Text by Pradeep Aggi Gunasegaran
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Rescued Bear Number 56 which goes by the name Soo maybe be well known among the loyal supporters of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) but for those of you who are new to our cause, here is a little flashback to the beginning of Soo’s life. The details that were provided to us spoke briefly about Soo being traded in a market at Sook, Keningau in the year of 2015. She was purchased by her owner for RM 350 and then lived as pet for two years in the interior division of Sabah. In 2017, Sabah Wildlife Department rescued Soo and handed her over to BSBCC when she was already at the age of three years old. There is no doubt that Soo’s mother would have been killed for her to be sold in a market. A mother bear would always try her best to protect her cub just as like it was potrait in a recent trending news (June 2021) which mentioned that a young American woman pushes off a brown bear to save her dogs. If you would have seen the entire CCTV footage, you would notice that the brown bear had two cubs and the mother bear became defensive when the dogs started barking frantically.
Like any other sun bears that end in BSBCC, Soo also underwent a health check upon arrival. However, unlike many sun bears which arrive in poor health conditions, Soo’s blood work indicated that she was healthy. While her general health was in order, Soo was not adjusting well to the surrounding. She was always in heightened alert state as keeper were around in the day. She would only eat her food and play with environmental enrichment after the keepers leave at the end of the day. The changes to her behaviour were subtle as she would aggressively start pacing if there is the slightest form of stressor such a single loud noise. As her behaviour slowly improved, it was decided that Soo’s rehabilitation process would take a positive turn by integrating her with Sika, Kina, BJ; three young sun bears and Diana; our adult female sun bear. At the beginning of the integration, Soo was apprehensive and confused at time when it came to interacting with the other bears. Although, it was difficult for her in the beginning, she eventually got along with all the other sun bears and she was able to eat, play and sleep together with them. Soo remained vigilant to the presence of keepers but having other sun bears around her did allow her to be more relaxed in comparison to her early life as a solitary bear since arriving at BSBCC.
After staying at BSBCC’s quarantine section for few years, Soo was transferred to bear house with her friends Sika, Kina and BJ in 2020. It was another stressful yet a necessary process that had to be endured by Soo in her rehabilitation program. This time around, there were more sun bears around where she could either see them or catch their smell and of course, there were also more keepers and volunteers around as well. Soo spent her first week clinging to the top of the den, refusing to shift dens for cleaning to be done or even coming down to take her food as long as she knew that keepers were still in the bear house even if they were not standing in front of her. Once she settled down in bear house, the next step in her rehabilitation process was undergoing fence training. Surprisingly, Soo was first to pass fence training among her friend. As soon as Sika, Kina and BJ passed their fence training, all of them were released into Pen G, a small forest enclosure. This time around the transition from a small enclosed space; which was very familiar to her to a large open space was tremendously difficult for Soo.
After a few of month, Soo did not touch the soil in Pen G and it was decided that her entire group would be shifted to Pen K as an effort to get Soo living her life as a wild sun bear. When Soo, Sika, Kina, and BJ were released into Pen K, the initial results were similar as Soo refused to step down to venture into the forest while the others were quick the enjoy the much bigger forest enclosure. It also took Soo few month before she gathered the courage to step on the concrete flooring of Pen K, a flooring that is much familiar to a sun bear like Soo. After a combine of seven months, the bear care unit spotted Soo venturing into the forest enclosure. Although she was brave enough to indulge herself with nature, by afternoon, Soo would be back to bear house, on the all too familiar concrete flooring, waiting for the keepers to bring her back into the bear house later in the evening. In March 2021, Soo and her friends were once again shifted to Pen G as per the rotational practice under BSBCC. Unfortunately, the cycle repeats itself for Soo as she has yet to set her paw onto the ground of Pen G at this point of writing.
The rehabilitation process undergone by Soo with BSBCC has been a long and slow process. The reaction that Soo has been giving throughout the process clearly indicates that she is a traumatised Bornean Sun Bear. The actions of us, the human-beings have robbed her the essence of living her life as a sun bear; especially when she was a mere cub which could have lived peacefully with her mother for at least two years, learning the way of a sun bear.
Sun bears are a totally protected species, protected by the law in Sabah. It is illegal to hunt, to be kept as a possession or to be involved in any activity that could cause harm to a sun bear. Sun bear cubs are cute but it is also a reason for the depleting population of sun bears in the wild and the growing cubs end up having a traumatising lives just like Soo’s. Please say no to illegal wildlife trade and if you happen to see any sun bears being sold, you can alert the Sabah Wildlife Department or BSBCC.
As for Soo, BSBCC would continuously put in the effort to aid her with the rehabilitation program. We would also like to convey our appreciation to Perbadanan Insurans Deposit Malaysia (PIDM) who is adopting Soo under the My Bear Adoption Programme which further aids in our cause to give a second chance to the rescued Bornean Sun Bears in Sabah.
Text by Poon Siau Hui
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
BJ, the energetic five year old male bear was staying in Bear House 2. He was the 61st Bear rescued by the BSBCC. When he gets his favorite foods, he will guard his food by barking loudly.
When he was just five months old, he was purchased in Sonsogon Village, Pitas for RM 300 and then kept as a house pet. He arrived at the BSBCC on November 22nd 2018 when he was two years old. As his previous owner had fed him with rice, meat, honey, and fruits, he weighed 33.8kg.
As BJ is one of the illegal trade victims of a young age, we believe that his mother was either poached or killed. Normally in the wild, the sun bear cub will be cared for by their mother until 2 to 3 years of age.
When entering his new environment and surroundings, BJ takes time to adapt in the den. But as soon as he settled down and was no longer traumatized, he was given a chance to integrate with a larger social group of female bears – Kina, Sika, Soo, and Diana. By integrating with others bears, he can learn how to be a REAL bear and adjust his life living with bears not humans.
To proceed with the rehabilitation process, BJ, Soo, Kina, and Sika were moved to Bear House 2 and released into Pen G. But before BJ is released into the forest enclosure Pen G, he needs to go through fence training. At first BJ was afraid to go outside as this is another new environment for him. But after he tried to be brave and step out into the forest, he falls in love with it. He loves the texture of the ground which is covered with soil not concrete, the place where he belongs.
BJ really learnt a lot on how to be a real sun bear again,bonding with his friends. Hopefully one day he will fulfill all the criterias which a wild sun bear should have and have a chance to feel the freedom in the rainforest.
Text by Poon Siau Hui
Photos by Mizuno Merek Men, Mohd Salffazryean Suban Abdullah & Seng Yen Wah
Greetings to everyone, my name is Poon Siau Hui or most of the time they call me Ashley and I am from Sandakan. Straight after my internship, I am entering my final year studying Animal Resource Science and Management better known as Zoology at University Malaysia Sarawak. My application for an intern placement at the BSBCC was in my plan during my first year of study. I am glad that I did my internship during the Covid-19 pandemic period.
I was assigned to a buddy to guide me throughout my 10 weeks internship, Julamih, a junior bear keeper. Although he was still quite new at the BSBCC, he taught me as much as he knew. Both of us learnt from each other. But during the last few weeks of my placement, he was transferred to Quarantine,which I could not join. So, for this period I was guided by different keepers daily.
As the centre is still not open to the public, most of my work is animal husbandry. The bear care unit members are split into different groups to complete morning routine. These are cleaning the dens in Bear House 1, Bear House 2 and Quarantine, working in the Kitchen, Fence Check, Medic, Faecal Check and feeding. A weekly roster was prepared which rotated into these different departments. Bear in mind, volunteering at the BSBCC requires physical preparation. All jobs require a high amount of energy such as cleaning the dens, hiking during fence checking, carrying bowls which contain at least 2kg of fruits to feed in the outside enclosures. I am getting stronger day by day.
.There are many unforgettable moments that I went through during these days. Making various types of enrichment for all the bears (sambil membawang HAHAHA), going out to collect banana leaves, going into forest to search for termite’s nests, observing Romolina, Logan and Joe for their integration with others adult bears, doing some maintenance in the bear house,I had the opportunity to learn on how to use water jet and so on.
From only knowing Amaco at first, now I can recognize all the bears. I feel a little proud of myself. Whenever I was free, I went to observe the bears while they were eating, enjoying enrichment that I made and smiling towards them as I felt so grateful that I had a chance to observe them closely. I was able to join Lingam, a male sun bears’ health check too! That was an exciting yet nervous moment!
At last, I would like to give a huge thank you and big bear hug to all the bear care unit members: Yen Wah, Julamih, Mizuno, Dr. Boon, Roger, Adneen, Danny, Pradeep, and David. Thank you for welcoming me during my first day. I did not feel awkward but filled with warmth! Thank you for all the jokes that made my day full of laughter and fun. Thank you for sharing all your experience in this field and teaching me to do something new which I have never done before. Roger and Adneen, who never underestimated me and were willing to help me as their temporary buddy. Not to forget our papa Bear, Dr. Wong who advised me on my future and shared his precious pathway working with sun bears from zero to now. I truly appreciate all the knowledge and skills that I gained throughout these 10 weeks. I’m going to miss you all and the bears, looking forward to my next visit to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre