Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Like many other endangered sun bears, Phin was taken from the wild and kept as an illegal pet near the logging camp in Sipitang district. He was rescued and transferred to the Lok Kawi Zoo on 1st March 2014.
For 8 long years in captivity, these sun bears are often neglected and poorly cared for. Phin can suffer emotional and psychological trauma, and he was not given the opportunity to learn the forest skills, his chances of survival in the forest are needed through the hard-release program.
It has been lonely for Phin as he was hard to be accepted by any of the other female bears. They growled whenever they met, and neither one wanted to play with him. We decided to let Phin have a gentle friend, Diana, to ensure that he received the best care after being put through unimaginable trauma.
On 24th February 2020, we integrated Phin with Diana. When the sliding door opened, Phin quickly went into the exercise den to greet his new friend, Diana.
Their responses were quite amazing. Phin is usually quite shy and timid, but he was brave to take a step playing with Diana. Happy wrestling sign!! Diana gave a perfect gentle play and pawing! They shared their story moment together! Both of the bears often play on the ground.
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre’s enrichment programs are a vital activity to improve the bears’ environments and care based on their natural behaviours and instincts. Phin enjoys exploring various enrichment such as gunny sacks, dead logs, branches, paip feeder, and the Aussie dog ball stuffed with spices and frozen juice ice blocks.
For Phin, he has a soft-heart and he will let Diana be the first in line to investigate the enrichment. Phin shows to be more comfortable with Diana.
So lovely to see he finally has a true friend. Phin is keen to make the most of his freedom. Phin is usually seen roaming around in the exercise den with Diana and then wiggles himself in for a nap time in the comfortable basket. And if Diana is busy, Phin will find other things to do!
The friendship between them has blossomed and STRONG bonds of trust have been established. Phin is doing very well and getting the love and care he deserves.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
On the 2nd of March 2017, a sun bear cub was handed over to the Sabah Wildlife Department named BJ. He was found after being purchased in Sonsogon village, Pitas, and was sold for the price of RM 300 and then was kept as a pet. He arrived at BSBCC on the 22nd of November, 2018. He is a two year old, sub adult male bear weighing 32.20kg.
After living alone in a cage, BJ was finally free from trauma and now has made some friends for the first time in his life. On the 14th of December 2018, BJ was integrated into a larger social group of female bears – Kina, Sika, Soo and Diana, who would help him adjust to his new life and learn how to be a bear again!
Here we can see how the introduction went:
As soon as BJ saw his new friends, he stood up on his hind legs, began sniffing and pawing them to start play fighting! They showed their strong canines and sharp claws!
He was such a handsome and kind bear towards the group. It is good to know that he is welcomed by them and they also rely on each other for comfort, protection and love. Although sun bears are by nature solitary animals in the wild, the bond between a mother and her cub is strong during the time they are together. During the integration, sun bears can learn from each other as they communicate and play together.
BJ has proven himself to be a friendly bear. He also smiles which shows a few wrinkles on his face.
It is great that BJ has accepted this wonderful new friendship. Kina and Sika are BJ’s bear play friends.
Sometimes, BJ wants to play with Soo and Diana, but both of the female bears seem to ignore him. Once BJ started sharing the large dens with the other female bears, he immediately began exploring. He has found the simple pleasure of good friends. He is a happy go lucky bear who loves running around the dens and convinces the others to play with him by sniffing or pulling them. He is always filled with curiosity and enjoys exploring the enrichment around the dens.
They spend their days wandering around the dens, digging up the dead wood, climbing on the structural enrichment and sharing their toys. They are doing things together and seem to enjoy each other’s company.
For the rest of their first week together, there was no aggression found and they were accepting of each other as it did not take too long for them to become social. Now he has four lovely female bears to keep him company. It was a delight to see him grow into a healthy and loving bear where he could truly be himself.
Text & Photos by Seng Yen Wah
Soo is a four year old female, sub adult bear. She was purchased with the price of RM350 when she was still a cub in Karamatoi Village in Sook Keningau market. After that, she was kept as a house pet in Nambayan village in Tambunan for two years. She was rescued by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and transferred to BSBCC on the 8th of September, 2017. Soo is very alert with her surroundings. She easily gets stressed and starts to pace aggressively when she hears loud, machine noises. This stereotypic behaviour is the consequence of her past life of living as a caged pet. She took a long time to adapt herself. There must be a way to help her more. Maybe it is time for her to have bear friends!
Let’s introduce you Soo’s friends, Diana (12 years old female adult bear), Kina (three years old female sub adult bear), and Sika (two years old female sub adult bear). Kina and Sika integrated on the 19th of November 2017. After that, Diana joined Kina and Sika on 13th of April 2018. And on the 2nd of September 2018, Soo meet them all for the first time.
Soo is curious about the appearance of a new bear beside her cage. She sniffed on the sliding door. The sliding door opens slowly and Sika is waiting for her at another side. This is the first time Soo met a bear. Soo is anxious. She vocalized with Sika when Sika came close. She would like to play with Sika but she doesn’t know how to do it. She shows defensive behaviour which Sika does not like. Therefore the first time is not pleasant.
The second day of integration is Kina’s turn. Kina shows more curiosity about Soo. She tried to initiate play fight with Soo, who is still nervous about her first friendship. Soo demonstrates a big response to Kina’s approach, but this did not stop Kina and still tried getting close to her. If Soo is being stressed at the moment, Kina will not disturb her.
Soo took her time and she tried her best to become friends with Diana, Kina and Sika. They are getting along well now! Only sometimes, Diana is on her temper and shows her aggression to Sika and Soo by vocalizing. But, there would never be a problem for them to stay together. They play fight with whoever they want. They share their food and also rest together. It is so good to see Soo’s improvement since her first arrival. We really hope Soo can live in a better life with her bear friends and we hope to see her grow into a strong and brave bear!
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Diana was kept in a concrete floor cage and was displayed to the public at View Top Resort, Tawau, on the South East coast of Sabah, for about ten years. She was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department on the 31st of July 2013, and was then brought to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) on the 10th of March, 2014. Upon arrival, she was in a bad condition with existing open wounds on the right maxillary area and had unhealthy gums due to fighting with another male, adult sun bear as they were both kept together in a cage. We will never know what happened to her mother, but this can illustrate how vulnerable wild sun bears are to threats from poachers. Stolen from life in the forest, Diana will never be taught by her mother how to survive in the wild.
This year we still continue to fight the battle to rescue illegal pet trade victims in Sabah. Due to the dens in our bear houses and quarantine being full, our team has decided to let Diana meet with two lovely young female bears, Sika and Kina, in quarantine.
They immediately enjoyed their new dens which were full of natural habitat enrichments such as dead wood, green leaves, climbing structures, a sleeping platform, and a hammock. These enrichment activities are all designed to stimulate natural behaviour and keep them active.
They all have their own spot for napping.
Our sun bears are rescued and undergo rehabilitation at our centre. They have suffered some physical disabilities or psychological trauma from their time kept in captivity. Through this integration, life is getting better for these bears that have lived with pain and trauma for so long. For Diana, single enrichment and the company of new friends can make her day.
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
It is a vital step to protect the health of all the rescued bears at our centre. Every year the bears will receive full health checks and any medical procedures they require. Once again, we were very fortunate to have veterinary care from Sabah Wildlife Departments, Dr. Nabila Sarkawi.
A basic health check corner has been set up complete with a surgery table and health check equipment. 44 of the bears have been checked. The health check began with each bear being individually anaesthetized.
Dr. Nabila and the bear care team performed a thorough check on the bears’ health. This included taking the bears’ weight,
temperature, pulse and respiration rate, body measurement, blood and hair samples, dental treatment, cutting back severely overgrown claws for those bears that stay inside the bear house, x-ray, being checked for potential sickness (signs of ill-health, disease and injury), and functioning of internal organs.
cutting back severely overgrown claws for those bears that stay inside bear house,
If the bear had a wound, then treatment and medication would be provided during the examination.
Once the health checks were completed, the bears were brought back to their dens to recover from the sedative and their condition was monitored. From this health check, we will have a much clearer idea of the bears' future needs, including diet.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), they are categorized as “vulnerable”. We need to highlight sun bear conservation and help protect them from the threat of extinction. On the 13th of July 2017, an application of advanced reproductive technology in the conservation of endangered wildlife programme (ART programme) - training in immobilization and reproduction of sun bear in Sabah, was conducted. ART programme is a project under the 11th Malaysia Plan administered by Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD). Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) is appointed as consultant to help develop the ART programme. By conducting this ART programme, the “sample size” of living individuals is large and there are opportunities for the captive sun bear population to contribute to the long term survival of the species. During the health check, eight healthy adult male bears and one adult female bear were chosen. Sun bear semen was collected.
In very exciting news, on the 26th of November 2017, Debbie and Damai were fitted with satellite collars. Debbie and Damai have shown signs of being excellent in their forest skills, enough to cope sufficiently in the wild. They have prepared for life back in the wild. Our team will monitor their adaptation, making sure the collar is functioning well and will evaluate their progress.
Our rescued bears get the best care. Thankfully, a number of the bears examined had nothing serious going on. Only Diana, an eleven year old, adult female bear had poor conditions with her teeth, suffering from severe damage ever since having a highly unsuitable diet when she kept as an illegal pet. Diana requires extensive medical care ahead. She was moved to Quarantine for future special care by our bear team. Diana will recover well by receiving pain relief and being fed soft blended fruit. She is continuing to show good progress with less signs of stereotypical behavior compared to when she was staying at the bear house. Every day she can enjoy the forest scenery and smells around her. After finishing her food, she climbs up and rests comfortably back in her basket.
After one year of Noah and Nano undergoing rehabilitation at our centre, they made such good progress that they graduated from cub rehabilitation in quarantine to “big bear” dens in Bear House. Here they can see other sun bears so they can learn from them and get used to the sounds and sights of the outside world. The bear house bears were delighted to welcome Noah and Nano to the family. The new dens where they are settling in have been stocked with climbing structures to play on, a comfy hammock to take naps on and dried leaves as browse to explore. After a period of adaption in the new den where the rehabilitation will continue, there will be eventual access out to the forest enclosure. Noah and Nano are very quick settle into their new environment.
They are sniffing in curiosity all the time. Noah and Nano are exceptionally brave and inquisitive explorers. Noah adapted well to his new environment, proving to be a fast learner and loving the fruits given by his care taker. Nano’s response was quite amazing, but his favourite past time is sleeping in his basket.
They are being monitored and are being continuously stimulated with enrichment items. They will have the opportunity to climb, explore and adjust to this new space. Every time they are given extra treats and new enrichment they get really excited!
They also have received lots of love from our bear care team, doing everything they can to help them build strength and courage to live as a wild bear! It is wonderful knowing that what is coming next makes it even more incredible.
It is so exciting that the rescued sun bears will take the biggest step in their life. This year will be a big movement for our bears. Some groups will go into an outside forest enclosure for the first time. Other bear groups will change to have access out to the new forest. Several groups will undergo electric fence training. While one group will be introduced to a larger group. There are also two release candidate bears preparing to be released back into the wild. The bears will realize this new life is good and finally live the life denied to them by pet trade.
Thanks for the hard work and wonderful care provided by Dr. Nabila, Dr. Pakee, Dr. Reza, Elis Tambing and the bear care team! Huge thanks for being part of the team. Job well done!!!
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
In the beginning of March, five new sun bears have arrived at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) , which include Diana, Ronnie, Phin, Sigalung and Sunbearo. A lot of hard work and preparations went into that day. It has been a busy couple of weeks for the team in taking care of, in total, 32 rescued sun bears.
There is a very attractive bear with blue eyes called Ronnie. He is a determined, smart and relaxed 8 years old adult male sun bear with strong personalities. Ronnie was kept with another female adult sun bear called “Diana”. Both of them were rescued from View Top Resort, Tawau, South-East coast of Sabah in July of 2013. Their owners said that they had been keeping the two bears together in a small concrete floor cage, and displaying them to the public at View Top Resort, Tawau. They were fed with rice and fruits. We conducted Ronnie’s physical check-up on 11st March 2014 and it went on very smoothly with the help of the Sabah Wildlife Department staffs. Ronnie's current weight is recorded as 61.6 kg, he is such a muscular bear! Ronnie always looks for food, he rest near the feeding tray even when there is no food. He also loves to stare at people who walk pass in front of him. He watches them with curiosity and is interested in things that happen around him.
Diana, on the other hand, is an adult female sun bear. Upon her arrival at the BSBCC, Diana was in a bad condition. She had an old injury hole on her right snout, bald patches on the back of her head and unhealthy gums due to fighting with bear in her previous captivity. Diana is a sensitive bear, she made warning sound to show her displeasure at the presence of human on her first day at BSBCC. Nevertheless, Diana is doing brilliantly and likes to explore the new enrichment tools that are prepared by the keepers. She also loves playing with water by splashing water out of the water container.
Phin and Sigalung arrived at BSBCC as adult male sun bears for about 6 years old. They were found by villagers near the logging camp in Sipitang district, Southwest of Sabah. Expected, their mother was probably killed before they were kept as illegal pets. Both of them were rescued and kept together at the Lok Kawi Zoo on 1st March 2014. On the first day of their arrival at BSBCC, Sigalung and Diana barked and appeared to be aggressive when the transportation cage was moved. They took a little while before stepping into their new cage.
The male adult sun bear, Sigalung is named after the name of the logging camp where he was rescued. Although he appeared to be fierce when he first arrived, he adapted quickly to his new cage. He climbed to the top of his new cage and surveyed the surroundings in the new big basket. He is healthy, adventurous, energetic and sometimes cheeky. Sigalung is very playful especially with coconuts! He can spend hours playing with and trying to open them. Besides, he also loves climbing and practices his climbing skills often. He is believed to be an amazing climber when he is out to the forest enclosure in the future!
Phin was calm on the night he arrived at BSBCC. His name, 'Phin' was given by his previous owner. He is healthy and incredibly gentle as he moves much slower as compared to Sigalung. He enjoys climbing, resting in the big basket as well as splashing water out of the water container onto his chest by using his paws. Phin also finds a great joy in foraging decayed wood and exploring the new enrichment tools.
Sunbearo was kept in a Mini Zoo Hot Spring, Tawau, South Eastern of Sabah before he was handed over to the Sabah Wildlife Department and BSBCC. Sunbearo was thin and weights only 11.6 kg. He was most likely to be around 6 months old but his size is much smaller than the other bears of his age. Sunbearo’s hair was in poor condition which could be due to malnourishment. Therefore, a more complete and nutritious diet is specially prepared for him. Now, Sunbearo physical condition has improved and is gaining back his appetite and weight slowly. Moreover, his canine teeth are developing too!
Originally known as Tan Sri, which is the name of his owner from the Mini Zoo Hot Spring Tawau, he was then re-named as “Sunbearo” in recognition of all the enabling support that the company, Neways has given to the centre. He is now in quarantine and seemed very fragile as his muscles are not as strong due to his tiny size. Sunbearo was nervous about climbing at first, whereby he used his canine teeth to support his body during most of the climbing. Sunbearo climbed and explored his new cage often and is able to reach a higher height on his own now. In addition, Sunbearo enjoys his daily playtime at the exercise pen that is supplied with new climbing structure and dead woods. He never stops being curious and always wants to explore and touch on anything that he can. Sunbearo's hesitant, curiosity and expressive face made him stand out from the start.
Sunbearo is adorable and sweet, he can melt your heart in an instant. He learns to climb and forage as well as develop the skills necessary to be a wild sun bear on his own! Like all the sun bears that are housed at BSBCC, Sunbearo arrived as an orphan. No information was given about what had happened to his mother. We may never know Sunbearo’s true story, but we are glad that he is now under our care.
It is happy to see that the bears finally receive the care and kindness they deserved in BSBCC after their rescue. They seem to be adapting to their current home well and enjoying the new experience exploring the new cages. They love playing with the enrichment tools that could encourage them to develop natural and positive sun bear's behaviours. It is also grateful to bring these orphaned sun bears back into good health. They deserve to get a second chance and lead a happy and successful life in the wild!
It is important to spread the message for sun bear.
“Please stop hunting, buying and keeping sun bears as a pet!”
Text by Jocelyn Stokes
Photos by BSBCC Staffs
Late Monday night, the BSBCC staff waited patiently in the moonlight as a large truck full of bears slowly pulled into the conservation centre’s docking area. It was 10pm on the 10th of March, when five rescued sun bears arrived at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre from Lok Kawi Zoo, Kota Kinabalu. The BSBCC is grateful to receive the assistance of the Wildlife Rescue Unit from Sabah Wildlife Department in their efforts to bring these bears to their new home
As the bears barked and rattled their cages, the staff managed to safely unload and transfer the four adult bears and one cub into the centre’s new rehabilitation facilities, all within the course of only 3 hours! Only one bear required sedation for the transfer, which occurred the following day in addition to a health check, revealing that this big, blue-eyed male is in good physical condition.
While observing the freshly-relocated baby sun bear explore its new home, Wong Siew Te, CEO & Founder of the BSBCC, announced that this beautiful young male will be named 'Sunbearo' in recognition of all the enabling support that the company Neways has given to the centre. “Without the generous support of companies like Neways, these bears could not have been given a home here,” Wong said with deep appreciation.
Wong and Sunbearo's first feeding. Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre mission is to conserve sun bear through improving animal welfare, raising conservation awareness with education, conducting research, and rehabilitating the sun bear cubs like Sunbearo who have the second chance to return his life in the forest!
In Sabah it is completely illegal to hunt or keep sun bears captive because the Bornean sun bear is a Class I protected species. Although it is illegal to keep sun bears, it is sadly not uncommon and wild sun bear populations continue to be at risk. Sigalung, Phin, Diana, Ronney and Sunbearo are the names of our well-received new bears. They are all victims of this crime. The BSBCC is grateful for the opportunity to assist them in their plight, however it is necessary to remember why they need our help.
In the midst of all the inherent excitement of receiving 5 new bears, a surprise guest visited the centre as well. Sir David Attenborough, famed naturalist and narrator, was graciously welcomed to the BSBCC with a personal tour from Wong as they observed and discussed the sun bears together. Although the bears being observed in the forest enclosure may not have been especially aware of his presence, Wong the BSBCC staff, were quite pleased to welcome such an honorary guest.
More news on the progress of our new arrivals will be coming soon, so stay connected as we embrace our new count of 32 sun bears!