As you may know, wild animals in captivity need constant enrichment to reduce boredom and stereotypic behaviour. Last month we provided the bears at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre with a daily parade of Scottish Scouts for their amusement and benefit.To the bears’ frustration the first thing that the Scouts did was to put up a tarpaulin fence so that they couldn’t see what was going on. They could still peer around the side though and from ovehearing the camaraderie could get a good idea of what was going on.
Incomprehensibly, to the bears, over the next week or so a wire mesh frame emerged from the trench to a height of two metres. Luckily the orang-utans didn’t mistake it for a playground.
Then late one afternoon, just when the bears were waking from their afternoon nap and looking forward to some evening peace and quiet, the cement mixer spluttered and banged to life. Moments later a second mixer joined the fray.
Dusk fell and through her chink in the fence, Suria Bear could see the scouts plastering a dark grey sludge onto the wire mesh frame. Suria swung back and forth across the roof of her cage; Kuamut Bear barked an inquiry and Susie Bear performed acrobatics with her tyre swing.
On their first day’s induction the Scouts would have been delighted by this display but this evening their attention was elsewhere.
“Surely now” thought the bears, “the Scouts will give up this ridiculous exercise and leave us in peace?”
But the Scouts proved to be just as tenacious as the wild animals that they were working so enthusiastically to help. To their disappointment the bears’ beloved keeper Wai Pak was despatched to find water in his truck with a 40gallon drum perched in the back.
Until four o’clock in the morning they toiled. Some fell by the wayside and found comfort on piles of sand, on dusty floors or on whatever old rope they could lay their head. The brave few battled on but it was clear that the job would not be done in one night.
The infernal machines were silenced and cleaned and 50 weary souls trudged proudly home to sleep. The forest edge rejoiced, the insects once more the loudest thing and a chestnut-necklaced partridge calling.
The next night they returned, with more experience and more wisdom and the same determination to complete the job.
The wall that had been dark grey was now light and rigid, one side smoothed and caressed by 50 pairs of gloved hands, the other side rough and splodged with hexagon chicken mesh shaped extrusions.
The bears were starting to get the gist now; the Scouts were making the second side of the wall smooth like the first and polishing off the protruberances that would later form homes for plants.
By midnight it was all over and the recently completed wall hung with wet blankets to slow down the curing of the cement.
Then on the final morning it all became clear. The tarpaulin was removed and the bears found that there was now a screen wall between their dens and their future visitors. The only people to disturb their afternoon naps would be those that wake them up with bowls of food at tea time. Their only view would be of the forest that would one day become their home again.
By the time the new BSBCC visitor centre is open to the public next year, the wall will be planted up with local epiphytic plants and become a signature feature of the Centre.