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.
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.
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.
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!
Climbing up on trees and playing with enrichments