Text by Anastasia Ting Jia Lei
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
He peeked out of the door which separated the brightness of the greenery outside from the dim concrete walls within. After a few moments of hesitation, Chin made up her mind to leave her friend behind and pass through the door into the daylight, where she could explore around, bask under the sun, climb trees, and just enjoy her life. Amaco stared after her, sniffing curiously. Intrigued yet daunted by the world beyond the concrete walls he was used to, he had no intention to leave his comfort zone.
The guillotine door with rust spots slid down, blocking his view and plunging him back into the gloom he was familiar with. He turned away as loneliness engulfed him. Unsure what to do, he wandered to his usual spot and plopped down clumsily.
Time for a nap.
I watched this scene before me with mixed feelings. Amaco, a 29 years old Bornean Sun Bear, has never set foot in a forest where he belongs, and this is all because of humans' wrongdoings. After 18 years of being caged up in Tamaco Plantation, he has grown accustomed to the comfort within metal bars and dares not venture out into the forest. Pity welled up within me. How I wished I could do something to help him!
Then, an idea popped into my mind. If he wouldn't go into the forest enclosure, why don't I bring the forest to him? With that thought in mind, I strode up to my buddy, David Tahir, and shared my project idea with him.
I was warned, though, that Chin would destroy all the plants I add to Amaco's cage as they often share the same cage. Nonetheless, I was quite stubborn. I researched and asked around for the types of plants suitable for a dim cage like Amaco's. For example, fishtail palms, begonias, mosses, etc. Eventually, I settled on bird's nest ferns as they are easy to find, non-poisonous, low-light tolerant, and moisture-loving.
Mizuno, upon hearing about my plan, said, "Jom!" And just like that, my buddy and I followed him out of the bear house, through the territory of Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center, and down a long stretch of road to reach a plantation where ferns hung abundantly from the palm trees. We harvested several ferns and carried them back to the bear house.
Seeing my indecisiveness regarding how to plant the ferns, Roger guided me and helped me tie the ferns to logs. Two weeks before the end of my internship at BSBCC, I asked for the keepers' help to 'install' the ferns in Amaco's cage.
When we were done, I took out the foul-smelling frog juice (a type of fish bait) and lathered the areas around the ferns with it. As Amaco LOVES that juice, I was hoping that he would associate the ferns with it and grow to like the ferns.
But things went a little differently than expected.
Unable to reach the frog juice on the cage bar, Amaco lost his temper. With an annoyed grunt, he reached out his forelimb, and with a powerful tug, he wrenched the fern away from the wood.
The next day, to my delight, Pradeep shared with me that Amaco cradled the leaves of the fern as he slumbered at night! Then, I thought, why not just provide him with more ferns to keep him entertained and happy?
Again, Mizuno picked up a knife and led us back to the plantation for another fern-hunt. We found a gigantic fern, which Mizuno harvested with some difficulties. When we added the fern to Amaco's cage, he sniffed and clawed at the fern, searching for ants hiding within its roots.
Although planting the ferns in the cage for the long term would be ideal, it is quite an impossible task. Nevertheless, I am glad that this enrichment had given Amaco a good time, however short it lasted.
Text by Koh Jieh Long
Photos by Mohd Nur Adneen Bin Anuar & Seng Yen Wah
I paid for the ticket, passed through the gallery, walked up a flight of stairs, was greeted by a member of staff before I saw the sun bears in their forest enclosure; everything made me feel welcomed on my first visit to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). I took photos of the sun bears eating their “third feeding” of the day, while Max, from the ticketing staff, set up a spotting scope that’s pointed directly at one of the sun bears’ favourite treats in the wild – “sarang kelulut” or stingless bee’s nest. I felt drawn to this place, even before the entrance to the BSBCC – on the wooden walkway leading to the ticket counter/shop, birds were singing, orangutans making nests, Prevost’s squirrels chasing one another… What if I could volunteer here?
I knew BSBCC has a volunteer program; I had been wanting to experience it for a long time. This is an internationally recognised sun bear rehab facility that is established enough to allow tourists to visit; a non-governmental wildlife sanctuary capable of self sustainment without compromising the welfare of their captive animals. On top of that, it has released multiple sun bears to the wilderness of the Tabin Wildlife Reserve which is truly a rare case in Malaysia. Naturally, I am curious of how they make it this far and still standing amidst the Covid pandemic?
I walked through the gallery to knock on the door to the BSBCC office. I asked the person answering the door: “can I talk to someone about your volunteer program?”. I was told to wait and after a few minutes, a familiar face showed up; it’s the same face I have been seeing on social media and online webinars, with the name that I have been hearing from the other wildlife conservationists. Dr.Wong and I chatted for a bit – after I pulled back my hand that was meant for an awkward handshake but got rejected (because Covid).
Not long after, I found myself cleaning cages in the bear house, and preparing meals and enrichments for Julaini, Romolina, Simone, Kudat, Along, Dodop, Ronnie Boy…I soon found out that Dr.Wong is very passionate and will always carve out his time and space to talk to people about nature, about sun bears, wildlife conservation, life…, and not sure if it’s just with me – about whether I have a girlfriend (x 5). I liked talking to him, and I’m sure many young people would agree feeling inspired after a conversation. My respect for Dr.Wong grew after finishing “Saving Sun Bears” – Dr.Wong’s biography authored by Sarah Pye. The book develops the innocent childhood of little Wong who just liked animals, to a rough, thankless journey in wildlife conservation where people like Dr.Wong have to do A LOT of “balancing” in decision making, especially when you are in the position of a CEO or the director of an organisation.
When Dr.Boon designs the sun bears’ daily food intake and dietary supplements, she’s trying to achieve balance between BSBCC’s budget and 45 sun bears’ nutritional needs; when Yen Wah walks baby Luna in the bushes, she’s seeking balance between Luna’s safety and wild instincts; when Pradeep plans feeding time and location, he’s balancing sun bear welfare and visibility for the tourists; and when Mizuno prepares his team to retrieve GPS collars dropped by the released sun bears in the deep forest of Tabin, he makes sure he knows the strengths and weaknesses of his team members.
When Dr.Wong makes decisions though, I can only imagine it must be similar to how the Chinese acrobat balances ten spinning plates at the end of each long stick while someone else does a headstand on top of his head. “Things will never be perfect, and we need to accept that”, I have learnt. We don’t always get our way. I just need to practice being grateful for the things that I have, starting by thanking BSBCC for the opportunity to learn.
In cage 7, Nano is sleeping on a tyre swing that’s about 2/3 his size. Other bears that have played with the tyre swing struggled to keep their balance; they would eventually get off the swing by climbing on to the ceiling mesh where the ropes of the swing are attached. Nano found his balance on that swing, and so he gets to enjoy resting comfortably at some height away from the cement floor of his cage; the same way sun bears find their balance in a tree, where they construct their nests and rest. Trees sway in the wind, balance points shift, how do we keep the balance and rest in comfort?
Now back to my own balance in life.
Koh Jieh Long
Not gonna have a girlfriend.
Text by Logananthini A/P Solayappan
Photos by Logananthini A/P Solayappan & Seng Yen Wah
Hi there, I’m Loga. I came to the BSBCC to volunteer because, while I was looking for job opportunities, I thought I needed to at least pick up some skills and experiences. Although choosing the BSBCC wasn’t on my mind as a first choice, but as my friend’s suggestion, I knew the environment was going to be good for learning new knowledge in the environmental field, specifically animal husbandry, and growing as a person overall.
I come from the State of Melaka and I had never seen an actual sun bear up close in my life until now. This one month of volunteering at the BSBCC has been eye-opening and has brought me much joy as well as sorrow; the joy that I can be a part of such a project to try to rehabilitate these cute animals and the sorrow is where I learn that through my volunteering, what these animals and other similar species go through because of human actions.
This one month was full of excitement as it was a change of pace from my recent internship in another place. Every little thing that the bears do pique my interest and tickle me in my heart every time I see them. As I cleaned their cages, I felt that I was helping to make the bears more comfortable in their captive environment. As I prepared their food and fed them every day, I felt satisfied as they enjoyed their meals. The enrichments that I helped to prepare for them kept them occupied so that they wouldn’t resort to any abnormal behaviour resulting from other outside factors.
The staff were very welcoming and had the patience to teach me the daily routines although it was my first time in this kind of environment, doing animal husbandry. It gave me an idea to strive to improve myself so that I could one day be in a similar situation where I can play a hand in animal conservation so that our future generations can live to see these majestic animals in action. Thanks to my buddy, Pradeep who had the patience to answer my questions. He really gave us the knowledge about sun bears and other general knowledge, which can be applied to conservation projects. For me he is ten in one. Thanks also to Adneen, Mizuno, David, Jude, Oliver, Wawa, and Ivan. Thanks to Dr Boon for allowing us to join the medical check-up and the happiness when I get the chance to help the bears and grateful as I was the part of the medical check-up. Not to forget the Papa Bear, thanks Dr Wong for spending some hours with us to share your knowledge and thoughts.
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 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 Adrian Damsha Sufri & Seng Yen Wah
Hello everyone! My name is Mohammad Naqiuddin Ali and people call me Nick. I am 20 years old and for the past 2 months, I have been doing my internship here in the BSBCC.
I would say I am very lucky to be given the opportunity to be doing my internship here.
Initially I was so nervous as I have zero experience in working together with so many people, let alone working with sun bears. I’ve never imagined myself assisting in sun bear’s rehabilitation and to look at them really close and getting to know them more. I came here with a lot of expectations and doubts but, as each day went by, I was always showered with words of encouragement by all the staff.
During my time as an intern, I learnt so many things but the greatest lesson I’ve learned is empathy. Hearing how each and every sun bear has it’s own story with humans, some are so traumatised they have permanent complications and develop stereotype behavior which is just so sad. These sun bears were kept illegally as a pet, locked in the smallest cage, fed with improper diet, so when they came to BSBCC they had medical issues like malnutrition and dental problems. These stories made me feel more than just motivated into lending a hand here, as hard as I could, to provide these poor sun bears a better environment for a better life.
Things that I always look forward to everyday would be feeding the bears and making their enrichments. When I first assisted during feeding time, I could see how some of the sun bears are picky over their food and also not really open for sharing. It was funny and cute and I realized how despite having a very frightening bark, long claws, sharp canines, sun bears also have their own adorable side. But, as cute as they can be, they are definitely not a pet and their real home is out there, in the forest, not in our concrete building.
As for their enrichments, I think the sun bears aren’t the only one excited for it because I did too! I’ve always looked forward to enrichment activities every day and I love every second of being together with the staff, making enrichments, getting to know each other and just having fun. I made a lot of enrichments for these sun bears such as the egg tray burger, ginger leaves, stick paradox, nest ball, paper roll and more. I love seeing how these sun bears are so into it when they’re given the enrichments. It is just so amazing seeing these sun bears climbing up the dens to grab those food enrichments or when some of them would play with coconuts or the Aussie dog balls.
I am proud of the structural enrichments that I made; Boat Hammock and Confetti Bomb. I made the Boat Hammock for Simone and the making of it was mostly helped by Roger, Adneen and Marshah. I named it as ‘The Black Pearl’ and I couldn’t have done it alone without their help. Just happy to see Simone climbing up to her boat, being a sailor ready to sail. Although, it was no surprise that The Black Pearl was ‘wrecked’ by Sigalung, Simone’s neighbor, where he bit the rope attached to the hammock just after 3 days of installation. We then moved the hammock to another den where Wawa is staying. She seems to like it too! Every morning when I go to the bear house, I always see her chilling on the boat, sleeping. She even took her food up there.
I made Confetti Bomb for Amaco as I was thinking that he may be feeling bored in his den because he doesn’t want to go out to the forest enclosure. Confetti Bomb is made of a hanging gunny sack filled with dried leaves, honey, dog biscuits and banana. Amaco has to tear the gunny sack to get all these foods, and I think this enrichment is important to him as it encourages exploratory, sensory and foraging behavior. I feel satisfied seeing him eating all of the stuff after his hard work.
At first, it was a bit difficult for me to remember and differentiate every sun bear but as the days went by, I realized that all of them have their own unique chest mark and face shape and it is easier to tell them apart. Witnessing all this made me fall in love with sun bears even more because just like every other animal, they have different behavior, different preferences and each and every one of them is cute in their own way. If I could at least talk to them and they could understand me, I’d tell them to always live well, be strong and I am gonna miss them! I am gonna miss every second of feeding, cleaning the dens, watching their behavior and their cute belly when they lay down.
Lastly, I wanna give a big bunch of thanks and gratitude towards my buddy Roger, who has always been so understanding and considerate in my limitation of doing tough work, my supervisor, Yen Wah who guided me on my first day and made me feel welcome, and not to forget David, the experienced keeper who would always tell me stories of each and every sun bear, Adneen and Marshah; who never fail to make funny remarks that lightens up our mood, Mizuno; who greeted me on my first day and welcomed me, Pradeep; who educated me on so many things and introduced me to all of the sun bears, Julamih, Adrian, Dr. Boon and many others. Personally, I found that I was being so awkward on my early days but these people were very welcoming and provided so much comfort and I couldn’t ask for a healthier working environment.
These amazing people have been guiding me since day 1 and not a single day goes by without new knowledge, fun activities, laughs, sweats and most important, experiences. They are the best. This whole adventure has been nothing but inspiring for me to always try something new, even if it’s a thing that I’ve never done before. I came here with zero knowledge and left with a luggage full of memories. I hope more people would come to volunteer in the future to actually know how it feels to be helping these cute Bornean sun bears. Oh, and I lost a few kg off my weight too, so thanks BSBCC!
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Simone is a sweet-natured sun bear and is one of the favourite bears of people who have met her. She is an 11 year old adult female bear and has a wide and beautiful chest mark which looks like a webbed foot. Before Simone arrived at BSBCC, she was kept with a male sun bear, Along, in a Mini Zoo, Hot Springs at Tawau. On 2016, the owner surrendered them to Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and they came to BSBCC together.
Simone captures people’s hearts with her irresistible attractiveness. Simone is always chilled and calm. She is an observer, preferring to stay somewhere high, to be able to observe her surroundings. She is always curious and wants to get involved in whatever is happening at that moment. For this reason, she is always sitting on the water container to get a closer and better view of the activities around her.
Simone loves her enrichments and always looks forward to them. She enjoys everything that is offered to her. You can see how much she enjoys the enrichments as she climbs, explores, tears, bites and enjoys.
On the 28th of December, 2018, Simone finally took her first step into the forest. Now, she is confident to explore there, she spends more time observing her new environment. Due to the limited forest enclosures for the bears in our centre, she takes turns to go out to the forest enclosure with Sigalung and Kudat. This is because they are staying in the same row of dens. Sometimes Kudat is in a bad mood with Simone, especially when Simone gets the food or enrichment first, yet, this seldom bothers Simone. Along, the bear who came to the BSBCC with Simone used to be her neighbour. We exchanged Along with Sigalung. However we found both Sigalung and Along showed negative social behaviour with Simone during integration. Therefore, they are separated into different dens.
It is very interesting to observe Simone's behaviour. She likes to sit on the food holder and enjoys her food by holding it with both front paws. However, when offering her food on a tray, she likes to dig everything out and this is how she got the gold digger title. Simone is a slow eater. Sometimes she will not eat the food immediately, she will wait and begin to eat when she is ready.
After four years of rehabilitation in our centre, Simone has improved a lot. She is enhancing her skills every day. It makes us happy to see Simone enjoying her life and learnimg to be a wild bear.
Day 177: Give Betung the best of everything to speed her recovery.
Wow looks how Little Betung has grown! She had made great progress in the forest and learns the essential skills needed to survive in the wild. To her, freedom means to able to do whatever she want, explore, climbing favourite trees, forage for food and be herself! She loves this adventure.
It will be a long road to recovery. This illegal pet trade - unable to express natural behaviours, left the bears traumatized and alone. There is always a reason for HOPE. Now she is safe and lives a second chance at a happy life, thanks to people like you!
Sun bears belong in the wild and should never be kept as pets! You can show your care by adopting Little Betung here:
Beautiful transformation, is not it? ❤️
Please share Little Betung's story!
Day 169: Pill millipede! How yummy does this look?
Did you know – Sun bears are the smallest members of the bear family. Sun bears are opportunistic omnivores which means they eat a variety of fruits, plants, figs, insects, and even honey! Sourcing wild forest food is important so the rescued sun bears can become accustomed to a variety of food sources that they can forage in the forest.
Little Betung is curious and wondered how pill millipede taste like?
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by BSBCC & Chiew Lin May
Sweet Manis has been at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) since August 2009. During the arrival, she was suspected to be pregnant. However, her pregnancy was later found to be a pseudo pregnancy. Manis means “Sweet” in Malay language.
Manis was found having health problems which caused changes in skin colour and dryness. Her health condition has improved with intensive treatment and care. She has received health checks since arriving at her new home. Manis settled into the new environment very quickly. A nutritious and balanced diet was given to her.
Being kept as a pet for years can have an effect on the sun bears physical and mental health. Manis will show more stereotypical behaviours in the dens. It is believed that she was never given any enrichment when she was kept at the zoo, thus leading to her stereotypical behaviour. The volunteers and keepers provide different types of enrichment to encourage Manis’s natural behaviour and for stimulation. Manis is a curious bear that is keen on interacting with the new enrichment toys offered. She now has dry leaves as a bed which she has never had before.
After she finished quarantine period, Manis soon moved to the next stage of her rehabilitation. In 2010, Manis was integrated with the larger adult female bear group – Cerah, Jelita, Kuamut, Susie and Lawa.
Manis and her friends were moved to the new bear house on 7th April 2010, after the construction of bear house 1 and forest enclosure 1 was completed.
Integrating them with other bears will enable them to share and roam the forest enclosure together. It also allows Manis to continue to learn more wild sun bear behaviours. Besides, there has been a significant change in Manis’s behaviour since she has bear pals. Over the years, we have watched her grow into a gentle and dominant adult bear. She is the “grandmother” of the group.
Preparing for life in the wild can be a long process. Sun bear cubs will live with their mother for two to three years to learn the skills they will need to become wild sun bears. But for Manis’s case, she will not be able to be released in the wild due to her old age. But in BSBCC, Manis will be given a second chance to survive as a wild bear in order to let her have the freedom to live in the rainforest.
On July 2012, it was the first time for Manis to begin exploring the forest world when she was released into the forest enclosure and was able to be free to forage, climb, play, explore the world and acquire a variety of other survival skills.
Despite her age, Manis tends to spend more time on the ground than climbing high in trees. This includes looking for termites and taking naps. Manis has adapted well to life as a sun bear and is leaving her past behind her. She enjoys the forest and displays absolute enthusiasm!
We cannot imagine the future for sun bears if they continue being caught and sold as house pets, or their home continues to be lost. We must protect sun bears and their forest. Please help to stop illegal wildlife trafficking.