Text & Photos by Chiew Lin May
Four month old, female sun bear cub, Wawa was found alone without her mother in a forest reserve in Pinangah, Telupid District in 2016. She was rescued and surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department and has since been cared for at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) as of March 18, 2016. She weighed 4.5kg on arrival.
Upon her arrival, she appeared weak and dehydrated. Sun bear cubs require around-the-clock care and feeding with a special milk formula.
Enrichment programs are vital for captive sun bears as they provide positive mental and physical stimulation. These programs allow Wawa to dig for insects and allow her to climb. Wawa has quite a big appetite and is particularly fond of fruits, termites, ants and honey!
Sun bears live with their mothers until the age of 2-3 years old and until they are grown enough to defend themselves. As Wawa no longer has her mother, our bear keepers become surrogate mothers, giving her love, support, care and the knowledge she needs to be released back into the forest.
On 25th June 2016, she was integrated with Dodop and has developed a good bond! Until today, she preferred spending most of the time with Dodop.
On 17th November 2016, she took her first step to go out to the forest enclosure - first taste of freedom – in the treetops.
Exploring her new home in the dense rainforest. Every time when we started swapping the rescued bears to the new forest enclosure, Wawa was amongst the bravest rushing out to the forest to explore and play.
She is an agile climber. We are always impressed by her agility and balance!
Wawa shimmies right up the tree and loves the sounds of the humming insects! Highly intelligent and inquisitive by nature! Climbing trees, digging for termite nests, and developing the strength and the skills she needs seem to be her favourite activities throughout the day. She loves to play in the dirt so much that her body is full of wood chunks and mud! Wawa has expressed natural avoidance behaviour towards people and barks when sees someone approaching (one of the better candidates for release).
She also reveals her own world of how to survive in the forest, foraging her own food, building nests, climbing trees, and recognising threats. She came from the wild and that is where she belongs, in the forest. It is gradually clear that she is ready to be released back to the wild!
You can make a difference and help every sun bear in our care live their best life in the forest home!
Text by Nursyahidah Binti Hassim
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hola! My name is Nursyahidah Hassim. I am 25 years old and I am from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. I graduated in Conservation Biology from the University Malaysia Sabah back in 2016. Before volunteering here in BSBCC, I have been working on insects (especially on butterflies) while in university and when I was working at the Poring Butterfly Farm in Ranau. The reason why I came here to volunteer is that I really want to gain new experiences working with mammals. Since I already have experiences working with insects, I also want to experience and learn how to manage mammals. So, I thought that BSBCC is the perfect place for me to go!
On the 5th of Dec 2019, me and my friend, Yen Chi arrived at the BSBCC for our safety induction. We met Lin May (one of BSBCC officer that who is in charge with the volunteer programme) and had our safety induction in the staff room. After we had our safety induction, she showed us around the BSBCC area. We went to the bear house and met all the staff there. All the staff are very friendly and funny. Throughout the volunteer programme, I have gained tons of new experiences. My volunteer session lasted for 2 weeks. Every volunteer was assigned with their own respective buddy (Senior/Junior Keeper). The purpose of having a buddy is that our buddy is the one that will assist us in our work throughout the programme. I was assigned with a junior keeper named Roger. He was helpful, nice, funny and it was really fun working with him. He assisted me with all the works that had been given to me. During the volunteer programme, I have helped cleaning the bear cages, preparing food for the bears in the kitchen, feeding the bears outside (forest enclosure) and inside the bear house, assisted Roger in fence checking, doing integration between bears (between Linggam and Suzie, Kuamut, Jelita and Manis), helping Dr Boon counting bear respiratory rate and making bear enrichments. I also assisted Dr Boon with the bear health check. During the health check, I helped counting the respiratory rate and the heart beat of the bear. It was really fun participating in the bear health check session because I got to observe and feel the sun bear more closely. Moreover, I also got to see Dr Boon performed dental scaling on the bear’s teeth. Making enrichment is also one of the most fun activity to do. It was satisfying to see the bears playing with their enrichment so that they do not get bored inside their den. It was really interesting to see the bears using their long tongue to angle for the food (peanut butter/honey/dog biscuits/leaves) that had been stuffed inside the Aussie ball.
Being involved in this volunteer programme has opened my eyes for the importance of sun bears in our ecosystem. Sun bears search for honey in the forest by tearing up tree trunks that create nesting sites for birds, thus becoming the engineers of the woods. They also help to maintain the fertility of the soil implicitly while digging for invertebrate for snacks. I’m sad that poachers failed to see the value of sun bears in our ecosystem just for the sake of money. I want the world to see the importance of our little engineers in the wood as I did, and I highly recommend people to join this programme.
So, I would like to say thank you to BSBCC for giving me this amazing opportunity to be a part of the Centre as a volunteer. Good luck for the future and see you guys again soon. I miss you guys and the bears!
Video by Chiew Lin May
"Excited to be in forest where was surrounded by tall trees, green grass and everything wild!" - Noah & Dodop
Text by Natalie Lian Qian Wei (Intern Student, University Science Malaysia)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hello everyone! Today I am going to tell you a story about a little bear making friends. Her name is Romolina, she is one year old. She is tiny, but definitely mighty (Romolina is a grumpy bear! Roar!). Not forgetting to mention that she has two friends, Joe and Logan. They live together in forest enclosure.
But first, we must know that sun bears live solitary in nature, and we can only find sun bears together during the mating season or when a mama bear takes care of her baby. Here in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), helping sun bears to make friends (also known as integration) helps to encourage healthy bear behaviour as the bears can learn from each other of essential skills, conserve space (as we already have 43 bears!), and reduce stress. Before this, little Romolina was already integrated with the other sub-adult sun bears, which include Wawa, Mary, Dodop, Noah and Nano. The integration process was done in an indoor enclosure. However, when they were released to the forest (outdoor) enclosure, Romolina could not live with them harmoniously. This might be due to problems such as territoriality, difference in body size (Romolina has a relatively small body size, which is not good for play-fights), or Romolina’s independent personality. This left a scar in their relationships that needs to be healed.
Therefore, it gave us a mission: Help Romolina to be friends with the other bears again. Each integration session was to be carried out for 30 minutes, in the indoor enclosure of Bear House 1.
It wasn’t an easy process. Besides her bestfriends Logan and Joe, Romolina would run around, growl, huff and bark whenever the other bears approached her.
Anyway, here is a brief summary of Romolina’s interaction with the other bears she was to be integrated with:
Noah is a friendly and playful bear. During integration, Noah would approach Romolina. He chased and wanted to play with her. Little Romolina avoided Noah but there was once, Romolina was “caught” by Noah. Noah bit her in a playful manner. We were pleased that Romolina did not fight with Noah!
As for Nano, during integration, Nano was not interested to approach Romolina and was just minding his own business. Moving on we will talk about her integration with Wawa. Although Romolina would react negatively when the other bears approached her, Wawa is a brave bear as she would still try to approach Romolina. She would go to Romolina slowly, with her head bowed down. Even though Wawa was not aggressive to her, Romolina would still avoid her.
Dodop rarely approached Romolina. However, something happened between Romolina and Dodop during an integration session - A fight! The cause of the fight was an accident, though. Noah was chasing Romolina around the enclosures to play with her, Romolina panicked, ran around and unintentionally, ran into Dodop. A fight then happened between them. We then had to stop the fight rapidly using a bucket of water and a fire extinguisher.
As for Mary, integration did not go well between them too. Romolina would barked and growled at Mary. There was once, Mary attempted to bite Romolina too.
During the sessions, we observed that Romolina avoided all of the bears. She would stay on top of the enclosure, away from the others. Our integration mission in the indoor enclosure thus came to an end. Anyway, let’s hope for the best for little Romolina! Perhaps, one day she will be able to be friends with the other bears again.
Text by Umadevi A/P Murrty (Intern student, University Putra Malaysia Bintulu Campus)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
We decided to integrate our three cubs with the friendly sub-adult group- Nano, Noah, Dodop, Mary & Wawa. Integration can help bears to reduce their stress-related behavior and they can learn pertinent skills from each other such as survival skills and defense skills.
NOAH – The pretender
Logan was playful and gets along with Noah. At first, Logan was excited and played well with Noah but Romolina and Joe did not really like to play with him as they stayed aside or rest on the comfortable hammock. Logan started to play biting and rolling with Noah, even wrestling for the whole time. He has shown to be a more fun-loving bear that always initiates to play with Noah. Noah tries to approach Romolina several times but she seems less interested in joining to play while maintaining her independence whereas Joe would paw Noah in a gentle way and he starts suckling to seek attention. After sometime, Joe and Noah still spent some time playing cheerily. After a few days of integration, Noah gets closer with Logan and they do love slow fights. Noah also likes sniffing Romolina’s body which makes her feel uncomfortable and run all around the cages. Romolina did learn to defend herself by vocalizing and she is SUPER FAST in escaping from others.
MARY – The lovable
Integration starts when the gate opened on 23rd April 2019 among Mary and the group of bears. Logan initiates to walks into Mary’s cage but he looks less confident in approaching Mary. As soon as Mary saw Logan, she kept growling and pawing at him for a minute. This makes Logan and his group afraid of her and they distance themselves from Mary for some time. Mary also barked at Romolina when she tried approaching her. Joe and Romolina, both bears kept suckling to seek comfort. Since the cage is full of new enrichments to boosts up the new cubs, Mary also found it energetic and she kept exploring it. Unfortunately, towards the end of integration Mary seemed to be stressed out and she starts pacing in a stereotypical pattern. Eventually, they get to know that Mary less plays with them, thus the cubs maintain their distance from Mary.
DODOP – The sleepy
When Dodop introduced to the cubs, she was busy exploring her environment while manipulating the enrichments by climbing up and down. Eventually, Dodop slowly came closer to Joe while sniffing to his body. But, Joe do not really interested with Dodop because she keeps biting Joe without releasing. Joe also showed anger towards Dodop by barking at her and avoids. Romolina shows her interest in playing with Dodop as they chasing each other within the cages, UP AND DOWN. Both bears had their good joyful time. Dodop also enjoyed mouthing and wrestling with Logan whenever the other two were fewer shows interest in play.
WAWA- The explorer
As the gate opens, Wawa being the curious one went into the den where the three cubs were located, and tried to approach Romolina, and sniff her. Romolina enjoys it and she did sniffing, mouthing and pawing in a friendly manner. Wawa wrestled her and they were playing some time happily. Logan, playful bear also did approach Wawa and they get along with each other quicker. They both wrestles for the next 15 minutes NON- STOP! They even had some rough fights which filled with fun and excitement. Whereas, Joe and Romolina were busy foragings while exploring the enrichment.
NANO - The Spy
Nano was introduced to the cubs on 26th April 2019. Nano shows his interest by sniffing at Logan’s back body and ears. Both of them vocalized at each other while Nano offers a friendly paw to Logan. Nano loves the enrichment provided in the cub’s cages and he spent a few minutes enjoying the attractive enrichment. Romolina and Joe were a little stressed and ended up in pacing in a stereotypical pattern. Joe gets angry at Nano when he sniffed Joe’s ears. Instead, Nano and Logan played chasing, climbing up and sharing the hammock while hugging and playing jovially.
In conclusion, Logan loves to spend more time in making new friends and is a very active bear. Besides that, Romolina and Joe, who is less interested in making new friends however they are still trying to patch up with other bears slowly. Joe and Romolina are also known to be the explorer and love to live in their own world. Integration between three musketeer’s bears with the sub adult group was absolutely fine and no aggression found.
Video by Chiew Lin May
"When I cheered for myself with sugar cane!!" - Dodop
Video by Chiew Lin May
Big smiles for Sunday!
Dodop uses her superb strong teeth and claws to tear trees open to reach ants!
Video By Chiew Lin May
"I am off for a bear snooze!" - Little sun bear How the weekend make you feel?
The rescued sun bears are happy to snuggle up comfortably and enjoy such freedom every day!!
Text by Nur Athirah Binti Asrif (UNIMAS student)
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Sunbears belong to the wild, in a vast forest and not in a cramped cage or behind iron bars. All the sunbears in the centre have their own despairing stories from before they were rescued. There might be more bears out there that need our help, faint voices that long to be rescued. Sunbears belong in the forest where trees become their shade and bushes comfort them as their pillows. However, not all of them have the opportunity to be able to enjoy the life they deserve. The canopies that are supposed to give them shelter are replaced with a human house, the tree branches for them to sleep and relax on are substituted with iron bars. The state of the 'homes' that are provided by humans are devastating enough, let alone the food they consume. Some of the bears are given only condensed milk by their previous owner, when their true diets range from fruits, insects and small mammals. As a conservation centre, this place provides all the essential things for the bears to experience the life they are supposed to. In the process of rehabilitation, the bears will be released into the forest enclosure after passing their fence training and integration with the other bears. For most of us at the centre, the small steps that the bears take to enter the forest enclosure is a big leap for everyone, especially the sunbears themselves.
This time around is our favorite duo, Noah and Nano. Both Noah and Nano have never been into a forest enclosure before let alone the vast jungle. On the 13th of August 2017, both Noah and Nano were given their first attempt to be released inside the forest enclosure of Pen D. As the guillotine door was opened, both Noah and Nano were full of anxiety. Both of them had never smelt the scent of the trees, nor had they seen the vibrancy of the greeneries. For them, it was like a new world that may or may not be secure for the both of them. Noah and Nano took their turns to take a glimpse outside of the cage. The rays of sunshine gave them a warmer impression of the forest. For their first attempt to be released in the forest enclosure, both Noah and Nano showed a positive response by letting their heads outside the G-door, although they had zero intention to go out in that moment.
Luckily, a great troop from the same pen which consists of Mary, Wawa, and Dodop, came down the forest enclosure of Pen D and had a visit to their new pen-mates, Noah and Nano. As Noah saw Wawa, Dodop and Mary playing under the sun and smothering their bodies with mud, Noah finally tried to walk down the ramp. Noah took a very little and cautious step down the ramp. It took him several attempts to finally touch the ground for the very first time. Noah's paw touched the wet mud but he was quick to retrieve himself and climbed back into the cage. It may have been humorous to us, but it was a bizarre experience for Noah as it was his first time experiencing the feel of the muddy texture. The weird greetings of the forest ground did not stop Noah from trying.
Wawa and Dodop, the other bears who also stay in the forest enclosure of Pen D, have helped Noah a lot in encouraging him to go down. As various foods were thrown into the pen, Noah finally went down and followed the other bears which were Wawa and Dodop. Noah enjoyed himself by playing with the water in the drainage and scraping most of the dead logs in the enclosure. Even the great amount of honey on the ground did not bother him as he was too immersed in his new surroundings. As days passed, Noah became more adventurous like he used to be.
He even climbed the trees which were guarded by Wawa and Dodop. The moment when Noah climbed the tree for the first time was such an enchanting and touching scene, showing how great it is for them to be able to enjoy the forest again. There was nothing in the world that could stop Noah in that moment as he ventured the whole forest enclosure himself. He digs every possible pit, scrapes every stray log and sniffs every inch of the greeneries.
Nano, on the other hand, is still cautious and chooses to stay in the cage by himself. Nevertheless, he always appears to be calm and has his own ways of enjoying the forest. Unlike Noah, Nano has his front legs crossed on the ramp while having his head resting on it. Nano chooses to enjoy the forest in a more calmer way and is more interested in the view of the forest rather than the touch of it.
As for now, Noah has become a part of Mary’s group and has the best time of his life everyday in the forest. Every morning when the guillotine door is opened, Noah is always there getting ready to enter the forest enclosure again to begin his new journey. On the ramp, Nano is always there relaxing and enjoying the forest with his own ways and will join Noah in the forest soon!
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Dodop and Wawa, both one year old female juvenile bears. They have a different story to tell how they arrived to BSBCC. Dodop was rescued by the Sabah Wildlife Department from being kept as pet in a Singgaron village in Ranau district. Her milk teeth had been found missing but now her permanent teeth have grown well. On the other hand, Wawa was surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department. She was found in the Forest Management Unit (FMU) 16, Pinangah in Telupid District. They stayed together in quarantine and moved to bear house on 10th of October 2016.
Dodop and Wawa adapted well in the bear house. Due to the capacity of the bear house being limited, Dodop and Wawa were integrated with our sub-adult group. The sub-adult group is consists of 11 bears: Sunbearo, Loki, Bintang, Montom, Susie2, Damai, Mary, Kala, Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan. Limited capacity is not the only reason to integrate bears, integration can help bears to reduce their stress related behavior and they can learn pertinent skills from each other such as survival skills and defense skills. Wawa is a friendly bear. She likes to be friends with others by initiating play fights. Compared with Wawa, Dodop is very shy. But, everyone likes to approach her. The sub-adult group liked both Dodop and Wawa. They stay, they play and they sleep together now.
Fence training is a must before the bears are allowed out to the forest enclosure. This is because all the forest enclosures are surrounded by hot wires in high voltage. Having hot wires prevent the bears from escaping the forest enclosure. And hence, the fence training is a learning process for the bears in order to let them know the hot wire will cause them pain if they touch on it. Fence training could be a long period or short period training because it varies with different bears since they have different personalities.
Dodop and Wawa are fast learners. Even though, they had a bad experiences for the first day of the fence training; both were zapped for few times in the first day, because they climbed the fence. When they panicked, they climbed up higher but they did not know that there still were more hot wires waiting for them. When the bear keeper realized they climbed to the electric fence, the keepers did switch off the fence immediately and waited for them to climb down, just switch on the fence again. After they got zapped, they barked and ran back into the buffer cage. After that, their fence training turned negative. So, we tried to introduce Dodop and Wawa with their friends and let them go to the fence training together. This showed positive results. They entered the training pen again lead by their friends. After few weeks, finally Dodop and Wawa passed their fence training! They took the food by using their claws and without getting zapped by hot wires anymore.
On 17th November, 2016, it was a sunny day. And, it was a good day for Dodop and Wawa going out from the cage. Once the guillotine door opened, they apparently felt curious about the world behind the door. They were sniffing the forest scents and keep looking outside, the new environment! And, Wawa took her very first and brave step to step on the ground. Once she touched on the ground, she could not wait to explore everything inside the forest enclosure. She has since proven that she is the explorer! Just in one afternoon, she explored the whole forest enclosure and she met her friend, Boboi, Kitud and TanTan. They were sharing a coconut as well. After that, they were playing and exploring together, it is so lovely!
Dodop is not like Wawa. She took some time to come out from the cage. She keeps looking outside when Wawa was having fun with others. So, she put her four paws on the ramp and kept looking around to find a good ways to touch on ground. She really does not like to step on the muddy area. She was trying hard and finally she went out to the forest enclosure. And, Wawa was waiting for her to explore the forest enclosure together. Their release to the forest enclosure is the chance for them to learn more from their friends. Not only for Dodop and Wawa but for every bear, the BSBCC has a dream that sun bears can be given back to the wild again. We at the BSBCC really hope to help for dreams to come true.