Text by Fiona McInally
'The volunteer placement at Sepilok in Borneo, is spilt into 4 rotations around the centre and my group were lucky enough to do the Jungle Trekking for our first rotation. Before we all started work, we had a talk from Wai Pak, who works for the BSBCC about the Sun Bears they have, which most of us had not heard about before , and we were told we had the opportunity to help at the BSBCC in the afternoon on the Jungle Trekking rotation. Myself and the other 2 girls in my group, Georgie and Kate, were really keen to get involved and help look after the Bears that we knew so little about.
It was quite a upsetting when we first went to see the Sun Bears, it is always sad to see animals in captivity when they should be in the wild, knowing many of them may have been mistreated and it was also sad to see that the BSBCC was in such need of upgrading. However, it was also really inspiring to see the work that the people at the BSBCC were doing to try and help the Sun Bears and improve their lives and also to hear about the plans for the new centre, fund raising for which was well underway.
From the first day working at the BSBCC we got stuck in to trying to make a difference, by clearing out the current building of all old equipment, furniture and cleaning out the Sun Bear cages. It was really hard work but also so rewarding to see the difference we could make. We so enjoyed working at the BSBCC that Georgie and I went back there to help out on some of the days we had off later in our placement and also got a collection going for a new fridge for the BSBCC to store the Bears food. We had been told that the Sun Bears really like sweet things, especially honey, and when we next went to the supermarket we picked up fresh fruits, dried fruits nuts and a few other treats we thought the Sun Bears would like to try (the really love the breakfast cereal Honey Stars!).
It was so nice to see the Bears enjoying new things and we wondered what else we could to make life a little more interesting for them. The Bears had some coconuts to play with but near whilst walking to the centre one day, Georgie and I saw some Bamboo that had fallen over and we thought this might make some interesting play items for the Sun Bears. With the help of one of the rangers at Sepilok, we cut the bamboo into lengths and took them up to the BSBCC - it was a great success and it was clear the Sun Bears relished having something new and interesting to play with and pull apart. Watching them made us wonder if we could make something even more interesting to provide enrichment for the Bears and bamboo seemed the ideal material for making a ladder. We had seen some disused rope on an old climbing frame at the from of the BSBCC which we managed to get down (with a bit of daredevil ladder antics of our own) and with the help of the same wonderful ranger, we cut several length or bamboo (about a foot long each) and cut holes at each end, through which to thread the rope. We tied knots below each rung to hold them in place and slowly made a ladder long enough to stretch the diagonal width of the largest Sun Bear cage.
From the moment the Bears saw the rope being tied up in the top corner of the cage, it was clear to see how curious they were, reaching out to try and touch the rope and sticking there noses through the neighbouring cages to smell what was going on! Once the rope was secure, we left the cage and let some of the Bears in - and what a wonderful sight! At first they were tentative but it did not take them long to start climbing, chewing, swinging and generally having a great time. It was clear after watching the Sun Bears with the ladder for 20 minutes that it was not going to last a long time, but the reward of watch the Sun Bears enjoying the ladder was worth making it several times over! It was so rewarding to help make a difference to the Sun Bears. As with all animals it is so important to provide them with enrichment when they are in captivity and I so hope that other volunteers are as inspired as we were with the work of the BSBCC that they continue to think up new ways to provide the Suns Bears with the stimulation they need.'
On the morning of January 19, the staff from the Wildlife Department sent in a new bear to Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. Her name is Kuamut. She is a sub adult female sun bear captured in Kuamut area, a village near to Kinabatangan River in Sabah. Kuamut is another unfortunate sun bear that share similar story with other caged bears. She was kept as a pet as a small cub, with her mother probably being killed by poachers. When her size was getting bigger, stronger and more dangerous, the owner decided not to keep her any longer. The owner released her back to the forest (luckily not slaughter her for her body parts) but she kept coming back to the village because she was habituated to people and associated human with food. At the end, the villagers contacted the wildlife department, who confiscated the bear and sent her to our centre.
She was kept inside a small iron cage when she arrived, slightly skinny but in good health. We were so shocked to see she had a long-thick chain on her neck! She was pacing non-stopped, and extremely stressful. The chain was dragged inside the iron cage, made a very uncomfortable noise to everybody and the bear. I am sure the bear’s feeling was even worst!
Kuamut is sure an unlucky bear sun bear but lucky enough to sent to us at BSBCC. With her age, size and habituated behavior, she could be easily killed by poachers and angry villagers who concern their safety! She should not be released to a forest that is near to human settlement in the first place. Hopefully, she can accommodate herself very soon in our center and gone through the rehabilitation process.
There were two chains put on her neck! I believe she was wearing these since she was a baby. No body dares to chain her when she was in this size.
We named this 26kg bear as Kuamut, to remember the village where she came from. Hopefully, she can have a more comfortable place to stay in the very soon. With no chain on her neck, she soon will live like other bears in our center. Once our new bear house is finished, we hope she can enjoy the forest once more with better quality of life. We hope one day she could be a candidate to be rehabilitate into the wild again. Let hope for that!
In my past three blog about ZACC, I posted a wall of logos on the generous donors and kind funding agencies who funded my works on sun bears over the last 10 years. I would like you to pay a little attention to a logo located at right center:
This logo belongs to Sekolah Kebangsaan Bukit Damansara (Bukit Damansara National Primary School) in Kuala Lumpur: http://www.skbd.edu.my/news.php. They are very special to me and sun bear. I would like recognize them because they are the only Malaysian source of funding I received from 1998- 2007. In 2005, the school raised RM1000 (about US$285) from primary school students for my doctorate study on sun bear in Sabah. Although the amount is not great compare to my other funds, I was and am very touched by their good acts and I still think this was the greatest fund I ever received because the fund come from my own country-Malaysia, and come from the future elites and leaders of the country. I see hope.
The good acts from Bukit Damansara National School for sun bear did not stopped in 2005. It moves on. In 2008, under the leadership of Md. Sook Pinn Chean and her team at the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), Bukit Damansara National School launched “Save Our Sun Bear” campaign to raise awareness for sun bear conservation in the school and the community. From May to December 2008, the school has a series of activities to SAVE OUR SUN BEARS:
“Sun Bear Man” Visit (May)
The campaign got a good kick-start with my presentation the plight and conservation of sun bear. This was my first talk to such a young audience, mainly 8-12 year old with few parents and teachers from the school. Although the topic sound serious, I tried to make it as fun and exciting as possible. At the end of my talk, I asked, “How many of you want to be a wildlife expert like me?” Everyone in the audience raised their hand!
I see hope and bring future for wildlife.
Interclass Competition (July)
Ten classes took part (Years 4 and 5) in putting up an impressive display of information on Sun Bears in the “Endangered Species Gallery”. Judges from the Malaysian Nature Society (M.N.S.) were invited to judge the competition. The winners received certificates from M.N.S. and were treated to a day trip to Deerland in Lanchang, Pahang where the students had the opportunity to interact with a family of three sun bears.
Lower Primary Participation (July)
The lower primary classes also contributed a lot of information and artwork on sun bears for the gallery display. For example, Year 1 – teddy bear collages, Year 2 – bear origami and Year 3 – bear poems.
“Fun Friday Night” School Fair (August)
SKBD T-shirts also bearing the logo of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre and other bear merchandise such as key chains, phone strings, soft toys were sold at the school fair to raise funds.
“Goldilocks & The Bears” (November)
“Save an Endangered Species-save our sun bear” performances were held on 18th November by 60 children from the school drama club. This performance was the culmination of the children’s year-long activities. We greatly appreciate KLPAC’s generous sponsorship of 50% of the theatre costs in support of our educational project intended to create environmental awareness and also as an educational experience in the performing arts for Malaysian school children.
Donation to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) (December)
The PTA has so kind to earmarked RM5,000 (US$1500) from our successful “Save Our Sun Bears” campaign to be donated the BSBCC in Sepilok, Sabah in support of their conservation and rehabilitation efforts. This is the second time that the school has donated fund to my sun bear project. Thank you Bukit Damansara National School!! You are the best!!
From all of these activities, I am sure that I am not working alone to help sun bears. I see hope. I see bright light. I see a better future!
Photo credits: Aiman Rashad & Low Mei Ling
OK, start with ZACC. I really felt honored to be invited to this conference and gave a presentation about BSBCC: Hope for the Bornean Sun Bears. My presentation was scheduled on the second day. After listened to many great presentations and many great conservation efforts, I was humbled and shy to speak in front of the audience, because what I have doing for the past 10 years was studied sun bears and have not really help them on the ground yet. Anyway, I did deliver my presentation with full passion and enthusiasm with an optimistic heart. I know every good conservation project started with where I am now- a HOPE.
I HOPE one day, maybe few years from now, I can be invited again to ZACC conference again to share some of my success stories to conserve sun bears just like every body else who presented their great conservation works during the conference. That’s why I told the audience at the beginning of my talk that I am an optimistic person, I have high HOPE that we can help sun bears, and the sun bears will have HOPE, as long as we committed to what we are planning to do for them and HOPE that the supports from everyone in the audience can ongoing and even more. All start with HOPE.
I think I did well during my presentation. Beside telling the audience what is a sun bear, how they live in the wild, and how special they are (FYI, that is the “happy” and “cool” site of sun bear), I also told the plight of sun bear (FYI, that is the “sad” and the “not so cool” site of the sun bear and how we human treated sun bears). At the end of the presentation, I squeezed in a 6 min clip of BEARTREK, which I am thankful for the extra time that the organizer gave me.
At the last three slide of my presentation, I acknowledged all the funding agencies and individuals who has funded my sun bear works every the last 10 years. Most of them were from the US’s Zoos. Their supports and contributions made me who I am today. My achievement and works could not be possible without your support. I urged them not to abandon the sun bears or me because it is now that I am starting to, seriously, engage in the conservation of this forgotten bear. My second last slide was a family photo, who I owe and love them with all of my life for being away from the family for many years and thankful for them.
Finally, this is my last slide: who dare to say sun bear is not cute and do not deserve conservation attention and our help to save them from extinction!
Many in the audience sobbed quietly.
Special thanks to Peter Riger from Houston Zoo who brought me to Houston to meet many great conservationists and many people who funded my work, whom I only know in my mailbox and a name. Thank you all! I still need your help! Sun bear still need your helps! WE still need your help!
Please feel free to contact me at: email@example.com to find out how you can help us beside donate online at this site. Thank you again for all of you who supported me and help the sun bears and the shake my hand during the conference.
I see HOPE.