Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Like most mammals, bear cubs require intense maternal care during their first few months of life. As cubs grow and gain mobility, they romp and play, but they never stay far from their protective mothers, who keep them safe from predators and other mishaps. The mothers also teach cubs the secrets of survival— where to find food, and what to eat. – Siew Te Wong
The rescued sun bear cubs have to learn to live together. The interactions between bear cubs can help them to develop and learn some skills that are needed in the wild. On August 25, 2014, we introduced Ronnie to other sun bear cubs, Sunbearo and Loki. However, when Ronnie was moved to quarantine area during her first arrival at BSBCC, she was not very welcomed by Sunbearo where Sunbearo kept growling at Ronnie. Therefore during the first integration, our team monitored them with extra cautions and were prepared for a sudden fight between them.
Luckily, after opening the sliding gate between their dens, Sunbearo was the first to initiate the play and it was Ronnie first contact with other bears. Both of them spent the most of the time playing at the small platform and basket. On the next day, Ronnie was integrated with another bear cub, Loki. Loki was very curious towards Ronnie and barked on her during their first meeting. When the two bears met, both of them played and wrestled immediately.
On August 29, 2014, we integrated Ronnie with Sunbearo and Loki. Ronnie body size is small as compared to Sunbearo and Loki. They are now learning to enjoy their life again after suffering the pain from the loss of their mothers and being kept as pets by illegal poachers.
Sometimes, Ronnie continues to play even though she is already tired and exhausted. They like to climb, chase, and bite with each other. These three bears are getting along very well and showing no signs of aggression.
However, Ronnie seems to be the dominant one if there is food. She becomes slightly aggressive by growling and barking to whom trying to approach her. She also makes it clear that she is no longer interested in playing but to continue eating. Nevertheless, the three of them still mingle well as Sunbearo and Loki perceived the message from Ronnie clearly!
Over the past few weeks, they explored, played, wrestled, climbed, foraged and rested together in the big exercise pen. Ronnie is now able to live in community and loves her new companions. She seems to become more playful and active in the presence Sunbearo and Loki. All of us are very excited to see her begins her new life with other bears.
Loki, one year old orphan female sun bear cub arrived at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre on March 24, 2014. She had been confiscated by Sabah Wildlife Department who discovered her living in the backyard of an inn where she had been illegally kept as pet for about five months. Her previous owner purchased her from a friend in Ranau on west coast of Sabah and had named her “Ooi”.
The story of her background is still unclear but sad to think that her mother has certainly been killed. Loki has made tremendous progress during her time at BSBCC and has acquired many of the survival skills she that she will need in order to survive in the wild. We look forward to the day when she will live in the Borneo forests that she loves!
Steve Denim from UK, who has a passion for sun bears, adopted this very special sun bear cub and changed her name to “Loki” as a way to remember his cat who had been struck by a car. On behalf of the sun bears, we want to say “Thank You” to Steve Denim who continues to support Loki though the BSBCC adoption program. His continued support helps to rescue and care for this orphan sun bear ensuring her well-being and future care.
Integration with Sunbearo and Ronnie
Although sun bear is solitary in the wild, sun bear in captivity appear to benefit from social interaction.
Loki was very stressful and shy when she first arrived at the Centre. Now she has changed so much especially after integrate her with Sunbearo (one year old male sun bear cub) and Ronnie (6 months old female sun bear cub). They love to spending time together playing, chasing, foraging, climbing and resting.
Lovely to see them playing freely and enjoying themselves!
Enrichment for sun bears
Enrichment improves the well being of bears in captivity and improves reintroduction success by encouraging natural behaviours to survival in the wild. Enrichment activities include logs, tyres, dead wood, branches, twigs, dried leaves, fresh plant material, and etc.
In the BSBCC, food enrichment introduces the necessary variation onto the diets of the bears.
Loki absolutely loves food and enjoys eating variety of fruits, termites, invertebrate and honey!
Little Loki is starting put her past behind her and is learning to be a wild bear again. Thanks to Steve Denim, she is able to enjoy the freedom to live her life as a sun bear!
Text & Photos by Jenny Slater
My name is Jenny Slater and am 21 years old. I'm from the UK near a city called Coventry, in the Midlands and Warwickshire areas. I had just finished my degree in Ecology from the University of Sheffield and was taking a break before starting my PhD in Plant and Soil Science in October. I was in Sepilok to work with the Orang-Utan Rehabilitation centre and was shown the BSBCC as part of our introductions to the Sepilok area. I inquired with a friend if we could help out on our days off, as it seemed they needed the help much more than the orang-utan centre, due to much less staff. It was agreed we could help out for 5 days over our 2 months in Sepilok.
I volunteered at BSBCC on the 20.7.14 for the first time and helped in general animal husbandry by helping to prepare food including 50kg of washed and cut up bananas! Feeding the indoor bears was a matter of skill as we have to fling the food, e.g. sugar cane, coconuts, various fruit, on top of the cages. We were lucky to get so close to them but it was good that the morale within the centre was to respect the bears, so we didn’t spend too much time gawking at them, allowing them to get on with their daily business of climbing, sleeping, eating, drinking and washing. Feeding the outdoor bears was also great, which also involved throwing skills, but this time to avoid hitting the bears and avoid giving the food to wild pig-tailed macaques.
The big males were nearly bigger than some of the bears! We also helped in creating more enrichment and platforms for the sun bears – although I think it was more enrichment for us with all the sawing, hammering and chiselling!
Before I did my next day volunteering, Natalie the bear escaped on the 24.7.14 and caused havoc within Sepilok, closing the whole area to tourists for a few days. She still had not come back when I did my next volunteering days on the 28.7.14 and 29.7.14. As such, the ‘outdoor’ bears had not been allowed out so the place was a lot smellier than before and tensions were higher among the bears; they are really scary when they barked! On the 28th we only helped prepare food as the staff looked for Natalie in the afternoon. On the 29th 5 bears were allowed out – the first time since Natalie’s escape. I also did a full day of preparing fruit and cleaning everywhere in the kitchen! The enrichment we made was little packages made from natural vegetation with organo or curry powder in them. Of course we spent the afternoon making them for the bears to destroy them in 5 seconds! We were also allowed to feed the bears their porridge, allowing even closer interaction with them. They really are beautiful, special animals.
The next day I volunteered was the 12.8.14 and, thankfully, we didn’t have to prepare the back breaking work of 50kg of bananas as the bears were fed local fruit like durian and rambutan instead. We also got to clean some of the cages and I really appreciated how important a power-washer is for a place like this. This enrichment activity was to make a new hammock for the bears. This involved power washing some hosing to clean it then sawing it into smaller pieces, drilling holes in it and screwing it together. Again I’m sure these activities are more enriching for us than the bears! It was good to know we were making a difference to the quality of life of the bears though.
The last day I volunteered was the 14.8.14 and it was quite a sobering day; Koko the bear was sick and it was suspected she had eaten a durian seed. Although we helped food preparation and cleaning, the atmosphere was tense as the WRU helped get her to a clinic in Mile 8 for an x-ray. On a positive side to the morning, we got some lovely photos of the outdoor bears. However, the x-ray confirmed the problem was a durian sick which meant a 7 hour drive to KK. Although Koko had had an anaesthetic at 11.30am she was still drowsy at when she left BSBCC at 5pm. As everyone was preoccupied with Koko we helped prepare food for the next few days. As a good bye, we had photos with the whole BSBCC team which was a lovely memento.
On the 17.8.14 I paid a visit to BSBCC to check on Koko. She had made it back OK from KK and they had successfully removed the seed and it was hoped she would make a full recovery. I went to say goodbye to the staff on 29.8.14 and was greeted with bad and good news. Koko had sadly passed on the 17.8.14, about 4 hours after I had inquired about her. An autopsy revealed she had another durian seed stuck in her throat that hadn’t been noticed on the x-ray and hence not removed. However, Natalie had returned! She was some kilos lighter and covered in ticks but had gained muscle and was generally in good health. It was lovely way to end my experience on high.
BSBCC is one of the animal charities I have worked with and one, in my opinion, which needs advertising in countries like the UK to continue their excellent and much-needed work. The staff I worked with during my time at BSBCC are why this project survives and are assets to the project. Some of the horrors these bears have endured and the emotional scars are shown through repetitive, abnormal behaviours. However, with some of the TLC that BSBCC offer, I have no doubt that these bears will become fully rehabilitated, make a full recovery, and be released back into the wild.
We are sadden to announce that Koko, the 3½-years-old sub adult female sun bear who lived at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre for three years, has passed away on August 17th, 2014. A post- mortem on Koko was carried out by Sabah Wildlife Rescue Unit Veterinarian, Dr. Pakeeyaraj Nagalingam on August 18th and found her lung suffered from serious infection. In addition, the post-mortem also found a durian seed obstructed in her esophagus. Koko’s death was due to respiratory failure caused by chronic lung infection and presence of the durian seed worsens her sickness.
Koko was captured by poacher in Keningau and kept as pet while poacher was looking for a potential buyer. She was then surrendered to Sabah Wildlife Department and sent to BSBCC on 20th February 2012. Koko was a precious, energetic and playful bear! She had a beautiful diamond shaped chest mark. During her early years at BSBCC, she integrated with Mary, Debbie, Ah Bui, Bongkud, Fulung and Damai. She usually play fighting with her bear friends, tearing the tree bark in search of termites, climbing trees, taking nap on top of the tree canopy and enjoying her life like a wild sun bear.
She is now in peace; her spirit will always be with the friends who saved her…
May you rest in peace Koko, you will be missed – greatly and eternally.