me focusing on getting my treats before Bermuda gets his.
I love almost all of the enrichments they give me because enrichment means more treats for me! However, I don’t really enjoy the termite mounds they give me. They kind of bore me. I got excited at first, scratched it a bit then leave it. I only really destroy it during the night when I got bored.
The toys they give me really help to get rid of my boredom. The toys give me something to focus on so I won’t get easily stressed out.
By now you must have another question, “Why hasn’t Ronnie been released back to the forest?”. Well, there are a few criteria in order to be a good release candidate but for now, I haven’t fully met the criteria. I am still thankful to everyone in the centre that made sure me and my friends (Bermuda included) are in the best possible environment for now. In my dreams, I am running and climbing all the tress with yummy fruits high up in the tree. Thank you everyone who is reading my story about my journey and thank you for contributing in any small way you can, to ensure a happy life for my friends and I in the centre.
Text by Susantie Saliman (Intern Student from UNIMAS) Photos by BSBCC
If Jelita is the so called the Princess of BSBCC, then Linggam is the prince of the Sun bears here at BSBCC.
Linggam is one of the most well-behaved bears in the Bear House. With his princely behavior, aging 14 years old, his name “Linggam” came from one of the God’s name in Hindu.
Other than being noticeably handsome, Linggam can be identified by looking at his narrow muzzle, shiny coat and slender stature.
A little bit about his history; Linngam arrived in August 2004, weighing only 3.5kg as a cub after found at a logging camp at Kampung Pinangah. According to the loggers, Linggam was found alone. He was taken into the care of Mr. Awang who then gave him to the Sabah Wildlife Department. He was sent to Sepilok and was later transferred to the Lok Kawi Zoo near Kota Kinabalu. He returned to BSBCC Sepilok in July 2010.
Linggam is best known as the handsome and prince bear in our Centre. He is a very attractive bear with big brown eyes and a gentle face. Often found chilling inside his basket - rarely found being fractious. Though, he is a bit picky when it comes to food. Linggam favors bananas over corn and he does not like pumpkins and coconuts. When eating bananas, he will put it on his left hand, peel it with his right claws then take out the banana out from the skin using his long pinky tongue. Like any other bears, Linggam loves playing with his enrichments. However it depends on what type of enrichment given. He is a picky prince after all. Linggam also loves playing with water and often found splashing water from his water bowl especially in the evening.
Soo is a four year old female, sub adult bear. She was purchased with the price of RM350 when she was still a cub in Karamatoi Village in Sook Keningau market. After that, she was kept as a house pet in Nambayan village in Tambunan for two years. She was rescued by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and transferred to BSBCC on the 8th of September, 2017. Soo is very alert with her surroundings. She easily gets stressed and starts to pace aggressively when she hears loud, machine noises. This stereotypic behaviour is the consequence of her past life of living as a caged pet. She took a long time to adapt herself. There must be a way to help her more. Maybe it is time for her to have bear friends!
Let’s introduce you Soo’s friends, Diana (12 years old female adult bear), Kina (three years old female sub adult bear), and Sika (two years old female sub adult bear). Kina and Sika integrated on the 19th of November 2017. After that, Diana joined Kina and Sika on 13th of April 2018. And on the 2nd of September 2018, Soo meet them all for the first time.
Soo is curious about the appearance of a new bear beside her cage. She sniffed on the sliding door. The sliding door opens slowly and Sika is waiting for her at another side. This is the first time Soo met a bear. Soo is anxious. She vocalized with Sika when Sika came close. She would like to play with Sika but she doesn’t know how to do it. She shows defensive behaviour which Sika does not like. Therefore the first time is not pleasant.
Soo is sniffing on the sliding door because Sika just at another side of the door.
First met with Sika is not pleasant.
Soo is standing higher to defend herself.
The second day of integration is Kina’s turn. Kina shows more curiosity about Soo. She tried to initiate play fight with Soo, who is still nervous about her first friendship. Soo demonstrates a big response to Kina’s approach, but this did not stop Kina and still tried getting close to her. If Soo is being stressed at the moment, Kina will not disturb her.
“This is not the bear that I met yesterday!” – Soo
Kina and Soo is having almost the same size!
Soo took her time and she tried her best to become friends with Diana, Kina and Sika. They are getting along well now! Only sometimes, Diana is on her temper and shows her aggression to Sika and Soo by vocalizing. But, there would never be a problem for them to stay together. They play fight with whoever they want. They share their food and also rest together. It is so good to see Soo’s improvement since her first arrival. We really hope Soo can live in a better life with her bear friends and we hope to see her grow into a strong and brave bear!
Never getting bored in playing fight!
They are having a good time!
Every bear have an Aussie Dog Ball. This is fair enough!
Text by Seng Yen Wah Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Today, an estimates two year old, sub-adult Male Bear known as BJ, was sent to BSBCC by Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU), the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD). This Bear is now the 60th Bear to have been rescued by BSBCC. On 19th of February 2017, he was purchased in Kampung Sonsogon, Pitas with the price of RM300 when he was just five months old. After that, he was being sent to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park on 2nd of March 2017. BJ is in good health condition. Fur is shiny black and he appears to be bright and alert. He weighs 33.8kg.
BJ was sent to BSBCC by Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU), the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and arrived at 5.25pm.
Bear Care Team member is carrying BJ to the bear den.
His history is still a mystery. Within the wild, a Sun Bear cub will naturally stay with their Mother until they reach the age of two or three years, where they then venture off as a solitary Bear. BJ was found at a young age, without his Mother, leaving an explanation that the Mother was poached and killed, and BJ an orphaned cub. Every Bear Mother has a natural instinct to protect and raise their healthy cubs, therefore abandonment, by the Mother, is not a true explanation to finding Sun Bear cub alone, like BJ.
He was alert during his first arrival. This is a totally new environment for him and would need time to adapt to his new surroundings. We will keep you updated on his progress. From now, BJ will receive good care from the BSBCC Bear Care Unit. We hope he will gain courage and strength, to be able to return back to his natural home and become a REAL WILD BEAR again in the future!
In Sabah, the Sun bear species are a “Totally Protected” species, under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment, 1997. On the 1st of September, 2016, Sabah State Assembly passed the Wildlife Conservation (Amendment) Enactment 2016 comes into force. The enactment states that anyone who is caught hunting/attempting to hunt a Sun Bear will face:
A fine of/not less than RM 50,000 and not more than RM100,000 or,
Imprisonment for not less than six months and not more than five years or, both.
It is important to remember that we have the opportunity to Save the Sun Bear’s and Say NO to Illegal Poaching! You could make the difference in their life.