Story by Hannah J. Ryan | September 23, 2009
Malayan sun bears don’t have it as easy as Monte. In Southeast Asia, the world’s smallest bear species faces poaching, deforestation and a host of other woes, according to Siew Te Wong, a graduate in wildlife biology from the University of Montana.
On Tuesday evening, Wong, founder and CEO of Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, presented his findings from nearly two decades of research on the tiny and fledgling bear populace.
“I often call the sun bear a forgotten species,” Wong said.
Wong said the bears face threats from hunters because bear meat is high on the menu in the wild meat markets of China. Their body parts are common in traditional ceremonies and costumes and are used for medicinal purposes.
Trapping the cubs is a common practice due to their popularity as pets when young.
“The caged bear is something I cannot live with,” Wong said.
Poaching in Southeast Asia is creating what Wong calls the “empty effect,” leaving the rainforest and clear-cut areas devoid of mammals and birds and replacing them with palm oil plantations and silence.
Above all else, Wong said the largest problem facing the bears is human encroachment.
“Habitat loss is the biggest, biggest, biggest threat to the sun bear,” Wong said. “Southeast Asia will loose 75 percent of its native forests by 2100.”
Wong began to study the Malayan sun bears in 1998 in a rainforest of Malaysian Borneo for his master’s thesis. In February 1999, after a year of preliminary research, Wong and his team spent four months in the humid forest building and setting a variety of traps in an attempt to detain live sun bears for their studies.
Wong describes this stage of his research as “the goofy stuff you see on the Discovery Channel.”
Elephants, who dislike foreign objects in their forest, would crush his traps made from oil drums as if they were soda cans, he said.
While sun bears are small in size, they are strong, Wong said, flashing photographs of shredded tin roof traps and metal oil drums with basketball-sized holes punctured in the sides.
But the 100-pound mammal did have a weakness that Wong discovered after many setbacks.
“Believe me, I tried everything, but after trial and error, chicken guts worked best,” to tempt the finicky bears, Wong said.
Wong said that he and his team caught their first sun bear in June 1999. Wong and his relieved team sedated the bear, took its bodily measurements, drew blood samples and fitted the little guy with a radio collar.
In an effort to keep the bear from disappearing, Wong founded the bear conservation center. The center provides facilities for rescuing and housing captive bears, increasing public awareness locally and internationally about this mammal and rehabilitating young bears for release back into the wild.
Even with Wong’s years of work to improve the bears’ status, they still face an uphill battle.
“There’s a lot of work to do right now,” Wong said.
For more information on the Malayan sun bear, Wong’s research and the BSBCC, visit http://www.sunbears.wildlifedirect.org.
Text by Jungle Bob - Bear Action Teams (BATs)
Well, it’s been a few weeks since we had any updates from the Bear House and the BSBCC project in Sepilok. So, let’s get up to speed.
‘Suria’ has a ‘poorly’ paw and is confined to ‘quarters’ whist it repairs itself. Doc Cecillia has been in attendance and prescribed antibiotics.
‘Manis’ is doing well but has decided she doesn’t actually like other bears, she much prefers humans, especially Wai Pak (if anyone out there does understand the workings of the female brain, answers on a post card please). She has been taking some time out to check out her birthing pen and seems to like it. She is under constant surveillance at the moment which smacks of voyeurism but is a necessary evil.
All the other bears are fit and well and enjoying a brief respite from the commotion of bagpipes and sweaty volunteers. Not for long though!
The Bear House is advancing well with the floor level completed and the first floor columns being poured right now. We are hoping to get them all in and set before ‘Hari Raya’ so that we can get on with the roof after it. It really does look like a building now and is very exciting.
The plants on the Scots wall are clinging to life and will, hopefully, soon help it to look more natural and to blend in. Hadrian would have been proud of this wall!
Camps International are due in soon to help us to create a Biogas Digester (if you don’t know what that is then check it on the internet or speak to Ian!)
Raleigh has done a great job in the enclosure and has dug a trench around the whole circumference so that we can install our secret weapon. The Portcullis! This is basically an underground fence designed to stop the bears digging their way out once they are free to roam in the forest enclosures. Digging trenches in the jungle is probably one of the most unglamorous and backbreaking jobs so well done guys.
Whilst we are singing Raleigh’s praises, here is one more significant advance they have completed. The jungle camp is now operational and will be used by their first ‘guests’ when Camps Borneo move in there on the 20th of this month.
We are all looking forward to the next Raleigh invasion and further advances on the enclosure. It is our intention to have the enclosure ‘on line’ as the Bear House is complete and have the bears ready to take a stroll in the woods.
Bob Renshaw has kindly donated a couple of his days (plus his three hundred years of experience-yep, he really is that old!!) to come down later this week and conduct a full survey for the boardwalk and bridge which will, in time, bring our visitors into the centre. Well done Bob.
Donations from previous BATS (Bear Action Team’s volunteers) have been promised and t’shirt sales are bringing in a little bit more cash. Thanks guys, every little bit helps.
New BATS - I am currently talking to a scientific group from New Zealand who are willing to put their backs into a bit of hard work and we have recently had visits from the project managers of World Challenge Expeditions (UK)- (Jen Mullier) and Dragon Fly Hong Kong- (Adula) who are promising further volunteers for later this year and the beginning of 2010. As I tell every group “each day you work for us is a day we don’t have to pay a contractor”
Thanks to the previous BATS, every one of you is a star!
Text by Ng Wai Pak
Elis and I stayed one night at Kota Kinabalu. The next morning, Dr. Sen was checking on the pregnant bear before we put her into the translocation cage. The bear’s name is Manis, which mean “sweet” in Malay language. Her weight was 43.7 kg. She might give birth within this month.
After made sure Manis was in healthy condition, we placed her in the cage with leaves and twigs. Then we hit the road back to Sepilok.
Manis did well in her 8 hours road trip to BSBCC at Sepilok especially when we drove passed the foothill of the Mount Kinabalu. Mt Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Southeast Asia with an elevation of 4095 m a.s.l. We all enjoyed the beautiful scene and the cold air that is so much different from the warm, humid lowland air. Like the day before, we stopped several times to let Manis drink and eat some fruits. Manis was very gentle to me and Elis even though we were new to her. She never barked or show any signs of stress and aggression at us.
We were arrived at BSBCC Sepilok about 6 pm. I hope Manis will like her new home and live happily in our centre. Now her new home has a birthing den with a 24 CCTV monitoring system to record her very movement. Finally, we also pray that Manis could give birth to a healthy bear cub successfully this time.
Text by Ng Wai Pak
On the 27th August, I received an emergency order to go to Kota Kinabalu with the Sepilok senior ranger, Elis, to exchange a bear from our centre with a pregnant bear named Manis from Lok Kawi Zoo. The pregnant bear has to be taken care in BSBCC with the proper birthing den and 24 hours CCTV recording. Because of the limited space we have at BSBCC, one bear from BSBCC has to exchange with the zoo for the female bear. We have chosen Gutuk, the oldest male bear in BSBCC.
The 8 hours long journey from Sandakan to Kota Kinabalu went well. We have to stop several times to check on Gutuk’s condition, fed and watered him. Luckily, it was not a sunny day; in fact it rained in the afternoon. Gutuk looked fine, but for sure it must be tiring for him and both of us as well.
We arrived Lok Kawi around 6.30 pm. Dr. Sen and his staffs were there welcoming Gutuk. Together we put Gutuk into the quarantine area. Gutuk was climbing up and try to get used to the new environment.
Text by Ian Hall posted at http://arkitrek.com/http:/arkitrek.com/scottish-scouts-at-bsbcc/
As you may know, wild animals in captivity need constant enrichment to reduce boredom and stereotypic behaviour. Last month we provided the bears at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre with a daily parade of Scottish Scouts for their amusement and benefit.To the bears’ frustration the first thing that the Scouts did was to put up a tarpaulin fence so that they couldn’t see what was going on. They could still peer around the side though and from ovehearing the camaraderie could get a good idea of what was going on.
First there was a lot of digging interrupted by much repose in front of a cooling fan. The result was strange serpentine trench that twisted away from the bear’s house in either direction.
Incomprehensibly, to the bears, over the next week or so a wire mesh frame emerged from the trench to a height of two metres. Luckily the orang-utans didn’t mistake it for a playground.
At one point after the second week the hubbub was interrupted briefly by a loud clanking and rumbling and clouds of black smoke rising from behind the tarpaulin. A diesel cement mixer was given a test run.
Shortly after that an overnight squall demolished the tarpaulin and allowed some of the bears a sneak peak at lorries arriving to deliver ten tonnes of sand and 100 bags of cement.
Then late one afternoon, just when the bears were waking from their afternoon nap and looking forward to some evening peace and quiet, the cement mixer spluttered and banged to life. Moments later a second mixer joined the fray.
Up until now no more than 12 different voices could be heard around the bear house at any one time. On this evening there were over 50. Something big was afoot.
Dusk fell and through her chink in the fence, Suria Bear could see the scouts plastering a dark grey sludge onto the wire mesh frame. Suria swung back and forth across the roof of her cage; Kuamut Bear barked an inquiry and Susie Bear performed acrobatics with her tyre swing.
On their first day’s induction the Scouts would have been delighted by this display but this evening their attention was elsewhere.
Night fell and rows of fluorescent lights hung on wires flickered into life. The concrete mixers roared and a chain of wheelbarrows and buckets sprung into action to distribute the grey sludge.
Everything was going so well until the water tap ran dry. Even the emergency tap jealously guarded by the fearsome Om Bear refused to yield more than a dribble.
“Surely now” thought the bears, “the Scouts will give up this ridiculous exercise and leave us in peace?”
But the Scouts proved to be just as tenacious as the wild animals that they were working so enthusiastically to help. To their disappointment the bears’ beloved keeper Wai Pak was despatched to find water in his truck with a 40gallon drum perched in the back.
With a new water supply the cement mixer that had been pessimistically killed prior to dinner spluttered defiantly back to life.
Until four o’clock in the morning they toiled. Some fell by the wayside and found comfort on piles of sand, on dusty floors or on whatever old rope they could lay their head. The brave few battled on but it was clear that the job would not be done in one night.
The infernal machines were silenced and cleaned and 50 weary souls trudged proudly home to sleep. The forest edge rejoiced, the insects once more the loudest thing and a chestnut-necklaced partridge calling.
The next night they returned, with more experience and more wisdom and the same determination to complete the job.
The wall that had been dark grey was now light and rigid, one side smoothed and caressed by 50 pairs of gloved hands, the other side rough and splodged with hexagon chicken mesh shaped extrusions.
Now accustomed to the disturbance the bears seemed more relaxed. Old Gutuk Bear sprawled legs akimbo in his sleeping basket and the three girls; Cerah, Lawa and Jelita amicably shared their two baskets.
The bears were starting to get the gist now; the Scouts were making the second side of the wall smooth like the first and polishing off the protruberances that would later form homes for plants.
By midnight it was all over and the recently completed wall hung with wet blankets to slow down the curing of the cement.
Then on the final morning it all became clear. The tarpaulin was removed and the bears found that there was now a screen wall between their dens and their future visitors. The only people to disturb their afternoon naps would be those that wake them up with bowls of food at tea time. Their only view would be of the forest that would one day become their home again.
Huge thanks to all the Southeast Scotland Scouts. They were given a big job made more challenging with unpredictable logistical constraints and yet they pulled through and delivered the goods.
Not only did they work diligently and enthusiastically but the icing on the cake was that they also came up with a donation of seven thousand Malaysian ringgit in hard cash! That was enough money to pay for all the materials and logistical costs of constructing the screen wall.
By the time the new BSBCC visitor centre is open to the public next year, the wall will be planted up with local epiphytic plants and become a signature feature of the Centre.
You can also read about the Scottish Scouts’ Borneo expedition in their own words.
Check out the video.. one of the sun bears was making a weird sound. It's the one in the basket, her name is Suzie. Perhaps Papa Bear, Wong Siew Te can explain why?
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/NELFkYKJIlc" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
The above video was posted on LEAP blog by Sue.
Thanks for posting this behavior on sun bears that not many people know about. This sound is a “suckling” sound when the bear such a particular body part of themselves or other bears. It is fairly common among the captive sun bears, especially young ones. The reason behind this is actually quite sad.
In the wild, mother sun bears nurse their cubs up to 2 years or even longer. During this time, besides suckling for mother’s milk, the process of suckling also let the cubs seek comfort and feel secure and safe being side by side with their mother. This behavior is best explained by human babies sucking pacifier to seek comfort. Same theory: no milk draw out from the pacifier, but the suckling action make the babies feel comfort and safe.
Most captive sun bears share the very similar stories: they all were being captured by poachers and separated with the mother when they were at very young age. These were serious traumas, especially those mother bears being slaughtered in front of the babies. There was a story that I will never forgot in my life: a tiny baby sun bear was tied up for sale at Gaya Street Sunday market in Kota Kinabalu, and its mother was being cut up in pieces for sale as meat.
This kind of trauma is way beyond anyone’s imagination. Anyway, these baby bears grow up without mother and without a chance to suckle. However, suckling is an innate behavior. When the cub is hungry or feel uncomfortable, they suckle their mother’s breast. For these poor captive bears, they do not have their mother around, but the urge to suckle is very strong. So they learn to suckle on something handy. This “something handy” can be any part of their body like limbs, toes, or paws. More commonly was something that they can “latch on” like their own penis for male bears or vulva for female bears. If there are other young bears around, they may suck on each other’s ears. They always suckle on the same object or the same body part over and over again that later become their favorite suckling object.
The suckling behavior may progress to their adulthood if they are constantly under stress. It is consider as a kind of “stereotypic” behavior. I worked with a female sun bear named Batik. Batik was about 2 year old when I released her into the forest. During her life in captivity, she suckled her left hind feet constantly, especially when she feel stress or threat, to a point where there was a hairless, bare patch on her left feet leg. She was kept in a small cage when she sucked most. When she was reintroduce into the forest, her suckling behavior ceased thereafter. New hairs grew back from her bare patch on her left hind feet.
Every time I approached young captive bears, I mean every time, I always give them my finger to suckle. They all would responded the same way: suckled my finger, admitted the sound you heard from this video clip, and calmed down with comfort.
“How can anyone done such a cruelty to a helpless animal?"
"How can we not to do our best to help them?”
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/pmWpVuWkGMs" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]