Text and Photos by Barbara Katsifolis
Hi. My name is Barbara and I am a travel agent from Melbourne, Australia.
I volunteered at the BSBCC in Sandakan for two weeks in February 2017 and not one day goes by where I don’t think back to my placement. I have so many wonderful memories and learnt so much.
I visited the Sun Bear Centre as a tourist a couple of times and I remember clearly telling my local guide that I will be back to take part in the volunteer program. Four months later I found myself in gumboots with a hose in my hand in the bear-house, sweating profusely.
The whole experience was incredibly well managed by the dedicated local Ape Malaysia staff. Sumira and Mark on the ground in Sandakan are just wonderful and there was nothing we could not approach them for. Ape Malaysia has a fantastic process in place to make sure volunteers are well prepared and understand what this placement is all about.
The same goes for all the staff at the centre. I wished I could speak at least enough Malay to follow the conversations because there was always laughter in the room. Everyone was very easy going but at the same time incredibly dedicated to the purpose of the centre. I felt welcome the minute I walked in and not long after I was just one of the team.
One of the biggest challenges for me during the two weeks was to remember names and I do apologise if I don’t mention everyone I have met. It’s because I just can’t remember them all but I will come back and try harder next time.
The same goes for the bears; 44 bears are a lot even though they all have distinctive chest marks. Two weeks just wasn’t enough for me to remember them all. Thank you to the keepers and Sumira for patiently showing me again and again at feeding time who was who.
We spent most our time in the bear house and someone asked me the other day, “Was it heart breaking?” It’s a valid question. I would have rather seen these beautiful animals out there in the forest where they belong but I came well prepared and with a purpose to support the staff in creating the best possible environment for the bears that cannot be released into the forest at this stage.
I must say that I was just so impressed how the whole bear house was run. It’s a huge job to look after 44 bears and everything that goes along with it, and yet there were smiling faces all around and there was always time for a little joke. I am not an expert on wildlife behaviour but I am sure the bears pick up on this positive attitude around them. Of course, many of them show typical stress behaviours which relate back to their traumatic periods while being kept as pets prior to being rescued. Apart from that the atmosphere was mostly that of contentment.
After the first few days we understood the daily routines, and started to have more and more time to concentrate on creating enrichment items. These range from structures that make the bears more comfortable, to toys out of bamboo, wood and old fire hoses which are donated to the centre. Every bear has a different personality and respond differently to enrichment items. Therefore a lot of thought goes into the creation of various structures and some of them may not turn out to be as appreciated by the bears as we hoped.
After spending so much time with the bears, I did start to have a bit of a weak spot for Gutuk who has very poor vision and spends a lot of time on the ground, while other bears climb up into their hammocks to have a rest. One of our bigger enrichment projects was to build a “bear bed”. The idea was to encourage Gutuk to step off the floor and use this bed rather than the concrete floor.
In theory, it was a great idea and we were very excited to put it into action. After a little while of investigating I did catch Gutuk once with all 4 legs on the bed.
However, in the end I think the bed turned more into a toy for Chin who is Gutuk’s companion and one of the most playful bears. He had a great time standing on top trying to rip it into pieces.
Sometimes the simplest things are the most successful and I think piling up lots and lots of dry leaves in Gutuk’s cage was probably more successful than building a nice piece of furniture. Staying as close to nature as possible seems to be a good approach to keep in mind.
There is a lot of trial and error when making enrichment items. The staff are open to any suggestions and will help the volunteers turn any idea into a workable option.
In fact, the most memorable moments were the afternoons we all spent together crafting for the bears. It showed how much can be achieved as a team and it was just so much fun having everyone together joking around while being incredibly productive.
I would like to thank Dr Wong and all the staff at BSBCC for inviting me into the team for a short while and for Ape Malaysia who facilitate such a wonderful program.
As a travel agent specialising in responsible tourism, I have made it my goal to educate as many of my clients as possible about what a good volunteer and wildlife experience should be. I am super keen to return once a year to the BSBCC and encourage people to participate with me.
As travellers, we must start to play a role in protecting the last remaining rainforests we all crave to see and support some of these amazing people that just don’t give up and put their heart and soul into wildlife rehabilitation and conservation. You are all wonderful role models and I can’t wait to come back. In the meantime, I will talk about my experience back at home and hope to raise a little awareness about sun bear conservation.
See you all in 2018.
That tree better still be there. 😉
In conjunction with the programme “Program Taklimat dan Lawatan Turun Padang Pengalaman Ecotourism & Clean Air Di Sandakan dan Kota Kinabalu, it was a privilege to have a visit from Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia (MOTAC) and Tourism Malaysia. During the visit, short briefings and introductions were delivered by representatives from Sabah Wildlife Department, Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, The Sabah Parks and Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment Sabah. After that, they had a tour to the outdoor nursery of the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre and also to the BSBCC’s viewing platform to observe the sun bears. Thank you for visiting us and we hope that this programme can help us to promote the tourism and conservation centres in Sepilok area and help us spread the words.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Both male bear cubs, Nano and Noah were likely taken from their mothers and kept in tiny cages as illegal pets. When they were rescued from being illegal pets in 2016, Nano was very stressed, shy, in pain and was too fearful with the outside world,
whilst Noah was found with his milk canines crushed off for use in the illegal pet trade.
The two little cubs have had a very exciting few months! Both have moved into big dens filled with natural enrichment, and treats which keep them stimulated and healthy. This is one of the steps for the rescued bears to acclimatize themselves to living in the forest and to be given an opportunity to explore the environment and develop the skills they need to survive in the wild.
Once the door opened, Noah start peek out from the door!
Noah made his way over to an area with dried leaves and straight away started to stand on his hind legs and grab everything around him!
Noah is the outgoing and joyous bear.
Then after twenty minutes, Nano paused and was alert before stepping towards the new enriched dens!
Noah try to ask Nano to join this big playground !!
He would skim around the dens, curious about what was surrounding him - The natural enrichment!! It was such a glorious sight to see! They roamed freely and adapted quickly to their new home.
After rescue from an illegal pet, the beautiful smile on Nano when he realizes he is not alone !
Nano- have fun!!
Noah is a good, natural leader. He creates a calming and energetic atmosphere around him. He will encourage Nano to be brave and play. He became cheeky whenever he saw Nano starting to pace near the door, then he would try to push Nano and start an epic play fight! Noah did not give up and would teach Nano to fight back!
Slowly, Nano followed Noah’s footsteps, learning to be a bear again. They learned to trust each other!
Is lovely to see Nano relaxing which he deserves after all he suffered.
They still love having fun in each other’s company.
Nano stays close by Noah and learns important skills as he watches him forage for food.
They have dead wood to dig with, bear balls to play with, climbing structures to climb, fire hose baskets to forage with, a hammock to take naps in and dried leaves to roll with. They wrestle, play, forage for food, sleep at the platform and share enrichment together. Both getting stronger and more confident by the day.
Today, they wrestle, play, explore and even sleep together. They were completely in their own world!
It makes us feel sad when see these rescued sun bears suffering from pet trade. But we realized what an amazing thing it is to see how both their tragic pasts were now behind them. The important thing is Nano slowly has gained his confidence, overcome his fear and is enjoying himself every single day with his best pal, Noah. For sun bears, Noah and Nano’s lives after the horror of being kept as pets has been more than they could have hoped and now they are living the lives they were meant to live.
Well done Nano and Noah!
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Noah, a ten months old male bear cub was found when he was still young, and people thought he was a dog, until they took a closer look at him and realised that he was a sun bear. They kept him as a pet for a while until they surrendered him to Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) at Nabawan, the southern part of Sabah and was then sent to Lok Kawi Zoo. After a general health check, we found all of his milk teeth had been crushed off which effected his tooth growth and development.
On the other hand, Nano, a two years old male juvenile bear was found in Kota Marudu, the north of Sabah. A lady saw him being kept in a small chicken mesh cage and decided to save his life by buying him from the seller with the price of RM 1,500. After purchasing, the lady surrendered Nano to SWD and was then sent to BSBCC.
Noah and Nano are quite different bears. Noah is bright and active while Nano is shy and quiet. In the beginning, Noah showed his curiosity on Nano by sniffing and exploring around Nano’s cage. He climbed up on the cage bar and started looking for Nano. In the opposite side, Nano was just stayed up high on the hanging platform or hanging log. He became alert once the sliding door opened while Noah went inside his cage. Apparently, Noah is the one who approached Nano first. However, Nano showed aggressive signs by barking and growling at Noah. Feeling scared, but nevertheless Noah never gave up on him. Noah’s friendly efforts can be seen by inching himself closer to Nano day by day. Noah was trying so hard to form a bond of friendship with Nano and finally with success, Noah eventually melted him with his warm, friendly heart. Now, they can play fight the whole day. Now, they love to spend time with each other as we can always see them sharing a hanging platform together, where they like to take a rest and play.
Due to their friendship and interaction, Nano now spends more time climbing rather than just resting on the hanging platform because of Noah’s adventurous persona. Nano also now initiates play fights and sometimes paws Noah as well. Noah would never disappoint Nano, for they would hold a long play fight as Noah would take the initiative to help Nano by using the Bear way, which is playing, once realizing or noticing when Nano paces. Friendship is not easy to build up between Noah and Nano as it took them to warm up for around four months. Time is a miracle. At the moment, Nano has shown lots of improvements! He has reduced his stereotypical behaviour by spending more time with Noah and has started exploring the environment around him and the enrichment in it. It definitely takes time but we can wait for him. We really hope Nano and Noah can grow up happily with each other and one day would leave the trauma behind, gain the strength and head back to the forest together, where they really do belong.
On the 13th March 2017, BSBCC outreach programme continued running in Telupid district after outreach at Beluran district last week. There were 4 schools involved, which were SK Telupid, SK Tangkungon, SK Wonod and SMK Tongod together with HUTAN-Kinabatangan Orang Utan Conservation Programme (KOCP),Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU), Danau Girang Field Cente, this programme aims to raise awareness among students and communities about our rich environmental heritage and wildlife. We were very happy to have chance to share the interesting facts about our wildlife to the students and teachers. All of the students enjoyed their time learning about the environment and wildlife species through exhibitions, talks and some activities. We hope that they can gain more knowledge on the importance of protecting the environment and our precious wildlife species.
Text by Monika Lapka
Photos by Chiew Lin May and Seng Yen Wah
My name is Monika and I'm 24 years old from Australia. I worked as a zoo keeper with mainly giant pandas for 3 years before I decided to quit my job to travel around Asia volunteering at a number of different animal conservation organisations.
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is the third organisation I have volunteered at since starting my travels. I found out about BSBCC during an Advancing Bear Care conference in Vietnam a few years ago, where I met Dr. Wong the founder and CEO of BSBCC. I spent 1 month volunteering at BSBCC and loved every second! I have learnt so much about Bornean Sun Bears, their husbandry requirements and the steps needed to successfully rehabilitate and release them into the wild. I am very grateful to have worked and helped such a beautiful centre who's main priority is definitely the welfare and survival of the species. Dr. Wong and his amazing team are doing an outstanding job for the sun bears.
I felt apart of the keeping team straight away, feeling very appreciated and respected.The keepers and staff that I worked with were extremely friendly and incredibly funny, always making me laugh. The amount of care and passion that the keeping staff have for the bears is very inspirational.
Manual labour and cleaning makes up most of the daily tasks. Cleaning the dens every morning can be quite challenging especially when the weather is very hot and humid. But it doesn't matter that you get all sweaty and smelly because what really is important is giving these beautiful rescued bears a lovely and clean space to spend their time.
One of my favourite parts of the day is making enrichment. A definite highlight was actually the first day when all the keeping staff, interns and volunteers gathered together in the afternoon to make enrichment for the bears. Everyone was sitting around making nest balls out of vines we collected earlier and egg carton sandwiches filled with ginger leaf and bananas. It honestly felt like a big happy family all talking and joking. It was a very heart warming moment for me, I felt apart of something special and a family away from home.
Another highlight was making one of my enrichment ideas come to life for one of my favourite bears, Bermuda. I got the idea from a picture I saw of a similar type of enrichment but for elephants! I thought a mobile, like what hangs over a baby's cot, could potentially be fun and mentally stimulating with the items attached rotating 360 degrees around above the bear. One of the staff, Tommy, helped me put it together and I had an absolute ball making it with him. We called it Bermuda's Lullaby and it turned out exactly as I imagined it in my head. It also looked very neat and pretty, very important I know, especially when a bear is potentially going to destroy it in seconds. We installed it in his den with a few peanut butter and honey smears in the PVC pipes and Bermuda loved it! Swinging it around and grabbing for the PVC pipe. It was wonderful to see that he enjoyed Tommy and my creation so much.
In my final week volunteering I was fortunate to see 2 new arrivals Kina and Sika. 2 tiny little bears that had been rescued and brought to BSBCC for a new start and potentially be released back into the wild in the future. Sika is only 6 months and Kina a year old. I had made firehose cubes before and one of the staff members, Lin May, asked me to make one for the new arrivals. I ended up making a loose cube which turned out to look like a ball. It wasn't until the day after the arrival of the 2 bears that Lin May showed me a video of Kina playing with the ball I'd made! Kina was rolling it around, lying on her back biting it, scratching at it and throwing it with her mouth. It brought tears to my eyes seeing this tiny little bear who had been stolen away from her mother and kept as a pet, in an environment far from her natural habitat being able to feel joy and start feeling more comfortable to settle into her new home. This was the most rewarding experience for me.
The biggest thank you to Dr. Wong Siew Te and the staff at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre for having me volunteer at their beautiful centre!
Volunteering at BSBCC has been an amazing experience that I will remember forever. I have absolutely fallen in love with Sabah, it is such a magical place that I plan to return as soon as possible. I have met some of the kindest, generous and absolutely hilarious people here in Borneo, making life long friends. I was truly sad to leave and say goodbye to what felt like home. The work, passion and determination that the BSBCC team have for sun bears and their conservation is truly inspirational! Keep up the amazing work and I will return soon to finish my Sabahan training!
BSBCC CORNER- Dr. Wong as a keynote speaker at the 13th International School Brunei (ISB) Global Issues Conference
On the 11th March 2017, Dr. Wong Siew Te (CEO and Founder of the BSBCC), was invited as a keynote speaker to deliver his talk at the 13th International School Brunei (ISB) Borneo Global Issues Conference.
In his speech, Dr. Wong stressed the need to seek alternatives, citing examples where, instead of cutting down natural forests, fast growing species like Acasia could be used for consumption.
"We must support sustainable palm oil as much as possible. We must use less resources, recycle as much as possible and value food without wasting it", he added.
Meanwhile another keynote speaker Kenny Peavy (American author, explorer and eco-activist) has delivered his talk on raising awareness on endangered species in Southeast Asia.
Our youths play one of the most important roles in achieving a better life for future generations. It is easier for young people to communicate and voice their fresh ideas, and to use their energy to build a better world. Karan Jerath, a UN Global Young Leader and inventor, has said that "It does not matter how old you are or where you came from, and how much you know, as long as you
allow your ideas to become a reality".
New straits time online, 14th March 2017
by Andrew Sia
Sun bears are cute, cuddly and playful, but they are not doing too well in their Malaysian home.
“Many of them have lost their forest habitat,” says sun bear expert Wong Siew Te. “In the past 50 years, almost all lowland forests, except for a few protected areas, have been affected by logging or cleared for plantations.”
“Now, the greatest threat to bears and wildlife clinging on to the few remaining patches of forest is poaching. Though just a few people are doing the hunting, the impact is devastating.”
Malaysia has good wildlife laws but poor enforcement and persecutions are poor, according to Wong.
“There are rampant sales of wildlife on the Internet; even baby sun bears can be bought,” he laments.
Wong is being interviewed in conjunction with the launch of Discovery Channel’s Frontier Borneo, an action-packed journey featuring the lives of remarkable men and women and unforgettable creatures on the third largest island on the planet.
They have to deal with home-made bombs in the oceans, explore uncharted jungles, rescue endangered animals and come face to face with deadly creatures.
This unique cast of local and international wildlife rangers, explorers, scientists and conservationists uncover some of the most spectacular landscapes to be found in Borneo.
In tonight’s episode (Astro Ch 551, 10pm), Wong faces almost insurmountable odds as he attempts to provide a new life for bear cub Dodop, which can’t even feed herself.
Wong founded the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in 2008 after witnessing many captive bears – cubs and adults – kept in small cages, unhygienic and often disgusting conditions in zoos, farms, private menageries, and private homes.
With his veterinary and wildlife biology education, Wong could see almost all the bears were suffering from serious stereotypic behaviours: relentless pacing and circling, obsessive licking and other disturbing behaviours.
Also in tonight’s episode, a crocodile hunter has to track down the reptile suspected of causing a local fisherman to go missing.
But he worries about the future of not only the orang utan, but other animals, as their forest home is converted to plantations.
Also in this episode is ranger Christopher Kri, who is on a mission to save a coral reef which has been devastated by deep sea fishing trawlers.
For the March 28 episode, we can watch turtle scientist Nick Pilcher teaching new recruits to capture these animals barehanded, but one of the newbies forgets a key safety rule.
Frontier Borneo will run till May 2 and there are many other highlights. For instance, on April 11, shark expert David McGuire will try an unprecedented experiment – move a group of sharks to a new home.
On April 18, we see the team from the Sarawak Dolphin project braving huge waves to uncover the secrets of elusive Irrawaddy dolphins. And activist Alex Yee goes undercover to try and expose the dark secrets around the trade of turtle eggs.
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Azzry Dusain & Chiew Lin May
Today they saw their rescuers. Each rescued orphan sun bear needs to cope with the traumatic loss of their mother and generally ends up in the illegal pet trade. They all have a terrible start to their young lives. Surely their memories with the forest are all gone. They have never been given the chance to experience and exhibit their natural behavior.
Kina (rescued bear-54), a one year old female, was found around the village of Malak Palak, at Kota Marudu, in the northern region of Sabah. Now named Kina after the place where she was kept (originally nicknamed “Kalong” which was given by the previous owner). Her owner claimed that Kina’s mother was crossing a road and got frightened then just ran away and left Kina behind. Kina was just a bear cub and had not even opened her eyes yet. Hence, her owner took her and kept her for more than a year. We will never know exactly what happened to Kina before she was found alone in the forest. The owner then decided to surrender her to the Sabah Wildlife Department on February 2nd, 2017. Kina arrived at BSBCC on March 1st, 2017.
Kina had been kept as an illegal pet for a year. She had a relatively small head compared to her body and her canines appeared small. During the arrival she weighed 12.85kg. She showed signs of malnutrition and had been poorly cared for since she was a cub. She lacked sufficient nutrients for her growth and development due to being fed inappropriate food. She was fed rice, coconut, sugar cane and Nespray (full cream milk powder). Kina has a slender and pointy muzzle.
Upon rescue, Kina showed no fear of humans which has resulted from the habituation from the effect of being kept as an illegal pet. We are trying to wean her off close contact with humans and will introduce her to new bear friends. It was sad to see the trauma she had with the loss of her mother. She is a young energetic and playful bear full of enthusiasm. She is quickly settling into the quarantine. She is braver and accepts everything on offer. She enjoys the fun enrichment we come up with which can be seen through her love to explore around the den. Kina tries her best at demolishing dead logs to get every delicious treat out of the enrichment. However, feeding time is what she looks forward to the most. Her favourite is milk, banana, papaya, honey dew and HONEY! She will rub it over her head and body! She enjoys playing for hours with the bear ball. She tries different ways to tear, paw and roll to reach enrichment. Kina also is an expert in climbing logs by using her long and curved claws! This allows her to be happy and simply enjoy chilling as a bear!
The youngest female sun bear at our centre, Sika (Rescued bear-55), weighed 4.8kg when she arrived at BSBCC on March 1st, 2017. She was a tiny four month old, female sun bear cub. The Sabah Wildlife Department rescued Sika on February 9th, 2017 from Kampung Sikalabaan in Pensiagan district, one of the most rural areas in Sabah. Sika is named after the place that she was rescued from. Thankfully, Sika was found by a foreigner who travelled to the village. He had visited BSBCC before. He decided to call BSBCC and asked us to rescue this bear cub. He saw that the bear cub was being kept in a chicken mesh cage as a pet and had a diet mostly of condense milk, fruits and cereal.
Little Sika has stolen our hearts with her beautiful blue eyes. She is developing into a lovely and playful bear cub. Sika has a good appetite. She is currently in our intensive care where she will be given a balanced diet that comprises of milk and fruit. She shows more confidence in new surroundings. Sika has an amazing ability to climb high and hang on the platform. She is developing her muscles every day. Since Sika was just rescued and is still recovering from trauma, she prefers to spend most of her time staying high up on the platform or in the hammock to seek shelter and take a siesta. Our bear care staff also teach Sika to develop her defense skills through play fighting. She will show her small, sharp claws and small, curved canines during the play fights! Sika gets her first taste of a sweet life at BSBCC. Slowly, she will develop her forest skills.
These young bears are quickly settling into the new environment. They are in safe hands now and will settle in well at BSBCC quarantine for approximately 30 days. Bear care staff will focus more on enrichment and diet changes which will keep these rescued sun bears busy, active and stimulated. We will give them the care and nourishment they need and teach them all the skills necessary to fend for themselves in the wild. Both bears are building up their strength and are learning to trust their bear care takers.
That was the beginning of Kina and Sika’s new lives! This life of freedom and to put their traumatic pasts behind them is perfect for these beautiful bears. After they finish the quarantine, they will know only becoming WILD bears, sunshine, tall trees, nest building, bear-friends, treats, love and peace. Kina and Sika have many challenges ahead of them and much progress to make in order to succeed on their own in the wild. Sun bears are endangered and in risk of extinction. Please do NOT let sun bears suffer from psychological trauma and give them back the forest and mother bears they belong. Please help make a difference to help secure a future for sun bears like little Kina and Sika.