Text by Bellinda Raymond (Intern Student)
Photos by BSBCC
Kudat is a 7 years old adult male sun bear, who was named after a district in the northern part of Sabah. Before he was sent to Kudat district, he came originally from Tawau district. Kudat was kept as a display in a private mini zoo together with a female sun bear named Panda. At the private mini zoo, both Kudat and Panda were on display as ‘black panda’. Later, they were surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department and BSBCC in 2013. At BSBCC, Kudat enjoy his new environment and began to explore the forest around him.
Kudat’s last friend was Panda which is in year 2013. Although sun bear is a solitary animal when they are in the wild, BSBCC encouraged a healthy positive social behaviour among the bears at the centre. At BSBCC, sun bears are integrated according to their body size, personality and age group. Bears integration is encouraged in this centre to bring out the positive behaviour development among the bears such as defensive skills and learning from each other through socializing. The number of cages in the bear house is very limited too where for now it only can accommodate up to 40 bears. Therefore, integration is also one of the ways to save up space in the bear house where the bears are integrated so that they can be in groups.
The first step in integration is integrating the bears cage by cage. The bears will start to sniff around their new environment especially when there is a new bear next to their cage. After that, integration body contact will be carried out where the sliding door between the two cages will be opened and the bears will start to meet each other.
In July 2015, Kudat started to be integrated to a group consisting Julaini, Rungus, Ah Lun, Panda and Chin. Kudat is integrated one by one from the group before they can be in one big group together. The integration of Kudat started off with the bear that is the dominant in the group. Kudat is integrated with Ah Lun first. When Kudat placed next to Ah Lun’s cage, Kudat started to become curious and keep sniffing around. He climbed the cage to have a peek of the bear next to his cage. As soon as the sliding door is opened, Ah Lun went into Kudat’s cage first. When Kudat and Ah Lun met, they took some time to get to know to each other. After they feel confident about each other, they started to play with each other.
After Ah Lun, Kudat is introduced to Chin. When she met Kudat, she was curious at first. Kudat and Chin sniff around their new environment and even sniff at each other.
Besides Ah Lun and Chin, Kudat is also introduced to Julaini, a male sun bear who has the same age with him. Kudat is friendly to Julaini when both of them met each other. Both Kudat and Julaini immediately play when they met! The way they play is a bit aggressive compared to Ah Lun and Chin. Maybe it is just a way of male sun bears play with each other? Kudat and Julaini played nonstop and continue to wrestle.
Finally, Kudat is reintroduced to his long lost friend, Panda! The integration between Kudat and Panda does not make us worry when they were integrated because Kudat and Panda are best friends!
Rungus is the last bear that being introduced to Kudat. Amazingly, Kudat also shows positive reaction to Rungus when they were integrated. Like the other bears in the group, Kudat played with Rungus too! Rungus is the female bear in the group that is most interested to Kudat and they played together and ignored the other bears!
The integration between Kudat and all the bears showed positive integration except for Chin. When Kudat and Chin were integrated earlier, they played in a friendly manner. However, after some time Kudat and Chin started to become aggressive and they fighted. Kudat and Chin were then separated by cages. We tried to integrate Kudat and Chin again, but there are still aggressions occurred between them. This means that the integration between Kudat and Chin is negative. We concluded and decided that Kudat and Chin cannot be integrated to each other. Despite this, Kudat’s integration with Julaini, Rungus, Ah Lun and Panda shows positive result.
Kudat’s integration with the other bears is still on going. Hopefully, their integration can be successful in the end. When the integration is successful, Kudat, Julaini, Rungus, Ah Lun and Panda will be in one group and will step into the forest together.
Text by Leonardo Jainih
Photos by Leonardo Jainih and BSBC
Hey, my name is Leonardo Jainih and I am now 22 years old. I am here as an internship student from University Malaysia Sabah. First and foremost, I am truly grateful as i was accepted to work and gain knowledges at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). This is a life time opportunity where not anyone can just come and work here. I never regretted that I choose BSBCC to finish my three months internship and this centre is highly recomended to all animal lover out there. So, this unforgettable experience start with fetch by my supervisor, Mr. Tee Thye Lim at the airport and slowly introduced to BSBCC’s founder, Mr. Wong Siew Te and other staffs. After I was explained clearly about the rules and regulations of BSBCC, me and other internship students were brought to explore the surrounding areas of BSBCC from visitors centre to outside perimeter of forest enclosure. Finally, the end of day, we arrived at the Center’s volunteer house called Bjorn Hala.
Next day, we started working at 8 o’clock in the morning and we were having our induction with the bear keeper, Mr. Roger about the rules and routines at the bear house. Bear house is divided into two areas which are first and second bear house. Every single bear has their own name and usually they got the name either from their previous owner or where the bear was found. At the same time, bear keeper taught us how to clean their cages.
One of the most interesting and fun thing during cleaning the cages is that you are get the chance to observe yourself in a closer distance their behaviour in the den which is pretty cool. For example, cute little Mary will cling onto the cage waiting patiently for us to feed her, Mamatai the lowered bear struggling to reach her food on top of her cage, Fulung always standing with his two hind leg and Damai whom love to climb her favourite tree whenever she got the chance to be in forest enclosure. On the other hand, you will also continously watched and observed by the bear next to the cage that you were cleaning. They will curiously keep on watching you with the innocent look on their face doing the cleaning but some will just ignored you and continue playing their enrichments.
Working in bear house was never a waste of time as they are so many thing to do other than cleaning cages. For instance, in the morning, preparing food such as plain porridges and fruits for the bear was one of the top prioities as the cleanlinnes in kitchen has to be maintained. Moreover, making enrichments for the bear also ways to minimize stress and abnormal behaviour such as continous pacing. Enrichments includes dried leaves, bamboo feeder, nest balls, wood swing, fire hose hammock and more.
Moreover, I was also assigned to become intepreter at the observation platform where I get to talk and explain to the visitors about our centre and the bears. This assignment given actually helps to improve our communication skills and public speaking too. This is where we get to deliver knowledges that we have learned at Centre confidently and get our facts right to the visitors.
Another routine that I enjoy very much is outdoor feeding where we will usually follow our senior bear keeper, Mr. David to come along with him to feed the bears at the Pen A, B, C, D, F and K with fruits such as papaya, watermelon and banana. Along the way, we scattered the fruits inside the forest enclosures to allow the bears to use their sense of smell to search for the fruits. Here we get to see the bears’s eating behaviour where they will not eat the green part/outer layer of watermelon, didn’t eat the banana peel or the skin on any other fruit. Some are willing to climb all the way down to get their foods as they don’t want to miss their food and stolen by other bears or macaques.
There is one week that we were all so busy as medical check up was conducted to 5 different bears. We were helped by the Wildlife Rescue Unit and an expert veterinarian, Dr. Sandy during the health check. One of them is Linggam, an adult male sun bear which is currently the heaviest bear among all of our rescued bear with 61kg. I was given an opportunity to take part in his health check and went to clinic at Mile 8, Sandakan for his x-ray appointment.
BSBCC was welcomed to set up an education booth display for an event organized by the Sabah State Computer Service Department at the Sabah Hotel, Sandakan. This event was launched by Y.B Tuan Charles Pang Su Pin, ADUN N44 Karamunting. I was asked to join this education booth to educate the participants and spread the word to them more about sun bears the smallest bear in the world.
Last but not least, my warmest regards goes out to all the staff in BSBCC who have been helpful and supportive in many ways. Every single of you has brought many laughter and put a smile on my face everyday which indirectly lessen my burden and hardship as well as standing by me through thick and thin. Every minutes spent together is special and will be cherished.
My hope is that one day they will confidently walked out and be ready for the wild forest but this is not an easy task. It really requires a huge amount of resources if it is to be done successfully. Therefore, it is very important to help them to remember how to be bears again so that they can survived in the wild without our help.
Text and Photos By Jenny Cantlay
How does a British veterinary surgeon find herself in East Malaysia making enrichment activities from bamboo for the world’s smallest bear species? A very good question and the answer is from her joining the volunteer programme at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, coordinated by Ape Malaysia.
I had the opportunity to live in Kuala Lumpur for almost three years before moving to China in 2014. As a wildlife enthusiast, I travelled to Sabah and visited the BSBCC at Sepilok last year. Although the visitor centre had only been open a few months, I was very impressed with their mission to rehabilitate sun bears rescued from captivity as pets. I had watched these small but agile bears clawing their way into logs to feast on termites and climbing up trees in the forest enclosure from the visitor platform. I became curious to know more about this engaging tropical bear species and its role in the forest ecosystem.
My interest in the rehabilitation and conservation of sun bears is both professional and personal. My veterinary training and postgraduate qualification in wildlife conservation meant that I was keen to understand about the management, health and welfare aspects of caring for these rescued bears. Despite numerous wildlife watching trips throughout Malaysia, I had never seen a sun bear until I visited the BSBCC. My interest in Malaysian wildlife meant I understood that their populations in the wild have dramatically declined in recent decades due to the loss of forest habitat from logging and palm oil plantations, in addition to the poaching of bears for pets and to supply the wild meat trade. Therefore, I wanted to learn more about this unique bear and how I could assist the BSBCC in their conservation efforts.
One year later, I returned to the BSBCC as a volunteer, no longer a tourist. On meeting the enthusiastic Ape Malaysia coordinators, Harith and Vicki, who would assist my involvement in the programme, I knew we would get along very well due to our shared love of Malaysian food and wildlife! My first day was spent being introduced to the centre and its staff, particularly the bear keepers with whom I would be spending the most time. I soon realised that although the sun bears may look cute, they have formidable claws and sharp canine teeth, so close encounters with them would be best avoided!
I was enthusiastic to start my work at the bear house and meet the individual animals for myself. The friendly team of five keepers told me that they could recognise each of them from their unique chest mark and facial characteristics. I hoped eventually I would be able to identify some of the individual bears too. After a few days of observing them in their enclosures I started to notice their particular personalities and habits. I liked watching the bold, energetic male called Fulung play-fighting with his mates and also seeing how Mary’s inquisitive nature made up for her small, underdeveloped stature. One of my favourite bears was one of the largest males called Linggam, who could often be found relaxing upside-down in his nesting basket with his limbs stretched out after his breakfast of rice porridge.
My involvement in the daily routine of preparing food, feeding the bears and cleaning out the indoor enclosures meant that I had plenty of opportunity to watch their activities and they seemed to be interested to see what I was doing too. Their long curved claws and strong forelimbs enabled them to easily scale up the bars to reach the fruit we had thrown on top of the enclosure. Despite their physical strength, they showed surprising dexterity when unpeeling rambutans or bananas to eat the fruit inside. They also greatly enjoyed their twice-daily rice porridge feeding and usually slurped it down in a couple of minutes. The daily dietary intake of each bear was carefully calculated based upon his or her weight and age, with some individuals having specific dietary requirements related to their health status, which was often due to their malnourishment whilst kept as pets. In the wild, sun bears consume a great variety of fruits depending upon the particular fruiting season and also eat huge quantities of insects, such as termites, ants, beetles and larvae. The keepers collected termite nests and logs from the forest and brought them into the indoor enclosures to stimulate their foraging behaviour. I particularly enjoyed walking to the forest enclosures to scatter fruit over the fence for the bears to find amongst the vegetation. After foraging, they would often climb up the trees to digest their food whilst lying in the branches. Giving the bears freedom to explore the forest in the safety of the enclosures teaches them the skills necessary for survival, since their release back into the wild is the ultimate goal for many of them. It was fantastic to see how the lives of these captive bears had been dramatically improved by the efforts of BSBCC.
Another important aspect of the volunteer programme was making enrichment activities to stimulate the sun bears in their captive environment. A personal highlight for me was designing and making a hanging bamboo puzzle feeder, which encouraged the bear to climb up and explore the sections of bamboo, filled with forest vegetation and chopped banana. We placed one into Panda’s enclosure and within ten minutes she had gone up to grab some plants to eat and then spent the next twenty-four hours emptying it all out. Afterwards, I wrote an enrichment record about the activity so that its design and effectiveness could be assessed. This enabled Rodger the keeper to construct two more, but he modified the hanging method for Ronnie and Sigalung who then delighted in swinging on the bamboo before breaking it apart to eat the contents. It was highly satisfying as a volunteer to know that I had contributed to improving the welfare of the bears.
During my second week, our construction abilities were truly tested in the creation of a wooden resting platform for Montom and Susie 2. I certainly lacked the practical skills of using saw, drill and spanner, much to the amusement of the keepers who knew exactly what to do. Thankfully the expertise of the team meant it was built and installed within four days. Would the bears be impressed with our efforts? Once it was in the enclosure, Montom immediately went in to sniff the new object out, as it smelt of all the humans who had sweated over its construction. Its stability and strength were tested when he climbed on top of it and walked around. Within a short time, he started chewing at the wood, even pulling some chunks off, since sun bears also like to investigate things with their mouths. When the keepers checked up on the platform the following morning, one plank had already been completely ripped off. We concluded that some modifications in platform design would be necessary to increase its durability and this event gave me further respect for the strength of these bears.
It is impossible for me to write about all the highlights of my volunteering experience, as there were so many. The busy daily routine meant that my two weeks passed by far too quickly. Overall, I was very impressed with the knowledge, dedication and commitment of the BSBCC staff who welcomed me in to their team. The Ape Malaysia facilitators also helped me to understand more about developing enrichment activities and encouraged me to think like a bear when making them. Who knows when my creative use of bamboo may be needed again!
I am certain that this well-organised rehabilitation process will enable many of these sun bears the opportunity of returning to the wild. The conservation work of BSBCC offers hope for the future of sun bears in Malaysia. So why not volunteer to make your own contribution to their work.
Terima kasih BSBCC and Ape Malaysia!
Text By Leonardo Jainih (Intern Student)
Photo by Chiew Lin May
The primary goal of Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) is to promote sun bear conservation in Borneo by creating the capacity to rehabilitate and release suitable ex-captive bears back into the wild forest again. In order to achieve this goal, one of BSBCC’s efforts or actions is by allowing the bears to explore and forage the beautiful forest enclosure around them. Building up a forest enclosure is not as simple as just putting up a fence as sun bears love to dig the ground and to climb over the fence. The fence cannot be too close to the tall trees in the habitat or the more adventurous chaps might be able to venture out into the wild. From rehabilitation program, it actually encourage the natural bear behaviour and reintroduce them to the forest environment. For example, they dig to find food such as earthworms, termites, ants and bettles, climbing trees to sleep, search for honeybees and feed on fruits. In August this year, some exciting for the bears (Cerah, Jelita, Susie, Kuamat, Lawa and Manis) to experience await them. They are all adult female sun bears aged from 8 to 9 years old except for Manis (14 years old). The bears had been waiting for their new forest enclosure (Pen K) after they were moved to the second bear house when medical check were conducted on them weeks ago.
This process of releasing the bears to their new forest enclosure start with slowly open up the guillotine door for them to start their new chapter of life. Fruits such as papaya, watermelon, rambutan and honey dew were scattered around the ramp and on the forest floor. Usually, the bears will start sniffing their new environment and surely eats the fruits prepared for them. However, almost all the rescued bears at BSBCC had this one tricky habit which was trying to grab the fruits at the ramp and left at least their hind leg inside the den, as if to say, “I bet you would not close the quillotine door as long as parts of my body is still inside the den”.
Cerah was the first bear to come out from her den and began her journey to the new forest enclosure (Pen K). She was hesitant to go outdoors at first, sniffing the air and fruits near the entrance to her indoor enclosure. However, after nearly a week with food laid out on a ramp, Cerah took her first official step out to the forest.
As expected, it took a while for the bears to venture, but after a few sniffs and a scan through the new forest enclosure as well, they became more curious and anxious. No one said that this was an easy task as there were few bears took about 6 months to finally stepped out from their den and foraging the forest.
Cerah is one of Jelita’s bestfriend and roommate. She is a clever and curious young lady-bear, who tends to welcome new faces with a friendly sniff. Whenever new enrichment activitiy is introduced, Cerah is not one to follow her stomach. Unlike Jelita, Cerah is always curiously to seek out and explore the new toys before finding the food, even if it is one of her favourite treats. That is why Cerah was the first one to come out from her den to the forest enclosure.
Finally, Manis was the last bear among all six bears stepped out from her den and start exploring her new environment with high curiousity. In the end, Manis get to shares her enclosure with five other sun bears (Cerah, Jelita, Susie, Kuamut and Lawa). Despite all of this she equally likes her own space and if she is not in the mood for company, she lets the other females know quickly to leave her alone. It can be concluded that this plan is a successful one as it took only a month for all the bears at Pen K step out to the forest enclosure everyday. In no time, they remembered how to be wild sun bear again by digging at dead wood in search of insects like termites and beetles, and exploring and roaming the forest in peace.
Our hope is that one day they will confidently walked out and be ready for the wild forest but this is not an easy task. It really requires a huge amount of resources if it is to be done successfully. Therefore, it is very important to help them to remember how to be bears again so that they can survived in the wild without our help.
Text by Kelvin Chee Hon Yong
Photos by Kelvin Chee Hon Yong & BSBCC
Hi, my name is Kelvin Chee from Universiti Malaysia Terengganu (UMT). I just finish my study in Conservation & Management of Biodiversity and internship is a part of the requirement for my course. I’m feeling very lucky because can get a placement in BSBCC as many people apply their internship here as well.
Still remember upon arrival, the first staff I met was Nick. The funny thing was I do not know whether he can speak mandarin or not, so we just use English to chat. After reached office, only then I know he is a Chinese that can speak in mandarin too. And we just have a week to be friend as he went to further study in France later.
The first day I start to work in the bear house, Thye Lim as my supervisor run an induction to me and I still remember the words that he told me: Don’t think yourself is an intern student, but think yourself as a staff so you motivating yourself to learn and work hard and mix around with the staff. That’s why I start to follow their high pace working schedule on the second day. But that was really amazing because I learnt a lot of stuff especially how to work in a team and time management.
There are many stories to tell but I think I would like to choose some to say here. First what I thought intern here was just joining some outreach program or doing some field work. I don’t even know that intern need to wash the cages everyday! What terrifying is when you working in the kitchen preparing foods for the bears! Preparing the fruits but you can’t eat it under the hot weather and you are in hungry condition. What I mean is you can just easily get hungry during that time. And that smell of sweet corn and sweet potato will make you even hungry! Sometimes I will be duty in the kitchen for the whole week, and that particular week for sure I will buy some fruits from the market to release my tension! Besides that, the time when we making enrichments were really enjoying. They always make laugh on me when taking bamboo from outside. There is a time when me alone taking the bamboo from the outside of the main gate to the bear house, and it was really harsh to me! As they said this can build my muscles?! Oh…. After two months, it’s really build up my muscle! Wow~ So working in the bear house will definitely train you as fit as possible!
The friends that I met during my intern time were so cool! Thye Lim, Lin May, Azzry, Lester, Roger and others make my day during the time. We always make jokes and laugh at each other and went crazy together. But of course, we are very serious when we are working. Sometimes they will also bring me around in Sandakan, eat and play. It was really fun and thanks for all kind of the activities had planned.
Lastly, I would like to acknowledge Mr. Wong, founder & CEO of BSBCC for giving me the opportunity to learn here and his advices for me always encouraging me to keep on in the conservation field. Thank you very much!
Text by Kelvin Chee Hon Yung (Intern Student)
Many enrichments can be prepared for the bears and one of the enrichment projects for me to do is the termite breeding. Yes! Is termites! I am breeding termites! Maybe it sounds wrong for many people as termites don’t have a good reputation among the public. However, every creature has their own function! In this case, termite mound is used as an enrichment for the bears as this is one of their favourites. Enrichment is very important to animals. It is a process to provide stimulating and challenging environments, objects, and activities for animals for them to demonstrate their species-typical behaviour and enhance their well being.
Giving termite mound to the bears may encourage their foraging behaviour. This behaviour is important for them to survive in the forest as well. We planted the empty containers near to our bear house so we can easily collect the termite mound. This enrichment is easily to do but the only problem is you must be patient for waiting the termites build their mound. It might takes a few weeks to months sometimes.
The method is simple. Just makes some holes around the container to allow the termites to get in, then put some wood debris and cardboard then dampen it till it’s wet but not soggy. Make some holes under the container too to drain the water. Last, install it tightly into the ground. We are hoping that this method can get some good result in the future for us to harvest the termites.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Like many sun bear cubs, Tan –Tan’s mother was believed to be killed by poachers and she was sold as an exotic pet in the remote region of Paitan, Sabah. She was handed to BSBCC on August 5th, 2015 when she was three months old and weighted 4.9kg. She was placed into quarantine.
On August 12th, 2015, Dr. Sandy Ling Choo, a veterinarian from the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Rescue Unit and the BSBCC team performed a general health check. Dr. Sandy sedated Tan –Tan, then measured her weight and brought her to the examination area to make a full assessment of her health status. The assessment included a valuation of her overall health, potential sickness (e.g. signs of distress, ill-health, disease, injury etc.), functioning of the internal organs, pulse, respiration and temperature, then an inspection of her claws and teeth. Blood and hair samples were collected also. The blood test results have shown she is healthy. Today, Tan –Tan weighs 6 kg.
Tan –Tan settled in well and thoroughly enjoyed her new found freedom in the quarantine at BSBCC. For a young cub, a healthy and natural diet is very important. She has a good appetite. She enjoys all kinds of food and milk.
Tan –Tan is everything a cub should be – playful, inquisitive and agile. She was quite tame during the arrival but it is unbelievable the transformation her character has gone through compared to other sun bear cubs that we have received before. She has been pretty wild and she’s showed great skill when climbing the dead wood by hugging the wood. When encountered with strange things, she gradually made her way higher onto the platform and defended herself during the play fight with her care taker. Tan –Tan must be a strong natured little bear!
She was an energetic sun bear and made full use of the structural enrichments in the dens. BSBCC staffs provided many natural enrichment like termite mounds, dried leaves, fresh leaves and dead wood. She was curious and checked it first before playing with or destroying it. She practices her “wild bear skills” every day. All of these activities are learning experiences for her. Tan-Tan can often be observed playing excitedly with the bamboo feeder and Aussie Dog Ball enrichments and spends hours playing with them. She enjoys taking naps on her small platform or in her basket. Slowly, Tan-Tan has put her past behind her and is leaning to be a wild bear again.
In the coming weeks, Tan-Tan will be taken on walks to the adjacent forest reserve. This will encourage Tan-Tan to learn and develop her survival skills for the wild. Tan-Tan has a long way to go through rehabilitation. Tan –Tan is a delightful bear to be around and we are thrilled to have her at our centre. Stay tuned with BSBCC to have follow ups on Tan-Tan’s out to the forest story!