Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by BSBCC & Chiew Lin May
I am not an ordinary sun bear cub as I became a victim of the illegal wildlife trade.
A villager reported that I was found on a palm oil plantation while hunting for bearded pigs. I was kept as a house pet and ended up spending the beginning of my life confined in a tiny cage.
I was only two months old and weighed 2-3 kg. At two months old, I should be with my mother. In the wild, I should be tightly with my mum and relying on her protection and care for two to three years of my life. My mum was killed by a poacher, which is a common fate for sun bears. Many people still are not aware of the negative impacts and how illegal it is to keep a sun bear as a pet.
Due to the unbalanced diet with no milk and being kept in severely cramped conditions, I showed signs of malnutrition, calcium deficiency and stunted growth. It was sad to see the trauma I had to suffer alone. I am a dwarf with my limbs weak so I need to walk slowly.
Thankfully, on September 12th, 2011 Sabah Wildlife Department came and rescued me, and BSBCC gave me very close care.
During my rehabilitation, my papa bear, Dr. Wong Siew Te (BSBCC CEO &
Founder), took me out for daily forest walks to learn the survival skills I need in the wild. Wong is like my surrogate mother. This was amazing since it gives me the chance to return to my forest home. I learnt from my papa bear how to climb trees, how to balance myself when resting on trees, how to forage for wild food (example: fruits and invertebrates), how to defend myself and how to avoid predators. I am adapting really well to my new forest environment and am getting good practice for my life in the forest home. My papa bear helps me strengthen my muscles and makes sure I am capable in walking, climbing trees, running, and learning useful moves everyday! They prepared a variety of enrichment for me to ensure my natural instincts are prevalent. Mary, the sun bear wants to give Thanks to my papa bear, Wong – “Despite my stunted body, I am still a brave and confident bear! He helped me grow stronger, his tireless efforts to care for me while learning to become a wild bear and for giving me a second chance, and the dedication to protecting my fellow sun bears. I truly did not believe I would survive. It has meant everything to me, my Papa bear!”
It took a long time for me to undergo the rehabilitation process. I am in good health while under the care of BSBCC. For me, being previously kept as a pet made me forget that I am actually a sun bear. Suckling is an innate behavior. I should suckle my mum for seeking comfort but I had lost her, and the chance to seek protection and comfort. This makes me only able to suckle my own feet to seek comfort.
But a year later, with the care from BSBCC, I am slowly thriving!
I am a friendly character which makes me so incredibly loveable. I love to wrestle with the other bears.
Due to my relatively short and smaller sized body, I am now only able to socialise with the sub-adult group. Within these six years, I have been introduced to many groups of bears which have included Fulung, Debbie, Ah Bui, Bongkud, Koko, Damai, Sunbearo, Loki, Bintang, Boboi, Kitud, Tan-Tan, Dodop, Wawa, Montom, Susie2, Kala, Nano and Noah. I am very social with the other bear friends – through lots and lots of happy bear wrestling.
I greatly enjoy the time in the jungle with my friends
I am keen to explore my surroundings.
I am always up to something which is connected to food and have a good appetite.
I am at the age where I still am learning to be a wild bear and show a lot of natural behaviors such as digging, foraging, climbing and love finding my own protein supply of termites, beetles, beetle larvae or soil.
I love climbing to the top of the trees.
Although we are very arboreal and agile, here we sometimes will compete with each other to get to the top of the tree canopy! We are up in the trees, which is where we belong!
During sunny days, I prefer to stay in shady places – either in the underbrush or in the trees.
It is my determination!
The rest of the time, we enjoy wrestling, chasing each other, rolling, climbing trees, snoozing on a treetop or the forest floor, feeling the breeze stirring the treetops,
lounging by a pool
and carrying on making mischief and it is a whole load of fun! We find out about life in the forest together and are loving every minute of it! I am in my own world! But most importantly, I know I am part of the sun bear family.
What a wonderful experience and opportunity I have after such a traumatic beginning. Please spread the word that sun bears are WILD animals that belong in the forest, and NOT to end up behind bars. We need to clear the pet trade, poaching and deforestation. It is not over yet! Please let us enjoy the taste of freedom in the forest where we belong!
Text by Alex O’Keefe
Photos by Seng Yen Wah
My volunteer experience at the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Center (BSBCC) had been phenomenal to say the least. There were a multitude of activities and jobs I was assigned to do at the BSBCC to benefit the sun bears wellness and spread awareness on their behalf. In total, I was able to intern there for six weeks.
One of the project as an intern I participated in was to make a dog house for a pregnant mother dog. While this wasn’t necessarily geared toward the sun bears, the BSBCC does its part to help a variety of animals. Over the course of two weeks we gathered recycled wood, cut it and screwed it together. We built a frame using the selected wood, then acquired a few roles of old rubber hose. (At the BSBCC, they try and use recycled materials as much as possible implementing sustainable methods of action daily). Following the completion of the frame we tightly wrapped each individual hose piece around the wood frame.
Upon delivery, Momo (the mother) was scared and apprehensive at the new structure we placed next to her. However, she quickly took a liking to her new home! She was originally sleeping on a piece of cardboard so naturally this new structure would give Momo and her puppies more protection and a sense of security.
Simultaneously along with the doghouse, I helped build a large bear platform for outside pen E. We started by finding and cutting four large pillars of wood to an equal length. Then we measured four locations for where the wood posts would stand. Once the locations were decided, we imbedded the posts into the holes through careful and meticulous work. This was done using a combinations of gravel, dirt and water which would solidify around the posts and make cement; thus bolstering the posts in an upright position. More wooden planks were cut and nailed to the original four beams. Screwing the nails into the Belian wood (the wood the structure was composed of) was hard work. Unbeknownst to me at the beginning of the project, Belian is the densest tropical wood in the world! Regardless of using an electric drill, getting in just one nail was hard work. The nail drill would often smoke terrifically billowing out large puffs of smoke due to our inability to impact the wood’s thickness. However, over time progress was made. Some finishing touches like adding varnish to the wood were completed and through a team effort our final structure was completed.
My favorite project I was able to work on was to get a sun bear named Sigalung into Pen G (an outside enclosure). As easy at this may sound, just getting Sigalung into the training pen (which was an enclosure connected to his inside area) took well over a year! Through various days of coaxing Sigalung out with food and above all honey, he eventually took his first steps into Pen G. (I have written a more detailed account of Sigalung’s journey in a blog posted on the BSBCC website if you are interested. It’s called “One Small Step for the Sun Bear Center, One Giant Leap for Sigalung!”).
Amongst the projects I helped with were the daily activities to provide enrichments for the bears. Enrichments are toys or objects made to increase the bear’s mental and physical prowess while allowing the bears to practice habits and utilizes physical features they would normally use in the wild. Most enrichments will have bits of honey or food to entice the bears into using them. Materials are often pulled from the forest and or are recycled equipment. Some enrichments include but are not excluded to nest balls (plants tightly wrapped together containing food), ice blocks, dog toys, termite mounds and bamboo pieced that hang from the enclosure.
Here are some old rubber hoses cut up and wrapped around each other. They are held down using screws and placed in the center are smidges of honey and banana. The bears will use their long claws to pry the tightly wrapped ball open then extract the food using their elongated tongue. Fun Fact: The entirety of a sun bear’s tongue can grow up to 25-30 cm!
I thought it appropriate to finish off this reading with a picture of many of the people I worked with over the duration of my stay in Borneo (I’m the one with the sun bear head on). Words cannot describe how lucky I was to meet all of them. Not only is working hard for the bears a gratifying experience but it’s also simply fun!
For those reading this, if you are interested in contributing to the conservation of sun bears check out the BSBCC website. There are lots of way to help sun bears even if you can’t travel all the way to Borneo!
It’s amazing what a small group of people in Malaysia, Borneo are doing to save sun bears.Though I played a meager role in the grand scheme of their endeavors to conserve these amazing creatures, I at least feel I have played a small but important part.
Text by Kimberly Louise Tam
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
My name is Kimberly Louise Tam, 19 years old, Malaysian and am planning to pursue a degree in the veterinary field. I first visited BSBCC during a field trip organized by Monash and found out that they offered volunteering opportunities. I decided to spend some time volunteering after finishing my A Levels to gain some experience in the field and also get to know more about the sun bears that belong to my homeland, Sabah.
At the beginning of the whole experience, I was very nervous of what I was getting myself into. I remember having to wipe the sweat off my palms because I was so nervous during the interview. I was also very worried about travelling to a foreign place and not knowing anybody there. However, all my worries melted away when I arrived. The staff were incredibly welcoming and immediately treated me as one of them the first day I was there. They made sure I was well taken care of and understood everything that was going on. It made me feel very welcomed and also made me gain a new sense of respect for how well run the organization is.
Our daily routines are sort of like this: You wake up at 7am. Go to work at 8am. Morning tasks until 12.30pm. Lunch break until 2. Enrichment activities until 5pm then go home. Morning tasks will depend on what you are arranged to do for the day, it may be cleaning either Bear House 1 or Bear House 2, food preparations, fence checking. There are tons of enrichment activities but my personal favorite was feeding the bears ice blocks. Ice blocks are fruits frozen in honey water and they help keep the bears cool.
We went for a little hike to look for termite nests. It was tiring having to carry the heavy nests back but totally worth it when you get to see how much the bears enjoy their termites. I also helped build Olivia Tower which is a wooden platform for the bears to climb and also provides shelter. That was really hard work as it involved hand drilling and a lot of sawing. I did not get to see the bears interaction with the tower but I am sure they enjoyed it.
On my last day, I felt sad that I had to say goodbye to all the friends that I have made and the bears. I am really grateful to have met such kind people who are so dedicated to their work and the purpose of the foundation. I hope that one day I will return to BSBCC and be able to help out again!
Text by Nur Athirah Binti Asrif (UNIMAS student)
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Sunbears belong to the wild, in a vast forest and not in a cramped cage or behind iron bars. All the sunbears in the centre have their own despairing stories from before they were rescued. There might be more bears out there that need our help, faint voices that long to be rescued. Sunbears belong in the forest where trees become their shade and bushes comfort them as their pillows. However, not all of them have the opportunity to be able to enjoy the life they deserve. The canopies that are supposed to give them shelter are replaced with a human house, the tree branches for them to sleep and relax on are substituted with iron bars. The state of the 'homes' that are provided by humans are devastating enough, let alone the food they consume. Some of the bears are given only condensed milk by their previous owner, when their true diets range from fruits, insects and small mammals. As a conservation centre, this place provides all the essential things for the bears to experience the life they are supposed to. In the process of rehabilitation, the bears will be released into the forest enclosure after passing their fence training and integration with the other bears. For most of us at the centre, the small steps that the bears take to enter the forest enclosure is a big leap for everyone, especially the sunbears themselves.
This time around is our favorite duo, Noah and Nano. Both Noah and Nano have never been into a forest enclosure before let alone the vast jungle. On the 13th of August 2017, both Noah and Nano were given their first attempt to be released inside the forest enclosure of Pen D. As the guillotine door was opened, both Noah and Nano were full of anxiety. Both of them had never smelt the scent of the trees, nor had they seen the vibrancy of the greeneries. For them, it was like a new world that may or may not be secure for the both of them. Noah and Nano took their turns to take a glimpse outside of the cage. The rays of sunshine gave them a warmer impression of the forest. For their first attempt to be released in the forest enclosure, both Noah and Nano showed a positive response by letting their heads outside the G-door, although they had zero intention to go out in that moment.
Luckily, a great troop from the same pen which consists of Mary, Wawa, and Dodop, came down the forest enclosure of Pen D and had a visit to their new pen-mates, Noah and Nano. As Noah saw Wawa, Dodop and Mary playing under the sun and smothering their bodies with mud, Noah finally tried to walk down the ramp. Noah took a very little and cautious step down the ramp. It took him several attempts to finally touch the ground for the very first time. Noah's paw touched the wet mud but he was quick to retrieve himself and climbed back into the cage. It may have been humorous to us, but it was a bizarre experience for Noah as it was his first time experiencing the feel of the muddy texture. The weird greetings of the forest ground did not stop Noah from trying.
Wawa and Dodop, the other bears who also stay in the forest enclosure of Pen D, have helped Noah a lot in encouraging him to go down. As various foods were thrown into the pen, Noah finally went down and followed the other bears which were Wawa and Dodop. Noah enjoyed himself by playing with the water in the drainage and scraping most of the dead logs in the enclosure. Even the great amount of honey on the ground did not bother him as he was too immersed in his new surroundings. As days passed, Noah became more adventurous like he used to be.
He even climbed the trees which were guarded by Wawa and Dodop. The moment when Noah climbed the tree for the first time was such an enchanting and touching scene, showing how great it is for them to be able to enjoy the forest again. There was nothing in the world that could stop Noah in that moment as he ventured the whole forest enclosure himself. He digs every possible pit, scrapes every stray log and sniffs every inch of the greeneries.
Nano, on the other hand, is still cautious and chooses to stay in the cage by himself. Nevertheless, he always appears to be calm and has his own ways of enjoying the forest. Unlike Noah, Nano has his front legs crossed on the ramp while having his head resting on it. Nano chooses to enjoy the forest in a more calmer way and is more interested in the view of the forest rather than the touch of it.
As for now, Noah has become a part of Mary’s group and has the best time of his life everyday in the forest. Every morning when the guillotine door is opened, Noah is always there getting ready to enter the forest enclosure again to begin his new journey. On the ramp, Nano is always there relaxing and enjoying the forest with his own ways and will join Noah in the forest soon!
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Azzry Dusain
At 7.10 pm yesterday (8th September 2017), a two years and four month old, sub adult female bear who had been kept as a pet by a family in Tambunan village, located in the interior Division of Sabah, was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department and transferred to BSBCC. Orphaned sun bear Soo (Rescued Bear No.56) was purchased from Sook Keningau market and kept as a pet for almost two years. She was fed with rice, milk and cucumber.
Huge thanks to Sabah Wildlife Department for rescuing Soo. She has now settled into her new home with close monitoring at BSBCC quarantine. We will ensure she has a safe and secure home at BSBCC. Sun bear population is at the risk of extinction in the wild. Please do NOT keep or support having sun bears as pets!
Text and Photos by Shannon Samuel
My name is Shannon Samuel and I am in my final year of my Zoology degree at Western Sydney University in Australia.
What do you call a once in a life time chance that happens more than once in your life? I call it magical. In July 2017, I had to opportunity to volunteer at the BSBCC for two weeks. This is the second year in a row that I have had the opportunity to volunteer at this amazing centre and the fourth year in a row that I have been able to travel to Malaysia and visit the centre.
The volunteer opportunity is one of the most life changing experiences I have had in my life. I have had made lifelong friends at the centre and call the bear family at the BSBCC my second family, my home away from home. When I go home to Australia I spend most of my time dreaming about what I would be doing if I were in Malaysia at the Sun Bear Centre.
Each year I visit the centre things change, more bears more staff members and new opportunities to explore. Each day of the program when we did the morning or afternoon feeds I loved looking over the forest enclosures and seeing the different bears and the fun and games that they would have. Whether that was Sunbearo and Loki having fun together or Fulung up a tree, each day was different and the more time I spent in the forest the more I was learning.
One of my favourite parts of the working day was enrichment time, some days
we would go and collect materials in nest balls and end up covered in dirt because I would fall as I was having too much fun and I have no balance, other days it would be watching the boys trying to get bamboo down off the tree realising the bamboo that was cut was in fact from the middle of the tree. Each day was different and every enrichment was received differently by the bears at the centre. Some bears enjoyed a challenge while others liked to sit back and relax in the hammocks, it was so much fun learning what each bear preferred.
I have been blessed to be able to have the change to come and volunteer at the centre, my dream since I was a little girl was to make a difference in this world and I hope that with the work at the centre even if I help for a short period of time I hope that I can help the bears and others to make a positive change in this world for the better of all of us.
We would like to thank 1Utama Shopping Centre for supporting BSBCC again this year with a donation of RM10,000 collected through their "Feed the Fish" programme at the Rainforest section in the shopping mall.
Several signs about sun bears were also installed since 3 years ago at the Rainforest section to raise awareness on sun bears among shoppers.
Thanks for helping us make a difference in the lives of sun bears at BSBCC!