Written by Pradeep Aggi Gunasegaran
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Ronnie or also known as Ronnie Boy is one of the forty-three residents Bornean Sun Bears at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). On the eventful night of 10th of March 2014, Ronnie Boy was among the five sun bears that were involved with the transfer activity from Lok Kawi Wildlife Park to BSBCC. While the history of Ronnie Boy ending up with human beings is unknown, he spent approximately eight years of his life at a resort in Tawau with Diana, another rescued sun bear at BSBCC. The both of them spent the early part of their lives in a small concrete floored cage as they were exhibited to the resort’s visitors. The owner of the resort then decided to hand over both Ronnie Boy and Diana to Sabah Wildlife Department in July 2013 and they were housed in Lok Kawi Wildlife Park for slightly more than seven months before the transfer activity was carried out.
Ronnie Boy was assumed to be eight years of age and he also appeared to be a physically healthy and muscular adult male Bornean Sun Bear. However, he was still subjected to a health check upon his arrival at BSBCC and he was diagnosed with a heart condition by the veterinarian. Due to that, extra care is given to ensure that Ronnie Boy gets the best diet possible under BSBCC’s care. He went from just merely eating fruits and rice to being fed with a variety of food from fruits, vegetable, egg, and many more to keep him healthy. Today, Ronnie Boy is 15 years of age, still healthy, muscular and looking charming with his pair of blue eyes.
Throughout the years of being under the care of BSBCC, Ronnie Boy has always been a calm adult male bear. Sun bears are solitary individuals in nature but he does not seem to be unfazed by the sight of other male bears nearby. He often spends his time relaxing in his den by sitting on the edge of the basket provided, clinging on to the bars with his forelimbs while resting his head against one of his forelimbs. Besides the basket, Ronnie Boy is also hooked on hammocks. He would lie down in his beloved hammock with his head resting on the edge. In that position, he would just observe keepers and volunteers who happen to walk pass by his den. While he is always in state of tranquility, he gets excited when environmental enrichment is provided to him. He does not get frustrated if the environmental enrichment is complex instead he would spends hours interacting with it.
Although Ronnie Boy is always calm in the bear house, he does have an issue that troubles him. For years, the bear care team has been trying to release Ronnie Boy into the forest but it has not been fruitful. Ronnie Boy is often afraid to take the steps out of the guillotine door into the forest enclosures. He is fearful of the outside world probably due to the condition he has been living in since young where he has only grown up to know concrete flooring and metal bars as his safe haven. We may be heading into the blue but for as long that Ronnie Boy is under the care of BSBCC, efforts will carried out for him to some day have his paws feeling the earth and grass while his body is soaked under the sunshine and rain. We hope that some day, Ronnie Boy will experience the world like any other wild Bornean Sun Bear!
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
Text by Mohammad Naqiuddin bin Alipudin
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Kala is a 6 year old, adult female sun bear in BSBCC. She arrived at the BSBCC in January 2015 as a cub and she was separated from her mother at an early age. She was actually being illegally traded and someone bought her with the intention of surrendering her to Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit. Upon arrival at the BSBCC, she showed signs of dehydration, emaciation and malnutrition; basically in a very poor condition.
However, Kala is treated full of care here and has been progressing into a strong adult sun bear. She was introduced back to her natural habitat, the forest, on June 2016.
Kala loves wandering in the forest, foraging in the soil, biting tree bark in search for foods such as invertebrates like earthworms, termites and pill millipedes. With her sharp claws and full set of canines, she has no problem to bite through the tree bark or any wooden logs. Walking around the forest alone is really her thing. She would find her favorite spot and just sit there, sunbathing under the rich sun rays before going back to foraging again, or sleep on dead logs.
She loves being in the forest, just like how humans like being at home. Most of the time, almost every day, she doesn’t go back to her den and spends the night out in the forest. As adventurous as she might be, she’s still learning several survival skills and hopefully, she will soon be completely rehabilitated and able to be released and live on her own in her natural habitat, away from humans.
In the bear house, Kala stays with Susie 2 in the same den and her neighbour, Bintang. All three of them went out to the forest together. When Bintang had a grumpy moment, she would growl at both Kala and Susie 2 after the door is opened. However, it didn’t affect their bonding at all as there is no aggression. Susie 2 sometimes growls back. As for Kala, she is one chilled bear. In their den, she will rest alone on the platform and remain unbothered.
Even during feeding time, unlike other bears who are so eager to get fed first, Kala would only come down when she really is hungry and she has no problem sharing foods with Susie 2.Kala is not really fond of new people which is really good being part of her natural instinct. When she feels threatened, she knows how to defend and fight for herself with a warning bark. She is cool around other sun bears but not around human. She is always observant. When any keeper enters her neighboring dens to clean, she lies down and watches from above, sometimes sniffing then barking but when she gets bored she falls asleep!
Kala is not only an adorable sun bear but also strong and brave. Her journey whilst at the BSBCC has been positive and she still consistently improves, mastering skills for what it takes to be a wild sun bear and keeping in touch with her natural instinct. She loves the forest, the air, the sun’s rays and playing in the greens that grow on the rich soil. Hopefully, she will soon be fulfilling all the criteria of a wild sun bear and able to be released in the future. Good days are coming Kala!
Text & Photos by Lee Min Yi
Living in a biodiversity hotspot named Malaysia, do we really know how many things we have taken for granted all this while? Let’s have a quick test: When you come across the word “bear”, what is the first image that appears in your mind? Most probably it is a polar bear, a grizzly bear or teddy bear. Before I heard about this internship experience from my senior, I was not aware that the Bornean sun bear exists in Malaysia, the bear who knows how to climb trees and build nests.
My journey starts with 4 extremely active puppies in Björn Hala, who welcomed me with their utmost excitement and wagging tails. I still remember my first impression of the wooden house,standing alone under a dark sky, looking a tiny bit scary for a newcomer. It turned out to be the place that I missed the most after my internship ended, a room where I can sleep soundly, surrounded by the sound of nature. You will never get bored living in the house, even just walking around the house or looking through the window while washing the dishes, you can meet plenty of new friends :- puppies, cats, chickens and trees! As a person who has lived her whole life in the Peninsular of Malaysia, I have come across lots of new things here, from sunrise to sunset, from food to people, from animals to plants. I still see the same level of authenticity flourish in every single one of them.
“So hey, how was your first day of work?” Well, the routine of work in the bear house is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and definitely requires a high amount of energy to accomplish the tasks and a clear coordination within the team is essential to get all the tasks done on time. My key takeaway from this routine is to make sure you complete what you have started that day so that you can start the next day smoothly. Although only here for a month, I have tried not to take things in an autopilot mode, but to improve bit by bit on a daily basis, familiarising myself with each process and the purpose of it = for the welfare of the bears. When you focus more on things bigger than yourself, you will find joy and satisfaction from the smallest task you do everyday.
I have also gained the knowledge and understanding towards wildlife conservation, especially the Bornean sun bears in Malaysia, from the job opportunities I can explore, to the challenges of making progress one step at a time. Some of the rescued sun bears in the centre have their own trauma, which in a way has disabled their natural instinct for foraging for food and mating. Despite the bears’ fitness to return to the wild, we are still not confident how long they could survive while poaching is still happening in Malaysia. However, when we take a closer look into what is behind poaching, more social issues such as poverty and quality education are revealed. When everything seems interconnected, people tend to close their eyes and ears as it seems too big to be solved in one day. It is undeniably a long and tough marathon which will not come to an end. That’s what makes all the baby steps matter :- start sharing knowledge with your immediate circle about sun bears. Only when more people have the common awareness of the importance to protect their wildlife can more action be initiated.
Thank you to every single person I have met on this journey:-
Pradeep who has welcomed me on my first day of arrival after a long day of work and your openness in sharing your experience.
Wahwah who has been guiding us the whole time, explaining everything you know about sunbears to us patiently & passionately.
My buddy David who guided me whole-heartedly and shared all the moments you have had throughout your working life.
Lin May & Thye Lim who are always approachable, willing to listen to all my thoughts & to discuss them openly.
Roger & Adneen who care about your learnings and well-being throughout the journey & who never tired of creating annoying moments!!
Dr. Wong who spared his precious time to answer all our questions and to show us around.
Dr. Boon for sharing her knowledge & experience in treating wild animals.
All the housemates in Björn Hala, Mizuno, Becca & Danny who make the house lively with conversations, food, humours and melodies.
My roomie, Jenny who makes my whole journey filled with laughter, adventures and fun.
To anyone who loves nature and animals, come to BSBCC as a volunteer to create your own story.
To all Malaysians, come and visit the BSBCC whenever you can and appreciate what we have in our land.
Video Link: https://youtu.be/9t5OLBKvao
Text by Jenny Wong Jenn Ney
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Min Yi and I from the Universiti Sains Malaysia were some of the first volunteers at the BSBCC. Our volunteer programme was cut short from 8 weeks to just a little over 5 weeks (30 days). It might be a brief amount of time to achieve anything.
What can you do in 30 days?
You could be a bear housekeeper who cleans the bear house, sweeping up enormous bear scats so that every cute little bear can have a pleasant place to sleep for the night.
You could be an engineer or architect who designs and builds some hammocks, treats or your own project, as enrichment so that every bear can have a little fun and would not feel left out in their own dens.
You could be a chef who helps cutting pumpkins, sweet potatoes, watermelons and papayas into suitable shapes so that every bear can gorge themselves on their kind of Michelin-star food.
You could be an expert in Bear Etiquette who knows their behaviours and biology including what to do and what not to do for their well-being.
You could be a nurse who helps with the medical examination of a bear, checking their wounds, pulse, teeth, X-ray and even taking “pawprints” to monitor the general health of bears.
You could be an Animal Behaviourist (which is actually my favourite!) who closely observes and monitors every single movement of bears in a controlled environment, so that the data can be used to determine if the bears can get along with one another.
You could be a bookworm who immerses herself in the story of a man’s quest to save Bornean sun bears, Dr. Wong Siew Te the founder of BSBCC from the book “Saving Sun Bears” written by award-winning author Sarah Pye.
Most importantly, you could be an advocate to benefit and help wildlife conservationists for Bornean sun bears, the world’s smallest bears, whose lives may be on the brink of extinction in the next decades due to poaching, illegal pet trade and deforestation.
Text by Jerome Visperas Esteva
Photos by BSBCC
My name is Jerome Visperas Esteva, and I currently work at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre as a Ticket and Shop assistant.
The reason why I am volunteering at the bear house is to gain more information about the bears. I am curious to learn about their daily routine and I want to experience how to feed them, make their daily enrichment and clean their cages (where the bears sleep at night).
This is actually my first time working in the bear house. I found my first day at the bear house was a bit hard adjusting to a different routine. To be honest it needs a lot of energy to do all the work here. The daily tasks include :- cleaning the bear cages, preparing food for the bears, feeding inside & outside(forest enclosures), completing the check of the electric fences, making enrichment, etc.
My mentor/”buddy” was Mizuno who is one of the senior bear keepers. He taught me a lot about the safety and the bears behaviour. I am extremely grateful for all the information he shared with me.
I have gained so much experience and learnt so much during these two weeks. I want to say THANK YOU to all the staff at the bear house for helping me during my training program.
Text by Rebecca Kimlaw
Photos by Mizuno Merek Men & Seng Yen Wah
Hi! I am Rebecca Kimlaw, one of the staff at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. My volunteer program started on the 14th of July and ended on the 27th July. I was fortunate enough to spend my two amazing weeks volunteering with the bears. It gave me a glance to see how the operations are generally carried out in the bear house. It was a good chance to learn more about the bears.
My two-week volunteering here was one of the most precious experiences in my life. There was a lot of work to do in the bear house and required a lot of energy. The tasks I was assigned doing were cleaning the bear dens, preparing a lot of food for the bears, feeding bears inside and outside the bear house area and so on. I started falling in love with the bears. Although they are so adorable, we must all bear in mind that its illegal to keep them as a pet. I hope people have awareness about this, so we can protect these beautiful bears together.
I felt comfortable at the bear house because the bear keepers helped me so much. They taught me a lot about the bears. One of my favourite moments is making an enrichment for the bear. Normally, we use leaves, banana, and other accessible nature resources to make an enrichment for them. I enjoyed feeding the bears inside and outside bear house area. I felt satisfied when I saw the bears enjoying their food.
All the bears are cute. But the one that I like the most is Om. Om is a 15 years old male bear. He is a very energetic bear and enjoys his food. He spends a good deal of his time in the forest. Sometimes he is quite content playing all alone, especially with small pieces of dead wood. So, my buddy (Mizuno) and I made an enrichment for him. We could tell that he liked it.
Special thanks to my buddies Danny, Bithrenley, Mizuno and all the bear keepers at the bear house for giving me information and helping me during my training programme. I sincerely recommend this place to anyone who would like to participate in volunteering programmes. You will not regret it! Hopefully I will have a chance to enrol in this volunteering program again.
Text by Nurul Haslinda binti Abdul Kahar
Photos by Seng Yen Wah
Hi! My name is Nurul Haslinda Binti Abdul Kahar, one of the ticketing staff at BSBCC. All of the ticketing staff was given two weeks to do the task as a bear keeper at the bear house and I am the third staff after Khoirul. These two weeks actually has been a great chance for me to know more about the bears, for instance, what do they eat? which bears don’t get along when they are together? why some of the bears are given a different diet? Most of those questions I used to wonder about have been answered by working at the bear house in those two weeks. I was also able to recognise the bears inside the bear house during my volunteering period. YEAH!
During my two-week training, I did the same work as all the bear keeper staff. No exception. Hahaha…
It took a few days for me to get used to all of the tasks, such as fence check, food preparing for the bears inside the bear house and in the forest enclosure, fecal check with my buddy(Roger), husbandry work and many more. All of the tasks given actually required lot of energy every day! Now I understand how the bear keepers doing their daily routine before releasing the bears into the forest enclosure.
This two-week training has given me so much experience and profound knowledge about the bears. Now, I am able to share them with visitors who visit this centre. Here I want to say thank you to those who helped me during my training at the bear house, especially my buddy, Roger, and all the bear keepers.
I hope in the future I will have this kind of volunteering opportunity again.
Here are some pictures taken during my training program:
Text by Pradeep Gunasegaran
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) has been responsible for the care of 4 bears that were received between 2017 and 2018. These four bears are Soo (5 years old), BJ (4 years old), Kina (4 years old), and Sika (3 years old). All four of them were ‘raised’ by people as cubs before they were handed over to BSBCC through Sabah Wildlife Department or personally by the owner. Soo was bought at Sook Keningau Market, BJ was bought for RM 300 in Pitas and Sika was kept as in a pet in Pensiangan in a chicken mesh cage by her owner while Kina was claimed by her caretaker to have been abandoned by her mother by the roadside at Kota Marudu. They grew up without the care of their mothers as their mothers were probably killed by poachers but BSBCC do see potential in them to behave like wild bears due to their age and with the proper rehabilitation process in the next few years. In order to proceed with their rehabilitation process, they would need to be transferred to the Bear House. Due to the high stocking density at BSBCC, three older bears; Phin, Wan Wan and Mamatai would need to be brought to the quarantine while another two older bears; Om and Ronnie would need to be rotated in the Bear House.
The transfer process was done through three phases in order for the bears to not get too stress. During the first phase BJ and Kina were transferred into translocation boxes at Quarantine while Phin was darted. Once the 3 bears were ready for transfer, Phin was brought to Quarantine while BJ and Kina was brought to Bear House 2. The second phase was involving the darting of Mamatai and Wan Wan and then bringing them to Quarantine. By the end of Phase 2, Om and Ronnie were transferred to a different section of Bear House 2 using the sky bridge structure. The last phase was then completed with the darting and transfer of Soo and Sika from Quarantine to Bear House 2. The entire transfer process of all nine sun bears followed through really smoothly without any undesirable incidences.