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 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.
Text and photos by Chiew Lin May
On 16th March 2013, Bongkud had integrated with Natalie. Natalie is famous with “The Group Leader”. Natalie was one of our rescued sun bear by Sabah Wildlife Department that sent to Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). Natalie is a Latin girl name which is to remember her arrival two days before Christmas.
Once the gate was opened, an active and playful sun bear, Natalie was the first who went to approached and sniffed to Bongkud. Through the Bongkud expression, she was so happy to get a new playmate again although Natalie’s body size was bigger than her. Bongkud try her best fought back and showed she has strength too. All of the strong claws and canines were showed up during the play fight. None of the sun bears showed any aggression and frustrated behaviour. Both of them spend a whole day for chasing, rolling, mock fight and climbing around together. It was a great integration!! They integrated well and seem to begin to understand and trusted each other better. Natalie shows the most dominance.
On that day, ginger leaf was given as enrichment for all the sun bears. Natalie and Bongkud played with the ginger leaf together without fighting. After they were tired playing, both of the sun bears took a quick rest on ground floor which is embedded with dried leaves. So adorable!!
Text and photos by Chiew Lin May
Bongkud has another new buddy and playmate, Rungus. Rungus is a 5 year old sub adult female. Rungus’ name is the name of an ethnic group who live in the Kudat district of Sabah. She was kept at the Victory Mini Zoo Farm in Kudat, Northern Sabah and arrived at BSBCC on the 12th November 2010.
On the 26th February 2013, Bongkud was integrated with Rungus. Once the gate was opened Rungus went into the next cage where Bongkud was located. Rungus sniffed Bongkud and was very curious. After two minutes, both started to play fight together!! Bongkud has a smaller body compared to Rungus, but this was not a problem for Bongkud and she got on very well with her new friend. Both of them kept chasing each other around and standing up on both hind legs before rolling together to show who has more strength. Their claws and canines were also shown. Tired from play fighting, both had a rest and were gasping for breath. Sometimes Bongkud would climb up high to avoid Rungus who was biting her on the neck. It was very interesting when they were play fighting inside the basket for about thirty minutes. Rungus was always looking very cool and peaceful. At the end of the day, the integration was a great success. Rungus was the one who showed the most dominance.
Bongkud and Rungus will integrate for two to three hours. As usual, both of the sun bears will play fight, chase each other, roll and climb around together. So far their interactions are positive and finally they are become good playmates.
These are the pictures that show how Bongkud and Rungus play fight.
Text and photos by Chiew Lin May
Julaini, a 4 year old sub adult male, was named after the head welder who constructed the new bear house. Julaini came to the centre from Lok Kawi Wildlife Zoo on the 3rd July 2010. Julaini has a cataract problem, which has resulted in a white dot on his left eye.
Bongkud, a 2 year old sub adult female, was named after the village where she was rescued in Ranau, Sabah. She arrived at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) last year on the 19th June 2012.
Julaini started integrating with Bongkud on the 25th February 2013 at 2.44 pm. Once the gate was opened, Julaini went into the next cage where Bongkud was located. Julaini initiated play fighting and started to sniff Bongkud’s body and was very curious about her. They gently touched and sniffed the face and neck of each other using their mouth and nose. Once play-fighting began, both sun bears stood on their hind legs and tried to push each other over with their strong paws. However, Bongkud being a little too playful started to bite Julaini. Julaini bite Bongkud back and he started asserting his dominance by pinning Bongkud on the ground. Before long though, they were rolling, chasing, play fighting and climbing around together. There was no barking or huffing sounds happening when they were play fighting, however, they did bare their claws and canine teeth. After a few minutes together they had already started to accept each other.
There was a good deal of mutual sniffing and playing together. They spent much time playing, chasing and resting. They would often try and guess the other's mood before continuing to play fight!!
Sometimes they continued to play until they were both very tired and then they would rest on the ground. At one point Julaini wanted to rest and eat some fruit but Bongkud still wanted to continue play fighting. However, Julaini made it clear by making some warning sounds that he was not interested in playing first and continued to eat and forage. Bongkud got the message and left Julaini alone. Their play fighting though was mostly very gentle. Both of the sun bears did not show any signs of aggression. At the end of the day the integration was going well and a great success. But, Julaini was definitely showing dominance over Bongkud.
For the rest of their first week together they integrated well and no aggression was noted. After all, Bongkud now has a new friend and playmate and is getting on very well with Julaini!!
Text by Gloria Ganang and photo by Wong Siew Te
Bongkud, a 1-year-old sun bear arrived at the centre last June. She was named after the village where she was rescued, located in the Ranau district of Sabah. She had yellowish coat and milk teeth when she first arrived. However, Bongkud’s coat has gradually improved (she now has darker coat) and her canine teeth is developing.
Fulung (meaning “forest” in the native Lundayeh language), is 2 years old and came to the centre in August 2010. He is from Long Pasia village in Sipitang district of Sabah. He used to be integrated with Mary and Debbie (both sub adult females). However, Fulung had an injury on his belly and needed to be stitched and separated from his girl pals until his wound heals. It has been 5 months since his separation from the rest.
Bongkud moved in to the cage next to Fulung on the 11th August 2012. Through the expressions of Fulung's behavior, he couldn't wait to play with Bongkud.
Finally the day came, when the gates between them was opened. Fulung’s wound looked fantastic and Bongkud is ready for integration with other bears. The gate was opened at 3.10pm yesterday (7thSeptember 2012). Fulung, oftenly being the curious one went into his next cage while Bongkud was still busy suckling her feet and playing with the fire hose inside her basket.
Fulung sensed Bongkud and instantly climbed inside her cage. Bongkud, not realizing Fulung’s presence startled and gave Fulung an alarming bark! Her immediate reaction was moving a step back from Fulung to the other end of her basket. They both starred at each other for a few seconds and Fulung stepped away, sensing that it was not yet the right moment for playtime. He let Bongkud to settle down until he slowly approached her again, gave her a little sniff from his sticky nose and then.......PLAYTIME!
Fulung and Bongkud played for nearly an hour. They chased, rolled over and bit each other. They totally ignored the keepers who were feeding them. Bongkud was the first one to feel exhausted but Fulung couldn’t get enough of the fun of biting and chasing. They continued playing until it was dinner time where both of them went back to their own cages. The gate between them was closed. It was 5pm. The BSBCC team had to sign out and open the gate again the next day. Since this was their first integration, it requires monitoring until we are certain that they are good playmates.
This is a special day for Bongkud. This could be her first contact with another sun bear after a very long time. However, Bongkud has a long way ahead of her in going through rehabilitation until she returns to the wild again.
Text and photos by Gloria Ganang and Tee Thye Lim
Bongkud, a sub adult sun bear at the BSBCC meets new neighbors 2 days ago (11th August 2012). The little sun bear was rescued from a village called Bongkud near to the district of Ranau, Sabah and came to the centre last June. She was isolated in a separate cage throughout her quarantine period. Now she gets to stay in a neighboring cage with Fulung a sub adult male and also two adult bears, Kudat and Panda.
The transfer process went on smoothly. However it took some while for Bongkud to step into her new cage even though she was keen to go towards the honey smeared in the cage area.
She finally stepped in. Instantly, she climbed around her cage the moment she noticed the space and unfamiliar furnitures of the cage. But what really caught her attention was her new neighbors. They were all curios and started getting closer and sniffing each other. This would be Bongkud’s first contact with other sun bears after a very long time.
Bongkud is getting used to her new cage now. She starts sleeping in the basket and plays around with the enrichmnents. She practices her climbing skills quite often although she started a little bit clumsy at the beginning. High hopes for this little bear to climb on real trees of the rainforest!