Text by Rebecca Kimlaw
Photos by Mizuno Merek Men & Seng Yen Wah
Hi! I am Rebecca Kimlaw, one of the staff at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. My volunteer program started on the 14th of July and ended on the 27th July. I was fortunate enough to spend my two amazing weeks volunteering with the bears. It gave me a glance to see how the operations are generally carried out in the bear house. It was a good chance to learn more about the bears.
My two-week volunteering here was one of the most precious experiences in my life. There was a lot of work to do in the bear house and required a lot of energy. The tasks I was assigned doing were cleaning the bear dens, preparing a lot of food for the bears, feeding bears inside and outside the bear house area and so on. I started falling in love with the bears. Although they are so adorable, we must all bear in mind that its illegal to keep them as a pet. I hope people have awareness about this, so we can protect these beautiful bears together.
I felt comfortable at the bear house because the bear keepers helped me so much. They taught me a lot about the bears. One of my favourite moments is making an enrichment for the bear. Normally, we use leaves, banana, and other accessible nature resources to make an enrichment for them. I enjoyed feeding the bears inside and outside bear house area. I felt satisfied when I saw the bears enjoying their food.
All the bears are cute. But the one that I like the most is Om. Om is a 15 years old male bear. He is a very energetic bear and enjoys his food. He spends a good deal of his time in the forest. Sometimes he is quite content playing all alone, especially with small pieces of dead wood. So, my buddy (Mizuno) and I made an enrichment for him. We could tell that he liked it.
Special thanks to my buddies Danny, Bithrenley, Mizuno and all the bear keepers at the bear house for giving me information and helping me during my training programme. I sincerely recommend this place to anyone who would like to participate in volunteering programmes. You will not regret it! Hopefully I will have a chance to enrol in this volunteering program again.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Sun bear cubs are extremely adorable. The rescued bears we have received were taken from the wild and became victims of the illegal pet trade. To obtain the cubs, their mothers are usually killed before their young are snatched. Kipaku’s story begins from a lifetime of being a house pet. Kipaku had been kept for three months by a family in Tambunan, after they claimed they had found the cub wandering alone around the forest fire area. He was fed with fried fish, milk and rice – an inappropriate diet! The owner decided to surrender the cub to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit on 16th July 2020, and he was sent to BSBCC on 18th July 2020. Kipaku quickly adjusted to life in his new home. Kipaku’s health is improving gradually. He now weighs 10.60 kg.
Sun bears of his age in the wild would be reliant on their mother, but he has already lost his mother and his home. Without his mother’s guidance, the chances of survival in the forest are slim. Here in BSBCC, the first step of rehabilitation for Kipaku was starting a daily forest walk with a surrogate mother.
On the 6th of August 2020, Little Kipaku got a second chance to learn as a wild bear. He found the courage to set his paws on the forest floor!
His surrogate mother will accompany and assist Kipaku to develop his survival skills, the knowledge he needs to thrive in the wild and ensure he receives the best possible care. During the walk, daily behaviour and ecology is recorded.
We found out he has strong instincts – like climbing, resting high up in the tree canopy and looking for wild food. He remembers tall trees and rivers! He is quickly practicing the skills and is exhibiting good natural behaviour which he has not known since he was stolen from the wild as a cub. But there was some concern with Little Kipaku, is he too habituated to human presence. Sun bears are being susceptible to poachers upon release. Therefore, cubs will be exposed to minimal contact with humans during the rehabilitation process.
Sun bears are opportunistic and will eat almost anything – small vertebrates, termites, earthworms, larvae and their eggs. He has an incredible sense of smell. Once he locates his favourite grubs, he will quickly use his claws to tear open tree bark then slurps out the food using his long tongue.
Every day has a new tree bark to satisfy his curiosity!
He can spend hours in a day foraging on the bark. He is very smart! He is always keen on trying out new things. He will check out every corner of the forest.
Kipaku loves to snack on soil too – high with mineral nutrient! Being the youngest male bear at BSBCC, he enjoys getting into mischief and exploring around - beginning his new life where he really belongs! It is important to keep him psychologically and physically fit.
“Climb, climb and climb higher!” – His most favourite activity when he is in the forest!
He is an agile and tree loving little bear! He shows confidence when he climbs! He has strongly curved, pointed claws and naked soles – adaptations to the arboreal lifestyle. He is busy in the canopy searching for food. Sometimes, he does not care whether the tree branches can support his body weight. He just climbs through the branches and munches on leaves or tears the tree bark. When he misjudges a branch which snaps under his grasp, he will quickly grab it or fall to the ground.
He can perform a full range of natural behaviour. Doing what bears do…!! He is free to do whatever he wants –FREEDOM!
He enjoys rolling around and taking a nap in the forest canopy. He will stop by the river for a swim.
After a few weeks of outings, he has become more and more adventurous and active. He has left his past behind and continued to develop his forest skills during the forest outings.
The little bear is doing so well. It is remarkable to watch Little Kipaku explore free into the depths of the jungle. He certainly has the instincts for a future in the wild. Please keep fighting to stop poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. Let them stay where they belong to – the wild!
Text by Nurul Haslinda binti Abdul Kahar
Photos by Seng Yen Wah
Hi! My name is Nurul Haslinda Binti Abdul Kahar, one of the ticketing staff at BSBCC. All of the ticketing staff was given two weeks to do the task as a bear keeper at the bear house and I am the third staff after Khoirul. These two weeks actually has been a great chance for me to know more about the bears, for instance, what do they eat? which bears don’t get along when they are together? why some of the bears are given a different diet? Most of those questions I used to wonder about have been answered by working at the bear house in those two weeks. I was also able to recognise the bears inside the bear house during my volunteering period. YEAH!
During my two-week training, I did the same work as all the bear keeper staff. No exception. Hahaha…
It took a few days for me to get used to all of the tasks, such as fence check, food preparing for the bears inside the bear house and in the forest enclosure, fecal check with my buddy(Roger), husbandry work and many more. All of the tasks given actually required lot of energy every day! Now I understand how the bear keepers doing their daily routine before releasing the bears into the forest enclosure.
This two-week training has given me so much experience and profound knowledge about the bears. Now, I am able to share them with visitors who visit this centre. Here I want to say thank you to those who helped me during my training at the bear house, especially my buddy, Roger, and all the bear keepers.
I hope in the future I will have this kind of volunteering opportunity again.
Here are some pictures taken during my training program:
Video by Chiew Lin May
In the hot and humid tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia, sun bears love spending time sunbathing in the sun's ray, like Sunbearo here - his favourite pastime in BSBCC.
Sun bear has a short, sleek, and black coat. Their tick coat maybe looks absorb the heat but it protects them from insects and dirt. The fact that they enjoy sunbathing is why they got the name "Sun Bear"!
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Text & Photos by Seng Yen Wah
Let’s meet our two rescued bear cubs, Kipaku and Itam.
Kipaku, is a five months old male bear cub. He was found in a forest fire site. After that, he was being kept as a house pet in Kampung Kipaku at Tambunan. He came to the BSBCC on the 18th of July, 2020. Kipaku is a bright and active bear. However,due to his history as a house pet, he is used to the presence of humans. He feels stressed and bawls when he sees there are no people around him.
On the other hand, Itam, is a seven months old female bear cub. She was found at Kampung Maimatom, Kemabong and kept in Kampung Kuala Sabinait, Pagalungan at Nabawan. When she was found, she had wounds from dog bites on her body. She came to the BSBCC on the 27th of July. Itam is an alert and shy bear. Her eyes were always focused on the surroundings.
Kipaku and Itam may come to BSBCC by a different story, but what they have in common is they both are alone now. To provide a better life for these little two cubs, giving them a new friend can encourage their social behaviour and helps them learn from each other. The best enrichment of a bear always is another bear!
This is how their friendship started.
On the 30th of Jul, 2020, was the first day Kipaku and Itam met. However, it is was not pleasant . Kipaku first gives a warning bark to Itam. Kipaku stayed in the hanging platform while Itam stayed in the basket. They both kept huffing and barking. There was not much progress during the first three days of their integration. This is due to neither of them wanting to get close to the other and they were still huffing, growling and barking.
Slowly, Itam took the first move to approach Kipaku. However, Kipaku always warns her to stay away. Itam still tries hard every time. She has no fear of Kipaku’s warning. Due to Itam’s fearless efforts and countless tries, they are getting closer day by day.
Finally after a week,we saw them begin their friendship! Now, Itam always follows behind Kipaku. They are always biting, pawing and wrestling. Kipaku still likes to paw Itam hard. However, Itam is always tolerant with Kipaku. They share food and enrichment and also sleep together. It is so lovely to see their precious friendship. We are hoping that they can grow and learn together and believe that one day they will return to the wild together.
BSBCC has been invited to attend a Wildlife Conflict Management Programme in conjunction with the World Elephant Day 2020 at Earthworm Foundation Field Hub, off Mile 45, Sandakan-Telupid Road on 18th of August 2020. The main objective of the programme is to give awareness to the communities and surrounding plantation company about the current issues and situation on the wildlife conflict around Ulu Muanad, Beluran, and Telupid. Apart from that, the programme was conducted to form a group of community that has the basic knowledge of the elephant behaviours and to make the community as a role model in handling wildlife conflict.
The programme was co-organized by Sabah Wildlife Department, Seratu Aatai, and Earthworm Foundation, attended by The 7's Team and Community Elephant Ranger Team and some local residents emphasize on the management need to be done on conflict with wildlife, especially elephants. Thanks for the invitation!
Video by Chiew Lin May
A five-month-old male bear cub, Kipaku was discovered all alone in the forest fire area and had been kept for the past three months by a local family. He was previously fed with milk, rice, and fried fish. Kipaku was sent to the BSBCC on 18th July 2020. A seven-month-old- female bear cub, Itam was found in an orchard with a dog bite wounds on her body and appeared weak. The person decided to bring her back and cared for her wounds for 21 days before handed over to Sabah Wildlife Department. Spending years in captivity and unable to express any natural behaviours cause the cubs emotionally traumatized or too habituated with humans.
During this period of care, Itam and Kipaku took a brave step and trust on their new journey. They adapted well to their new environment. On 30th July 2020, they have met each other for the first time. They spend a great deal of their time together and enjoy the various enrichment given by their keepers. It is so uplifting to see that they are able to forget their past and it reminds us how wild they should be. We are happy that they are now safe and grow in confidence.
If a sun bear is not given the opportunity to learn these forest skills, their chances of survival in the forest are slim without the help of a rehabilitation programme. Please do not keep sun bear as a pet! Shows some love for Little Kipaku and Itam by sharing their stories!
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Text by Dr. Yeoh Boon Nie
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
A sunny day, we were excited to receive the very first satellite signal emitted from Montom’s GPS collar, indicating the released bear was exploring the new home, and passing by the adjacent forest reserve. Montom is an adult male bear that was returned to wild on 10th July. Our heart sank immediately after knowing a sun bear cub was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department and on the way to BSBCC.
Early morning on 18th July, an estimate 4 month old sun bear cub arrived in BSBCC. He came from Kampung Kipaku, Tambunan. So we named him Kipaku, straight forward, huh. While the cub care team still observing and learning Kipaku’s behavior, we received another bad news that one more rescued bear cub was arranged to BSBCC. On the late night in 27th July, Itam, an approximate 7 month old female cub arrived in the center.
BSBCC is established with the primary mission to rehabilitate the rescued sun bear. We are saddened by the fact that sun bears are still rampantly poached. And the cub, their cuteness is a curse, sought-after as pet. The morale in our team was low at that very moment.
Both Kipaku and Itam shared the similar background, but the two have distinctive different personality in insecurity. They both were kept as household pet after being found alone in the forest. What happened to their mother? Mama bear will not abandoned her cub unless she was threatened or died.
Kipaku is a sweet chubby bear that attached to human. He cry when no keeper around to keep him accompany. He was “trained” to eat fried fish with rice, and hence he dislike fruits and vegetables.
Itam, on the other hand, is a fearful bear that constantly wary of surrounding. Any noises will startle her. She barked and charged at keepers every morning. She would tip toe walking to explore the cage. She relaxed when no human around.
Dear Kipaku and Itam, we feel so sorry that you both loss your mother and endure terrifying event at your infant age. We will take care of you now. Your wild instinct and lessons taught by your mother will guide you through this rehabilitation journey. Five years later, hopefully, we will return you home, like Montom!
We have not giving up.
Text & Photos by Seng Yen Wah
Itam,is a lovely bear with a slightly round body. She is seven months old, the youngest female bear in BSBCC.
Itam was originally from Kg Maimatom, Kemabong. But, she was found at Kg. Kuala Sabinait, Pagalungan, Nabawan. The owner of an orchard heard his dogs were barking. When he went to have a look he found Itam alone. At that time, Itam appeared weak and had some dog bite wounds. The owner was kept her for 21 days. After that, he decided to surrender Itam to Sabah Wildlife Department when she was being kept at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park. On the 27th of July 2020, Itam came to BSBCC.
On her arrival, her weight was 11 kg. She has a shiny coat and a unique chest mark. Unfortunately, we found,whilst conducting her general body checkup,that she has a severe dental problem. We believed that it may be caused by her stress-related behaviour - cage biting. Itam is not picky on food. She will try every new food that is offered to her. Her top three favourite foods are milk, egg, and fruits. Now, she weighs 12.35kg.
Most of the time, Itam is shy. She spends more time resting. The basket is one of her favourite places to hide. She is always seen peeking from the basket. Other than that, she enjoys staying on the hammock and resting with the belly up. If she wants to have a better view, she prefers to stay at the hanging platform. When she is resting, nothing bothers her. She chills and relaxes!
However, Itam is very alert to the environment. She always keeps her eyes wide open to observe her surroundings. Her moves are always careful and quiet. When you look into her eyes, they look alert with fear. A story lies in her eyes. She always stays in a corner or stays up high. Once she feels threatened, she charges and gives a warning bark. Then, she hides. We do not know what happened to her before. But, we believe that she has suffered a lot and this has caused her to be traumatized.
Sun bears are excellent climbers. However, Itam is clumsy in climbing. Instead of using her claw, she is using her paw and teeth to support during climbing. In the wild, cubs will be attached to their mother until two to three years old and,during this period,the cubs will learn from their mothers. However, Itam is now alone. Itam always looks up and looks as though she has many thoughts in her head. Maybe she is missing her mother and her natural home.
We can help her now by encouraging her more natural behaviour. We provide different types of enrichment for her so, she will be able to learn to be a real bear.
In BSBCC, She will receive intensive care. It will take her time and patience to forget her trauma. We are believe that she will grow into a confident young sun bear ready for her second chance of life at the BSBCC.
Video by Chiew Lin May
Ready to venture out into their forest!
Logan and Romolina are playing in the rain!