SOS From Borneo to the world!
Thanks to Cynthia Ong of LEAP, and the Green SURF coalition of Sabah, Malaysia, a proposed coal-fired power plant has gone from "done deal" to being debated in the Malaysian Parliament!
To continue this important work, LEAP needs your support and action NOW!
Please share the petition with your network! We need to keep pressure up until the Prime Minister reverses his position!
Land Empowerment Animals People
P/S: Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is a LEAP project
I always consider myself very lucky to be able to study the sun bear, the least known bear in the world. Over years of tracking down radio-collared sun bears in the rainforest of Borneo, I managed to witness some bazaar behaviors of this illusive mammal in the natural surroundings. One of these "holy cow!" behaviors was the tree-climbing skill of sun bears, which made me believe they are the most arboreal bears in the world. With their small body size as a bear species, black color pelt and agile slender arms, they look a lot like chimpanzee than any bear species to me. They are equipped with the best tree climbing tool, not with fingers like the chimpanzee and other primates, but four sets of curved and long claws, each control by exceptionally strong digit muscle. The claws clam in and dig deep in the tree bark, they simply "walk" up on the tall tropical rainforest trees like lumberjack climbing a tree with their spike shoes.
Sun bear has all the reasons to be an arboreal mammal. First, a big portion of their food is found on top of a tree: fruits and invertebrates. Fruits are important for sun bear because they are available in large quantity, but finding fruiting trees are not easy. Beside fruits, invertebrates such as bee hives with yummy honey and larvae are nutritious food items to boost up body condition. Some species of bees build their hives inside tree cavities high above the ground for double protections. However, this will not deter a sun bear from breaking into the bee hives because sun bear climb really well, equipped with strong claws and canines to break into tree cavities, and sun bear's determination to feed on honey as food is not easy to find in the forest. There is no better way to illustrate how much sun bears love honey other than showing these photos taken by Wineke Schoo in Danum Valley, the forest where I studied sun bears for six years in Borneo.
The bigger black dot was a mother sun bear climbing up a huge tree, followed by a little black dot, her little cub. At this point, the mother bear already found the beehive and starting to break into hive. Little one followed.
Wineke managed to get some zoo-in photos with her spotting scope. I know what you are trying to say, so am I! Thanks Wineke for sharing these photos. This is a lifetime experience to witness such amazing event taking place in our own planet!
Now you know why sun bears are also known as honey bear (beruang madu) in local Malay language, simply because they love honey!
Photos credit: Wineke Schoo
~to be continue~
By Maria Trenary
I recently returned home from nearly a month volunteering at the BSBCC...I'm proud to say that I am a member of Wong's "Fellowship of the Bear" since I was fortunate enough to assist with moving the bears into their new home. My trip was fascinating. eye-opening, fulfilling and emotional, and yes, I still have my cleaning calluses to prove I was there! I really had no idea what to expect when I arrived, and was determined to be very flexible and just go with the flow of things.
My first glimpse of the new bear house was thrilling...and the forest enclosures are unrivaled among any zoo or sanctuary. How can you do better than the bears' natural habitat? These enclosures will not only provide the long-term resident bears with the physical and psychological stimulation that they need, but will be vital to the rehabilitation of potentially releaseable bears back into the wild.
My first few days in Kota Kinabalu (capital city of Sabah) were spent helping to gather supplies and meeting the staff of LEAP, who are all incredibly dedicated to helping Wong realize his future vision of the Centre. We then drove the six hours to Sandakan, which provided me a unique opportunity to see the land and people of Sabah, along with astounding vistas of the endless palm oil plantations, literally as far as I could see in every direction. Of course I have seen these images many times, but nothing compares with a first hand view.
One of the very first things I saw on my arrival at Sepilok was a hornbill flying overhead...seemed like a good omen. Over the next few days our fellowship assembled and we met the vet staff who would be in charge of the bear exams, all very warm and welcoming. We met to discuss the best plan of action and took a closer look at the new bear house. As with any new building, last minute adjustments were required, but we proceeded on schedule and moved all twelve bears in the next three days. It was amazing to see that, even though the bears were dutifully cautious on recovery, sniffing thoroughly and tapping their claws on the unfamiliar surfaces, they quickly began climbing and settling into their new dens. Now my days were filled with feeding, cleaning, providing lots of daily enrichment and monitoring bear behavior, which I find extremely fascinating. We also learned that in some cases humans and bears have different ideas of what "bear proof" actually means. I think PVC might mean "probably very crunchy" to a bear and of course the new waterers MUST have been intended to sit in and take a bath! I was amazed at how much the bears enjoyed the water...thus began our "shower days". After a spray with the hose, they wrestled and played all afternoon.
We were also able to integrate two of the males and two groups of young females quite quickly, which helped to keep the bears calm and minimize pacing. We wanted them to be very comfortable and secure with the dens before providing access to the outdoor enclosures. As you've seen in previous blog entries, they were so comfortable that they did not want to go out at first! We had to remind ourselves that most of these bears had been captured for the pet trade as cubs and had most likely not seen the sky or felt the earth under their feet for a very long time. We had to operate on "bear time", not human time. I was lucky enough to see one male and one female venture out before I had to return home. Now I miss my new friends and think of them every day. Sensitive and cautious Om, a strong and beautiful male bear in his prime. Playful little Surya, still so like a cub....quiet little Manis, standing on her hind legs with front paws folded under her chin as she gazes at the trees she will climb soon. And Ah Chong, the largest male, with his serene face and passionate love for any and all food. These bears, and all wild and captive sun bears, need our help. Spread the word, tell people about the blog and the amazing work being done at BSBCC. Public awareness is crucial...now, on to Phase 2!
Maria came to us with a very special background: she is the senior veterinary technician at Oakland Zoo. I first met her personally at the Wildlife Conservation Network Wildlife Expo, San Francisco in 2008. She wanted to help us in any which way that she possibly could during that time. At that time, what I have was a plan to set up BSBCC, we not even has the fund to build our first bear house. Her passion and interest on sun bear grow pretty much since then. We have been in contact for more than a year and finally she made it. She came to volunteer at the time when we need her most during the bear moving to the new bear house on April. Maria volunteered with us for a month. She has been very helpful and I am very thankful for her help and her interest and passion to help sun bears. Thank you Maria!
In Malay language, "boleh" means "can", or "capable." "Malaysia Boleh!" or Malaysia can! in English, is nationwide campaign launched by our former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad during his leadership. The "Malaysia Boleh!" spirit has since produced many achievers and achievements, (although many are rather sarcastic), but for sure, it has been a cornerstone of the success stories that made the new Malaysia today.
Since sun bear is also known as Malayan sun bear and is resident in Malaysia, I would like to create a" Malaysia Boleh! Sun Bear Pun Boleh!" (Malaysia can! Sun Bear also Can!) series to highlight about this little known bear. Today is the opportunity for me to kick start the Sun Bear Boleh! campaign with a series of photos I received from Fiona Kwok:
"Sun bear can swim!"
After years of studying and working closely with sun bears, I know that the sun bears love water but I did not know they can swim well, not until yesterday when Fiona posted a photo of a sun bear swam across a man-made fresh water lake in northern Peninsula Malaysia on my facebook. Fiona was so kind to share the rest of the photos which she took last year at Lower Belum/Temenggor State Park, when this handsome looking sun bear swam across the Temenggoh Lake, moving from one island to the other. Fiona was on a small boat when she spotted this wild bear swimming and following it, taking photos of course, until it reached the land.
This is really an eye opening lesson for me. I hope you feel the same too!
One word to describe this behavior, "Amazing!"
Malaysia can! Sun Bear also can!
Thanks Fiona for taking and sharing the photos!
By Amanda Tan
My past three weeks were spent in Borneo, volunteering at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre with 3 friends and ex-Night Safari colleagues. As happens at the end of every great experience, the last couple of days are bittersweet, a juxtaposition between feelings of heightened appreciation for the entire opportunity and the dreadful knowledge that one day in the very foreseeable future, we will once again wake up in our own beds, with the prospect of facing the mundanity that is real life. I regret not blogging regularly about the experience (studying for the GREs after returning from the bear centre each night promptly puts me to sleep), and I now face the daunting task of trying to do justice to three special weeks. Bear with me (Sorry, couldn’t resist).
The BSBCC is currently home to twelve Malayan Sun Bears, most of them rescued from the illegal pet trade, or surrendered by their owners who found out the hard way that a tiny cage is no place for a bear. These bears are the lucky ones, that is if you can consider being stolen from your brutally murdered mother and sentenced to life in a cage as lucky. Many of their counterparts fall victim to the demand for bear parts, or are killed when they encroach into human territory, by people who never stop to question who first intruded into who’s home. The centre is currently in Phase I, with room for 20 bears. The bears are undergoing rehabilitation, a long and complex process of getting them reacquainted with their natural surroundings, out of physical and mental cages, where they can be ‘wild’ again. There is a long journey ahead for the centre and the bears. With sufficient funding, the construction of Phase II will commence, creating board walks and public areas for visitors. Then education can really begin, an important step in conserving these animals, who compete for conservation attention with Orang Utans and other species, and whose plight is little known, even by the locals. For such a charismatic animal, endemic to the area, it is difficult to understand why it is almost absent in the public mind. On the few occasions that Mark and I went souvenir hunting, we failed to find anything featuring the Sun Bear (despite the fact that we found several rather absurd ideas for keychains, like handsaws and hammers), with Orang Utans, Proboscis Monkeys, Hornbills and head-hunters stealing the limelight instead.
As anyone who has ever had the privilege of working with animals will tell you, each animal is a unique individual, and these bears were no different. In just a few days, their respective behavioral quirks and idiosyncrasies became apparent to us, and we no longer needed to resort to their chest marks (each one different, just like our fingerprints) to tell them apart. Here are some pictorial examples:
Clockwise from left: 1) Suzie in her favourite, flat-on-the-floor sleeping position, 2) Manis, looking rather thoughtful in her classic, and rather human-like pose, 3) Cerah, scrunching up her nose as she often does, 4) Suria, the energetic and tireless baby of the bunch, swinging from the highest accessory of her den, legs dangling, like a (rather daring) child, 5) Ah Chong, enjoying a shower in all his obesed glory, definitely one of his favourite things to do, and 6) Keningau, the gentlest of all the bears.
I have one more day to try and get good pictures of all the bears, not an easy task as they are usually climbing all over the dens, wrestling with each other, swinging from the chains and tires that we installed or otherwise not posing for a photo; and my temptations to use the flash are quickly quelled in 5 different languages (remnants of Night Safari show days). Even without photos, I’m pretty sure I will remember each one. Having experienced the endearing and charismatic natures of these lovable animals, it is heart-breaking to fathom the struggles that they face in the wild, and the knowledge that the causes of their predicament are largely human is a bitter pill to swallow.
Note the apostrophes, as something this enjoyable can hardly be called work. A typical day goes something like this:
We arrive at the centre at around 8am, and after a check to make sure all the bears are present and well, we feed them their first meal. Our undergraduate years have given us much training in skipping breakfast (to avoid arriving later than we already are for early morning classes), and a good thing too, because a full stomach does not bode well when you are greeted by this every morning.
Smells almost as funky as it looks, but no less is to be expected when you eat two large trays of fruit and porridge everyday. While two of us head off with parangs and machetes to chop leaves and branches for the bears to browse, the other two get down to washing the dens. Thankfully, working in the Night Safari has made us no stranger to husbandry, and we easily settled into the familiar routine of sweeping, scrubbing and washing down. As far as poop goes, bear poop isn’t so bad, and the bears do try to help as we have observed them peeing and pooping directly into the drainage holes! Ironically, our morning rendezvous with these bear-sized portions of poop usually gets our appetites going and the traipse off for brunch, leaving the bears to their siesta.
We return again after lunch, when the bears are at their most active, and it’s time for enrichment. Enrichment is crucial to the well-being of captive animals.
In the wild, these animals would expend copious amounts of energy on behaviors essential to their survival, such as defending their territories and sourcing for food. While the security of a captive environment negates the survival need for many of these activities, the behavioral stimulation that these activities would otherwise provide must still be met, for the physical and psychological health of these animals. Sadly, the prolonged lack of such enrichment in the captive lives of some of our bears before they came to the centre have resulted in severe stereotypical behaviors that are extremely hard to break. Here is Manis, pacing in a small circle as she often does, with her head perpetually cocked to the left as a result.
She sometimes paces so extensively that the pads of paws begin to bleed. It hurts to see her like this, and we are motivated to provide the best enrichment that we can, with the hopes that she will one day be cured of these behaviors.
We do our best to provide the bears with both environmental and behavioral enrichment. I arrived a week later than my friends, and Mark, Yuru and Saylin had already done a great job of installing new furniture into the dens.
Together with the daily provision of leaves and branches, the bears spend many happy hours climbing, playing, swinging, and generally hanging out on the various fire-hose suspensions and chain-link hammocks that transform their dens into playgrounds.
Designing enrichment that was stimulating and challenging enough for the bears, also proved quite a task for us. In our previous experiences designing enrichment for the animals in our department at the Night Safari, we thought Macaws were destructive. Powerful though their beaks may be, they certainly pale in comparison to the bears’, teeth, claws, and general brute strength. Case in point:
After some trial-and-error, we managed to come up with several ideas that passed the test, and kept the bears occupied for a considerable amount of time, though they always succeed in the end.
The best enrichment doesn’t always call for the most elaborate of ideas. Clever placement of the enrichment device that require some acrobatics to get to, and durable materials such as coconuts, Kong balls and fire-hose usually succeed in creating the right level of challenge for the bears. More importantly, they stimulate the bears natural behaviors such as having to climb and balance on branches to access bee hives for their favourite honey, and skillful tongue-action to obtain treats hidden deep within holes and crevices.
Watching the bears tackle and enjoy our enrichment ideas is definitely one of the highlights of our days. After spending so much time with them, the bears start to seem very childlike and human, and It is a satisfying feeling to watch them being bears, doing what they do best, a reminder of the respect they deserve as fascinating wild animals. Especially fulfilling, is seeing bears like Manis and Bermuda shirk their stereotypical behaviors for that interval of time and get absorbed in enrichment instead.
We also had a few off days to do some of our own traveling and exploration. This took us on a couple of night walks, where I had the misfortune of meeting some overly friendly fire ants, and to nearby Sukau, twice.
Sukau, a small strip of virgin forest buffer zone before the start of endless plantations, was certainly an eye opener. The home-stay on our second visit allowed us a little glimpse into the lives of the local people, whom we found to be a very friendly and jovial bunch. Two boat rides down the great Kinabatangan brought us face to face with an unbelievable amount of the area’s wildlife; from the famed Proboscis monkeys, to many different species of birds and reptiles, and even an Orang Utan.
The fascination of seeing so much wildlife in one place almost makes you forget the ugly truth behind the high density of wildlife - the sad fact that they have been forced into the only remaining strip of their original home that has otherwise been transformed into oil palm plantations, no longer hospitable to wildlife. Already, the effects of such an unnatural condensation of wildlife is evident. With no room to branch out, the elephant herds in the area number in the hundreds, a significant inflation from the usual 30 strong family groups. Human-wildlife conflict is also inevitable, and we found out that the elephant herds trampled the village graveyard on one unfortunate occasion. However, it is also heartening to see the local villagers embracing the wildlife, turning to eco-tourism to make a living, giving them a stake in protecting this valuable resource.
The past three weeks have been quite an experience, an extremely thought-provoking one too, and I’m having quite a hard time figuring out where to start. This is going to be messy (and inadequate).
Our time here in Borneo has given us city-dwellers the opportunity to see wildlife in quantities and variety that is almost mind boggling. Ironically, inextricably woven into all this natural splendor is our indelible human mark, from the endless palm oil plantations, to the pockets of forest reserves fighting to preserve at least some of the primary forest from development’s aggressive march. These visible aspects are merely the tip of the iceberg, the physical manifestation of the complex web of human values and attitudes towards wildlife, against the larger backdrop of human needs, economic, social, or otherwise, that underscore much of what we do.
With so many complex factors thrown into the mix, the struggle to conserve is a long and arduous one. The terms “conservationist” and “biologist” can no longer be interchangeable. The study of animals must work hand in hand with the study of people, and why they do the things they do, for it is easy and egocentric for us to impose our values and beliefs on others without understanding their needs, or the cultural and religious bearings on their actions. If sustainable solutions are to be found, we must learn to understand the people (who we often see as the problem), as much as they must learn to understand the animals.
The bears themselves have been amazing, and they have taught us much about their species, the troubles they face, and the importance of spreading their message, so that others can be touched by the stories of these forgotten animals, and be moved to help. As I said goodbye to my new friends today, rubbing their velvety noses and lookIng into their expressive eyes for the last time (just being dramatic here, I know I’ll be back), I promised them I would do just that.
?11:34 pm, by animalprints
By Mark Rusli
And what a month it has been.
It is with a heavy heart that I leave Borneo with. Typing this entry in the steely, air-conditioned interior of the Kota Kinabalu airport, I find a sudden desire to trade all these comforts for another day in the rainforests of Sepilok. This is not an entry meant to gloat about my experience, or brandish the limits of my vocabulary. Rather, this post is meant to do Borneo justice: a post to raise awareness of a precious gem hiding quietly within Southeast Asia. And yet this gem is slowly fading into obscurity, struggling against the many facets of humanity.
I hope this post inspires you to visit Borneo and discover the Eden so close to home. Borneo will speak to you, just like she did to me. And her words are tinged with urgency.
I : The People.
Inspiring: the one word to describe the people I’ve met. It’s one thing to watch conservationists on television, or read about them in the National Geographic - but to watch them get down and dirty really puts things to perspective.
Within Sepilok we witnessed first-hand the mechanisms of a conservation centre. We met Wai Pak, a perky individual, always brimming with enthusiasm - in my 30 days there he’s never taken an off day. I’ve never seen David in a foul mood: if he’s not joking about life, he’s usually occupied with occupying the bears. Sylvia’s a tough cookie: one woman with several men under her charge, and yet she always has time for a smile, even for volunteers. Victor and Jomius hike for 20 minutes to feed the semi-rehabilitated orangutans at platform 4 everyday. And hike another 20 minutes back. They do this twice a day. And the scores of other characters: the foreign volunteers, so displaced in this country, but never letting the culture shock nor heat get to them. We’ve never met Wong personally, but snippets of his life as told from his close friends have created a robust impression.
There are so many more of such individuals, each equally inspiring. You find that it’s never about reputation or glamour. In the conservation arena, it’s mostly selflessness that brings results. And these people I’ve mentioned have all made extensive sacrifices, some more intense than the rest. But whether you’re willing to make that first step into an unstable, foreign world with an unpredictable future - that requires courage of great proportions. They don’t teach you this in school. In Singapore everyone strives to work in a bank.
If and when the time comes, I can only hope I find similar courage to make these sacrifices. I hope I make the right decisions.
And the indigenous people I met at Sukau: I’ve almost always complained about the negativities of eco-tourism, but one thing I strongly advocate is getting locals involved. You need their full support to sustain the industry.
II : The Animals.
The people were inspiring, the animals even more so. And even if we shared no common mode of communication, their presence alone did the talking.
One impactful event still resounding in me would be our afternoon at Platform 4. There we were introduced to Sogo-sogo’s rehabilitated orangutan family, and they had the right to refuse us, to reject strangers into their territory. But they did not.
And it was this benevolence and almost-blind trust that reached me. Sitting down in the middle of a forest with a family of orangutans, and holding hands with one - perhaps one of the most emotional memories I will have. And this memory will serve as a reminder for my direction in life. Strong words, but I intend to fulfill them.
And who could forget the bears? The primary reason for my stay. I got to meet some of the most boisterous personalities of my life at BSBCC: the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. All 12 of them. I’ll be honest: from day one Jelita offered me her paw, and while I’ve always been fair to all the bears, Jelita usually gets an extra snakefruit. Or three. The day I was able to tell the adult females apart, Keningau’s character stood out from the rest, her gentle nature impossible to resist. And the other bears: Manis, Chong, Suria…. it’s impossible to not play favourites, because the bears each have their own personalities.
Within the bears, their individual stories mirror a conservationist’s list of trials and tribulations. Of errant husbandry and captive conditions, of abuse, of Man’s naked power…. Realizing the pain and mishandling some of these bears have gone through makes me ashamed to be human. Manis is a very sweet bear with a very loving personality that she’ll show you - if she’s there. Her past history growing up in a zoo must have been traumatic, and her glazed look she gives you says it all. She spends more than half her day escaping and retreating into her own world, pacing around until her claws crack and her paws bleed. Even now, with a bigger den and plenty of enrichments, she still finds solace and comfort in that dark corner of her conscious. I fear she is unable to distinguish reality.
And it is stories of such that give purpose to what people like Wong, Wai Pak and Sylvia are doing.
III : BSBCC.
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre aims to be a primary hub for sun bear rescue, rehab and conservation. They’re only in their initial stages, and need all the help they can get. During our visit here, we shared with them our experiences working in a zoo. I’ve typed one month’s worth of entries regarding these bears, please read the rest of my blog if you want to find out more in-depth descriptions. I urge you to.
Right now, their first phase is completed: dens for 20 bears, and outdoor exercise pens to rehabilitate them into the wild. The second phase is of utmost importance: a visitor centre, where awareness and education can then be focused on. Sun bears are relatively unknown, and given little attention in the conservation spotlight. I would say raising awareness is the most basic anyone can go right now, because once people are aware of these bears existing in their forests, and the plight they face, they would want to be more involved.
Phase Two needs funds. Please visit www.bsbcc.org.my to donate. Once the visitor centre is set up, BSBCC can then be self-sustainable, and then pump funds into research and rehabilitation.
IV : Last Words.
I’ve only covered a small area within Borneo, most of it within Sandakan. I’ve only scratched the surface of this fascinating place.
Borneo is a beautiful country. She holds so much beauty, so many treasures - a lot of them delicate and fragile, most hanging by a thread. And yet She shared all these with me so readily: from the forests of Sepilok, to the nocturnal rainforest world at the RDC, and the great Kinabatangan River with his rich shores that hide a dark secret. I’ve devoted blog posts regarding each and every experience, and I hope that I’ve given adequate representations and illustrations of truly unbelievable experiences. Experiences that may ceast to exist the next time I visit.
From the very get-go, I’ve been dealt one lesson after another. Some of which I wanted to learn about; others I had no intention of knowing.
Ultimately, I’ve a greater appreciation for the natural world, and a deeper understanding for why conservationists do what they do. The challenge of the world today would be IS that of sustainable development: striving to find a balance between economic growth and maintaining the environment.
2 hours left in Borneo, but so much more required to reflect and make some sense of the past month. I’m probably gonna have several more conclusions over the next few days. Some of the things I’ll probably never fully grasp.
Goodbye, Borneo. Thank you for an enthralling 30 days. I’ll be back for more.
Friday, June 11th 2010 1:06pm
By Mark Rusli
These were probably our last few enrichments for Suria, before we leave on Friday! We added more firehose to her den, because Suria really loves climbing - sometimes she stays on the highest swing and won’t come down for a few hours. It feels like a den constructed for primates!
To bolster and encourage Suria’s climbing, we’ve been suspending various food-based enrichments at the top of her den. The most successful one had to be this green ball with a hole on one side. We stuffed loads of jackfruits in it, and it lasted TWO DAYS!! On Day Two we came in the morning to find Suria still furiously trying to claw a few remaining pieces of jackfruit out. Wonder if she even slept at all! It’s fascinating watching Suria balance so effortlessly on the swing, almost like a human child. (:
Wednesday, June 9th 2010 10:48pm
It’s 2.45pm. I have approximately an hour and a half left in the Sepilok grounds. In the morning, Amanda and I did husbandry, then rushed down for the orang utan feeding at 10.30am. At 1.00pm we had lunch, expecting a memorable last meal in the cafeteria. We did have one. Not in an ideal way, but it was memorable. Definitely memorable.
Soon I’ll be going back to see the bears for one last time. We bought loads of treats for them: fruits mostly, and packets of dried papaya and mango. Going to stuff their faces. I pity whoever’s doing husbandry tomorrow. Always wanted to say that, but the past few weeks if I did say it, I’ll be kicking myself the next morning. I can finally say it, and mean it. Probably not feel good for the people cleaning tomorrow, but oh well.
I pity whoever’s doing husbandry tomorrow.
There is so much to be done, and the urgency’s only settling in during my last hours here in Borneo. In 5 minutes I will walk back heavily to the bear house. I will soak in the scent of sun bear poop and relish it. I will scratch Keningau’s nose, feel Jelita’s paws, pat Chong on his fat bum. I will watch Cerah wrinkle and scrunch her nose. I will give Suria an extra snakefruit.
And I will enjoy every second of it, and remember these moments for the rest of my life unless I lose my memory. For they will constantly signify and remind me why the sun bears need saving. And why I’m here in the first place.
The next time I talk to people about sun bears, I will remember the ones I’ve met, who’ve made an impact on me, even if it was a very short stay. And I will mean every single thing I say.
~ Mark Rusli
By SayLin Ong
I am into my final week of volunteering in BSBCC. It definitely feels like time is passing by much too quickly. I am hoping to accomplish as much as I can in the remaining days before I fly home with Yuru.
It is important to keep our mindsets in line with that of BSBCC. It is after all Phase 1 of the project now, and much needs to be done to prepare the bears for Phase 2. The aim is to empower the bears with the confidence to step out into the outside enclosures, exposing them to their natural habitat. In our first 2 weeks, good enrichment ideas were implemented, much credit to Mark and Yuru. Some of these devices are still being utilized by the bears. It is always an achievement to come up with enrichment devices that the animals do not get bored of easily.
From now onwards, we will attempt to implement enrichments with specific goals in mind. 3 bears are of particular concern to us, namely Ah Chong, Bermuda and Manis. Ah Chong is a mature male, somewhat too comfortable in his den. He is definitely the heaviest of the 12 bears in the centre, almost always ground-dwelling, contrary to his species description. Upon being tempted by tasty bananas smeared with honey, his rare display of arboreal skills almost warrant a round of applause from all of us watching.
This here is an unflattering picture of Ah Chong’s rear. The problem with him is that he is curiously afraid of stepping out into the training enclosure, a big area meant for acclimatising bears to the outside enclosures. Our challenge is to try and coax him out, to let him know that everything’s alright outside his comfort zone. More details can be seen in Mark’s post @ http://matahari-bears.tumblr.com/post/644289648/chong-day-one.
Today was the 2nd day using the same method for Ah Chong. He showed an improvement in response to the ‘stimulus’. It was evident that he was very frustrated, with both his best friend Om as well as the log stuffed with treats barely beyond his reach. He constantly looked out at Om, paced around impatiently and tugged at the sliding gates much to our amusement. We held our breaths every time he leaned through his doorway. Hopefully in the coming days, he will be tempted enough to venture out and stay out.
This here is Bermuda, showing off his powerful frame. He was practically in that position for at least 15 minutes trying to tackle his enrichment device. A simple concept designed by myself to encourage Bermuda to be more constructive. I was surprised that he didn’t destroy everything in minutes, the positioning might have made things difficult for him.
Bermuda has the tendency to be reclusive, often not bothering with the leaves and branches that we provide in his den. After meals, he’d regurgitate and eat up the liquid expulsion repeatedly, a sign of boredom that captive animals display. I hope to provide enough enrichments to interest him and hopefully pry him away from his bad habits. He still went back to his rather unsightly habit today after last feeding, hopefully we’ll have better luck tomorrow.
Manis is a special little girl whom everyone has a soft spot for as well. She has the tendency to display the typical pacing behaviour that would make all caretakers worried. She was taken in from a zoo, probably one that did not provide much space nor enrichment for her, thus leading to her pacing behaviour. When she is not socialising with the rest of the females, she would usually be walking in circles in an anti-clockwise direction. It is heartbreaking to see that even her head is tilting in that particular direction while she circles. She also ranks the lowest in her group hierarchy, often not able to participate in enrichments provided to sharing.
This was the device Amanda, Mark and Yuru came up with, an adaptation from the Macaw enrichments back in Night Safari. We managed to confine her to a single den of her own, thus giving her a chance to enjoy her enrichment without competition from the other 3 girls. Manis was so occupied that she left her dinner half eaten!
She did however go back to her pacing habit shortly after. We plan to continue such enrichments for all 3 bears in the hope that they will respond better in time to come.
Posted May 30, 2010 at 12:24pm
enrichment and natural behaviour
By Mark Rusli
I think one of the most distinctive traits about the sun bears have to be their abnormally long tongues - I wasn’t aware of this till I arrived at the centre, and we’ve had lots of uncertainties, trying to figure out the various reasons why they own one in that length!
We know for a fact that the bears definitely use their tongues to probe for honey in bee hives. All other potential applications aside, we’ve been trying to figure out various enrichment methods to keep the bears busy using both their tongues and claws.
For this enrichment, we split a hole along one side of a short piece of bamboo, smeared blueberry jam within its walls, then tied it outside the den of the young females. It was impossible to break the bamboo this way, so they could only utilize their claws and tongues to get to the jam.
It’s easy to assume that enrichments are mere playthings for the bears, like how people baby and spoil their domestic pets with the most elaborate toys. Anyone could do that, you say. Sure, anyone could construct an enrichment, but whether it effectively stimulates and entertains the animal is a different thing altogether. Bears spend more than half their daily lives foraging. In captivity we automatically take this behaviour away with scheduled feeding sessions. It’s this void we have to fill: with all the spare time, and no real need to forage, they start inventing ways to entertain themselves. We classify them as stereotypic behaviour.
A good enrichment does not just entertain. It has to enable the bears to optimally utilize their natural skills, whether it be fishing or climbing - or in this case, licking.
Monday, June 7th 2010 11:51pm
You don’t need complicated devices which take a nuclear scientist to formulate: the best enrichments are simple and straightforward, yet effective. It’s amazing what you can do with a piece of rope and an old, used 20kg dog biscuit bag. Placed some pieces of fruit in the centre, wrapped it up, and voila! Christmas came early for Suria this year. She loves these empty bags which still hold lingering scents of meat, taking her time to tear it up. I think she’s expecting bigger presents the next time.
By Mark Rusli
Coconuts for the adult females today. Was trying to figure out a creative way to use our large stash of coconuts which were collecting dust and harvesting ants; eventually Amanda and I somehow concluded to suspend it in unreachable places. Manis got her own personal alone time with her coconut, because we were afraid her groupmates would steal it from her.
We were talking about how enrichments that successfully occupy Manis gives us a personal sense of satisfaction. Manis has this perpetual glazed, distant look, which is probably another manifestation of the psychological damage derived from her time in the zoo. To bring her back, to make her do normal “bear” things, means so much more.
Saturday, June 5th 2010 12:13am