Text & Photos by Chiew Lin May
A sub adult, female sun bear was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) on 2nd May, 2012. She was named Ah Bui (Rescue No. 30), which means “friend” in local Murut language. Ah Bui came to the BSBCC on the 4th of May 2012, when she was two years old. She was originally from Sook village, Keningau. Ah Bui was kept by a person who almost sold her for the purpose of removing her gall bladder.
Imagine if we were late to rescue her, she would have become starved and wounded which would have caused terrible pain. Sun bears are hunted or killed in the wild to remove their gall bladder. Bear bile is used in traditional Asian medicine which can be useful for treating liver and gall bladder illnesses. Initial health checks showed her in good health with a weight of 25kg.
One of the primary goals of BSBCC is to conserve sun bears through creating the capacity to rehabilitate and release suitable orphaned and ex-captive bears back into the wild. Ah Bui has been given a second chance to survive in the wild. BSBCC enables rescued sun bear to live their life peacefully with the best of care. After 30 days of quarantine, free from pain, vet care and nutrition care, she had adjusted very well to life at the centre.
On 4th July 2012, Ah Bui finally met her first bear friend, Debbie. The close relationship formed among Ah Bui, Debbie and Fulung has lasted to this day.
Our rescued sun bears have access to the forest enclosure where they have tall trees to climb, a pool to cool off in, and iron wood to nap on. But when the rescued bears have stayed in a tiny cage for many years where they lost the chance to experience simple things from the natural world, it can be challenging for them to step out to the forest.
It requires considerable time and expense to restore the wild behavior of sun bears that have been victims of the illegal pet trade.
On 11th June 2013, Ah Bui and her friends took a huge step out to the door for her first glimpse of tall trees and to sniff the air! Slowly, she started with digging and turning dead wood to look for termites.
Ah Bui and her friends are well suited to their environment. Her short hair allows her to survive in the tropical forest. She enthusiastically destroys anything.
Sometimes she appears to be basking in the sun on a fallen decayed tree, absorbing the warmth of the sun’s rays. She is more than happy to lay around. She learns many of the forest skills that she would have naturally learned from her mother.
Ah Bui is a skillful climber, aided by long sickle-shaped claws that help her climb to the top of the tree canopy. She now very much enjoys climbing trees and has gained a lot of confidence and independence! She has been recorded to climb over to other forest enclosures through the trees five times!
Ah Bui also loves to climb high up and build a prefect sleeping nest.
She is learning and experiencing that life can be great! She is well enough to go outside and enjoy every minute of every day. She enjoys the sheer pleasure of being alive.
We can ensure that Ah Bui is ready for reintroduction. Ah Bui is healthy and she has developed her survival skills and wild behavior to equip her for life in the forest. It is always great to see our rescued sun bears back in the forest where they belong.
Please share the love. The rescued sun bears need to and deserve to live a wild bear life as any bear does.
An education training workshop was conducted on the 15th -18th January 2018 at BSBCC. Ten of our BSBCC staff had participated in the training session, which included psychology and methods of teaching audiences at different levels and backgrounds.
The team was enlightened with all of these new knowledge and ideas, inspired us to think outside the box and learn how to deliver these important messages in an efficient way. we can implement in making education more fun and effective. Next will be planning our education activities for the coming year! BSBCC would like to give a special thanks to the amazing Ms. Adeline Cruz for selflessly sharing her knowledge and experience throughout the 4-day sessions with us.
Text by Bronwyn Nyrie Watkins (APE Volunteer)
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Kudat is an adult male bear, who was taken from a mini zoo along with Panda, an adult female, where they had been displayed as giant pandas and fed them a chicken in every day. However due to the limited area of forest enclosure in this Centre, Kudat has to stay in bear house for two years. This just led to it being all the more emotional watching Kudat be retrained to touch the ground and go outside, as we knew he could, it was pure fear that kept him inside.
For the month that I was volunteering at BSBCC, I was part of the group that observed Kudat in the training pen. This was probably the most rewarding part of my whole time with the bears, as not only did we watch his reactions to the outside, we were also able to move the food (used as incentive to come outside) around depending on where we wanted him to go or how far he could actually stretch. The lines of fruit radiating from his door were a visual display of his improvement. The other rewarding aspect was that we could see him walking more like a bear, with no unnatural stretching to keep his feet in the door to his night cage. Before the fence training, Kudat had been stressed, resulting in pacing and worrying his fur until he had bald patches on his legs and head, but now his fur is starting to grow back, making him look more like the beautiful sleek bear that he should be!
Kudat stepping down onto the ground was a perfect goodbye present for me, as I could see the difference just spending half an hour every day with a bear does for their confidence. I hope that when I come back, I will be seeing Kudat out in the enclosures outside!
New Straits Times, 7th January 2018
by Kristy Inus, Avila Geraldine, Olivia Miwil
Text by Eva Muir
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Having just graduated with a degree in animal behaviour and wildlife conservation, I decided to take a gap year in order to gain practical experience working with wildlife before continuing on to postgraduate education. For me, the decision to volunteer at The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre was an easy one. Simply put, I am crazy about bears, and I believe there is something incredibly special about the Bornean sun bear. My love of bears began in 2016 when I spent 3 months working with American black bears in Minnesota. I learnt so much about black bear behaviour, ecology and conservation during my time in America, and I was sure this experience had left me well prepared for my time with the sun bears. How wrong I was!
By the end of my first morning at The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre I realised that black bears and sun bears could not be more different. Although they are small, sun bears have a much bigger attitude than black bears, and are not afraid to let you know when they want something! I quickly learnt that each of the 44 rescued bears at the BSBCC have completely individual personalities, and for me, the best part of my volunteering experience was getting to know each bear. I spent a total of 2 months with the bears, allowing me to gain the trust of many as I provided care for them on a daily basis. However not all of the bears reacted well to me, and some would bark at me as I passed their enclosures. For me, this was an important reminder that when you work with wildlife you must respect each animal as an individual, each with their own likes, dislikes and emotions.
I settled into the daily routine at the BSBCC incredibly quickly. Everybody was so friendly and welcoming, and I immediately felt able to ask any questions I had, or ask for help when I needed it. The atmosphere in the bear house was fantastic; although the work was often difficult and dirty, everybody was always smiling, and the days passed by too quickly. The BSBCC team was made up of people of all ages and backgrounds, but we were all bought together by a shared love of bears and passion for wildlife conservation, and everybody worked well together. By far the most important part of the job was creating enrichments for the bears. Enrichments can be anything designed to stimulate the bears, provide a challenge and add interest into their everyday lives. Popular daily enrichments included nest balls, which were tightly tied bundles of vegetation with tasty snacks in the middle, stick paradox, which involved smearing sticks which strong smelling treats such as peanut butter and honey, and ice blocks, excellent for cooling down a hot bear in the heat of the afternoon.
In addition to the smaller enrichments which we would make on a daily basis, I also got the opportunity to be involved in a larger enrichment project during my time at the BSBCC. Together with bear keepers Roger and Brandon, I helped build a new hammock-style bed for the bears, entirely from scratch. I had never done any construction work before so I learnt many new skills during this process, and was surprised to find myself thoroughly enjoying the hard work. Moreover, there is no feeling more rewarding than watching a bear enjoy an enrichment which you worked hard to make.
In addition to my day to day duties in the bear house, I also got the amazing opportunity to assist with two bear health checks and be directly involved in the fence training process for Phin, one of the rescued sun bears. Each bear gets a full medical check once a year to ensure they are in good health, and my role during the checks was to record the bear’s measurements and take a print of each of the bear’s paws. This was a big responsibility, and I felt honoured to be trusted with these tasks. Likewise, it was an honour to be able to assist with Phin’s fence training, a vital stage of the rehabilitation process as each bear must pass the training before they can safely enter the forest enclosure. Each day Phin would make a little bit more progress in his journey into the outside world, although he was very nervous and would often retreat to the safety of his inside area. Sadly I did not get to see Phin make into the forest enclosure during my time in Borneo, but I have since heard that he has made tremendous improvements and has gone down to the bottom of his ramp, and I am so proud of him.
To anyone considering volunteering at the BSBCC, I cannot recommend it enough. Travelling to Borneo was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and my only regret is that I did not stay longer! It is amazing how quickly you become attached to the sun bears, they are truly incredible animals full of fun and mischief. Similarly, the BSBCC team are also incredible, and I know I have been lucky enough to make many friends for life during my stay in Borneo. This is a vital time, not just for sun bears, but for all wildlife. The time to act is now. Raise awareness, donate, volunteer – please do what you can to help save the sun bear while we still can!
Happy New Year 2018!
20 years ago in 1998 I came to Sabah alone from Penang to embark the sun bear study for my Master degree in Danum Valley; many people called that project ambitious and impossible. I did it.
10 years ago in 2008, my field assistant Wai Pak and me came to Sepilok, Sandakan, Sabah to establish the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC); many people called this project ambitious and impossible. We did it!
And now in 2018, 26 BSBCC’s staffs, 44 rescued sun bears at BSBCC, and me, are marching into the next 10 years of our life-long mission to conserve sun bears in Sabah. We are not sure what other people going to call it. However, we are ready to face all the challenges on our paths, just like what we did 10 or 20 years ago.
BSBCC has comes a long way from it started 10 years ago with 2 staff and 7 rescued sun bears. I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your supports and helps, especially Sabah State Government, Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department, LEAP, and generous funding agencies like Sime Darby Foundation, to make this project a success. Without all of your helping hands, we will not come this far.
Over the past 10 years, BSBCC has been working hand on hand with Sabah Wildlife Department and Wildlife Rescue Unit to take care of the rescued sun bears in Sabah. We have focused our works on four objectives: animal welfare, education, research and rehabilitation and passed with flying colours reflected by various awards we received. Last year, we expanded our objectives to incorporate ecotourism, community conservation, anti-poaching and captive breeding of sun bears. All of these eight objectives will be the focus for the coming 10 years, starting from today!
The next 10 years will be a very crucial period for all wildlife conservation works in Malaysia as the country has experiencing rapid transition: wildlife habitat and wildlife population are shrinking as human population expanding: from 10 million 50 years ago in 1968, to today’s 32 million. Several spectacular wildlife in this country has either extinct or critically endangered. Wildlife poaching and wildlife parts trading emerges as the biggest threats to the survival of the remaining wildlife populations, sun bear included, as demand increases. We need to work on all of these eight areas simultaneously, if we were to conserve sun bear and many other endangered and protected wildlife species in this country.
The tasks for us to deliver good results for the next 10 years are challenging. We cannot do it without your helps and involvements. Local communities, general public, civil societies, stakeholders, biologists, academics, NGOs, funding agencies and government agencies, all have important roles and should do what they do best to conserve sun bears and other natural resources in this country. We need your continuous helps and involvements more than ever because if we failed, the results would be devastating!
I thank you from the bottom of my heart! Wishing you all the best in this New Year! May all beings be happy, joyful, well, be safe & at peace!
Dr (Hon) Wong Siew Te, D.J.N.
C.E.O. and Founder,
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre
Cell: 016-555 1256