Text by Jana Grunwald & Michael Bohne
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
We are Jana (37) and Michael (49) from Germany. Last year we have decided to take a break from our office working routine and go traveling together. As we do not only want to be tourists in the countries that we visit we have searched for animal welfare organization in Malaysia that we can support and found that the BSBBC has very good reviews. The decision to come here was made quickly and even though we have never had anything to do with bears, we are big bear fans by now. This is not only thanks to the bears, but also thanks to the keepers and all the staff that are doing a fantastic job here at the sunbear center. We truly enjoy our time in such a friendly and cooperative atmosphere.
On the first day in the center we already learned that bears are big eaters. We spent hours washing, cutting and weighting fruits and vegetables for them. No wonder, it takes such a long time - there are 43 hungry mouths to be fed and they enjoy four feeding times a day. Watching them eating and enjoying their food makes our heart melt. If there is something especially yummy, all the bears will fall on their back and eat the treat with all four paws up. We can hardly take our eyes away from this cute moment and it happens that the keepers have to remind us to move on.
We soon realized what a strenuous job the bear keeper team does every day. All keepers are in very good physical conditions and we admire them for their strengths. Each day is packed with demanding work: whether it’s cleaning the cages, preparing the food, walking under the midday sun to feed the bears or going out into the wild with the machete to collect fresh leaves and plants for enrichment. Luckily everybody has a lunch hour that is indeed one and a half hours long - time to rest and eat. We could feel how our energy comes back. Also for us humans the food is important.
However not all the tasks that we do at the center are physically hard. On the third day we were invited to assist Dr. Boon with the health check of one of the female bears called Susie 2. We felt very privileged to be part of the team that afternoon and assist a medical check on a sun bear.
We also enjoyed being part of the re-integration of two bears called Wan Wan and Mamatai. These two ladies where once sharing a forest enclosure but ended up fighting with each other. After some time of separation the team has now started to re-introduce them. As the door was opened we carefully observed them and were happy that the first session went on without any fight or need to intervene. We hope, that the two ladies re-establish their friendship and can soon scroll the outside together.
Another activity that we enjoyed a lot was observing the fence training of a bear called Panda. She gets animated with sweet fruits to leave her well known enclosure and to learn in a different enclosure that the fence has electricity and that it is best to not touch it. On the first two days that we saw her she was too afraid to leave. Only the head and the two front paws went out to grab the treats that were within her close reach. The two back paws stayed firm in the old enclosure, no matter how seductive the fruits on the other side where. However with the time she gained confidence and got brave enough to step out of her enclosure with all four paws. What a big achievement. We were very excited for her. Now she is walking pretty confident in the fence training enclosure. Today she could finally get all the sweet fruits that we laid down for her. At the end it seems to be all about the food.
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!
Text By Manuel Baumgartner & Sophie Baumgartner
Photos By Chiew Lin May & Sumira Muis@APE Malaysia
We are Manuel and Sophie from Switzerland and are currently travelling for 6 months. We will be in Borneo for 7 weeks. We are mammal watchers in our free time and are out in nature whenever we can. We are especially looking for bears and cats, but we are enjoying every single surprise that nature gives us.
Since last year we do not only want to observe animals, but also try to be more and more active in conservation. We wanted to learn more about the reintroduction process, be physically active, and because we love bears, the BSBCC volunteer program was perfect for us.
We were impressed by the organization of the team and how well the processes work: It doesn't seem easy to us to look at all these unique bears with unique needs! We were very happy to work with the nice, interested and helpful team. It was especially important for us to learn more about the reintroduction process and its conditions. We also wanted to have the opportunity to ask critical questions. Dr. Wong, the founder of the BSBCC, took a lot of time for us to ask all our questions and we were very grateful for this exchange and for all the things we learned.
It was nice that we were soon able do a lot of work and work close to the bears. If you observe well, you can learn a lot about the behavior and the different characters. Unfortunately, we also saw what the consequences of a long captivity can be and how important the enrichments can be.
We wish all bears that have the opportunity to be released, to be free and to see, sniff and experience the wonderful wilderness of Borneo in peace.
Thanks a lot to the whole team for this good time full of laughter and a lot of sweating.
Video by Chiew Lin May
Orphaned and kept as an illegal pet- one-year-old, Little Romolina needs endless love and care.
Let's see what happens when she has a "Hanging Spectacle Tyre"!
Video by Chiew Lin May
Sun bears do vocalize with a different type of sound.
Watch how Little Logan react when he encounters danger.
Text by Khairunnisa binti Mohd Faisal (Intern Student, University Science Malaysia)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Every sun bear should be given an opportunity to be released into the forest. They deserve to live a free life in their natural habitat. There is this one sun bear named Panda. She is 11 years old and originated from Tawau District. Panda is in good terms with a male bear, Kudat. She was named “Panda” because both of the bears were mistakenly displayed as “Panda Bears” at a private mini zoo located in Kudat District.
Fence training is conducted because the forest enclosure is surrounded with an electric fence which is to make sure the bears do not escape from the forest enclosure. A few years ago, Panda had her first fence training. However, Panda failed the test as she was zapped and refused to go out to the training pen.
There is always a second chance for Panda as we believe that she can do better. This year, we gave Panda a second chance and conducted another fence training for her. To sum the experience up, Panda did very well and so much improvement was recorded during the sessions.
On the first day of fence training, Panda did not want to go out from the cage. She spent most of her time sniffing the sliding door and tapping the ground. She likes to tap a lot. Two of her front limbs were out and she managed to only use her tongue to eat the food in the training pen. She ended up pacing in the cage after she was no longer able to grab any more food in the training pen.
On the fifth day of training, Panda made a huge improvement in which her whole body was out to the training pen. She started by observing the environment in the training pen and began to eat the prepared food in the middle of the pen. However, she was a little bit insecure whenever she heard noise made by another bear. Whenever there was a strange sound, Panda would run into the cage and pace. It took a while for Panda to go out to the training pen again.
Panda got her first zap on the 7th day of training. Amazingly, she did not panic. She stayed in the training pen and continued searching for food. Panda approached the electrical fence area and grabbed the food underneath it using her claws. It looked like Panda was aware of the fence and kept some distance whenever she tried to grab the food.
Over 4 consecutive fence training sessions, Panda made herself comfortable in the training pen. She started to remove the log to find food, often got herself near the fence to grab food underneath it and spent a longer amount of time observing the environment in the training pen instead of pacing in the cage. It was so overwhelming to see such improvement in her. However, she was still startled by the noise made by other bears. When there was a noise, Panda took the food in the training pen and brought it into the cage and continued eating there. Panda is very sensitive to loud noise as she feels unsafe whenever she hears it.
Starting Day 11 until Day 17 of the fence training session, Panda felt safer in the training pen and she already knew the right technique to grab the food underneath the electrical fence. The prepared food for the session is almost finished being eaten by her. Panda spent most of her time eating in the training pen and exploring the environment in the pen.
Now, the fence training progress has been upgraded and Panda will be released into the training pen for around 3 hours every day to make her feel comfortable in the pen. Once she passes the fence training, she will become an eligible candidate to be released to the forest enclosure in BSBCC.
Text by Natalie Lian Qian Wei (Intern Student, University Science Malaysia)
Photos by Natalie Lian Qian Wei & Chiew Lin May
Enrichment come in the forms of toys or treats for animals. Although it may look like something insignificant, this is not true at all! Enrichment are especially vital for bears that were previously kept as pets and were rescued, as these bears were unable to learn essential survival skills. Enrichment encourage them to exhibit natural bear behaviours, such as climbing, foraging, and digging.
In BSBCC, there are five types of enrichment which are enclosure enrichment, foraging enrichment, sensory enrichment, novel objects, and social enrichment.
Enclosure enrichment are structures that allow for activities such as climbing and resting. In BSBCC, these enrichment are made of materials such as tyres, firehoses, and woods.
Foraging enrichment are food-based enrichment that help to enhance the bears’ foraging skills. Fruits and spice powder can be wrapped in plant materials such as ginger leaves or wrapped in cardboard papers. Peanut butter can be smeared between a few attached sticks.
Sensory enrichment help to sharpen the senses of bears, such as gustation and olfaction
Novel object enrichment provide bears with the opportunity to explore and play with new items.
Social enrichment encourages social interaction between bears. It is good to have friends!
Enrichment are very important as they help to reduce boredom and stress. When the bears are bored or stressed, pacing can be observed and the bears will move in a stereotypic motion. Enrichment can help to keep them occupied and contented.
New ideas of enrichment are always welcomed! Yet, bear in mind that there are also a few factors that need to be taken into consideration. An enrichment must always be safe for the bears, thus we need to avoid sharp objects and toxic plants. To make an enrichment, we must also first observe the behaviour of the bears, so that we know what is suitable for them. For example, wood can be given to bears that have long claws, to encourage them to dig and at the same time help to wear down their claws.
I believe satisfaction can be felt when the bears enjoy the enrichment that we made for them, not forgetting to mention that they look so cute when they are playing or eating! Preparing enrichment is actually a fun activity for the keepers and volunteers too.
Dear readers, I hope you will be able to get an idea of what enrichment are, thank you for reading!
Text by Celeste Kara Lequigan Chalk
Photos by Celeste Kara Lequigan Chalk & Chiew Lin May
Hellllo, my name is Celeste Kara Lequigan Chalk and I was fortunate enough to spend two magical weeks at the BSBCC from the 6th of June to the 17th of June this year, 2019. I consider the title to be a summary of my experience. I signed up for this programme on a whim and without any previous experience with animals, let alone such incredible animals like the sun bears! My time here has been so surprising in the best way- I was prepared for the sun bears and my love for them, but I was not prepared for the love I felt instantly for the BSBCC team. As cheesy as it sounds; it’s not just the sun bears, the staff at the BSBCC and the APE team radiate a warmth and sunshine that reflects the animals they work tirelessly for everyday- it’s contagious!
I made an effort to speak to as many of the staff as I could and I never felt unwelcome or uncomfortable- on the contrary, from the first day I immediately felt an ease about this new environment that I was diving head first into. Without fail, every staff member that I had the pleasure of speaking with- either directly or indirectly- exuded a glowing passion for their work, the bears and the cause. It was truly inspiring- I’m leaving the team and this beautiful place in the world more informed and excited to spread the word! Save the sunbears! Be a thoughtful and selfless person on this planet.
My favourite quote is: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is ever going to get better, it’s not”- and the whole team at BSBCC and APE couldn’t embody this value any better if they tried.
I had the ever patient and curious Brandon for a buddy- his kindness and smile was such a reassuring familiarity to have everyday and I appreciated his guidance and willingness to teach us. Then there were Mark and Sumira- our incredible program coordinators who were there everyday as a friend and support when we needed it, filled with boundless knowledge to share and stories to laugh over. There are FAR too many staff to call out by name as all of them filled my heart with joy! There was an array of tasks that we had the great fortune of carrying out, like; creating enrichment, observing the bears, preparing the food and even cleaning the cages! All of the tasks and every moment was devoted to one sole focus- the sun bears! What a pleasure it was to be surrounded by such like minded people with a common goal and passion for this!
I was fortunate enough to spend these two wonderful weeks with Priya, my knowledgeable roommate who was always so generous with her wisdom of the animals! Together, we got to experience and assist in not one, not two, BUT THREE vet checks! Wow, how lucky are we!? It was an incredible experience and Dr Boon was so patient and willing to explain exactly what we were doing and why- even to a Psychology student like myself! It was amazing watching her teach the other staff and build up their confidence in carrying out those duties with the bears.
I was expecting to be sad writing this but instead I’m only overwhelmed with happiness and gratitude for the experience and memories. I’m leaving with a full heart- and a full stomach. As Winnie the Pooh said (a secret Sunbear according to Thye Lim): “how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”. It’s not geoodbye, it’s jumpa lagi!
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.