Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Kala is a one year old, female bear. She is at BSBCC because her previous owner surrendered her to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit with the intention to save her after they found her on Kalabakan-Sapulut Road near Meliau Basin. Kala got to walk in the forest with a bear keeper when she was still a cub. However, it had been a while since Kala had experienced the forest. Walking a cub is not an easy task. The task becomes harder while the cub is growing up because they can be very hard to control. Now, Kala is growing well. Hence, there is no more need for her to walk with a bear keeper. But this does not mean that she will not go back into the forest anymore.
Fence training is a very important step before the bears can go out to the forest enclosure. This is because the forest enclosure is surrounded with high voltage hot wire. The hot wire is to prevent the bears escaping from the forest enclosure.
In the beginning, we made a food trail for Kala and encouraged her out to the training pen. The training pen was a strange place for her and hence why we prepared lots of food and her favourite, honey, to encourage her. She was doing well. After that we scattered food near the fence and observed how she responded with the hot wire. Unsurprisingly, she was zapped by the hot wire. After she had been zapped, she ran back to her cage and did not going to the training pen anymore. After a few tries, she became alert when she went inside the training pen. She knew that once she was too close and accidently touched the hot wire she would get a zap. Hence, she kept a distance with the hot wire. Besides that, she knows how to avoid being zapped by the hot wire. She was using her claws to grab the food near the fence. When she was able to walk in between the buffer cage and training pen with confidence, this meant that she had passed her fence training.
After fence training, it was time for her to go back to the forest. In order to encourage Kala out to the forest enclosure, we prepared an attractive food trail on a ramp. Once the guillotine door opened, Kala showed her curiosity with the new environment. She sniffed the guillotine door and the ramp first. Then she took a look at the outside and sniffed the forest.
When she was trying to grab the food on the ramp, she placed a front leg out and then both front legs touched the ramp. But, her two hind legs were still inside the cage. She was trying so hard to get the food on the ramp. Once she grabbed the food, she brought it inside and ate it in the cage.
After days passed, there was a sunny day on the 6thof June. When Kala tried to grab the food on the ramp, the ramp was too slippery and she slipped on to the ground.
After she touched the ground, the very first thing she did was explore the environment. She walked and sniffed around the forest enclosure. There were lots of things that attracted her attention, soils, trees that she had not seen for a while. When she saw the trees, she climbed up them. When she saw soil, she started digging it. There are lots of activities that she can do in the forest enclosure. She spends her days in there.
Soil is her favourite enrichment since she was small. She’s smelt, touched and tasted the soil. Even when she feels tired, she lays on the soil and continues to play with it.
Friends are so important for humans and also for bears. Kala joined a big family with Sunbearo, Loki, Ronnie Girl, Momtom, Susie2 and Damai. They encouraged her when she went to the training pen and also back to the forest as well. And now, Kala can learn survival skills from her friends such as foraging and digging in the forest. They love playing and enjoying the natural environment together. Sometimes they play fight with each other and sometimes they forage together. In the forest Kala learns and plays with her friends and the most important thing is that she is happy.
Text and Photos by Brad Josephs
This past April I had a two week gap between guiding trips in china and Borneo for natural habitat adventures this past April and I could think of no better to spend the time than support the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center (BSBCC.). The founder of the program, Wong Siew Te, is one of the great conservation champions of today. click here to read about Wong, The Sun Bear Hero of Sabah. http://www.alaskabearsandwolves.com/the-sun-bear-hero-of-sabah/
Wong was actually in my freshman class at the university of Montana wildlife biology program in the mid 90"s, and we remember each other, but i transferred to UAF before I really got to know him. He went on to become the first sun bear biologist and founder of the BSBCC, which focuses on public outreach and education, rescuing orphaned bears, or those confiscated by local authorities from the illegal pet trade, and rehabilitating them through introduction into semi wild enclosures. The final goal is to release rehabilitated bears that have regained wild instincts back into the wild to bolster numbers and genetic health of existing wild populations.
Wong took me as a volunteer and my duties were diverse. I cleaned the bear house daily, prepared and dispersed meals of rice, fruits, vegetables and eggs, collected treats such as fresh leaves and insects from the surrounding jungle, photographed the Bears for the center's use, and set up an Instagram account to supplement their social media campaign. I learned so much and it felt so good to work up a sweat every day to help care for these orphaned sun bears, and take some pressure of the dedicated staff.
During dinner one night I asked Wong what I could do to help him the most and he said he needed funding for the release of a female bear named Lawa, a nine year old female bear who was rescued as a orphaned cub and rehabilitated at the BSBCC. Lawa is an excellent climber, builds nests in trees to sleep, forages for termites and other insects, and shows a healthy disassociation and avoidance of humans, which is a crucial behavior for released bears. She has been a candidate for release for a year, but the funding wasn't there. It costs around 13000 U.S. Dollars to charter helicopters for Lawa and the staff to reach a safe wilderness zone, and pay for the radio collar equipment to track Lawa after her release. Monitoring and documenting the status of a released bear is crucial for biologists to learn how rehabilitated bears adjust to the wilderness.
I decided to try a Gofundme campaign to see if I could help with the financial constraints. A few days later I received an email from Natural Habitat Adventures saying that they would like to sponsor the campaign with an impressive 5000 dollars! I was so proud of my company, but not surprised since we are the most conservation focused travel company in the world.
After 10 days around 40 generous donors put up 5000 dollars into the GoFundMe campaign, including one of my high school friends, Ben Bourne, who gave $1000. I guided my trip in early May, which includes a visit to the BSBCC. Tim Brown, one of the travelers in my group pulled me aside and told me that he wanted to donate as much as was needed to finish the campaign, and donated $3000 right there. It was done in three weeks! Lawa will be a wild bear again before this summer is over.
My time volunteering at BSBCC was the most rewarding things I have done in many years. I learned that sun bears are a species unknown to the world, and are in dire circumstances as a species due to poaching and habitat loss. Building a rapport with the bears, and with the dedicated workers specializing in sun bear conservation was an amazing experience. I would recommend this program to anyone who is passionate about wildlife conservation, and can withstand hard work in an oppressive tropical climate.. I hope to return again to support this program, as it needs lots and lots more help. Lets keep fighting!
Meet little Wawa, a four months old female sun bear cub was found in the Forest Management Unit (FMU) 16, Pinangah, Telupid District alone without her mother and appearing weak.
She was rescued and sent to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) on March 18, 2016. Wawa has shown tremendous growth in the last 4 months.She spend her time play fighting, rolling, foraging and climbing at the big exercise dens.Slowly, she has put her past behind her and is learning to be a wild bear again.
We are really thrilled at her amazing progress and glad to see her blossom into a beautiful and healthy bear! Huge thanks to our sponsorship, Fido Premium Milk Powder from TTL Distributors Sdn. Bhd. (http://www.ttl.com.my/)
Your support enables us to care for this orphaned sun bear cub. She and the other cubs definitely appreciate your support! Big Bear Hug!
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May
After a year, it’s time for the bears to do their annual health check.
We really appreciate Dr.Pakeeyaraj Nagalingam, who is a Veterinarian from the Sabah Wildlife Department, Wildlife Rescue Unit, to conduct this health check for all the bears in BSBCC with his valuable time and great efforts.
Each bear requires a full general anesthetic with the purpose of putting them under sedation for doing an extensive health check. After the bear has been darted, it takes some time for the bears to be sufficiently sedated. The bear can only be carried out from the cage once they are sedated enough.
Dr.Pakee conducted a full physical examination including dental condition, paws and wound problems. Growth measurements such as zoological length, head circumstance, neck size, chest girth and shoulder height, and the shank length was taken by bear keepers. All the measurements were recorded in measurement form. We also took hair samples and saliva for research purposes. Blood samples had to be taken by the vet and the samples will be sent to a laboratory in order to get more detail on the health status of the bears.
After we have done all the measurements, we would like to do a paw print for the bears. However, the paw print can only be done when there is not any wounds on their paws. If their paws showed up with wounds, we had to make a record of it.
Lastly, this is the chance for taking a good picture of their chest marks.
All the bears can be considered as healthy bears. However, take the bears away from the wild and keep them in inappropriate conditions can cause many chronic health problems for the bears. They will lose their instinct to take care of themselves.
Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan stayed in quarantine. Now, these three little sub-adult sun bears have moved from quarantine to Bear House 1 to join a big family. Their moving was given a hearty welcome by all the sun bears in the bear house through lots of welcoming barks.
Boboi was the first one who was moved to Bear House 1. He was depressed in the first day. He had no appetite and stayed on the hammock most of the time. Having no friend staying beside him was making him a bit aggressive. Luckily, this situation did not hold for too long. After one day, Kitud was moved to the bear house. Boboi tried his best to take a look at his dearest friend, Kitud, through the cage bar. After Kitud woke up from the health check, they could not wait to stay together. So, keepers integrated them inside a cage. They seemed so happy to have each other. They always stay together in the basket or on the hammock. Boboi grew an appetite after meeting Kitud. They were sharing a tray. After one day more, Tan Tan joined them. Finally, these three little friends met again. And, they help each other to adapt in this new environment. This is because the best enrichment for a bear is other bears.
The happy news for the health check this time is not only Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan joined a big family, but also the very big and special event for Lawa, a 9 year old adult,female bear. Maybe you will be wondering what is the special event for Lawa? And now, we are so happy to share our happiness with you. On June 3rd, 2016, was the collaring for our second release candidate, Lawa. Lawa was surrendered to the BSBCC in 2008 when she was only a one year old cub. She had lost her mother and her forest home, and it was hard to imagine that she ever thought her life might change to be better again.
Lawa is ready to live a new life as a truly wild sun bear! Lawa showed all the signs of an excellent candidate for release after being rehabilitated for nine years. She built up her survival skills and independence and quickly adapted to forest living. Lawa is excellent in climbing trees, foraging for food, nest building and she avoids people! She has explored and stayed in the forest every day for the last nine years.
There was a sunny and challenging day. With the excellent team from the Sabah Wildlife Department, Dr. Rosa Sipangkui and Elis Tambing, Wong Siew Te (BSBCC Founder & CEO) and the BSBCC staff, Lawa was tranquilized without any upset in her forest enclosure. This was so we were able to attach a satellite collar on her before her release into the wild. Our mission of the day was to find Lawa in pen K with the presence of Cerah and Kuamut. All the bear keepers had a short meeting before going to find Lawa. They were fully geared up on this operation. They split into 2 groups, one group went inside the pen and one group stayed outside as backup. We spent some time searching for Lawa due to her high survival skills. She showed up a few times but once she realized something was not right around her, she just ran away from the bear keepers’ eye sight. After a few attempts, finally one of our bear keepers, Thye Lim, found her. She had hidden herself in dense bamboo bushes. With the help of Dr.Rosa Sipangkui and Elis Tambing she was successfully darted in one shot.
Bear keepers moved Lawa from pen K to the bear house once she was under sedation for the health check and collaring. A general health check starts with weighing, she currently weighs 41.3 kg and after an assessment of potential sickness, functionality of organs and physical condition, Wong Siew Te helped fitting the collar on Lawa.
After the health check Lawa was placed into the new forest enclosure. A one month observation will be carried out to make sure the satellite collar functions well and Lawa gets used to the collar. This is a precious opportunity for a bear to be released back to the wild. They belong to the wild. Captivity will never be their first choice. Natalie is the first release candidate bear. Now, Lawa is the second bear candidate for release. It’s time for her to return back to her real home, the forest. It has been a long time but it will never be too late for her to be home. Lawa is extremely curious and has started to explore her new forest environment as a wild sun bear.
It is a pleasure to see a bear given the second chance to return back to where they belong! Thank you to Brad Josephs for your support in helping the fundraising for Lawa’s release. Her journey to freedom has been made possible with generous support and kind contributions from you all!
Text and Photos by Tammy Tan Kar Yee
My name is Tan Kar Yee, people call me Tammy. I was a volunteer in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) for two short weeks, starting from May 10th, 2016 until May 23rd, 2016. I wasn’t a student of any wildlife biological or forestry studies, I majored in multimedia design in my studies. Everyone was wondering why did I applied for volunteering in BSBCC, actually, why not? The reason I participated in BSBCC volunteering was merely a simple “I love animals,”. I am locally from Sandakan, as I grew up I was taught of the importance of balance in nature, and the responsibilities we bear (no pun intended), so I applied and started my time as a volunteer.
What I learnt from my volunteer experience
2. Sun bears are arboreal, they can stay on a tree for as long as they want.
Being arboreal, sun bears are really really great tree climbers. So if you see one in the wild, you’re not gonna be safe climbing a tree. They can stay on a tree sunbathing, taking a nap, digging for termites/ honey. Until they actually feel like coming down from the tree, to look for food, to do their “business”, or another tree to climb.
3. Sun bears are opportunistic omnivores.
Being opportunistic omnivores, it means they eat whenever and whatever they find. (That’s kinda like me) Some of the bears are obese because they would try to eat everything they find. It is in their natural instinct to store fat in case they can’t find any food for a some time.
4. They are uncontrollably adorable animals, but they are not your pets.Sun bear cubs are so small you would mistake it as a puppy, but they are not meant to be pets for human beings. They are shy bears, but they are not afraid to attack when threatened. Just like your pet dog at home, sun bear cubs needs the protection of their mother, to teach them climb trees, find food and survive.
For now I’ve been talking about sun bears, but there are still a lot that does not know about sun bears at all. That is why they are also called the least-known bears, the forgotten bears. As much as i want to tell you more about sun bears, I find it much more memorable and easier to learn about them if you visit them in BSBCC.
When I joined the volunteer programme i was ready for all the hard work, but the process was too fun and inspiring I hardly felt any fatigueness (after the first 2 days, due to my lack-of-exercise body). I get a group of amazing people guiding me throughout the two weeks, teaching me what they know.
I get to wash and clean bear pens, help prepare food, help with feeding, and make enrichments for the bears. David, Mizuno, Roger, Thye Lim, Lin May, Lester, Azzry, Yen Wah has been great companions throughout my two weeks in the bear house.
They taught me more than I could ask, i am very grateful of that. (And those who helped me washing trays, you’re the best XD ) Through highs and lows (slopes), water supply and electricity supply dying, occasional visits by orangutans and macaques adds on to the awesomeness of this experience.
Other than being in the bear house, I also helped BSBCC designed a few banners for the 2nd observation platform and aerial walkway launch. I am very glad that I was able to put my design skills to use, and it was great to hear compliments on my designs.
My experience with BSBCC has been life fulfilling and really enjoyable with all the great people. I would like to thank Mr. Wong Siew Te for starting BSBCC, which had made such big difference to these lovely bears that are vulnerable. Thanks to all the lovely staffs in the bear house and also office + platform. I have learn so much from each and everyone of you, thank you for being a part of this wonderful organisation, spreading the love for sun bears.
There are so much to tell, and I can go on for days, but I will let you experience this yourself. Actions taken and efforts made by all these wonderful people will make a difference for these sun bears, I enjoy this so much I will probably be back again! Wildlife and sun bears conservation needs all the help it can get, not only people related to the field, you can make a difference too. 14 short days of volunteering, friends for a lifetime, a life fulfilling journey.
Text by Seng Yen Wah