Video by Chiew Lin May
Sun bears climb trees to forage for food, rest or protect themselves from predators.
Ah Bui is an arboreal bear. You may wonder what is it that makes Ah Bui such a good climber?
Text by Emily Tan Yu En
Photo by Chiew Lin May
On January 18th 2015, Montom was rescued by the Sabah Wildlife Rescue Unit from Kampung Melangkap, Kota Marudu and sent him to BSBCC on 21st of January, 2015. The story reported to the Wildlife Rescue Unit was the owner’s dog chased away Montom’s mother and she left him behind. He was taken and kept as a pet for a year in a chicken wire mesh cage and fed with human food. The owner was willing to surrender Montom to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit.
We introduced Montom to the other sub-adult group and was pleased to see him get along well with all the bears. After a few years, Montom is no longer a sub-adult bear so we’re going to let him join the adult bear group and let other sub-adult bears to join in his previous group.
Montom was introduced to the adult bears which included Rungus, Ah Lun, Julaini, Ah Bui and Fulung. Montom was introduced one-by-one for the first six days as he will feel surprise and afraid if he meet all the bears at the same time. At first, Montom played well with all the bears but Rungus and Ah Bui didn’t really likes to play with him as they will stay on aside or rest on the enrichment in the buffer cage. Few days later, all the bears play along with him and they’re trying learn to understand each other better even though sometimes they play rough to each other. They play around and chase each other and no aggression found during the whole integration.
Here are some photos during the integration of Montom with other adult bears.
Integration Montom with Julaini and Ah Lun
Integration Montom with Rungus and Fulung
After all the integration, we let Montom join with the adult bear group to the enclosure .They will move around in the enclosure searching for food. Montom get to learn some surviving skills from the bears such as climbing, self-defence, digging and others.
Text & Photos by Chiew Lin May
A sub adult, female sun bear was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) on 2nd May, 2012. She was named Ah Bui (Rescue No. 30), which means “friend” in local Murut language. Ah Bui came to the BSBCC on the 4th of May 2012, when she was two years old. She was originally from Sook village, Keningau. Ah Bui was kept by a person who almost sold her for the purpose of removing her gall bladder.
Imagine if we were late to rescue her, she would have become starved and wounded which would have caused terrible pain. Sun bears are hunted or killed in the wild to remove their gall bladder. Bear bile is used in traditional Asian medicine which can be useful for treating liver and gall bladder illnesses. Initial health checks showed her in good health with a weight of 25kg.
One of the primary goals of BSBCC is to conserve sun bears through creating the capacity to rehabilitate and release suitable orphaned and ex-captive bears back into the wild. Ah Bui has been given a second chance to survive in the wild. BSBCC enables rescued sun bear to live their life peacefully with the best of care. After 30 days of quarantine, free from pain, vet care and nutrition care, she had adjusted very well to life at the centre.
On 4th July 2012, Ah Bui finally met her first bear friend, Debbie. The close relationship formed among Ah Bui, Debbie and Fulung has lasted to this day.
Our rescued sun bears have access to the forest enclosure where they have tall trees to climb, a pool to cool off in, and iron wood to nap on. But when the rescued bears have stayed in a tiny cage for many years where they lost the chance to experience simple things from the natural world, it can be challenging for them to step out to the forest.
It requires considerable time and expense to restore the wild behavior of sun bears that have been victims of the illegal pet trade.
On 11th June 2013, Ah Bui and her friends took a huge step out to the door for her first glimpse of tall trees and to sniff the air! Slowly, she started with digging and turning dead wood to look for termites.
Ah Bui and her friends are well suited to their environment. Her short hair allows her to survive in the tropical forest. She enthusiastically destroys anything.
Sometimes she appears to be basking in the sun on a fallen decayed tree, absorbing the warmth of the sun’s rays. She is more than happy to lay around. She learns many of the forest skills that she would have naturally learned from her mother.
Ah Bui is a skillful climber, aided by long sickle-shaped claws that help her climb to the top of the tree canopy. She now very much enjoys climbing trees and has gained a lot of confidence and independence! She has been recorded to climb over to other forest enclosures through the trees five times!
Ah Bui also loves to climb high up and build a prefect sleeping nest.
She is learning and experiencing that life can be great! She is well enough to go outside and enjoy every minute of every day. She enjoys the sheer pleasure of being alive.
We can ensure that Ah Bui is ready for reintroduction. Ah Bui is healthy and she has developed her survival skills and wild behavior to equip her for life in the forest. It is always great to see our rescued sun bears back in the forest where they belong.
Please share the love. The rescued sun bears need to and deserve to live a wild bear life as any bear does.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
In August BSBCC integrated Montom (a three year old, sub-adult male bear) and Susie (a four year old, adult female bear) into a new group with one adult, male sun bear (Fulung) and four adult, female sun bears (Mary, Debbie, Damai and Ah Bui). Montom showed positive interaction and easily adapted with his new friends. Montom and Fulung enjoyed epic wrestles together. They have spent a great deal of time sniffing, chasing, and rolling on their backs in a very friendly way. Damai is the exception and has shown less interest in play. Montom is a very sociable bear, whereas Susie is an aggressive bear and has displayed stress due to emotional trauma which resulted from her being kept as a pet. For the rest of their weeks, they integrated well and began to understand each other better. Debbie is the dominant female bear in this large social group.
Interaction between Montom, Susie with Ah Bui
Interaction between Montom, Susie with Debbie
Interaction between Montom, Susie with Fulung
Interaction between Montom, Susie with Mary
Finally the day came for Montom and Susie to feel the forest floor under their paws again. Although at the beginning it was a new environment for Montom and Susie with having to share the new enclosure with other bears, they are still adjusting themselves and getting along with their new mates. The whole group will be sharing one forest enclosure! It is hard to imagine that both of the bears ever thought their life could change. Susie is still aware surroundings and is having the time of her life. It has been a delight to watch Montom and Susie grow into happy and healthy bears.
Thankfully Montom and Susie are growing stronger and are progressing well. Their natural ability gives hope to our team that in the future they will learn all the skills they need to return to their natural habitat. From being rescued to their time in quarantine to forming relationships with other bears to stepping out into the forest enclosure, giving Montom and Susie a new journey in life. Sun bear rehabilitation is a long process. It changes many sun bears’ lives. Thank you for supporting our work to help Montom, Susie and many orphaned sun bears. Let’s make second chances for them to be free sun bears in the wild.
Text by Jaike Bijleveld
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Damai is a shy and sweet little girl of 2 years old who loves splashing herself with water. Besides the two sun bear cubs Loki and Sunbearo, she is the youngest sun bear in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC).
When Damai was only 5 months old, she was found wandering at a car park before she was brought to the BSBCC.
In the first seven months or so, one of the bear care staffs showed her the jungle around the Sepilok Jungle, to get her familiar with the surroundings. To surprise of everybody, she started making a nest in a tree without a mother to show her how!
When she was about 1 year old, it became too dangerous for a human to walk with her in the jungle, so she moved to the indoor bear house. Usually this is also the age that people, who keep sun bear as a pet, start to realize that sun bears are wild animals and their huge canines and claws can and will be very dangerous. Next stop for a captured sun bear is often a tragic one: the cooking pot, the traditional medicine store or the black market.
In the wild, baby sun bears will stay with their mother until they are 2 to 4 years old, before they take off to live a solitary life. They learn all kinds of practical things to survive. Damai lost her mother too young, so she needs to learn these things from other sun bears, although she already proved that some skills depend on nature rather than nurture!
TIME TO MEET SOME OTHER BEARS
Now she reached the age that she is not so vulnerable anymore, so it was time to start an integration process with six other bears of her age: the females Mary, Debbie, Koko, Ah Bui and Bongkud, and the male Fulung. They all share four adjacent indoor cages, connected by sliding doors, but until two weeks ago the sliding door of Damai's cage was kept closed until the six others went to the outdoor enclosure at day time.
Because it would be too overwhelming for Damai to meet all six sun bears at the same time, one by one introduction was started for the first five days. Except Mary and Ah Bui, all of them where curious, started sniffing at her and wanted to play with Damai, but only Fulung succeeded. Not because Damai wanted to play with Fulung, but simply because it was not possible to escape strong and playful Fulung!
The playing of sun bears looks a lot like a wrestling match, with a lot of neck biting and clawing, but as long as there is no growling, you know it's just playing. Later, in the wild, the fighting skills they learn while playing are very useful when they get attacked by, for instance, a python or clouded leopard or other competitive sun bears.
In the following days, the number of bears integrating with Damai slowly increased, until after about 8 days the complete group could be with Damai at the same time. In the days that passed, it became clear that Damai is a girl that likes to be alone. Bongkud and Debbie manage to play fight with her for a few minutes, and Fulung still is record holder playing with Damai. The rest of the group is simply ignored or ignores Damai. But there is no aggression either, so the integration sessions can be called successful. After all, being alone is their nature.
NEXT STEP: GET READY TO LEAVE THE BEAR HOUSE
Before any sun bear can leave the indoor bear house to the outside forest enclosure, there is training required: fence training. Each forest enclosure has a fence with electrical wire (hot wire). This is necessary to make sure that non-integrated groups won't climb to each other's enclosure, or that any of the sun bears won't climb outside the enclosure where humans walk and dangers for the sun bear lure.
In the indoor bear house, next to the cages where Damai had her integration sessions, is a large training pen. With honey, porridge and fruit Damai was encouraged to come near the hot wire, with a very low voltage in the beginning. The first day, the same day of her first integration session, Damai touched the hot wire while licking the honey. It scared her so much that she immediately ran back to her own cage! The next day the same thing happened, and the three following days she had just enough courage to walk into the training pen before hurrying back to her own safe cage. It took a whole week and four more 'zappings' before Damai understood how to get the food without touching the hot wire and walk confident around in the training pen. At that point the integration area could be extended to the training pen.
This week she will be allowed to go to the outside enclosure together with the rest of her group to reach the final stage of her training: get her ready to release her back in the wild!
Text by Shelly Smith
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Following up on the indoor integration of the Mary and Natalie groups, today we saw the culmination of the exercise – the whole group outside sharing one forest enclosure!
By regularly allowing the indoor socializing and ‘wrestling parties’ these bears so love, the bear house team ensured the two groups remained on friendly terms.
Finally the time had come to test their ‘friendliness’ outdoors, where controlling a tense situation or fight would be impossible. A few of us entered the forest enclosure to scatter loads of fruit which would serve to distract from conflict, and fill tummies, hopefully creating a contented environment. Having only fed and observed from the feeding platform into this forest enclosure, I felt a little like being in someone’s home without their permission!
Then the bear keepers opened the bear house doors while we waited expectantly at the feeding platform, anxious to see who would be the first to arrive in the pen. It took a good 5 minutes before we finally saw Fulung and another of the Mary group trundling along, calmly foraging on the scattered fruit. We had another wait until we saw any of Natalie’s cronies come to investigate the main area of the forest enclosure. Slowly Rungus, Natalie and Julaini began to familiarise themselves with the change of environment. Fresh alliances were forged and tree trunks were explored. Curiosity ruled the day.
Late afternoon found Natalie relaxing under her new favourite tree with a new found favourite friend – Bongkud, while Ah Bui sunned her tummy as her latest cohort Rungus dug for termites. Debbie showed off her climbing skills and Fulung continued his endless search for tasty snacks.Fortunately the day passed wonderfully uneventfully.
Introduce the ten sun bears that share in one forest enclosure:
The bears all headed indoors for their much-loved evening meal; Julaini had chosen to stay indoors during this change of routine, which was probably fortunate as this young male could be a rough playmate with Fulung at times. While Natalie and Bongkud like to stay outside forest enclosure.
The next day proceeded to be just as peaceful and without any incidents. This must be a world first - successfully integrating ten bears into a single forest enclosure.
Obviously this is not ideal, much more space is required. But it shows how well the competent bear staff know their bears - to manage factors like age, sex, character traits, and hierarchies within established groups - to pull this off so smoothly in the limited space available. Congrats, guys, it was a great privilege to be involved in this venture!
Now Bermuda can have his turn out in the forest:-)
Text by Shelly Smith
Photos by Chiew Lin May
As the BSBCC presently only has 3 outdoor pens large enough to accommodate several bears at the same time, some seriously strategic ‘bear shuffling’ has to occur in the bearhouse in order to get the right bears into the right cages for the outdoor exit ramps.
There are 2 existing groups that need to be integrated so they can occupy one outdoor pen instead of two, freeing up the second outdoor pen for Bermuda, a large mature male who is eagerly awaiting his outdoor sessions.
The two groups are ‘matriarchal’. The’’ Mary’’ group consists of 6 sub adult bears – little Mary, Ah Bui, Debbie, Koko, Bongkud and young male Fulung. 2nd group is Natalie’s group of four, with Natalie, Ah Lun, Runggus and young male Julaini.
Bear etiquette dictates that a polite introduction is by way of curiously sniffing through an interconnecting gateway - if no sign of aggression is seen, then the gateway is opened cautiously by the bear keeper, and one bear may proceed into the adjoining cage where the sniffing procedure progresses to a stage of playful paw inductions. Hereafter it is quite permissible to raucously cavort around the cage and wrestle in the hammock (or other enrichment provided) until one or both bears are completely exhausted. Suckling on a bear’s ears is a privilege for best friends only.
Integration started on the 9th September by daily introducing one bear from Mary’s group to the Natalie group bears, one bear at a time over an hour or so. These introductions over the week went amazingly well with no hint of aggression as each bear learnt the smells, stature and behaviour of the others, in spite of two females being on heat during the process.
However, there came a turning point when the two young males were introduced. All went smoothly at the beginning of the session with 7 of the bears occupying 3 interlinking cages, playing and rough-housing with great abandon. Fulung, the young male from Mary’s group, has a wound that he continuously scratches at and thus it cannot heal. Julaini, the young male from Natalie’s group, curious to see if this could be meat, took a bite, with the ensuing fracas becoming quite violent, and intervention needed.
Lesson learnt! - since then Fulung’s would is treated with medication so he no longer smells like a meal, and all bears taking part in integration sessions are fed copious amounts of fruity treats, so tummies are full and everyone’s content beforehand.
All 10 bears will continue to mingle for a period every day under the watchful eyes of the bear team until they are deemed ‘’suitably merged’’ to enter the outdoor pen together. Bermuda can then finally be moved up the chain of linked cages to the outdoor exit of forest enclosure, and experience the freedom of the natural forest again!
Special Moments with Mary, Ah Bui, Koko, Debbie, Fulung and Bongkud in the BSBCC Forest Enclosure Part III
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Chiew Lin May and Tee Thye Lim
Here are some photos of our sub – adult sun bears, out in the forest enclosure. They love to be by trees and will find activities to occupy their time that will keep them close to the canopy. These include looking for termites, other forest invertebrates, climbing trees, playing together and taking naps. They get on really well, and enjoy playing together. These six sun bears at the forest enclosure is buzzing with cheer and joy. Look what they are doing in the forest enclosure!!
Special Moments with Mary, Ah Bui, Koko, Debbie, Fulung and Bongkud in the BSBCC Forest Enclosure Part II
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
It is happy sight to see Mary, Debbie, Ah Bui, Koko, Fulung and Bongkud knew what to do when they went out into the enclosure with all of the trees. Here are some photos of our sub-adult sun bears, out in their forest enclosure. They are very awesome!!
Look what Debbie doing in the forest enclosure!!
Look what Koko doing in the forest enclosure!!
Look what Ah Bui doing in the forest enclosure!!
Look what Mary doing in the forest enclosure!!
Look what Fulung doing in the forest enclosure!!
Look what Bongkud doing in the forest enclosure!!
For more information about BSBCC and the sun bears, have a look at website (http://www.bsbcc.org.my/) and facebook (https://www.facebook.com/sunbear.bsbcc)
Special Moments with Mary, Ah Bui, Koko, Debbie, Fulung and Bongkud in the BSBCC Forest Enclosure Part 1
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Gloria Ganang & Chiew Lin May
On June 11th, 2013 Ah Bui and Mary spent their first few moments of freedom roaming, exploring, and playing around the forest enclosure. The next day, they were joined by Debbie and Koko. Soon after, the four sun bears were united with Fulung and Bongkud in one forest enclosure. At first they were curious about all of the tall trees around them. Tall trees! NOT a cage!!
These 6 sub-adult sun bears are now spending a lot of their time exploring, roaming, digging, resting, climbing, and foraging for food in the forest enclosure. They interact with their new environment by using their strong keen senses to experience different smells and sounds in the forest.
Today, a dream became reality, and now these 6 sub-adult sun bears are confidently roaming and exploring in the forest. Once the door was opened, all of them went out into the forest immediately. They are extremely adventurous and already attempting to climb trees and logs. The bears are happily enjoying living amongst the tropical rainforest, each in their own special way. Ah Bui, likes to dig in the soil and search for food while others prefer to use their sharp canines to rip open trees and find their favourite snack. They rummage through the forest smelling around decayed wood and dead logs in search of any interesting insects and invertebrates.
When the bears are not spending their time resting or sunbathing on the forest canopy they are sharpening their tree climbing skills to help them catch termites and other forest invertebrates.
They’ve also become good playmates and will play, chase, hang out, and climb trees together in the forest.
It brings great satisfaction to see the 6 young sun bears freely roaming in the forest enclosure. They’ve all made such great progress, and are beginning to take on characteristics and natural behaviours of wild sun bears. Adapting to the forest is not easy, but once they begin to explore, things will get better.
The sun bear is one of the most mysterious bears of the jungle, and plays such an important role in maintaining the ecosystem and equilibrium of the forest. Major threats to sun bear include habitat loss and poaching. Sun bears are classified as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) aims to conserve sun bears through education, rehabilitation, and research with hopes to improve the welfare for captive orphan sun bears. Please help us spread the word!!
Here are a couple of photos of Mary, Ah Bui, Koko and Debbie explore in the BSBCC forest enclosure.