Text by Amanda Wilson
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Among many male bears at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), one particular bear stands out in spite of his quirks and cheekiness. He has an exceptionally smaller, snout and rounded body size for a male bear. With pitch black eyes and a nose that may appear bigger than it actually is due to his dark-coloured snout, he is actually a simple, adorable and kind-natured bear. At 12 years old, BSBCC has been his home for the past 6 years. He was named after the logging camp where he was rescued from – Seagalung, but the spelling came to be Sigalung in the end.
According to reports, some villagers found Sigalung along with another adult male bear, Phin, near the logging camp in Sipitang, Sabah. They were assumed to be orphan bears kept as illegal pets after their mother got killed. Initially, both bears were rescued and brought to the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park where they underwent quarantine period before being sent to BSBCC on the 10th of March 2014. Sigalung appeared healthy when he first arrived alongside five other bears at the centre. Like most bears upon arrival at the centre, he barked at people and appeared to be aggressive at seeing a new environment. When he was moved by transportation cage into the then newly built second bear house, he was belligerent.
He has since adapted well to his new surroundings. Sigalung has now blossomed into a different bear who is intuitive, energetic and adventurous. When he is excited, especially when he knows he will be receiving enrichments, he will cling onto the metal bars of his indoor den and whip his head side to side. He, at times, will get enticed at the presence of other male bears. He gets cheekier by day and we love to see how much he is grown into his character. Sigalung is one of the healthiest bears in the centre and we hope his health continues to flourish as he embraces adulthood.
Any wild animal kept as an illegal pet and confined for years would surely be impacted in their natural behaviour, whether physically or psychologically. At the centre, he does not only get to experience the natural forest environment, he gets to meet other bear friends, receives a sufficiently healthy diet under supervision of veterinarians and keepers, as well as enrichments to cater for his bear needs. Enrichments not only help to keep him occupied, but also to learn adequate survival skills that are vital in his rehabilitation process before being released to the wild.
For male bears to be integrated with other male bears, it is not an easy task. Adult males get very territorial and aggressive. Sigalung was only ever integrated with one male bear, Phin, his old pal back in 2014. However, the process was unsuccessful due to Sigalung’s aggression as he played too roughly with Phin.
When he initially arrived at the centre, Sigalung was hesitant and scared of going out into the forest enclosure to explore. Nowadays, whenever the guillotine door is opened, he shows eagerness and anticipation to step out into the natural forest environment. He would directly bolt for the forest that is calling out to him even when its drizzling out. In the forest enclosure, he loves to dig, forage and explore nature at its finest. He would hide in bushes or piles of dead wood and likes taking cover under the shade of fallen trees and branches. Although it took him about 2 years to be integrated into the training pen for the purpose of fence training, his first step into the forest was a memorable one thanks to the staff and volunteers who were patient, determined and consistent in their efforts. Finally, on July 27th 2017, he conquered his fear, set his paws on the grass after so long and is now enjoying the taste of freedom in the forest - exploring and doing what bears do best!
Sigalung and his kind are one of the many treasures in our ecosystem. Sun bears are precious beings that deserve so much love! However, due to their elusive and solitary behaviour, they were called the forgotten bears for a reason. Up until recent years, not much has been known about sun bears, be it general knowledge and awareness or scientific research. They are important to the forest as they are agents of seed dispersal, they control the termite population, keep the forest environment healthy, and their digging enhances nutrient cycling in soils as well as provides habitats for other animals in their excavated holes in trees.
The prime reason of their declining population here in Malaysia is pet trade. Orphaned sun bears whose mothers are almost always killed by poachers are kept in captivity since a very young age. These bear cubs who are dependent on their mothers do not get exposure to the very skills that help them to learn how to survive in the forest. People intending to keep sun bears as pets might think that they’re cute as cubs but once they get bigger, it gets tougher to contain them and people might get hurt or worse - the bears. There have been cases of people going to the extent of depriving these bears of their canines or claws to ensure the owner’s safety, but forget that the bears need these essentials to survive in the wild. Keeping the bears as pets is the very first breach in nature. Rehabilitation is a very lengthy and complicated process and often, rescued bears kept in captivity for too long reduces their chances of being rehabilitated and released back into the wild.
The forest ecosystem provides for the various species of fauna including sun bears that thrive by giving back to nature through their natural bear behaviours. Let’s be like sun bears and be more mindful of our actions towards nature and other creatures! Sun bears may be cute, but they are not pets!
Text by Ezi Nurayu binti Abd Wahab (UMS Intern Student)
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Along, the beautiful name given by his previous owner. Yes! He is a male sun bear. He is rescue bear 49. Before he came to BSBCC, he was placed at Mini Zoo Hot Spring in Tawau and was displayed with Simone, a female sun bear, in the same enclosure. Both of them were surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department in early January 2016. After that, they were quarantined at Lok Kawi Wildlife Park.
Along showed his aggressiveness once the transportation cage was being moved and he was continually barking. He was pacing fast inside the cage and kept barking at people passing through. Maybe he felt threatened due to the new environment. But, no worries, Along! You will be safe here. Big hug!
At the time they were integrated, Along became hyperactive once he met Simone.
During my observation of Along, he kept climbing on his cage and looking in Simone’s cage to see Simone. I am so confident that he wanted to play with Simone at that time.
Along did his fence training in August 2016 and he successfully passed in that session. Finally, Along knew how to prevent himself from getting zapped by the electric fence. He was one step closer to the forest enclosure. Bravo Along!
Along’s first time stepping out to the forest was on March 19th, 2017. He improvised to adapt in the new environment. He knew not to go close to the electric fence. He was very alert with his surroundings. He kept looking into the next enclosure to see them and what they did.
As you can see in photo,, Along is frequently climbing up his cage to get himself into the basket. Then, he will take a nap in there. He is easily woken up by noise made by the other bears. So, that is why he only sleeps for a little while.
Along was enjoying himself finding the hidden dog biscuits inside the dry leaves. He is actually a very good food explorer. He is enrichments number 1 lover. No doubt! He wants to be the first to receive the enrichment from the bear keeper. Or else he will bark at you and make some noise! You can see his hot temper in this situation for sure!
By looking at Photo 7 above, don’t you feel scared? He has strong canines! But, do not worry, no harm on you! Because……he is in his cage!
He was readying himself to play with the enrichment in a standing position. He was struggling to take out the food inside the enrichment by using his long tongue. When he could not take it out, he then lost his temper. Either he tried to break the enrichment or paced in his cage.
Along was enjoying himself by playing with his swing honeycomb enrichment. He successfully pulled out the ginger leaves (on the floor already) from the honeycomb. Later then, he used the power of his strong sensory skills to explore the honey inside and licked it out by using his tongue.
As you can see in photo, he used his maximum energy to destroy the rotten wood. He was digging up the wood by using his strong claws and long tongue. He maximized the enrichment usage. No waste to the playful things is Along’s motto! Not to forget, he is a very good enrichment breaker too!
You know what? Along’s enjoyment of the enrichment can be clearly shown when he plays with the Aussie dog ball and the fire hose pocket. He played with them until his body rolled him up like a swiss roll. But, a black swiss roll version of course! Unfortunately, I cannot video him to show you. I only have words and for sure you can imagine how funny he is in that time, can’t you?
Based on my observations of Along, I have found out he paces back and forth, especially in the morning and while not in feeding time yet. He is a very good eater and his food is always finished. He can only sleep for a little while because he is easily woken due to noise which mostly he stays and sleeps on the basket in his cage.
Whatever your personality is, we still forever love you.
Enjoy your time in your current place.
Because one day, you will leave this centre and us as well!
Let’s fight together to achieve your dream to go to your original habitat soon!
Stay healthy, always……
Text by Ezi Nurayu binti Abd. Wahab (UMS Intern student)
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
The time to do fence training for BJ, Soo, Kina and Sika before they could be released into the forest enclosure had come. Fence training is very important for us to do as it helps to prevent the sun bears from escaping in the forest either to another pen or out of BSBCC’s area. Not to worry as the fence voltage will never be harmful to them because it is always controllable by our respective staff. The bears will proceed to enter the forest enclosure only if they pass the fence training. These fence training sessions are completed almost every day for roughly a month.
First and foremost, let me briefly explain the history of these four bears. Kina, is rescue bear (55), followed by Sika (56), Soo (57) and BJ (61). When referring to Kina’s name, we know that she was from Kinarut District, Sika was from the village of Sikalabaan in Pensiangan district, Soo’s name was given by her previous owner because she was bought from Sook Keningau Market, and lastly BJ was from Pitas before he was handed to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park when he just five months old. All of them were kept as pets by the villagers before being rescued.
Okay, let’s begin with Sika. She was the first candidate among the four of them which we did the fence training with. But, unfortunately she was the last one who passed the fence training. On her first day of training, she was very cautious to step on the ramp to get the food. She almost finished her food (only a few pieces were left). Unfortunately, she got zapped later by the hotwire and she responded by climbing the fence. You can see in the picture (Photo 1) below how she got zapped by the hotwire. But then, Sika improved day by day. The days before she successfully passed the fence training, she already knew about the hotwire, so she kept her distance from it. She also ate the food which was placed on the ramp. She was the last candidate declared as passed because she kept avoiding going close to the food near the hotwire on her last days before she was considered passed.
Let’s move to Kina, the brave girl. She is a very good explorer when it comes to food (a little bit of a big eater). The day we observed them as a group, she was the very dominant one by monopolising the food. She already knew from training each day how to grab the food without touching the electric fence, even though the food was located underneath the fence. Maybe, because she already got zapped on her first day of training and days after, she knew how to defend herself from getting zapped later. Kina together with BJ always finished the food in the training pen. By the way, she was the second one after Soo that successfully passed in this fence training session and on March 29th, 2020, she was released into the forest enclosure (Pen G).
Congratulations to our, Kina!
Next, our one and only male bear in this group, BJ. On BJ’s first day carrying out fence training, he was really scared to walk and get his food. You can see in the picture (Photo 6) below how he tried to grab his food. He always laid down to grab his food. A few times, his front legs touched the top ramp. He never touched the ramp with all four legs at once. He was very cautious with his new and unfamiliar surroundings. So as a result for his first day, he never got zapped due to his cautious behaviour. However, this originally cautious bear became braver each day, especially when the four of them were released into the training pen together. He knew how to get his food and never hesitated to walk on the ramp and below ground as well with his four legs.
Good job, BJ
And the last bear being observed was Soo. Pity for Soo, on her first time being trained, she got zapped on several occasions. Her response to the zap was barking a few times. Gradually she became more alert to the electric fence, even though most of the time she rarely got out from her cage. But, she still went out to the training pen sometimes to get her food. Guess what, surprisingly Soo became braver recently. Even with the guillotine door closed, Soo and Kina never cared about that. They still continued their beautiful journey in the training pen by only thinking about the food. Big applause to Soo, even though she was the very inactive one during several days in observation (spent most of the time in her cage), lately a plot twist has happened, and the upshot of that is she was the first one to successfully pass the fence training session.
Bravos to Sika, Kina, BJ and Soo! Welcome to your new world!
This is the time for them to explore the outside environment on their own and be independent. I am so sure that this is what every animal wants. They can move in a much larger area compared to their cage and see the bright world. Fence training is never as bad as some people think. This is a crucial step before giving the bears their ‘dream world’.
Text by Pradeep Gunasegaran
Photos by Chiew Lin May
There is more exciting news about Linggam this month! After a successful integration session with Susie, Kuamut, Manis, Cerah and Jelita, the next steps to releasing Linggam with the five females into the forest enclosure were taken. Linggam and the female sun bears were rotated into Bear House 2 in order for Linggam to undergo his fence training once again after eight years.
On Christmas Eve of 2019, Linggam was introduced into the training pen to recognize the hotwire. On the first day, Linggam only looked outside into the training pen and refused to step into it. He only took the baits that were placed closest to him and consumed the bait in the bear house. He continued to behave the same way for the next two days of his release into the training pen. However, he was a little bit braver each day as he would venture slightly further from the bear house BUT his back legs would still be touching the door of Bear House 2 while he stretched out to take his baits and looked into the training pen. At times he looked into the training pen, he also looked at the food that was ‘out of his reach’.
On Day 4, Linggam completely went into the training pen without having his back legs in Bear House 2. The few days of looking at the other bait that was left far from his reach probably pushed him to venture into the training pen. By being in the training pen, he was also able to see Manis, Cerah and Jelita who were around and that probably calmed him down as he slowly explored the area in the training pen that was closest to the bear house.
The following day, Linggam was showing more of his bravery and he slowly moved further into the training pen. However, his training process on this day was tougher as there were much other stimulation around the training pen. The sound of the chain saw being used by the staff and the wild pig tailed macaque troop definitely startled him a few times as he kept running back into the bear house. Although he appeared scared multiple times, Linggam showed resilience by sniffing the air in the training pen and slowly making his way out again. At the end of the day, Linggam stayed overnight in the training pen and did not come back into the bear house.
Seeing that he has familiarized with training, the next phase of this training exercise was to get Linggam to touch the electric wire. This activity is important as Linggam would need to recognize the electric wire that would be present in the forest enclosure. By recognizing the electric wire, this would ensure that Linggam would not attempt to escape from the forest enclosure. Thus, in order to make him touch the electric fence, food was placed closer to the wire. Linggam approached the food but he did not touch the wire. The following day, the food was then placed directly under the electric wire. Shockingly, Linggam showed that he actually remembered the electric fence. Linggam would sniff the food that was placed underneath the electric wire, move a few steps behind, lower his body to the ground and then reach out for the food with one of his legs. AFTER EIGHT YEARS, he still recognized the electric fence. ASTONISHING!! Majority of us would believe that animals, especially the wild ones, would not have a good memory to remember something like this. There and then, Linggam passed his fence training and was given free access from the bear house into the training pen for him to become comfortable and confident with moving around the two types of pens. By being in the training pen, he was also able to see the forest that he would soon enter to join the five female sun bears.
After twelve days since releasing Linggam into the training pen, on the 4th of January 2020, it was time for Linggam to be released into the forest enclosure. The guillotine door from the training pen to the forest enclosure was initially opened to observe Linggam’s reaction. He was immediately curious as he left the bear house into the training pen. Even though he was curious, he was still unsure about stepping into the forest enclosure. All he did was sniff the air at the door and walk along the fence. Seeing that he was really curious, banana coated with honey was thrown at the front of the guillotine door to motivate Linggam to enter the forest enclosure. He was most definitely aware of the treat that was just within his grasp, but due to his fear he was not able to enjoy it. The frustration built up and Linggam began pushing the furniture in the training pen. After a few minutes of throwing a tantrum, Linggam quickly dashed out into the forest enclosure and quickly gobbled up his reward.
The first bear that noticed his success was Cerah. From a distance, she had a good look at Linggam and she slowly tried to approach him. However, she was unsure about approaching this new individual in the forest enclosure; she moved away and vocalized towards Jelita. As soon as Cerah vocalized, Jelita came and both of them approached Linggam together. As they met, Linggam, Cerah and Jelita clucked at each other. Immediately after interacting, Linggam started moving along the fence of the forest enclosure to explore the environment. Cerah and Jelita just followed his back as Linggam showed that he was not afraid of the forest enclosure. UNBELIEVABLE! Eight years ago when he entered the forest enclosure, it took him a long time to start exploring the environment. There Linggam was entering the pool of water, sniffing the plants, sniffing the trees, and even sniffing the electric wire. As he was exploring, he then met Susie and they started interacting the same way as they did in the bear house. After interacting a while, he continued exploring and foraging for food as well. Soon enough, it was Kuamat who came searching for him and they interacted together for a long time. Once he was done, he continued with his exploration of the forest enclosure. Day 1 of being released into the forest enclosure and Linggam behaved liked he truly belonged there, being all confident. Could it be due to the female sun bears that made him relax and enjoy the natural surrounding? Is it possible that an animal that lives in solitary in the wild could be taught to live like a wild bear in captivity by joining a social group? The outcome was astonishing and today, Linggam is enjoying his days being in the elements of nature and being a sun bear with Susie, Kuamut, Manis, Cerah, and Jelita.
Text by Jana Grunwald & Michael Bohne
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
We are Jana (37) and Michael (49) from Germany. Last year we have decided to take a break from our office working routine and go traveling together. As we do not only want to be tourists in the countries that we visit we have searched for animal welfare organization in Malaysia that we can support and found that the BSBBC has very good reviews. The decision to come here was made quickly and even though we have never had anything to do with bears, we are big bear fans by now. This is not only thanks to the bears, but also thanks to the keepers and all the staff that are doing a fantastic job here at the sunbear center. We truly enjoy our time in such a friendly and cooperative atmosphere.
On the first day in the center we already learned that bears are big eaters. We spent hours washing, cutting and weighting fruits and vegetables for them. No wonder, it takes such a long time - there are 43 hungry mouths to be fed and they enjoy four feeding times a day. Watching them eating and enjoying their food makes our heart melt. If there is something especially yummy, all the bears will fall on their back and eat the treat with all four paws up. We can hardly take our eyes away from this cute moment and it happens that the keepers have to remind us to move on.
We soon realized what a strenuous job the bear keeper team does every day. All keepers are in very good physical conditions and we admire them for their strengths. Each day is packed with demanding work: whether it’s cleaning the cages, preparing the food, walking under the midday sun to feed the bears or going out into the wild with the machete to collect fresh leaves and plants for enrichment. Luckily everybody has a lunch hour that is indeed one and a half hours long - time to rest and eat. We could feel how our energy comes back. Also for us humans the food is important.
However not all the tasks that we do at the center are physically hard. On the third day we were invited to assist Dr. Boon with the health check of one of the female bears called Susie 2. We felt very privileged to be part of the team that afternoon and assist a medical check on a sun bear.
We also enjoyed being part of the re-integration of two bears called Wan Wan and Mamatai. These two ladies where once sharing a forest enclosure but ended up fighting with each other. After some time of separation the team has now started to re-introduce them. As the door was opened we carefully observed them and were happy that the first session went on without any fight or need to intervene. We hope, that the two ladies re-establish their friendship and can soon scroll the outside together.
Another activity that we enjoyed a lot was observing the fence training of a bear called Panda. She gets animated with sweet fruits to leave her well known enclosure and to learn in a different enclosure that the fence has electricity and that it is best to not touch it. On the first two days that we saw her she was too afraid to leave. Only the head and the two front paws went out to grab the treats that were within her close reach. The two back paws stayed firm in the old enclosure, no matter how seductive the fruits on the other side where. However with the time she gained confidence and got brave enough to step out of her enclosure with all four paws. What a big achievement. We were very excited for her. Now she is walking pretty confident in the fence training enclosure. Today she could finally get all the sweet fruits that we laid down for her. At the end it seems to be all about the food.
Text by Khairunnisa binti Mohd Faisal (Intern Student, University Science Malaysia)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Every sun bear should be given an opportunity to be released into the forest. They deserve to live a free life in their natural habitat. There is this one sun bear named Panda. She is 11 years old and originated from Tawau District. Panda is in good terms with a male bear, Kudat. She was named “Panda” because both of the bears were mistakenly displayed as “Panda Bears” at a private mini zoo located in Kudat District.
Fence training is conducted because the forest enclosure is surrounded with an electric fence which is to make sure the bears do not escape from the forest enclosure. A few years ago, Panda had her first fence training. However, Panda failed the test as she was zapped and refused to go out to the training pen.
There is always a second chance for Panda as we believe that she can do better. This year, we gave Panda a second chance and conducted another fence training for her. To sum the experience up, Panda did very well and so much improvement was recorded during the sessions.
On the first day of fence training, Panda did not want to go out from the cage. She spent most of her time sniffing the sliding door and tapping the ground. She likes to tap a lot. Two of her front limbs were out and she managed to only use her tongue to eat the food in the training pen. She ended up pacing in the cage after she was no longer able to grab any more food in the training pen.
On the fifth day of training, Panda made a huge improvement in which her whole body was out to the training pen. She started by observing the environment in the training pen and began to eat the prepared food in the middle of the pen. However, she was a little bit insecure whenever she heard noise made by another bear. Whenever there was a strange sound, Panda would run into the cage and pace. It took a while for Panda to go out to the training pen again.
Panda got her first zap on the 7th day of training. Amazingly, she did not panic. She stayed in the training pen and continued searching for food. Panda approached the electrical fence area and grabbed the food underneath it using her claws. It looked like Panda was aware of the fence and kept some distance whenever she tried to grab the food.
Over 4 consecutive fence training sessions, Panda made herself comfortable in the training pen. She started to remove the log to find food, often got herself near the fence to grab food underneath it and spent a longer amount of time observing the environment in the training pen instead of pacing in the cage. It was so overwhelming to see such improvement in her. However, she was still startled by the noise made by other bears. When there was a noise, Panda took the food in the training pen and brought it into the cage and continued eating there. Panda is very sensitive to loud noise as she feels unsafe whenever she hears it.
Starting Day 11 until Day 17 of the fence training session, Panda felt safer in the training pen and she already knew the right technique to grab the food underneath the electrical fence. The prepared food for the session is almost finished being eaten by her. Panda spent most of her time eating in the training pen and exploring the environment in the pen.
Now, the fence training progress has been upgraded and Panda will be released into the training pen for around 3 hours every day to make her feel comfortable in the pen. Once she passes the fence training, she will become an eligible candidate to be released to the forest enclosure in BSBCC.
Text by Nithisha Nair (Intern student, University Putra Malaysia Bintulu Campus)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
As I introduced previously, here continues the story of our three musketeers. Romolina, Logan and Joe are now in fence training to prepare them for the forest enclosure. It took the trio 7 days to pass the fence training inside the training pen.
On the first day, the observation began with Romolina, who immediately makes her way into the training pen. Fruits and honey were laid in a trail leading to a pile in the centre with the intention of luring the cubs out and giving them comfort. Nevertheless, it was pointless, Romolina being the explorer that she is made her way out by herself and explored the cage, ignoring the fruits completely. Upon sniffing the corners of cage, she earned her first zap, but that did not deter her from continuing her exploration, it was not until her second zap that she became wearier and alert. After that it took a lot of effort to get Romolina back into the training pen, she would climb around in the den observing the pen from afar no matter what food we used to lure her out. All things aside, all it took to get her back out was dead wood and she happily made her way out digging and rummaging.
The observation proceeded with Joe on the second day. He had his eye and taste buds stuck on to the trail of honey and fruits towards the centre. When that was finished, he roamed around the cage earning his zaps, which eventually led to him suckling on his paw in the water container. His zaps were an obvious lesson to him though, after a few days in the pen Joe was smart enough to claw his food away from the hot wire very slowly and carefully. He showed amazing progress and seemed to be the best out of the trio.
On the third day it was Logan’s turn to train. He was nothing short of Joe in following the trail, he licked every bit of honey left on the ground with none to spare. But once he got zapped, he was the hardest to get back into the training pen. Eventually with help he was able to come back out and learn to claw food away from the wire.
After the three were used to the training pen and was able to explore on their own, they were put in the training pen together in hopes that they would encourage each other to explore their surroundings, and when that didn’t result in a very positive outlook, they were let into the training pen with their integrated buddies, to know more about integration do read our blog titled ‘Catch Up with Our New Friends’!
Upon being integrated and provided with dead wood, it was clear that the trio were more comfortable in the training pen. They were also seen clawing their food from under the fence, proving that they all passed indoor fence training with flying colours. Thus, it was time for outdoor fence training.
The first day of outdoor fence training, also known as their release to Pen D, Joe was the first to touch ground but got zapped while exploring and was afraid after. With Romolina, she ran up the enclosure but went into the training pen after getting zapped, she then proceeded to explore the area below the ramp. Last but not least, upon exploring Logan got zapped, in a panic he rushed his way to the top of the enclosure completely forgetting about the wires and getting zapped several more times. When he reached the top, he climbed on a tree vocalizing while refusing to come down.
The trio remained at the bottom of the enclosure exploring and occasionally pacing. That was until Wawa, another one of our bears were integrated with the cubs in the enclosure, she managed to guide Logan to the top of the enclosure, and eventually Romolina followed. After that the two were more than comfortable to remain at the top, exploring, digging, climbing, playing with the water from the sprinklers and sun bathing, they even refused to go back home for two nights! Joe was a tough shell to crack, while the two was living their best lives in the enclosure, Joe remained suckling and staying at the ramp.
No amount of integration was able to bring Joe up, eventually we decided to try a new tactic, as soon as he set foot on the ramp, we closed the guillotine door so he would not run back in, and then we encouraged him to explore with treats thrown on the grass. It worked! With two days of that, he eventually made his way up the forest enclosure, and once again with the help of our amazing teacher, Wawa, Joe was guided to the top, on his 13th day with outdoor fence training he was finally able to properly explore the enclosure and we could not be happier!
Fence training may seem extreme, in some cases even cruel, but in our case, it is vital and completely necessary to ensure that our bears do not escape once they are released to our forest enclosure. And as we all know; the forest enclosure release is an important step towards their journey in being released to the wild! The voltage of our fence is always monitored and ensured not to be harmful to our sun bears.
So here continues the journey of our trio towards their happy ever after!
Text by Amanda Wilson
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Every individual has a story to tell, therefore it is only right that a bear’s story is told; a life behind iron bars displayed for people to see, exploited as money boosters through mistakenly presented for something they are not. This particular case involves two sun bears who were previously displayed as Giant Pandas. One of them was Kudat, an adult male sun bear who currently lives at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) who is now 9 years old. Kudat was rescued from a private mini zoo in a district named Kudat, within northern Sabah, where he was kept alongside another adult female sun bear named Panda. They were both kept in a small cemented-floored cage together, where they were fed chicken meat everyday, which was clearly an unfit diet for a Sun Bear. Kudat was named after the district where he was rescued from, although he originally is from Tawau.
It is heart-wrenching to hear that these animals were exploited merely for human’s greed. These animals deserve to be in the wild where they can enjoy being in the forest. According to the rescue report, both bears came from Tawau and were still infants when they were presented as gifts to the zoo’s owner back in 2008 (most likely involving a lot of money). From then on, these bears were labeled as “Pandas” and became the main attraction of the zoo. Fortunately, in 2010, the bears were surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department before being sent to BSBCC. A hopeful journey for these bears began. When they first arrived at the Centre, they were quite tame and adapted to the new environment very fast. In terms of size, both bears were much bigger compared to other bears of the same age, which was probably due to their heavy meat consumption at the mini zoo previously.
As soon as they arrived at the centre, Kudat and Panda were kept in quarantine for specific amount of time before being moved to the Bear House. Due to limited space in the forest enclosure at that time, Kudat had to stay in the Bear House for a few years.
Kudat is a playful bear, although he can be perceived as aggressive, this is his manner of playing. He is a sweet and friendly bear. He loves to play with water and is one of the few bears in the centre that eats fruit peels. At the Centre, Kudat is fed with a proper diet and was able to socialize with other bears like Along and Simone. He was introduced to various types of enrichments and learnt to climb, dig and forage for food like any other bear does in the wild. In his den, he loves to lounge up in his hammock. Before he was released to the forest enclosure, Kudat successfully went through fence training. Fence training is a required process for the bears to be introduced to the electric wires. This is so that they recognize the existence of these wires that surround the forest enclosures to prevent the bears from escaping, getting into fights and so on.
For the bears to be reintroduced to the forest, it takes patience and a whole lot of courage but it is rewarding to see. Being only steps away from the outside, it took some time for Kudat to brace himself and explore his new surroundings for it was pure fear that kept him inside. The bear keepers and volunteers tried various ways to lure him out of his den from drizzling honey on the ramps and forest floor, to placing food as incentives for him to come outside. These tricks did not only help to trigger his sensory smell, but also encourage the bear’s curiosity of the situation. At first, he only took food that was close enough for his paw to grab without stepping outside of the den’s door. He also showed unnatural stretching to grab the food on the ramp whilst keeping his back feet in the door to his den. After some time, he would come out of his den only to grab the food and quickly went back inside.
It took a good two weeks or so for him to have the courage to explore the outside world. We were overjoyed and proud of him! It was touching and rewarding to see him finally roaming around and exploring the greeneries. From only stepping on cemented-floor everyday, he finally got to feel the forest floor. From being cautious of his surroundings, he got more comfortable and acclimated by day. He even climbed up trees and scraped dead logs in the enclosure. He was first released in Pen D of the forest enclosures at the centre before he was moved to Pen L. Recently, due to required maintanence work in Pen L, he had to be abstained from going out into the forest enclosure for some time. However, he is now free to go out again and climb trees, dig and play in the mud like any bear should be able to. We are hoping for more happy stories for more of our beary friends!
Climbing up on trees and playing with enrichments
Text by Nur Athirah Binti Asrif
Photos by Batrisya Binti Teepol, Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Formerly, our rescued sun bears need to undergo some bit of challenges in order for them to endure the bliss of life in the forest. After saving them from captivity or just pure cruel cases, there are some assessments that will be done in order to cultivate their lives for the better. One of the tests includes fence training. Fence training is a prominent test for the bears in order for them to be released inside the forest enclosures. This procedure is conducted as to both teach and test the bears with the existence of the hot wires. This is due to the fact that the forest enclosures in the centre are completely surrounded by hot wires to prevent the bears from escaping, getting into fights with other bears and so forth.
This time around, two of our young bears, Noah and Nano had their turn to be tested in the training pen. Before that, a quick sharing of some back stories of these two valiant cubs.
Noah, 'The Pretender', is a 1-year-old male sun bear. It was re-named as "Noah" by the bear care team which brought the meaning of being rescued. Noah was surrendered at Nabawan, an area which is located in the southern part of Sabah. He was mistakenly thought by the villager as a dog and was found in an orchard. The villager, however, took Noah and kept it as a pet, bearing the thought that Noah is a dog. She kept Noah as a pet but then surrendered him to Sabah Wildlife Department. He was rescued on the 19th of August 2016 and was sent to Lok Kawi Zoo. Only on the 10th of October 2016 did Noah come to BSBCC. The first time he came to the centre, he has signs that show dehydration and only weight 8.6kg. Furthermore, four of his milk teeth was found to be crushed off which affected his teeth structure and arrangement.
Next, is our petite spy, Nano. Nano is a 2 years old male sun bear. He was named Nano which brought the meaning of small and tiny in the Latin language. Before he was rescued, Nano was found being kept in a small chicken mesh cage. A lady saw Nano in such condition decided to end his unfortunate life and decided to spend RM 1,500 to rescue him from the seller in Kota Marudu, north of Sabah. Nano was then surrendered by the lady to the Sabah Wildlife Department and was sent to BSBCC on the 20th of November, 2016.
The fence training was started with Noah alone, followed by Nano. A bit change of plan after a day of individual training brought them both together into the training pen. The food that was scattered inside the training pen includes bananas, papayas and watermelon. A stronger element was used which was the honey in order to attract these young bears to the training pen.
During their first fence training together, Noah seems to be really active and adventurous. Once the sliding door is opened, Noah went out to the training pen from the buffer cage with no hesitation. He forages for the food and the strong scent of honey carefully on the ground of the training pen. Nano, on the other hand, is cautious and prefer to stay inside the buffer cage and did not engage himself to rummage for food. Nano occupied himself exploring the buffer cage alone. The first zap was endured by our brave Noah during their first day of fence training. Noah tried to climb the fence and got zapped directly on his snout. His reaction towards his first zap was only followed by a bark and no other aggressive acts.
The following days of observation, Noah has the constant momentum and positive behaviour whenever the sliding door is opened. Noah is always the first to enter the training pen and ate most of the food in the training pen. Noah got zapped even more as the observation continues. However, Noah still has a very little acknowledgement of the existence of the hot wires. Noah is a very brave and is indeed a lucky bear! Most of the time, it is a close shave for Noah with the strings of hot wires. Although he is still unaware of the hot wires, he did not stop to enter and ventures the training pen. On the other side of the training pen, stood Nano, that watches Noah by the sliding door.
As days passed, Nano managed to bring himself little by little to the training pen. Nano is a very courage bear too and always show improvement day by day by bringing bit by bit of his body parts into the training pen. The first gesture was that he licked the honey trail on the sliding door. Next, was that he brought most his upper body parts to the training pen while his under body parts is still remain clung on the sliding door. The pile of tempting fruits positioned inside the training pen has shown its capability in encouraging Nano to be fearless. Nano sometimes managed to take the bananas from the training pen and brought it back to the buffer cage and eat it. Once, Nano was in full of curiosity and tried to pull one of the log enrichment from the training pen into the buffer cage. However, things had gotten better for Nano as he finally received a full courage to step inside the training pen after 14 days of assessment. His entrance was rather brief and cautious but nevertheless, it was a really an excellent improvement. As the fruit trail was positioned farther from the sliding door, Nano was not able to reach the fruit which forced him to step inside the training pen himself.
Clock is ticking and our lovely duo, Noah and Nano are almost ready to step outside and play in the forest!
Text by Alex O’Keefe (Oregon State University Student)
Photos by Sumira Muis & Chiew Lin May
Completing an internship at the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Center (BSBCC) under Ape Malaysia has been a phenomenal and breathtaking journey. As I progressed through my internship I was able to complete and partake in a number of activities that have benefited sun bears and their conservation. Some of these activities include creating enrichments, structure for maintenance and the bears, partaking in feeding, helping educate the public about sun bears and their conservation needs and conducting observations of sun bears. My specific observations were done every day for two weeks to evaluate the readiness of a male bear named Sigalung to be released into first a training pen (an outside pen connected to the inside doors of the bear house) and eventually an outside enclosure based in the forest. Having the honor to observe this bear’s progression from training pen to outside enclosure was for me exciting and something new. By the end of my observations, I would come to be attached and intrigued by the sun bear known as Sigalung.
First before describing the progress of Sigalung, here’s a little background on his journey to and time at the BSBCC. Sigalung along with a bear named Phin were rescued from a logging camp in Sipitang district, Southwest of Sabah. Likely orphaned by poachers, Sigalung with Phin were alone and would likely have been subjected to a cruel and painful life in inadequate captive conditions. Luckily Dr.Wong and the Sun Bear Conservation team found out about the bears and rescued them when they were (9 years old). Two years ago (2015) Sigalung started training pen integration. It took him more than a year to actually come out of his inside pen and explore the training pen due to fear. Often bears rescued are scared and hesitant to explore anything outside of an inside enclosure as that’s the only environment they’ve ever been exposed to pre-rescue. After more than a year of trying every single day,Sigalung climbed down the ladder connecting to the floor of the training pen and explored around. Following this moment, his confidence grew and his visits to the training pen became more consistent. Nearly a year after his landmark stride I started my internship at the BSBCC.
Two weeks in I began to observe him and his actions in the training pen. By the end of a week I had noticed a very predictable pattern for Sigalung. Immediately when his pen doors would open, he would climb down to the training pen walk in a clockwise circle and eat the food placed in the pen; all the while sniffing and exploring. By the end of two weeks I had concluded that he had comfortably and fully integrated himself into the training pen. It was now time to test our luck with the outside pen.
Before our first attempt at getting Sigalung to commit to entering the outside enclosure, I put fruit and honey outside to entice Siglung into the forest.
Once everything was set up we left the area and opened Sigalung’s inside and training pen doors connecting him to the outside enclosure.
Sigalung conducted his normal routine of climbing down and exploring the training pen. He would look at the open door leading to the forest then quickly move past it with haste signaling anxiety. This pattern of circling past the open door continued until we gave up and decided to try again the next day. The second day offered the same results as Sigalung displayed repetitive behavior comparable to the first day.The third day however, provided different and unexpected results.
The third day stared out similar to the first two days. The doors opened, Sigalung approached the doors but never went outside. He would occasionally army crawl up to the doors stick his head out and grab the food then come back inside to eat. Little progress was being made until a female adult bear named Mamatai in the neighboring outside pen appeared. She came directly face to face with Sigalung then eventually walked away into the forest. Sigalung, be it enticed or aggressive, tried to follow her until he reached the door. He like before stared out but didn’t budge. Then all of a sudden he bolted out of the door and into the forest enclosure! Continuing to sprint, he for the first time stepped on the natural forest floor.
His outside reconnoitering lasted for only five minutes as by that time he quickly ran back into the training pen then into his inside enclosure. Though only for five minutes, Sigalung had taken his first steps in becoming a real sun bear and thriving in the forest. The next two days Sigalung went into the outside pen but only for a similar duration of time. Day six would prove different. Sigalung decided on the sixth day he would not only stay out longer in the forest but also explore farther than he previously had done. Sigalung ended up walking around the entire outside enclosure area!
He had finally conquered his fear of the unknown and is now enjoying the freedom of the outside enclosure based in the rainforests of Borneo! Sigalung has truly come a long way from where he began. From capture to freedom, Sigalung can finally live out his days living as a sun bear should…in the forest.