Text and photos by Wai Pak
After few days of observation on our latest rescued sun bears, Julaini and Ah Lun, we decided to integrate them as what we had planned. Both of them are young and are so curious to find out more about their new world. Just like human, sun bear cub like to have company and a play pal to play with.
First, we put both bears in the cages next to each other. Both of them seem comfortable with each other presence. They came close to each other, sniffing, touching, and licking, but still separated by bars. They used their own way to communicate without fighting. We are pleased to see the positive encounter and continue our observation and integration program for another day.
The next day, we are quite confidence to open up the sliding door to mix them. Ah Lun was first bear to explore into the Juliani's cage. She seemed to be stimulated by Ah Lun's smells and got very excited to explore at every single corner of the cage, sniffing non-stop and checking out every branches that Julaini had played and chewed before. Meanwhile, Julaini just relaxed and resting in his basket.
Five minutes later, Julaini climbed down from his basket. That was the first time both bears met with one another physically without any barrier. Both of them stun for a second, and very fast, they get started to play fights that lasted for hours.
It was so fascinating to see them playing, biting, rolling on the floor and chasing each other up and down, from one cage to another cage. They remind me the first day we integrate Ah Chong and Om. All these bears are so energetic and never seem tired of playing.
Everybody in the centre was so glad to see Ah Lun and Julaini live together peacefully. It is another sweet moment at BSBCC, a happy story to share with you all.
By Wai Pak Ng
Ah Lun, our new rescued sun bear cub at the centre had a very fast adjustment in her new den after settle down in her new den. This one-year-old female sun bear once was kept in a tiny iron cage for many months can now stretch all her legs and climb like a primate. Even though she sometimes fells down from where she was when trying to get a good latch-on from her still weak muscle, she never gives up and climbs up high again without showing any sign of fear. That’s the spirit of a typical sun bear, never give up! Bravo, Ah Lun! I am sure you will get all your muscle strength very soon.
Remember, our natural forest enclosures are out there waiting for you, tall trees, yummy honey, crunchy decayed woods and many more! Can’t you hear the birds are calling on you?
By Jordan Schaul
On Thursday, July 15, 2010 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) will highlight the sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) as its Red List species of the day.
The IUCN is the largest network of academic scientists, government agencies, and NGOs collectively working to promote the conservation of nature and natural resources. The organization is also responsible for the development of the Red List of Threatened Species, a comprehensive status that highlights species threatened with extinction, The species of the day reports synthesize comprehensive assessments of the conservation status of imperiled fauna into succinct "data fact sheets."
Not much is known about the sun bear, not much at all. In fact, as recently as 2002, my colleague Siew Te Wong, reported in the journal Ursus that for this species, the least known of the eight living species of bears, there was a paucity of information regarding its basic biology, including food habits, range, and reproductive biology.
In this paper, he and his advisor, grizzly bear biologist Chris Serveen, and another colleague, described the food habits of Malayan sun bears in the Ulu Segama Forest Reserve in Sabah, Malaysia. Siew has gone on to publish more research on the ecology of sun bears and will soon defend his dissertation.
But there is much to learn and time is running out.
Zoos in North America have been working against the clock to better understand the reproductive biology of the lesser known species of bears, with an emphasis on Asia's most threatened species, including Bornean sun bears (Helarctos malayanus euryspilus), a subspecies of the mainland population.
In an effort to develop a healthy and sustainable captive gene pool of mainland and Bornean subspecies, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Sun Bear Species Survival Plan (SSP) program, coordinated by staff at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo, has carefully developed a cooperative breeding program among zoos holding sun bears.
The Bornean sun bear is the only recognized subspecies of sun bear, and an isolated population restricted to the island of Borneo. In 2004 the first Bornean sun bear cub to be born in North America was born at the San Diego Zoo.
In 2006 my colleague, Suzanne Hall, reported that a second Bornean sun bear had been born at the San Diego Zoo, followed by twins in 2008. This was a decade after breeding stock were imported from South Asia. Suzanne Hall is the senior research laboratory technician for the Giant Panda Conservation Unit (GPCU) of the Applied Animal Ecology Division/San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.
In a 2009 paper published in Ursus, the Institute's Giant Panda Conservation Unit detailed the development of a Bornean sun bear neonate and the corresponding maternal care [behavior] of its mother. The study indicated that these bears were found to be more like giant pandas than like hibernating species such as grizzlies (brown) or black bears [that actually exhibit carnivoran lethargy]. One implication of the study was that females demonstrate a need to leave the den for food before the cubs are old enough to follow their mothers.
I share a poster presentation below from the San Diego Zoo's Giant Panda Conservation Unit to illustrate how we rely on more well known species of bears as reference models to study the ursine species that are much less well known and in many ways more vulnerable to extinction.
For example, Siew Te learned to study grizzlies in Montana to prepare for the study of the more elusive sun bears in dense jungle habitat of his homeland. Similarly, Dave Garshelis, the co-chair of the IUCN's Bear Specialist Group utilized his extensive knowledge of American black bears in North America to help him study the population dynamics and ecology of Asiatic black bears and sun bears in Asia.
Occasionally nicknamed the "dog bear" because they resemble large dogs, these small bears attain only 4 feet in length and average 100 pounds. Some males may weigh 145 pounds.
Sun bears are stocky, pigeon-toed and often mistaken for American black bear cubs when seen in zoos. Adults are quite aggressive, although people continue to poach sows with cubs, hoping to profit from young animals by introducing them into the pet trade. Although habitat degradation strongly impacts the future survival of the sun bear, the pet trade compromises conservation efforts.
Sun bears will feed on insects, snails, birds and reptiles and their eggs, along with other small mammals on occasion.
These bears, the smallest members of the family Ursidae, use their long tongues to extract honey and termites from trees. Hence, they are also known as "honey bears," but the name sun bear reflects the white chest markings that are visible when they stand up on their hind feet.
Sun bears are highly frugivorous, preferring fruits from the Moraceae, Burseraceae and Myrtaceae families.
Researchers like Siew Te Wong, now the CEO of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center, a rehab facility for confiscated pet bears, have spent much time researching the ecology of sun bears in Malaysia, focused on population management efforts.
It is not uncommon for scientists to assist with the plight of individual animals, in this case realizing the need to rehabilitate the orphaned animals and remove them from a life in a household where they will grow to become most destructive and ultimately dangerous.
I remember caring for four confiscated pet sun bears at a zoo in the Midwest and can attest to the fact that these little guys are not only very messy, but destructive and at times volatile. As mentioned, sun bears grow up to make horrible, unruly pets despite looking "cute."
In conclusion, I should add that 30 percent of known sun bear habitat has disappeared in the last 30 years. The primary reasons for such extensive habitat loss are illegal timber extraction (for hardwoods) and the clearing and conversion of habitat for palm oil plantations.
Listen to a radio interview with Siew, myself, and my co-host, actress and wildlife conservationist Sandra Dee Robinson: Zoo Talkin' Radio (BSBCC Blog, WildlifeDirect).
Jordan Schaul begin_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting is a conservation biologist and a collection curator with the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. He received his PhD in veterinary science from The Ohio State University and a Master's Degree in zoology. Jordan pursued a clinical degree in veterinary medicine prior to returning to his interests in husbandry science and conservation and ecological health. He serves as a council member (ex officio) of the International Association for Bear Research and Management (IBA) and as an advisor to the Bear Taxon Advisory Group of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Jordan also serves as the Correspondent Editor and Captive Bear News Correspondent for International Bear News (IBA/IUCN SSC Bear Specialist Group). Most recently, he joined the Advisory Council of the National Wildlife Humane Society.
The views expressed here are those of Jordan Schaul begin_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society.
Biologist Andrew Pierce took this very rare video footage with his cell phone of a wild sun bear climbing a tree and digging for honey in the tree truck in with one of his paw and teeth and powerful jaw several meters above the ground in Khao Yai National Park, Thailand. This video is a valuable resource to show us how sun bear make a living in the wild! Thanks Andrew for sharing with us!
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Text by Wai Pak Ng
This morning when I first step in the bear house, I found Julaini still sleeping inside her hanging basket in his den just like others in the centre. He must have slept well and had a sweet dream the entire night. Julaini really deserve it. I am sure it has been a long time that he did not sleep well. I just cannot imagine he could sleep well in a 4x 4x 5 feet iron cage with faeces and left over food on the ground !
Meanwhile, Ah Lun, the other female cub who arrive at the same day with Julaini, still need some more exploration and time to make use of the sleeping basket. However, she is getting more comfortable with my existence. Below are some close up of Ah Lun.
Some words to Little Julaini and Ah Lun:
Welcome to BSBCC! It’s our duty to provide a better life to every rescued sun bears that send to our centre. I hope both of you like your new home. This is just the beginning. Very soon, we will bring you back to the forest, your real home.
However, before that can happen please be patient. Both of you still need to go through some learning programme after your quarantine period for 3 weeks. Suria already getting very exciting to know that both of you so that you all will mix and form a young cub group. She also can't wait to show you how fun to dig soil, looking for termites and climb up to the tree!
Text by Wai Pak Ng
After the medical check up by Dr Seik Ni, both new comers were put into the empty dens at the end of our new bear house. Ah Lun was having a very deep sleep in the first two hours, whereas Julaini waked up much earlier from the sedation.
Once they were recovered from the sedation, they were so curious to their environment, the sounds of the forest, the smell of others bears around, the floor they stand on and the wall they touch. Even though they still keep inside the cages, they are now having more space to stand, stretch their body, or even climb.
I am quite surprise that Julaini did not need extra time to get his muscle functioning, and started to climb to the top of his cage! Compare to Ah Lun, I would say Julaini is much more adventurous. Julaini also remind me that the first day when Suria was released to a larger cage from her translocation cage, Suria fall down as she did not have the muscle strength to hold her body.
I tried to approach them nearer so that I can get their close up pictures. However, they were quite defensive. Even though Ah Lun, the 19 kg female cub started to growl and bark at me when I stand in front of her cage. Besides that, they do pace around their cages, showing their anxiety as I am a stranger to them.
Both of them did show some stereotypic behavior in their first day here. I think that were inevitable for captive animal that being kept in a stress condition for a long time. Lucky enough as they were being rescued at their early age before they form any permanent stereotypic behavior.
For sure, BSBCC will try their best to provide them a better facility and enrichment programme to reduce their stereotypic behavior and eventually gain back their natural survival skills in the forest. Let’s pray for them!
Please watch the new video produced by WildHoop Productions. This is part of our stories to help the Bornean Sun Bears! Thank you Howard Jackson and Audrey Low from the Wildhoop Productions for making this video.
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By Wai Pak Ng
All the BSBCC staffs were very excited in the beginning of the second half 2010 because we are ready to rescue more pet sun bears in this region after our new bear house finally completed last April. Today, there were two sun bear cubs being rescued and sent to our centre to start their new life.
Both juveniles, Ah Lun, a female, and Julaini, a male, were both kept as pet in a two small iron cages for some months since they were born. With the help from the newly established Sabah Wildlife Rescued Unit by the Sabah Wildlife Department, both bear cubs were transferred to Sepilok and arrived at BSBCC in the early morning on the 3rd of July.
Dr. Seik Ni was the veterinarian in charged of the whole translocation who also did the medical checkup for these rescued cubs. We were pleased to know that both cubs were in good health and good conditions. However, these two new comers still need to be quarantined for a month before they can have any contact to other existing bears at BSBCC. Our initially plan after their quarantine period is to form another young cub group with another female bear in the centre, Suria.
There are still a lot of sun bears being kept in a very bad living condition without proper diet and health care in Sabah. Hopefully, with the close cooperation with the Sabah Wildlife Rescue Unit, we can help to conserve this little known sun bear in our country.
The second reason for sun bear to be an arboreal mammal is that they like to rest, nap, and sleep on treetop. Obviously, they can do this equally well on forest floor, just like this
However, there is a problem sleeping on forest floor. If you have visited the lowland rainforest of Borneo, you probably notice the numbers of blood sucking leeches presence on the forest floor. Even though you appeared to be walking alone in the forest, you are never alone because there are always many leeches latched on you! They either feasting on your blood or trying really hard to find a vulnerable spot to enjoy a bloody meal.
So being a warm-blooded large mammal live in the rainforest that always wet and rain, the sun bear is better to stay up high off the ground when they take a break from their daily routine foraging for food or traveling on the ground. There is no better way to illustrate how sun bear have done it by showing photos taken by Chandra Dewana Boer at Wehea forest, East Kalimantan, Indonesia Borneo.
Sun bears are also known to be prey upon by reticulated pythons (huge snake that can grow up to 10 m long! seriously, I am not kidding :)) and tigers in Mainland Asia and in Sumatra. In order to escape from a surprise attack by these predators, sun bear make nest and sleep high on tree. Earlier I have posted a rare video of Batik the sun bear making a tree nest. Below is another video of her sleeping high, about 35 m above the ground on her tree nest she made and slowly climb down from the tree. If she did not wear a radio-collar, I would never have guessed and found her so high off the ground in the thick canopy of Bornean rainforest.
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Stay tune for part III...