Video by Chiew Lin May
Precious little Bintang had been torn from her mother by a poacher. It is a tragedy to lose sun bears from the wild. Sun bears are protected species by both national and international laws.
Watch Bintang rescue and start to explore her new home - it is a delight to see how brave she is. She is learning and loves the forest world. She looks towards a brighter future. Just look at how happy and healthy she is now! Please share her story!
Text by Vincent Chin Yung Fook
Photos by Vincent Chin Yung Fook & BSBCC
Hi, my name is Vincent Chin Yung Fook. I am 23 years old and I am from Papar, Sabah. Time spent interning at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) for two and a half months was just too precious. Before I made the decision to have my internship here at BSBCC, I discovered this place through my senior. I was really eager to know and learn how an organisation rescues an animal, rehabilitates and releases them back to the wild in the first place. So, I signed up here for my internship.
During these few months, I have prepared hundreds of kilos of fruits and vegetables, cleaned a lot of cages, and made many types of enrichments for the bears. One of my favourite moments here was observing a bear. I was given a chance to observe the fence training of the bears and the behaviours of the bear. Through this observation, I have learnt a lot about sun bears. My favourite bear in BSBCC is Chin. I like her because she’s cute and of course, she has the same name as me.
There are many different staff at BSBCC. Some are serious while working whilst some are funny and playful. I had never get bored working with them. For the Björn Hala’s (name of the place I stayed during my internship) people, I really appreciate the time we laughed together, played games, did karaoke, and watched movies. To my funniest buddy, Jeniur, I would like to say thanks for having my back. He taught me a lot of stuff, sharing his knowledge and his experiences of working in the wild.
In short, this internship has been an excellent and rewarding experience, and I really enjoyed myself throughout my sixteen weeks of this training. Working with different staff just gave me more experiences as different staff have different ways of doing their jobs. I also learned a lot by asking a lot of questions about their work experiences. Not only gaining experience and knowledge about the conservation of sun bears, but the staff also taught me how to handle and communicate with visitors.
It was difficult at the start as it was my first time working here in the bear house. I never thought that taking care of wildlife was a very energy consuming job. However, the struggle was nothing when compared to the positive values and experiences that I have learnt through this internship. Another obstacle which limited my time and experiences was the outbreak of disease, Covid-19. Although my internship period at BSBCC has ended, I will not forget about the kindness of the staff, the knowledge that they shared, and the lovely bears. I really appreciate and am thankful for the time that I have spent here working with bears.
Video by Chiew Lin May
Without the BSBCC, many captive sun bears would still live in small cages without HOPE; without the BSBCC many people in the world still would not know there is a bear species called the sun bear– CEO & Founder, Dr. Wong Siew Te
Sun bears are threatened by extinction through poaching, illegal pet trade and habitat loss. Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre has received 62 rescued sun bears since its foundation. Currently there are 43 rescued sun bears housed at the BSBCC. Sadly, we have seen a significant increase in the numbers of sun bears arriving at the centre in 2016. This trend is worrying with the survival of the species under serious threat as it shows that poaching is still going wild with the rampant sale of sun bears or illegal bear bile medicine over websites and the numbers will continue to rise rapidly until drastic measures are taken to protect sun bears - but we can all help protect them.
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre aims to conserve sun bear through improving welfare for captive orphan sun bears, rehabilitation, education and research. Our team cares for rescued sun bears that have been taken from their mothers and have spent their lives in captivity. Rescued sun bears arriving at our centre able to rehabilitated and is given second chance where they learn and develop the crucial skills they will need to eventually return to the wild.
It is a vital important help to protect this critically endangered species before it is too late. Visit our website to learn more about sun bears, our work and make a difference!
Text & Photos by Chiew Lin May
Simone and Sigalung were victims of the illegal pet trade. Simone was kept in a Mini Zoo Hot Spring in Tawau and Sigalung was rescued from a logging camp in Sipitang. We know what really happened to their mothers to get the baby - despite it being illegal to keep a sun bear as a pet in Malaysia. Rescued sun bears take a long brave step to overcome the psychological trauma they endure during their captive life. Through integration it will help to change these bears lives and provide them with more physical and mental stimulation, reduce stress and allow them to learn vital survival skills. It has been four years, Sigalung did not have the best company because of his aggressive behaviour. We hoped that one day he would be able to find a new bear friend for life.
On 6th June 2020, we shifted Sigalung to the other Bear House. He tends to acclimatise quickly to new environments. The next move was integration with another bear. Due to Sigalung’s rough play behaviour, the integration between the two bears was handled with care. When the sliding door between the bears was opened, Sigalung immediately tried to approach Simone – vocalizing, sniffing, and grabbing her. Sigalung amazed us all with his courage. He was excited and full of energy. Simone was cautiously curious with Sigalung and quite accepted him. Both started gentle-play fighting for more than 30 minutes. It was love at first sight!
Thankfully, it was a positive social interaction, they were play wrestling after the initial introductions. They seem well matched and no aggression was observed. At the end of the wrestling, Sigalung went to the basket and had a rest. They both share their bear stories, food, and enrichment. They have logs and toys to explore to keep them entertained. Sigalung loves his treats. He is always the first to grab enrichment. Nobody is going to stop him from enjoying this.
We are looking forward to watching Sigalung and Simone explore the forest enclosure and learn the skills essential to surviving in the wild together.
Video by Chiew Lin May
Save sun bear. Save the Forest Ecosystem.
The little things in bear life that give us so much joy and love.
Let's learn the important ecological roles of sun bears in the forest ecosystem.
Text by Gillian Gabriel
Photos by Gillian Gabriel, Jerlyn Joan Jenius (APE Malaysia) & Chiew Lin May
For the first and foremost, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself. Hi! My name is Gillian Gabriel or you can call me Gee. I am currently in the final semester of my degree. Each final year student of University Malaysia Sabah (UMS) was required to finish their final semester by completing an internship program. My major course is Conservation Biology. With the three and a half years of studying Conservation Biology, I decided to do my internship at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). I discovered BSBCC from the website and you can tell that it was love at first sight. I got really curious about how they handle the sun bears and I was quite fascinated with the positive feedback given by the previous volunteers. I also thought to myself that this is a great opportunity to expose myself into the real life world as a conservationist. So, I decided to experience it on my own and lucky me, I was accepted!
Professional and friendly, yes that’s my first impression on BSBCC management. All the staff are really friendly, playful and they would never make you feel left out. They are also quite professional. Although I was assigned with my own buddy keeper, Bithrenley, the other staff were willing to teach, guide, and educate me as well.
I thank my buddy keeper for teaching and guiding me during my internship. Never once did he get angry at me for not catching up real quick. In fact, he taught me one by one and he never put me under pressure. I had a great time working with him. He has a great way of explaining things easier for me to understand. He is also funny and is really caring. They told me that the buddy keeper is in charge of our safety and our work progress. And I personally think that my buddy keeper did a pretty great job, he took his responsibility really well.
Sun bears? Honestly, they are ten times more adorable in real life than what you have seen posted on any social media or website. One of my favourite things to do is to feed them. The way they hold the food and chew it, is so adorable! I consider myself lucky because I got to see them face to face. My favourite sun bear is Simone, a female bear who loves climbing, observing, and relaxing. I consider her as the most obedient bear in BSBCC. My buddy keeper and I decided to make enrichment for her; we called it ‘The Flying Boat’.
I am so amazed with the final product and truly thankful to my buddy keeper for assisting, guiding and helping me. From the above picture, the word ‘boat’ is used because the structural shape of the product resembles a boat. The product was installed at the top of the cage to which the term ‘flying’ is used because this provides the bear to view things from a higher place.
The kitchen. For the first few weeks, I admit that I was quite slow. There are a lot of things going on in the kitchen. And it is really important to note down every single thing because you would not want to ruin a single menu. However, as the weeks passed by, I kind of got used to it. I almost memorized half of the schedule, although I often made a simple mistake, I still congratulate myself for doing a great job.
Another thing that made my internship ten times better was the other volunteers and intern students. I got to meet and live with them (at Paganakan Dii) and I got to share experiences with them too. Although I got to only spend a few weeks getting to know them, I had a great time. Besides, they are really down when it comes to seeking a new adventure.
I was also assigned to do behavioural research on one of the female bears, named Panda. I would spend two hours of my working day, observing Panda. And I tell you, she is really adorable! I think I might have gotten crazy because at some point I hoped she could talk. At least I would have someone to talk to during the observation.
Working was fun up until a virus outbreak happened; it was on the 18th of March in 2020 when a Movement Control Order (MCO) took place. People were restricted from going out of their houses and were advised to practice social distancing. This was the time when less staff were required to come to work and intern students were advised to stay at home, following the rules given by the higher authorities from UMS. At that point, staying at home was the best choice to flatten the curve and to minimize the risk of getting the virus.
However, the adventure did not just stop there. The other intern students and I moved to Bjorn Hala. Every evening, the intern students, Vincent and Ezi, the rest of the staff and I spent the time by making enrichment. And we always prepared different types of enrichment. We also shot videos as part of the assessment for the donation campaign and we included Sunny, BSBCC’s mascot, in the video.
Apart from making enrichment every evening, our supervisors, Wawa and Pradeep, also gave me a task to do at home. I prepared a report about the bear I was observing, Panda. I found a lot of interesting reviews and studies that I could relate to. One of the things I discovered was that the enclosure complexity and natural environment is really important. Now I understand why we prepared different types of enrichment every day. It’s like a toy and entertainer to them to keep them from getting stressed out!
Bjorn Hala has a special place in my heart. I agree 100% to the phrase “It is not about the places, it’s the people”. Despite the virus outbreak and staying miles away from my hometown and family, Bjorn Hala made me feel like I was home and I never felt alone. Boboy, Mizuno, Danny, Becca, and Wawa were like my family in Bjorn Hala. They are really funny, caring, crazy and they are pretty good at cooking as well. Thank you for feeding me, sharing with me your funny, creepy, and sad stories. I will forever cherish you guys!
To conclude my 12 weeks of internship program, I came to the realisation that there is a lot of exciting and interesting things going on while working at BSBCC. I cannot explain it with words and I bet you cannot even imagine it. From going to the forest to find termites, to staying 24/7 working at home, I learnt a lot of things and that is all coming from the people around me. It was an honor to be a part of the team and to witness and experience a lot of things. I hope that one day our paths will cross again and I get to experience another adventure working with wild animals!
I thank you BSBCC for being a hero to sun bears!
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, which have been closed to public visitation since March 18, 2020, when the Movement Control Order was announced by the Government, is receiving visitors from 15th June 2020.
This follows the announcement by the Government that ecotourism may now operate as usual. These centres, however, will still adhere the Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) set by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment (MoTCE), the National Security Council (MKN) and the Ministry of Health Malaysia (MOH) with regard to strict preventive measures on the spread of COVID-19 virus. Director of Wildlife, Mr. Augustine Tuuga advised visitors to follow the SOP which has been set as the new norm to avoid the spread of COVID-19 while visiting these centres.
Text by Amanda Wilson
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Among many male bears at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), one particular bear stands out in spite of his quirks and cheekiness. He has an exceptionally smaller, snout and rounded body size for a male bear. With pitch black eyes and a nose that may appear bigger than it actually is due to his dark-coloured snout, he is actually a simple, adorable and kind-natured bear. At 12 years old, BSBCC has been his home for the past 6 years. He was named after the logging camp where he was rescued from – Seagalung, but the spelling came to be Sigalung in the end.
According to reports, some villagers found Sigalung along with another adult male bear, Phin, near the logging camp in Sipitang, Sabah. They were assumed to be orphan bears kept as illegal pets after their mother got killed. Initially, both bears were rescued and brought to the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park where they underwent quarantine period before being sent to BSBCC on the 10th of March 2014. Sigalung appeared healthy when he first arrived alongside five other bears at the centre. Like most bears upon arrival at the centre, he barked at people and appeared to be aggressive at seeing a new environment. When he was moved by transportation cage into the then newly built second bear house, he was belligerent.
He has since adapted well to his new surroundings. Sigalung has now blossomed into a different bear who is intuitive, energetic and adventurous. When he is excited, especially when he knows he will be receiving enrichments, he will cling onto the metal bars of his indoor den and whip his head side to side. He, at times, will get enticed at the presence of other male bears. He gets cheekier by day and we love to see how much he is grown into his character. Sigalung is one of the healthiest bears in the centre and we hope his health continues to flourish as he embraces adulthood.
Any wild animal kept as an illegal pet and confined for years would surely be impacted in their natural behaviour, whether physically or psychologically. At the centre, he does not only get to experience the natural forest environment, he gets to meet other bear friends, receives a sufficiently healthy diet under supervision of veterinarians and keepers, as well as enrichments to cater for his bear needs. Enrichments not only help to keep him occupied, but also to learn adequate survival skills that are vital in his rehabilitation process before being released to the wild.
For male bears to be integrated with other male bears, it is not an easy task. Adult males get very territorial and aggressive. Sigalung was only ever integrated with one male bear, Phin, his old pal back in 2014. However, the process was unsuccessful due to Sigalung’s aggression as he played too roughly with Phin.
When he initially arrived at the centre, Sigalung was hesitant and scared of going out into the forest enclosure to explore. Nowadays, whenever the guillotine door is opened, he shows eagerness and anticipation to step out into the natural forest environment. He would directly bolt for the forest that is calling out to him even when its drizzling out. In the forest enclosure, he loves to dig, forage and explore nature at its finest. He would hide in bushes or piles of dead wood and likes taking cover under the shade of fallen trees and branches. Although it took him about 2 years to be integrated into the training pen for the purpose of fence training, his first step into the forest was a memorable one thanks to the staff and volunteers who were patient, determined and consistent in their efforts. Finally, on July 27th 2017, he conquered his fear, set his paws on the grass after so long and is now enjoying the taste of freedom in the forest - exploring and doing what bears do best!
Sigalung and his kind are one of the many treasures in our ecosystem. Sun bears are precious beings that deserve so much love! However, due to their elusive and solitary behaviour, they were called the forgotten bears for a reason. Up until recent years, not much has been known about sun bears, be it general knowledge and awareness or scientific research. They are important to the forest as they are agents of seed dispersal, they control the termite population, keep the forest environment healthy, and their digging enhances nutrient cycling in soils as well as provides habitats for other animals in their excavated holes in trees.
The prime reason of their declining population here in Malaysia is pet trade. Orphaned sun bears whose mothers are almost always killed by poachers are kept in captivity since a very young age. These bear cubs who are dependent on their mothers do not get exposure to the very skills that help them to learn how to survive in the forest. People intending to keep sun bears as pets might think that they’re cute as cubs but once they get bigger, it gets tougher to contain them and people might get hurt or worse - the bears. There have been cases of people going to the extent of depriving these bears of their canines or claws to ensure the owner’s safety, but forget that the bears need these essentials to survive in the wild. Keeping the bears as pets is the very first breach in nature. Rehabilitation is a very lengthy and complicated process and often, rescued bears kept in captivity for too long reduces their chances of being rehabilitated and released back into the wild.
The forest ecosystem provides for the various species of fauna including sun bears that thrive by giving back to nature through their natural bear behaviours. Let’s be like sun bears and be more mindful of our actions towards nature and other creatures! Sun bears may be cute, but they are not pets!
Text by Ezi Nurayu binti Abd. Wahab
Photos by Ezi Nurayu & Chiew Lin May
I am Ezi Nurayu binti Abd. Wahab.
I am currently studying at University Malaysia Sabah in a Conservation Biology course.
I have so many wonderful stories from my internship period.
Actually, together with Gillian and Vincent, we had to fulfill our 12 weeks internship period, but unfortunately we could only do it for around 6 weeks in total at the Bear House. This is due to the COVID-19 pandemic that was happening during these days.
On February 8th, we reached Sandakan Airport and were fetched by Thye Lim. During this time, we were still awkward with Thye Lim. He talked a lot in the van, but we just awkwardly answered his questions. Haha. Sorry Thye Lim! Our talkative mood at that time was still off. Actually, he is a nice and funny guy indeed!
Thye Lim drove us to BSBCC at first because we needed to be briefed by Lin May about the volunteer rules and regulations, and she told us our buddy keeper name too. So, I was told that my buddy keeper was Roger. After that, we went to Bear House Hijau Hut. We had to introduce ourselves to all the Bear House Team and APE volunteers (Cameron and Astrid). Then, we were brought by Thye Lim and Lin May to our very first accommodation which was Paganakan Dii Tropical Retreat Sepilok (before moving to Bjorn Hala). Thanks to them for helping us with our heavy, like a bag of bricks, luggage. Haha!
At night, Thye Lim and Lin May took us to get dinner at a restaurant before going to the grocery store.
Now, let me tell you about my embarrassing and interesting stories from my first day of doing the internship here.
I broke the flat rubber squeegee mop during my very first task to clean the kitchen floor. I was so unfamiliar with the thing actually. Haha. Silly me!
Then, the very proud thing I did during my first day was I climbed the Sika’s group cage in Bear House 2 to hang the platform structure. Also, I had my very first experience in learning what the U-clamp is and how to use it. Thanks to Roger, Adneen, Pradeep and Lin May for encouraging me to do so at that time. I rarely did this kind of ‘men’ work, but here I did! I was so happy because no one underestimated me except myself. Haha! Oh yeah! I forgot to tell you guys that in here, there is no sexism allowed. Every person has the same treatment. This is one of the unique things in BSBCC.
After all these things, I learnt how to feed the bears. I was so scared to feed the bears on my very first day because I was afraid to get grabbed by them. But then, when I applied the technique that Roger taught us during our safety induction, I was no longer scared. I just needed to be calm and steady. Big thanks to Roger!
Roger and Adneen always gave me some tips on how to do work efficiently and faster. They taught me the correct way to brush the cages, sweep the cages floor, and prepare the food (this task I was still slow because I cannot cut the fruit as fast as them, like a chef) in a faster, yet efficient way. I was very lucky to have Roger as my buddy because he always tried to find work after all the routine tasks had finished. He never gave me a chance to pace myself. I am a proud buddy!
Every week, we would have a session with Dr. Wong Siew Te. We would ask him some questions and he answered them directly. From the sessions that I attended, I know that he is a very passionate person about wildlife conservation, especially sun bears. I am so proud with his life achievement! I am really glad I got to meet him in person. Thanks Dr. Wong for accepting us to do our internship here and spending your time to have a session with us every week.
Here, I was taught how to do enrichments for the sun bears.
I did a lot of enrichments! Thanks to the bear keepers, especially Roger, Adneen, Mizuno, Danny and Jeniur who gave me the chance to do that.
Roger always encouraged me to make a wooden-based enrichment. By that, we had to find wood in the forest. I liked to do this because I could build up my stamina and learn to saw, drill and chisel the wood then. I could build up my ‘man’ skills too.
For the fence training, Roger and I were asked by Lin May to observe BJ, Kina, Sika and Soo.
During my first day observing BJ, I was so nervous because I needed to write down BJ’s behaviour every minute. So, I must be quick to observe and write it down then.
But, day after day, my skills of observing and writing at the same time improved, especially during the time when I needed to observe four of them at the same time. Proud me! Hehe.
There were times where we were given a task to go to the platform to talk to the visitors.
I really liked this task because this was one of my reasons for choosing BSBCC as my internship place. I wanted to build up my confidence level in communication skills. I got the chance to go to the platform twice. Thank God! For my first time, I was a bit passive, but then I improved and was brave to approach the visitors (international and local) at Platform 1. Thank you to Melynda (centre coordinator) for always helping me out during that time.
Here too, I had my first experience getting sucked by the leeches! Congratulations to me! Hahaha.
This happened during the day where we (Roger, Danny and I) went to get a very big termite nest for BBC filming purposes. I got the chance to see many scorpions under the termite nest too. Thank God nothing happened to us. Oh yeah! I have learnt how to do fencing with Roger too. Thanks to Roger for allowing and trusting me to do that.
Let’s move to the moment where we had to stay in Bjorn Hala (staffs house). I was so sad because we could not go to the Bear House to feed the bears, do cage cleaning and food preparation. I missed the Bear House so bad! This is due to the Movement Control Order caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
What we did during these critical days was our video project for funding purposes, a full report on research about Along’s behaviour, did enrichments for the bears (e.g. nest ball, honeycomb, stick paradox and fire hose pocket), plus made a blog for the fence training for Sika’s group, a bear blog (Along) and an internship blog. We just worked from home (WFH) as our university commanded to do so.
Now, time for Bjorn Hala’s unforgettable memories.
Here we are like a family. Most of us are not Sandakan people, except Mizuno. So, by having them in Bjorn Hala, it made me felt like I was at home. Never to deny, they were my reason to smile for every day. We are always teasing each other like siblings always do. Teasing, laughing, being crazy yet funny and caring for each other are what I will miss the most about us. Never forget me guys!
Other than sun bears, what the best about BSBBC was is the people (staff and Dr. Wong). Maybe it is hard to find good people out there. But here, there are a ton of funny yet nice people that can be found.
Trust me :-)
So for the guys out there, let’s try at least once to volunteer at BSBCC.
Once you volunteer here, you will want more.
Global launch of the heartwarming biography Saving Sun Bears: One Man's Quest to Save a Species was conducted in conjunction with World Environment Day on Friday the 5th, June 2020 through several online broadcasting platforms.
It was organized by the University of Sunshine Coast Australia (USC) to kickstart their annual World Environment Day Festival this year. ABC Radio’s Annie Gaffney interviewed Sunshine Coast Author Sarah Pye and Malaysian Ecologist Dr Wong Siew Te about the importance of sun bears, and the journey that led to this inspirational book.
The launch also featured Publisher Marshall Moore from Hong Kong, singer Amir Yussof and his song dedicated to sun bears, called Calling On You, short videos from Chris Morgan, Saira Mann, BSBCC staff Lin May and Thye Lim, and Dr Wong's wife ChiaChien and daughter Winnie. The Sunshine Coast Council’s World Environmental Day Festival was a four day event which continued until Sunday.
The last day included another interview for Sarah with Dr Wong, along with an impromptu book reading. The whole launching was a huge success as over 10k people tuned in and over 70k reached on social media platforms. Thank you Sarah for making the biography a reality and strengthening the relationship between BSBCC and USC.