Text by Anastasia Ting Jia Lei
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
He peeked out of the door which separated the brightness of the greenery outside from the dim concrete walls within. After a few moments of hesitation, Chin made up her mind to leave her friend behind and pass through the door into the daylight, where she could explore around, bask under the sun, climb trees, and just enjoy her life. Amaco stared after her, sniffing curiously. Intrigued yet daunted by the world beyond the concrete walls he was used to, he had no intention to leave his comfort zone.
The guillotine door with rust spots slid down, blocking his view and plunging him back into the gloom he was familiar with. He turned away as loneliness engulfed him. Unsure what to do, he wandered to his usual spot and plopped down clumsily.
Time for a nap.
I watched this scene before me with mixed feelings. Amaco, a 29 years old Bornean Sun Bear, has never set foot in a forest where he belongs, and this is all because of humans' wrongdoings. After 18 years of being caged up in Tamaco Plantation, he has grown accustomed to the comfort within metal bars and dares not venture out into the forest. Pity welled up within me. How I wished I could do something to help him!
Then, an idea popped into my mind. If he wouldn't go into the forest enclosure, why don't I bring the forest to him? With that thought in mind, I strode up to my buddy, David Tahir, and shared my project idea with him.
I was warned, though, that Chin would destroy all the plants I add to Amaco's cage as they often share the same cage. Nonetheless, I was quite stubborn. I researched and asked around for the types of plants suitable for a dim cage like Amaco's. For example, fishtail palms, begonias, mosses, etc. Eventually, I settled on bird's nest ferns as they are easy to find, non-poisonous, low-light tolerant, and moisture-loving.
Mizuno, upon hearing about my plan, said, "Jom!" And just like that, my buddy and I followed him out of the bear house, through the territory of Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center, and down a long stretch of road to reach a plantation where ferns hung abundantly from the palm trees. We harvested several ferns and carried them back to the bear house.
Seeing my indecisiveness regarding how to plant the ferns, Roger guided me and helped me tie the ferns to logs. Two weeks before the end of my internship at BSBCC, I asked for the keepers' help to 'install' the ferns in Amaco's cage.
When we were done, I took out the foul-smelling frog juice (a type of fish bait) and lathered the areas around the ferns with it. As Amaco LOVES that juice, I was hoping that he would associate the ferns with it and grow to like the ferns.
But things went a little differently than expected.
Unable to reach the frog juice on the cage bar, Amaco lost his temper. With an annoyed grunt, he reached out his forelimb, and with a powerful tug, he wrenched the fern away from the wood.
The next day, to my delight, Pradeep shared with me that Amaco cradled the leaves of the fern as he slumbered at night! Then, I thought, why not just provide him with more ferns to keep him entertained and happy?
Again, Mizuno picked up a knife and led us back to the plantation for another fern-hunt. We found a gigantic fern, which Mizuno harvested with some difficulties. When we added the fern to Amaco's cage, he sniffed and clawed at the fern, searching for ants hiding within its roots.
Although planting the ferns in the cage for the long term would be ideal, it is quite an impossible task. Nevertheless, I am glad that this enrichment had given Amaco a good time, however short it lasted.
Video by Chiew Lin May
Amaco was found by a plantation worker in the middle of the forest when he was still a cub. He was kept as a pet and fed rice and condensed milk in the last 18 years. An inappropriate diet in the pet trade can lead to long term dental damage. He stressed upon arrival.
Amaco has been on a long road to recovery since he was rescued. He loves engages with enrichments. He likes to play fight with his best friends – Chin and Panda. Please share his story!
STILL THEY COME…
BSBCC has become home to three more bears since July!
On 23rd July BSBCC helped Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) in the rescue of an illegally kept captive sun bear from a palm oil plantation near Lahad Datu, southeast Sabah. Named Amaco, the 18 year old male was in fairly good health apart from bad teeth and mouth condition, having been fed on a diet consisting almost solely of rice and sweetened condensed milk. Amaco has been given medical treatment and has been temporarily housed in the old bear house and is slowly relaxing and settling in.
The following month, Fulung, a 9 month old male cub was brought to BSBCC by SWD staff, after being surrendered to the SWD Wildlife Rescue Unit by a villager from a remote part of southwest Sabah who had had the cub for several months, after hunting dogs had apparently found it in the forest. Fulung was malnourished on arrival but is now putting on weight and is being kept temporarily in the old bear house under quarantine.
A third new sun bear, Mary, arrived from Lok Kawi Wildlife Park on 12th September 2011. A female cub, possibly 6-8 months old, Mary had been kept by villagers in central Sabah since July. She shows signs of malnutrition and calcium deficiency but otherwise appears healthy, and has also been placed in quarantine in the old bear house. Read more about Mary.
A contract has finally been awarded to a local company for the construction of the BSBCC Observation Platform and trails to it, access boardwalk from the car park and upgrading of roads and drainage. Construction commenced at the end of September and should be finished by March 2012. Watch this space!
SPREADING THE WORD
Wong participated in the 20th International Conference on Bear Research and Management in Ottawa, Canada in July 2011, presenting a jointly authored paper on ‘The effects of selective logging on sun bears in lowland dipterocarp rainforest of Borneo’, and on October 1st gave a talk on BSBCC and sun bears at the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) headquarters in Kuala Lumpur. Over 40 people attended and the event was covered by the national press.
In September, BSBCC was thrilled to receive a donation of GBP500 (RM2,426.05) from International Aid for the Protection and Welfare of Animals, IAPWA, a UK based NGO, to be spent on purchasing ceiling fans for the new bear house.
Both individual and group volunteers continue to be an essential and much appreciated asset at BSBCC. Here are some of the activities some of the recent individual volunteers have been up to.
September was the time for the annual health check for most of the bears – a routine medical assessment of their overall health, potential sicknesses, internal organ function and physical condition. It was also a chance to give vitamins and de-worming injections and take blood samples and even hair samples for future DNA studies. Read more...
FILMS AND FILM STARS!
The end of July saw the first ever Borneo Eco Film Festival, held in Sandakan, Sabah. Always eager to raise local awareness, Wong gave a presentation on ‘The holistic approaches of Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre to conserve sun bears in Sabah’ and there was a showing of the 20 minute promo film “BEAR TREK” by Wildlife Media Inc. featuring Wong carrying out his research at Danum Valley in Sabah. The event was well attended and, hopefully, the first of many highlighting and showcasing Borneo!
Actor and avid conservation supporter Jason Scott Lee visited BSBCC on 24th September 2011 as part of an eco-travelogue being filmed throughout Malaysia for National Geographic. Jason spent a whole day filming at the Centre, enthusiastically taking part in cleaning of the bear pens, feeding the bears in the forest enclosures and walking Mary the sun bear cub in the forest. Read more…
Text and photos by Ng Wai Pak
It was two weeks ago when someone informed me that her friend had a sun bear that needed rescuing. Concerned of the whole situation, I got to my feet and instantly reported to the Sabah Wildlife Department. Very soon a rescue operation plan was well on its way. Boy was I glad that the department allowed our keeper, Daniel, and me to follow up with the whole operation from the beginning until the end.
On the morning of the 23rd July 2011, Dr Diana (Sabah Wildlife Rescue Unit), En. Azari (Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre), Daniel, and I (BSBCC) did the final check for the essentials before we started our journey to Lahad Datu. It’s sad that how most of the time we only get limited info about the bears that we are going to rescue, and most probably the information obtained might be inaccurate. Hence, to get ready for any unforeseen circumstances is a must!
I had my check list with me, and I made sure everything was on board for the journey. Translocation cage: Check. Medical box and sedation kits: Check. Camera and evaluation forms: Check. Okay team, all set and ready to go!
After a 2 hour drive and miles and miles and miles (yes, I mean MILES!) of monoculture plantation scenery, we then stopped in front of an oil palm mill and waited for Mr. Tew who was the person in charge of the local oil palm plantation. He then brought us into his plantation and showed us where the sun bear was kept.
And there he was, an adult male sun bear kept in a metal enclosure which was definitely bigger compared to the common local “dog kennel” cage. It was a hot and sunny afternoon, and the scorching sun was shining right above our heads.
He wasn’t really making things easier when the bear started to pace on the cement floor as well as on the rusted metal bed and later continued to bark at all of us. It was obvious that the bear was under stress, and probably sensing that something was going to happen, tried to get away from the cage he called home, a place where he has lived in for the past 18 years.
Everything was ready and Dr. Diana, looking like a female military officer in her all blacks attire and gumboots, aimed carefully and sedated the bear with her dart gun. An almost silent ‘whoosh’ and before you know it, within 10 minutes after the aim, the 47 kilogram male sun bear became slow in his pace and finally dropped unconscious on the floor. We then entered the enclosure and immediately started checking on the sun bear’s health. We found that his oral health condition was in quite a serious state. He has a lot of tooth decays and loose teeth as well as gingivitis. Despite that though, the bear was in good condition. Right before we placed him into the translocation cage, Dr. Diana gave him the multivitamin and antibiotic injection.
Later on, I interviewed the worker who took care of the bear. I was shocked to find out that the cause of the bear’s oral problem was due to his unhealthy diet. Well, try imagining this: two kilogram of empty porridge and 4 cans of condensed milk EVERYDAY. I don’t think I would be a very happy sun bear if I was fed that way for the past 18 years of my life. In fact, such unbalance and unnatural food is very commonly provided by the illegal owners to their pets, doesn’t matter if it is a bear or an orang utan.
Mr Tew admitted that he has no idea what a bear’s natural food would be. He didn’t know and assumed that condensed milk and rice porridge would be good enough to keep the bear alive and kicking. Well, I guess it did just that but the effect on the bear now is too much to bear.
I guess at this point you might be wondering how Amaco ended up living in the middle of an oil palm plantation. It was just back in 1993 when a group of workers were clearing the forest for the preparation of the new plantation when they found a cute little bear cub in the middle of the forest. They took him and named him as Amaco. Since then, Amaco has been kept in the metal enclosure, until recently, someone informed them about our centre.
After all the health check, we straight away sent Amaco back to BSBCC. By the time we arrived (which was already half past five), Amaco has already recovered from his sedation. It took us sometime to move him into the quarantine cage, for he was starting to growl and bark at us. For now, our plan is to monitor Amaco’s health condition and will start soon enough on a 30 days quarantine period for him. Definitely for sure, no condensed milk for him anymore!