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.
Susie was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department on 07 August 2008. She was being kept as an illegal pet. The owner claimed that Susie was dancing inside the cage. Susie has lost everything –mother, love, wild instinct.
Fortunately, she has given a second chance. Now she is safe and having a lot of fun learning about forest life. She has grown into a beautiful strong bear! Please share her story!
Day 134: The best enrichment of a bear always is another bear!
Most of the rescued bear in BSBCC is being separated from the mother bear and kept as a pet, which causing they spend most of the time having contact with human (direct or non-direct) in the unnatural environment. After living alone in a cage, on 25th December 2020, Little Betung finally free from trauma and now has made new bear friends for the first time in her life.
Through integration, it will help to change these bears' lives and provide them with more physical and mental stimulation, reduce stress, and allow them to learn vital survival skills. Rescued bears learning from each other (bear copying bear behaviour) facilitate the rehabilitation process in our centre - building up their confidence for stepping out again into the forest floor, climbing trees, and self-defense.
Interactions between Betung, Kipaku, and Itam have shown to be positive. Itam & Kipaku help her adjust to her new life and learn how to be a bear again. They enjoy playing, exploring, and making us fall in love with their beautiful smiles!
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photo by Sabah Wildlife Department & Chiew Lin May
A sub adult, male bear was rescued on the 5th of December 2009 in Taman Formosa, Penampang Baru, Sabah. He was found trapped in the farm and was kept in a small iron cage for a very long time. He was then brought to the Lok Kawi Zoo and sent to BSBCC on the 3rd of July 2010.
He is now safe, and we will give him the best chance of surviving in the forest. He was named “Julaini”, after the head welder who constructed the new bear house. During the arrival, he was a very aggressive bear, but now Julaini has become a big favourite for us – nicknamed wrinkled bear!
He has adjusted very well to his life at BSBCC.
During his rehabilitation, proper nutrition and various enrichment activities are given to stimulate his bear behaviours and to help him recover from the psychological trauma of being kept in captivity. Bear care staff will always introduce different types of enrichment toys and new treats for him. He enjoys fruit, coconuts and honey. On the 26th of May 2011, Julaini together with Ah Lun got to meet their new group of bears friends.
During the electric fence training, he appeared to be more nervous compared to the other bears. We never gave up on Julaini and used different types of his favorite food to lure him out to the forest. Julaini has a cataract on his left eye, but this did not let him give up easily in learning to be a wild bear. On the 13th of March 2013, Julaini finally took his huge first steps into a lifetime of freedom in the forest.
He walked slowly and calmly sniffed the forest air!
It was a blessing to watch him be a wild bear again and we were unable to control the smiles on our faces.
Julaini’s eyes widened with the thrill of TALL trees, dead wood, termites and blue sky around him!
Julaini is brave and finds the strength to venture out to the forest.
Julaini can be seen roaming around in the forest with his best female pal, Ah Lun, where they will forage, play fight, protect and get comfort together.
Julaini is not keen on climbing trees. Julaini loves to find a big tree trunk and fall asleep there.
He also never misses his favorite treats –termites and honey! He learns all the skills he will need to survive in the forest.
Over the past 10 years, Julaini has been given the chance to return to his natural habitat.
He seems to have a wonderful time and has proven to us that he is one of the loveliest bears in the centre.
There is a lot more freedom ahead for Julaini to enjoy!
Sun bears are vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. The global population of sun bears has declined by 30% in the last 30 years. This is due to the increasing threats to the species’ survival from illegal hunting, pet trade and deforestation, which has led to the rapid decline in sun bear numbers. It acts as a reminder to us all how important the need to protect sun bears from extinction truly is. Please give them a voice!