Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
One of the requirements of volunteering at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is that one would be required to write a blog entry on their experience during the program. I am tasked to write down about the numerous enrichment activities I took part in during my period of volunteering here. First of all, enrichment activities are defined as anything that would encourage the natural behaviour of sun bears which is essential for survival in the wild. Also, it is to decrease the sun bears’ stress levels and abnormal behaviour such as pacing and finally, it’s supposed to provide them with mental stimulation in the form of new challenges. On top of that, enrichment may be divided into short term and long term, whereby short-term enrichment are those that may last at maximum, up to a day, as the bear would have destroyed the structure built, or in most cases, eaten the food-related enrichment.
One of the activities I took part in was to make a ‘burger carton’ which is basically old egg cartons cut up and folded into burgers with ginger leaves spread with peanut butter/honey as the ‘patty’. This enrichment is one that is short term as it is very easy for the bear to destroy it and most importantly, it is food-related as sun bears love to munch on the ginger leaves (especially if it is smothered in honey or peanut butter!) Here, not only would the sun bears learn to hone their sense of smell, but they would need to use their claws in ripping apart the carton, which in this case is child’s play.
As for this enrichment, it encourages the bears to climb and rest or even sleep on the hammock. Such a behaviour mimics wild sun bear habits as it is a norm for them to climb up trees and build their nests in forest canopies. This is considered a long term enrichment as not only would it be difficult for the sun bears to damage the structure, they would mostly likely use it for sleeping, as the structure is not too dissimilar from a sun bear nest on top of a tree.
Nonetheless, as fun as the enrichment sounds (trust me when I say that the building part was anything but fun), it does serve several important purposes in that it would allow the sun bears to mimic their natural behaviour in the wild. First and foremost, to the bear, the cot may function as a log in which the bear could take refuge in. Large hollow logs are also food sources for sun bears so what we would do is to place some dog biscuits on the cot and smother it with dry leaves so that that the bears would ‘forage’ for the food.