Text & Photos by Seng Yen Wah
The Sun Bear is the smallest bear species in the world. They are listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This means that it is illegal to trade them on all international commercial trades in bear parts and products. However, illegal wildlife trade is still one of the biggest threats to all the wildlife species. So, what is wildlife? Wildlife is the animals that grow or live wild and independently in a natural condition.
Some people still believe that bear bile and gall bladder are very good traditional medicine. Poachers also poached the bears for the meats, the claws, and canines as a souvenir. Consequently, more wild sun bears are killed for it. They do not deserve being treated like this!
In Malaysia, the administrate regions are divided into three semi-autonomous ones: Peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak, and Sabah. Sabah and Sarawak can make separated laws on matters in the ‘State List’ and the ‘Concurrent List’ of the Constitution, which include the wildlife law. As a result, there is not a unified wildlife enforcement law but three wildlife laws in Malaysia.
Sun bears are a totally protected species under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 in Sabah and Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 (Act 716) in Peninsular Malaysia. However, Sun bears are only listed as a protected status under Sarawak’s Wildlife Protection Ordinance.
When technology is getting advanced, social media become a MUST in our life. However, exotic animals and wildlife are endangered due to advanced technology. How so? Selling them has become easy and it creates a market demand. A simple click then the purchase is done. Cuteness is a curse for wildlife. They are cute but it does not mean that they deserve to be kept as house pets. Take the sun bear as an example, the cubs stay together with the mother bear for two to three years. So, where is the mother bear when a bear cub is found alone? Have you ever wondered why the mother bear abandoned her own cub? The answer is that a mother bear will never abandon her cub unless she was killed by the hunters! What about the bear cub? It ends up being a pet for them! No reasons can be acceptable and tolerated for their deeds, what the poachers have done is unforgivable!
Sun bears are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. The population of sun bears are decreasing. The forest is the wildlife’s home - a natural habitat. However, development of the country scarifies the forest to increase the country’s economic growth. And, wildlife has no chance to say No for what happened to them. They are losing their home and their friends. Extinction of species will cause ecosystem imbalance. Every species is playing their role in the forest, just like the sun bear.
Sun bears are the forest planter. Sun bears are opportunistic omnivores. They consume a variety of forest fruit. As they travel, they disperse the seed in the forest. When the seed furthers away from the mother tree, the seed will have a higher survival rate. Besides, sun bears are excellent climbers. Sharp claws are served as important tools for them to climb. One of the reasons they climb trees is to harvest honey from beehives. Sun bear loves honey and this is why they also are known as a honey bear! When the sun bears want to get honey from a tree, they use their claws and strong canine to tear the tree trunks and get the honey inside. After that, it creates a cavity in the tree that can be used as a nesting site or a resting place for other animals, such as flying squirrels and hornbills.
Termites feed on live and dead trees. They build their colonies in the host tree, which makes the tree unhealthy and hasten the decaying and rotting process of a tree. Sun bears love to eat termites. Termites are one of the important protein sources of sun bears. They will dig into termite nests and consume them. Sun bears spend time on digging. Further than termites, they also dig for invertebrates such as pill millipedes, beetle grubs, and ants. Digging contributes to enhancing the nutrient cycle in the forest and consume the termites can help to keep the forest healthy. Every species in the forest helps to maintain the ecosystem balance but the balance is slowly destroyed by human disturbance. The out of control human activities are threatening the lives of wildlife.
The sun bear is the forgotten bear species. But, they need your attention! Spread the word and let’s save the Sun Bears together!
Sun bears are the coolest! Let’s learn about them!
The sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) is the smallest bear on the planet. They live in the forests of South East Asia. Sun bears are not picky eaters –opportunistic omnivores. They eat a varied diet including termites, ants, beetle grubs, a large variety of fruit species, and honey. Besides being adorable and charismatic, these smallest bears play an important role in maintaining the ecosystem and equilibrium of the forest. Like other bears, sun bears are face threats ranging from illegal poaching for their gall bladders, the illegal pet trade, and loss of habitat. You can join to help care for them: https://www.bsbcc.org.my/volunteer.html
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by BSBCC & Chiew Lin May
Sweet Manis has been at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) since August 2009. During the arrival, she was suspected to be pregnant. However, her pregnancy was later found to be a pseudo pregnancy. Manis means “Sweet” in Malay language.
Manis was found having health problems which caused changes in skin colour and dryness. Her health condition has improved with intensive treatment and care. She has received health checks since arriving at her new home. Manis settled into the new environment very quickly. A nutritious and balanced diet was given to her.
Being kept as a pet for years can have an effect on the sun bears physical and mental health. Manis will show more stereotypical behaviours in the dens. It is believed that she was never given any enrichment when she was kept at the zoo, thus leading to her stereotypical behaviour. The volunteers and keepers provide different types of enrichment to encourage Manis’s natural behaviour and for stimulation. Manis is a curious bear that is keen on interacting with the new enrichment toys offered. She now has dry leaves as a bed which she has never had before.
After she finished quarantine period, Manis soon moved to the next stage of her rehabilitation. In 2010, Manis was integrated with the larger adult female bear group – Cerah, Jelita, Kuamut, Susie and Lawa.
Manis and her friends were moved to the new bear house on 7th April 2010, after the construction of bear house 1 and forest enclosure 1 was completed.
Integrating them with other bears will enable them to share and roam the forest enclosure together. It also allows Manis to continue to learn more wild sun bear behaviours. Besides, there has been a significant change in Manis’s behaviour since she has bear pals. Over the years, we have watched her grow into a gentle and dominant adult bear. She is the “grandmother” of the group.
Preparing for life in the wild can be a long process. Sun bear cubs will live with their mother for two to three years to learn the skills they will need to become wild sun bears. But for Manis’s case, she will not be able to be released in the wild due to her old age. But in BSBCC, Manis will be given a second chance to survive as a wild bear in order to let her have the freedom to live in the rainforest.
On July 2012, it was the first time for Manis to begin exploring the forest world when she was released into the forest enclosure and was able to be free to forage, climb, play, explore the world and acquire a variety of other survival skills.
Despite her age, Manis tends to spend more time on the ground than climbing high in trees. This includes looking for termites and taking naps. Manis has adapted well to life as a sun bear and is leaving her past behind her. She enjoys the forest and displays absolute enthusiasm!
We cannot imagine the future for sun bears if they continue being caught and sold as house pets, or their home continues to be lost. We must protect sun bears and their forest. Please help to stop illegal wildlife trafficking.
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photo by Sabah Wildlife Department & Chiew Lin May
A sub adult, male bear was rescued on the 5th of December 2009 in Taman Formosa, Penampang Baru, Sabah. He was found trapped in the farm and was kept in a small iron cage for a very long time. He was then brought to the Lok Kawi Zoo and sent to BSBCC on the 3rd of July 2010.
He is now safe, and we will give him the best chance of surviving in the forest. He was named “Julaini”, after the head welder who constructed the new bear house. During the arrival, he was a very aggressive bear, but now Julaini has become a big favourite for us – nicknamed wrinkled bear!
He has adjusted very well to his life at BSBCC.
During his rehabilitation, proper nutrition and various enrichment activities are given to stimulate his bear behaviours and to help him recover from the psychological trauma of being kept in captivity. Bear care staff will always introduce different types of enrichment toys and new treats for him. He enjoys fruit, coconuts and honey. On the 26th of May 2011, Julaini together with Ah Lun got to meet their new group of bears friends.
During the electric fence training, he appeared to be more nervous compared to the other bears. We never gave up on Julaini and used different types of his favorite food to lure him out to the forest. Julaini has a cataract on his left eye, but this did not let him give up easily in learning to be a wild bear. On the 13th of March 2013, Julaini finally took his huge first steps into a lifetime of freedom in the forest.
He walked slowly and calmly sniffed the forest air!
It was a blessing to watch him be a wild bear again and we were unable to control the smiles on our faces.
Julaini’s eyes widened with the thrill of TALL trees, dead wood, termites and blue sky around him!
Julaini is brave and finds the strength to venture out to the forest.
Julaini can be seen roaming around in the forest with his best female pal, Ah Lun, where they will forage, play fight, protect and get comfort together.
Julaini is not keen on climbing trees. Julaini loves to find a big tree trunk and fall asleep there.
He also never misses his favorite treats –termites and honey! He learns all the skills he will need to survive in the forest.
Over the past 10 years, Julaini has been given the chance to return to his natural habitat.
He seems to have a wonderful time and has proven to us that he is one of the loveliest bears in the centre.
There is a lot more freedom ahead for Julaini to enjoy!
Sun bears are vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. The global population of sun bears has declined by 30% in the last 30 years. This is due to the increasing threats to the species’ survival from illegal hunting, pet trade and deforestation, which has led to the rapid decline in sun bear numbers. It acts as a reminder to us all how important the need to protect sun bears from extinction truly is. Please give them a voice!
Video by Chiew Lin May
Be the Voice Sun Bears Need!
The threats that are driving the smallest bears – Sun Bear closer to extinction all stem from us... Although listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List. Their populations are decline by at least 30% in the last three decades. The main threats to the survival of the sun bears are poaching, illegal wildlife trade, and habitat loss. They are hunted for their gall bladders and other body parts for medicinal benefits.
Raise your voice for change! Their stories need to be heard. Please help to raise awareness and voice our concerns about the future of sun bears and their rainforest home.
If you see suspicious activities, be sure to REPORT any illegal wildlife trade to the authorities for action:
# Jabatan PERHILITAN Semenanjung Malaysia: 1-800-88-5151
# MYCAT Wildlife Crime Hotline: +6019 3564194
# Sarawak Forestry Corporation: +6019 8859996 & +6016 8565564
# Sabah Wildlife Department: 088-254767
Text & Photos by Chiew Lin May
Four month old, female sun bear cub, Wawa was found alone without her mother in a forest reserve in Pinangah, Telupid District in 2016. She was rescued and surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department and has since been cared for at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) as of March 18, 2016. She weighed 4.5kg on arrival.
Upon her arrival, she appeared weak and dehydrated. Sun bear cubs require around-the-clock care and feeding with a special milk formula.
Enrichment programs are vital for captive sun bears as they provide positive mental and physical stimulation. These programs allow Wawa to dig for insects and allow her to climb. Wawa has quite a big appetite and is particularly fond of fruits, termites, ants and honey!
Sun bears live with their mothers until the age of 2-3 years old and until they are grown enough to defend themselves. As Wawa no longer has her mother, our bear keepers become surrogate mothers, giving her love, support, care and the knowledge she needs to be released back into the forest.
On 25th June 2016, she was integrated with Dodop and has developed a good bond! Until today, she preferred spending most of the time with Dodop.
On 17th November 2016, she took her first step to go out to the forest enclosure - first taste of freedom – in the treetops.
Exploring her new home in the dense rainforest. Every time when we started swapping the rescued bears to the new forest enclosure, Wawa was amongst the bravest rushing out to the forest to explore and play.
She is an agile climber. We are always impressed by her agility and balance!
Wawa shimmies right up the tree and loves the sounds of the humming insects! Highly intelligent and inquisitive by nature! Climbing trees, digging for termite nests, and developing the strength and the skills she needs seem to be her favourite activities throughout the day. She loves to play in the dirt so much that her body is full of wood chunks and mud! Wawa has expressed natural avoidance behaviour towards people and barks when sees someone approaching (one of the better candidates for release).
She also reveals her own world of how to survive in the forest, foraging her own food, building nests, climbing trees, and recognising threats. She came from the wild and that is where she belongs, in the forest. It is gradually clear that she is ready to be released back to the wild!
You can make a difference and help every sun bear in our care live their best life in the forest home!
Video by Chiew Lin May
Day 68: Betung growing up! Every sun bear has a different story. She has been deprived of a suitable living in the forest, an appropriate diet, and has been unable to behave as she would in the wild. She needs to go through a long rehabilitation process to restore her wild nature and recover where she had been stolen from. It is a tragedy to find a sun bear cub without its mother.
Bark bark hooray! It was such a delight to see her overcome her obstacles. She is simply AMAZING! Fortunately, she has shown tremendous growth in the last two months. She is a strong little bear and no doubt she made stronger by the love she has all around her! Thank you for your kindness, support, and love for Little Betung.
Her smile will definitely brighten up your day today! Help us give Betung the life she deserves. Please adopt Little Betung today at https://www.bsbcc.org.my/share-bear-a... ! With love and tender care, Betung soon becomes a strong little bear.
Please help share Little Betung’s story and love with the world!
Video by Chiew Lin May
Day 15: All she wants is loved and care Don’t miss out on a sweet Little Betung story! See how Little Betung progressed in her two weeks of the rehabilitation process. She is one of the victims of the pet trade. She was neglected for five months and kept in a small cage. When she arrived at BSBCC, her condition was emaciated, malnourished and growth stunted. Our team worked around the clock to build her strength. It is hard to imagine the life she endured before her rescue by Sabah Wildlife Department. Betung’s fighting spirit makes us reminded that she should be with her mother and free in the wild. She took every opportunity to be a bear cub!
She needed emergency veterinary care. Please buy a gift to help Little Betung the love and care she needs to recover - A healthy balanced diet, medical care and enrichment toys to keep her stimulated both physically and mentally. You can show LOVE by adopting Betung. Please share her story!
Everything was stolen from her by humans. Keeping sun bears as pets are “Illegal”. Please do not keep and support sun bear as a pet – Give back a life where they belong!
Adopt Betung: https://www.bsbcc.org.my/share-bear-adoption.html
To donate - https://www.bsbcc.org.my/donate.html
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Sun bear cubs are extremely adorable. The rescued bears we have received were taken from the wild and became victims of the illegal pet trade. To obtain the cubs, their mothers are usually killed before their young are snatched. Kipaku’s story begins from a lifetime of being a house pet. Kipaku had been kept for three months by a family in Tambunan, after they claimed they had found the cub wandering alone around the forest fire area. He was fed with fried fish, milk and rice – an inappropriate diet! The owner decided to surrender the cub to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit on 16th July 2020, and he was sent to BSBCC on 18th July 2020. Kipaku quickly adjusted to life in his new home. Kipaku’s health is improving gradually. He now weighs 10.60 kg.
Sun bears of his age in the wild would be reliant on their mother, but he has already lost his mother and his home. Without his mother’s guidance, the chances of survival in the forest are slim. Here in BSBCC, the first step of rehabilitation for Kipaku was starting a daily forest walk with a surrogate mother.
On the 6th of August 2020, Little Kipaku got a second chance to learn as a wild bear. He found the courage to set his paws on the forest floor!
His surrogate mother will accompany and assist Kipaku to develop his survival skills, the knowledge he needs to thrive in the wild and ensure he receives the best possible care. During the walk, daily behaviour and ecology is recorded.
We found out he has strong instincts – like climbing, resting high up in the tree canopy and looking for wild food. He remembers tall trees and rivers! He is quickly practicing the skills and is exhibiting good natural behaviour which he has not known since he was stolen from the wild as a cub. But there was some concern with Little Kipaku, is he too habituated to human presence. Sun bears are being susceptible to poachers upon release. Therefore, cubs will be exposed to minimal contact with humans during the rehabilitation process.
Sun bears are opportunistic and will eat almost anything – small vertebrates, termites, earthworms, larvae and their eggs. He has an incredible sense of smell. Once he locates his favourite grubs, he will quickly use his claws to tear open tree bark then slurps out the food using his long tongue.
Every day has a new tree bark to satisfy his curiosity!
He can spend hours in a day foraging on the bark. He is very smart! He is always keen on trying out new things. He will check out every corner of the forest.
Kipaku loves to snack on soil too – high with mineral nutrient! Being the youngest male bear at BSBCC, he enjoys getting into mischief and exploring around - beginning his new life where he really belongs! It is important to keep him psychologically and physically fit.
“Climb, climb and climb higher!” – His most favourite activity when he is in the forest!
He is an agile and tree loving little bear! He shows confidence when he climbs! He has strongly curved, pointed claws and naked soles – adaptations to the arboreal lifestyle. He is busy in the canopy searching for food. Sometimes, he does not care whether the tree branches can support his body weight. He just climbs through the branches and munches on leaves or tears the tree bark. When he misjudges a branch which snaps under his grasp, he will quickly grab it or fall to the ground.
He can perform a full range of natural behaviour. Doing what bears do…!! He is free to do whatever he wants –FREEDOM!
He enjoys rolling around and taking a nap in the forest canopy. He will stop by the river for a swim.
After a few weeks of outings, he has become more and more adventurous and active. He has left his past behind and continued to develop his forest skills during the forest outings.
The little bear is doing so well. It is remarkable to watch Little Kipaku explore free into the depths of the jungle. He certainly has the instincts for a future in the wild. Please keep fighting to stop poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. Let them stay where they belong to – the wild!
Text by Dr. Yeoh Boon Nie
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
A sunny day, we were excited to receive the very first satellite signal emitted from Montom’s GPS collar, indicating the released bear was exploring the new home, and passing by the adjacent forest reserve. Montom is an adult male bear that was returned to wild on 10th July. Our heart sank immediately after knowing a sun bear cub was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department and on the way to BSBCC.
Early morning on 18th July, an estimate 4 month old sun bear cub arrived in BSBCC. He came from Kampung Kipaku, Tambunan. So we named him Kipaku, straight forward, huh. While the cub care team still observing and learning Kipaku’s behavior, we received another bad news that one more rescued bear cub was arranged to BSBCC. On the late night in 27th July, Itam, an approximate 7 month old female cub arrived in the center.
BSBCC is established with the primary mission to rehabilitate the rescued sun bear. We are saddened by the fact that sun bears are still rampantly poached. And the cub, their cuteness is a curse, sought-after as pet. The morale in our team was low at that very moment.
Both Kipaku and Itam shared the similar background, but the two have distinctive different personality in insecurity. They both were kept as household pet after being found alone in the forest. What happened to their mother? Mama bear will not abandoned her cub unless she was threatened or died.
Kipaku is a sweet chubby bear that attached to human. He cry when no keeper around to keep him accompany. He was “trained” to eat fried fish with rice, and hence he dislike fruits and vegetables.
Itam, on the other hand, is a fearful bear that constantly wary of surrounding. Any noises will startle her. She barked and charged at keepers every morning. She would tip toe walking to explore the cage. She relaxed when no human around.
Dear Kipaku and Itam, we feel so sorry that you both loss your mother and endure terrifying event at your infant age. We will take care of you now. Your wild instinct and lessons taught by your mother will guide you through this rehabilitation journey. Five years later, hopefully, we will return you home, like Montom!
We have not giving up.