Video by Chiew Lin May
The long sharp claws and canines of the sun bear are handy for tearing apart tree bark.
Noah trying to find some yummy insects!
Video by Chiew Lin May
Sun bears do vocalize with a different type of sound.
Watch how Little Logan react when he encounters danger.
Video by Chiew Lin May
Time for some relaxed playing among the plants!" -Little Romolina
Video by Chiew Lin May
What will happen if the forest without sun bear?!
Let see the important role of sun bear and how they protect the forest ecosystem.
Text by Vivian Lee Ker Chuon
Photos by Vivian Lee Ker Chuon & Chiew Lin May
Hi there! My name is Dr Vivian Lee and I am a Malaysian veterinarian from the state of Penang. I first found out about the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre when I attended a talk by Dr Wong Siew Te, who is the founder of BSBCC. Over the years I have followed the work of him and his team and heard many good things. I finally decided to make the trip and volunteer for two weeks, and I’m really glad I did, because the last two weeks have been amazing!
This is my first time to Sabah, and BSBCC were kind enough to pick me up from the Sandakan airport. It’s easy to figure out who is picking you up because they will have a sunbear shirt on. It’s all about the sunbears here. I was greeted by a smiling Azzry, who pointed out the sights to me on the way to the centre. Once there, we proceeded to do a security briefing (in short, be careful of macaques and orangutans), and then I had a quick tour of the centre before I went to Bjorn Hala with my housemates for the next two weeks.
The next day, I started my first official day at BSBCC. I met my buddy keeper, Roger, and assisted him with his tasks. We were assigned to Bear House 1 that first day, and I worked up a really good sweat! Cleaning up after 43 bears is a lot of work, but I enjoyed giving my muscles a good workout. I really do feel a lot fitter after these two weeks. Whilst working in the bear house, I started getting to know each of the individual bears, as each of them has a very distinct personality. You can tell that the staff at BSBCC really care a lot about their bears and the work that they do. The keepers know what each bear likes and dislikes, what health issues they might have, which bear is friends with which other bear, which bear won’t eat their veggies, which bear won’t come back home at night because they’re having too much fun playing in their enclosure, and which bear likes to break all the branches off the tree they’re climbing. After two weeks, I can only identify maybe 3-4 bears by sight, but ask any keeper and they’ll be able to tell you which bear is which.
After all the cleaning tasks are done, we get to do one of my favourite tasks, which is feeding. I don’t think I will ever get tired of watching the bears crunch through a juicy carrot or chase after a coconut. Most of the bears, except the ones with dental disease which I’ll talk about later, get a diet of raw green veggies and fruits, with some starchy foods like raw sweet potato and pumpkin as well. The bears love fruit the most, enjoying things like watermelon, honeydew, bananas, papaya, and this interesting little fruit called snake fruit or salak, which to me looks like a little pangolin. Most of them won’t say no to a leaf of Chinese lettuce or a cucumber either. As a little treat or for positive reward training, the bears go nuts over a dab of peanut butter, Marmite or honey.
The afternoons are mostly devoted to creating enrichment for the bears. I got to develop my non-existent carpentry skills, doing sawing, drilling, tightening screws and putting together a structure for one of the pens. The keepers are very skilled at providing motivational support for volunteers, hence even though I was a bit hesitant at first, by the end I was happily sawing and hammering away. During Hari Raya, we even made ketupat stuffed with apple and peanut butter for a festive sunbear treat!
I was happy to be able to assist Dr Yeoh Boon Nie, BSBCC’s resident veterinarian, on the days when she was conducting a few annual health checks for some of the bears. We also took the opportunity to conduct dental scaling and polishing of the bears teeth as well. I’ve only ever done dental scaling and polishing for dogs and cats, so this was very interesting for me. Some of the older bears have been eating a soft, cooked diet for a long time, and as such, their teeth weren’t in a great condition. Bears in captivity also live a lot longer than bears in the wild, due to the provision of a steady source of food and absence of dangers in the wild. Thus their teeth have to last a lot longer. As their human carers, we have a responsibility to make sure that they are as healthy and as comfortable as possible.
After sedating the bear, we brought them to the clinic where they were intubated and maintained on a gas anaesthetic whilst we performed the procedure. I also jumped at the chance to be able to place an intravenous catheter in a sunbear (they have really thick skin!). After ensuring that the anaesthetic was stable, we proceeded to do the dental charting, scaling and polishing. Seeing the bears shiny clean and polished teeth after each procedure was very gratifying. Besides the dental, the bears were also given a physical examination, blood was drawn for an annual health screen, and things like overgrown nails were addressed.
I found the volunteer program at BSBCC to be very well rounded, as I got to experience so many different aspects of this organization in my two weeks here, gaining an understanding of how the group works as a whole. Everyone from the bear care team to the education team and the maintenance guys always have a smile for you and are more than happy to have a chat and share their considerable knowledge. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting to Gloria and Jerome about managing visitors (and macaques!) up on the viewing platforms, with Mizuno and Boboy about jungle trekking and night walks, with Thye Lim and Lin May about their exploits in the Tabin reserve, with Azzry about growing up taking care of orangutans, with Wawa about different sunbear personalities, and Dr. Boon on sunbear health and management. Dr. Wong himself even makes it a point to set aside time out of his busy schedule to have chats with volunteers, and you can ask him anything. He has 20 years of experience and lots of helpful advice to share. Two weeks is barely enough to scratch the surface of all there is to learn here. I also had the best time together with my new friends at Bjorn Hala, going out to sample a selection of the best food Sandakan has to offer, night walks to see wildlife, attending Hari Raya open houses, hiking up Bukit Sim Sim and admiring the view of the fishing village, singing in the car, and tasting each other’s cooking. It’s been a great experience and I would love to come back again for another visit.
Video by Chiew Lin May
"Beyond the bound of joy!"
Logan and Wawa were play-fighting on the tree!
Looks how agile they are!
Text by Nithisha Nair (Intern student, University Putra Malaysia Bintulu Campus)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
As I introduced previously, here continues the story of our three musketeers. Romolina, Logan and Joe are now in fence training to prepare them for the forest enclosure. It took the trio 7 days to pass the fence training inside the training pen.
On the first day, the observation began with Romolina, who immediately makes her way into the training pen. Fruits and honey were laid in a trail leading to a pile in the centre with the intention of luring the cubs out and giving them comfort. Nevertheless, it was pointless, Romolina being the explorer that she is made her way out by herself and explored the cage, ignoring the fruits completely. Upon sniffing the corners of cage, she earned her first zap, but that did not deter her from continuing her exploration, it was not until her second zap that she became wearier and alert. After that it took a lot of effort to get Romolina back into the training pen, she would climb around in the den observing the pen from afar no matter what food we used to lure her out. All things aside, all it took to get her back out was dead wood and she happily made her way out digging and rummaging.
The observation proceeded with Joe on the second day. He had his eye and taste buds stuck on to the trail of honey and fruits towards the centre. When that was finished, he roamed around the cage earning his zaps, which eventually led to him suckling on his paw in the water container. His zaps were an obvious lesson to him though, after a few days in the pen Joe was smart enough to claw his food away from the hot wire very slowly and carefully. He showed amazing progress and seemed to be the best out of the trio.
On the third day it was Logan’s turn to train. He was nothing short of Joe in following the trail, he licked every bit of honey left on the ground with none to spare. But once he got zapped, he was the hardest to get back into the training pen. Eventually with help he was able to come back out and learn to claw food away from the wire.
After the three were used to the training pen and was able to explore on their own, they were put in the training pen together in hopes that they would encourage each other to explore their surroundings, and when that didn’t result in a very positive outlook, they were let into the training pen with their integrated buddies, to know more about integration do read our blog titled ‘Catch Up with Our New Friends’!
Upon being integrated and provided with dead wood, it was clear that the trio were more comfortable in the training pen. They were also seen clawing their food from under the fence, proving that they all passed indoor fence training with flying colours. Thus, it was time for outdoor fence training.
The first day of outdoor fence training, also known as their release to Pen D, Joe was the first to touch ground but got zapped while exploring and was afraid after. With Romolina, she ran up the enclosure but went into the training pen after getting zapped, she then proceeded to explore the area below the ramp. Last but not least, upon exploring Logan got zapped, in a panic he rushed his way to the top of the enclosure completely forgetting about the wires and getting zapped several more times. When he reached the top, he climbed on a tree vocalizing while refusing to come down.
The trio remained at the bottom of the enclosure exploring and occasionally pacing. That was until Wawa, another one of our bears were integrated with the cubs in the enclosure, she managed to guide Logan to the top of the enclosure, and eventually Romolina followed. After that the two were more than comfortable to remain at the top, exploring, digging, climbing, playing with the water from the sprinklers and sun bathing, they even refused to go back home for two nights! Joe was a tough shell to crack, while the two was living their best lives in the enclosure, Joe remained suckling and staying at the ramp.
No amount of integration was able to bring Joe up, eventually we decided to try a new tactic, as soon as he set foot on the ramp, we closed the guillotine door so he would not run back in, and then we encouraged him to explore with treats thrown on the grass. It worked! With two days of that, he eventually made his way up the forest enclosure, and once again with the help of our amazing teacher, Wawa, Joe was guided to the top, on his 13th day with outdoor fence training he was finally able to properly explore the enclosure and we could not be happier!
Fence training may seem extreme, in some cases even cruel, but in our case, it is vital and completely necessary to ensure that our bears do not escape once they are released to our forest enclosure. And as we all know; the forest enclosure release is an important step towards their journey in being released to the wild! The voltage of our fence is always monitored and ensured not to be harmful to our sun bears.
So here continues the journey of our trio towards their happy ever after!
Video by Chiew Lin May
Without the BSBCC, many captive sun bears would still live in small cages without HOPE;
Without the BSBCC many people in the world still would not know there are a bear species called the sun bear - Dr. Wong Siew Te
Please respect, protect and give sun bear a voice they deserve!
Text by Milla Milanovic
Photos by Chiew Lin May
My name is Milla Milanovic, I’m 18 years old and I’m from Sweden. I study animal care and I’m now in my final year of my 3 years of education. Thanks to my school I got the opportunity to come to Borneo to do my internship/volunteering at Bornean Sunbear Conservation Center. Before I came here I had never been to Asia before and I didn’t know a lot about Borneo or the sun bears so I was not sure what to expect. I knew that the weather here was very different from the weather in Sweden. I knew that it could get very warm and humid here but I was still surprised and I don’t really think you can prepare yourself.
Volunteering at BSBCC is very sweaty and a lot of hard work but also very fun. The routines that we did on a daily basis were things like cleaning cages in bear house 1 & 2, feeding the bears and of course making enrichment which is something that is considered really important here. Enrichment is something that you make for animals to stimulate their minds and so they can perform their natural behavior.
The enrichment that we usually did could be, for example sticks that we tied together and then put a bit of peanut butter between the sticks. If the animals don’t get to do their natural behaviors then they will easily get depressed, aggressive but first of all they will get stressed and then they can evolve stereotypical behaviors like pacing, which mean the animal is walking back and forth on the same place. Stereotypical behaviors means the animal is performing unnatural behaviors. By making different kind of enrichment every day and letting the sun bears to be in their big enclosures, helps the sun bears to do their natural behaviors like using their claws to rip things and to climb, taste and to smell and search for food. That is also one reason why the bear keepers here throw and spread out the food, which consist of different kind of fruits and vegetable.
These five past weeks have been incredible fun and educational, and I have learned so much and it have been fun to getting to know all of the 46 bears and there different personalities, and you can even see that they all have different favorite foods. These past weeks went by so fast but that only means that I have had a good time. I am so grateful that I got this opportunity to volunteer at BSBCC and to work with all of the nice and friendly bear keepers. Thank you for these five past weeks and I hope I can be able to come back in the future.
It has been almost a month since the release of the three sun bears on last 14 April 2019. We are excited to share with you about their latest movement in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve. Boboi (blue), Kitud (white), and Tan-tan (yellow) movement have been monitor from the GPS collar.
Green box: Release point
Red box: Latest position
The release on April 2019 marked down the 4th BSBCC reintroduction of the rescued sun bears. We are planning another four sun bears release on the second half of 2019, the cost and journey to bring them home is full of financial and logistic challenges.
You had helped us with each of the other stages, and we hope your support won't be stopped here.
We would like you to keep in the loop for the updates of their movement, subscribe to our newsletter and donate at www.bsbcc.org.my
Love, barks, big bear hugs.