Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Kala is a one year old, female bear. She is at BSBCC because her previous owner surrendered her to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit with the intention to save her after they found her on Kalabakan-Sapulut Road near Meliau Basin. Kala got to walk in the forest with a bear keeper when she was still a cub. However, it had been a while since Kala had experienced the forest. Walking a cub is not an easy task. The task becomes harder while the cub is growing up because they can be very hard to control. Now, Kala is growing well. Hence, there is no more need for her to walk with a bear keeper. But this does not mean that she will not go back into the forest anymore.
Fence training is a very important step before the bears can go out to the forest enclosure. This is because the forest enclosure is surrounded with high voltage hot wire. The hot wire is to prevent the bears escaping from the forest enclosure.
In the beginning, we made a food trail for Kala and encouraged her out to the training pen. The training pen was a strange place for her and hence why we prepared lots of food and her favourite, honey, to encourage her. She was doing well. After that we scattered food near the fence and observed how she responded with the hot wire. Unsurprisingly, she was zapped by the hot wire. After she had been zapped, she ran back to her cage and did not going to the training pen anymore. After a few tries, she became alert when she went inside the training pen. She knew that once she was too close and accidently touched the hot wire she would get a zap. Hence, she kept a distance with the hot wire. Besides that, she knows how to avoid being zapped by the hot wire. She was using her claws to grab the food near the fence. When she was able to walk in between the buffer cage and training pen with confidence, this meant that she had passed her fence training.
After fence training, it was time for her to go back to the forest. In order to encourage Kala out to the forest enclosure, we prepared an attractive food trail on a ramp. Once the guillotine door opened, Kala showed her curiosity with the new environment. She sniffed the guillotine door and the ramp first. Then she took a look at the outside and sniffed the forest.
When she was trying to grab the food on the ramp, she placed a front leg out and then both front legs touched the ramp. But, her two hind legs were still inside the cage. She was trying so hard to get the food on the ramp. Once she grabbed the food, she brought it inside and ate it in the cage.
After days passed, there was a sunny day on the 6thof June. When Kala tried to grab the food on the ramp, the ramp was too slippery and she slipped on to the ground.
After she touched the ground, the very first thing she did was explore the environment. She walked and sniffed around the forest enclosure. There were lots of things that attracted her attention, soils, trees that she had not seen for a while. When she saw the trees, she climbed up them. When she saw soil, she started digging it. There are lots of activities that she can do in the forest enclosure. She spends her days in there.
Soil is her favourite enrichment since she was small. She’s smelt, touched and tasted the soil. Even when she feels tired, she lays on the soil and continues to play with it.
Friends are so important for humans and also for bears. Kala joined a big family with Sunbearo, Loki, Ronnie Girl, Momtom, Susie2 and Damai. They encouraged her when she went to the training pen and also back to the forest as well. And now, Kala can learn survival skills from her friends such as foraging and digging in the forest. They love playing and enjoying the natural environment together. Sometimes they play fight with each other and sometimes they forage together. In the forest Kala learns and plays with her friends and the most important thing is that she is happy.
Text by Koo Wei Chee (BSBCC Intern Student)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
There was a project that I assigned for to upgrade myself to do something more advance besides the regular routine of what volunteers and interns can do and I got myself one, Thye Lim and Lin May gave me a big project to do, the objective is rehabilitate young sun bears Sunbearo, Ronnie, and Loki back to the wild.
Sunbearo, a 1 year old a male juvenile, was kept in a Mini Zoo Hot Spring, Tawau, South Eastern of Sabah before he was handed over to the Sabah Wildlife Department and BSBCC.
Loki, a 1 year old female juvenile, was discovered in the backyard of an inn, where she had been illegally kept as a pet for about five months. It was confiscated by the Sabah Wildlife Department and sent to BSBCC on 24th March 2014.
Ronnie, a 1 year old female juvenile, has an unknown history but we believe that she was kept as an ex-pet and was sent to the BSBCC on July 15, 2014.
They had already been integrated and became very good friends, rolling and playing around every day.
Fence training is a session for the bears to be aware of electric fences. The place where they are trained is in a moderate size indoor enclose den called training pen with 6 lines of electric wires from top to bottom in the inside perimeter. It is a nightmare for them but a very crucial and important stage to let the bears know that they should not touch those wires or else will be zapped in an electricity. One bear is only allowed in the training in one time if the bear was the first time training in the training pen because if there were two or more newly introduced bears in the training pen and one got zapped, it will immediately thought that it was the other bear which made the torture where will result a bear fight. The fence training period depend on the bears’ progress and it may take up to three months for the bears to get used to the training pen or never. Fruits were scattered near the sliding gate to encourage the bears to go into the training pen, fruits were then scattered near the electric fence once they feel confident to enter to the training pen. Each session of fence training is 30 minutes, the keepers and volunteers in charge have to observe carefully and write down in a table quickly of any moments and behaviours of the bears during the fence training session, this is the most tiring part when keeper in charge sometimes have to recall back what has not been written after the training session. A bear is considered pass the fence training is when it can be able to move freely between cage and training pen in normal behaviour without zap be able to avoid the fence. The bears will then be able to proceed to the next training, the forest enclosure training.
It was hard to watched when we saw them got zapped the first time and they barked, becoming very stressful and will start to pace in the furthest dens they can be from the training pen. Sunbearo was the one the which got the most zap, he did not know what to do at one time but to climb up and got even worse to be zapped in the second electric wire, Lester quickly run to switch off the electricity of the training pen, Sunbearo then climbed down and run to the furthest den and started to bark and moaning, he knew the pain, looking at us and keep moaning for doing this to him.
Integration sun bear is one of the rehabilitation process in BSBCC. Integration between rescue sun bears is one of the rehabilitation process in BSBCC through which the bears can learn pertinent skills for survival in the wild. There are some facts which needs to evaluate before targeting any two or more sun bears for the integration training to prevent or decrease bear fight possibility: (1) age, size, and weight have to be similar, if they have big difference, a bear would definitely be killed if they fought; (2) the bears have to be healthy. Younger bears and group bears seem to have a high possibility in successful integration because they have less thought, more curious, and have social group experience for the group bears. Before integration process, few pails of water and a fire extinguisher have to be prepared near the integration cage in case of emergency. Integration lasts for one hour, a paper with a list of table, behaviour codes, and remarks was used to write down the behaviours of the bears in any movement during the integration, this is the detail or data which will be the appendix of the research on how those bears react with each other.
Integration Pros and Cons
Sun bears appears to be solitary because their food are scattered all around the forest and they need their own territory to maintain their own food supply, thus for those integrated captive sun bears in the forest enclosure, we need to scatter enough foods all over the area to prevent them for fighting for food supply. Bears and others animal are solitary mainly due to the food shortage issue, in captive condition, foods are always been provided, so we encourage them to stay in a group to promote positive behavior development. Although there is a conflict between the bears natural characteristics and integration, it is used to assist the bears to get along well with each other so that they can be in a single forest enclosure because the main issue is about the centre’s limited number of forest enclosures and dens. Newly rescued captive sun bears need their own space, thus the integration stays an important role for the bear care unit.
On 22 November 2015, we integrate Sunbearo, Loki and Ronnie with Montom (a 3 years old sub adult male bear) and Susie (a 4 years old adult female bear).
We were surprised that Sunbearo, Ronnie, and Loki had a very fast progress in the integration and fence training with Montom and Susie where they played, foraged, and eat together without aggression. Three weeks after the training, the management team decided to let Sunbearo, Loki, and Ronnie to enter the last stage of training, the enclosure training in forest enclosure.
Forest enclosure training is the practice of the applications given to the sun bears in the previous stages of all training and enrichment such as giving them the second chance to climb, toys to improve their senses of smell, sight, touch and taste, integration training and electric fence training. Before the bears went out to the forest, prepared fruit pieces are placed near the cage or guillotine door to encourage the bears to go out and eat, time by time when the bears are confident with the area, the fruit will then be placed further from the cage to encourage them to go further to the forest. At least two keepers have to take a broom and keep an eye of the bears around the forest enclosure outside perimeter to prevent the bears to climb out from the enclosure because the bears may still not get use to the electric fence and may climb up if they got zapped. The training duration for keepers to watch over is the same as training pen, it may take months to have a success for the bears to touch the ground or even not, but the training is not over as it lasts until the bear can really be able to take care of itself for example searching foods in nature, climbing trees and make nest. This is the last stage for the bears before they can be the candidates to be released back to the wild, thus this training is crucial, giving the bears a second chance to go back to their natural wild habitat in a very large area of natural forest.
Within two weeks the three bears got their first zap from the electric fence near the dens. They still got zapped because they were introduced to a new environment although they already knew there is electric fence which results an environment shock to them. In the first week, I put their prepared cut fruits near their dens to encourage them to go out and explore the enrichment and environment. When they got used to the area, I then started to put further from the den and deeper to the forest enclosure time by time to encourage them to explore more.
The training on forest enclosure E has some issues not only the bears character and behaviour but also the location itself as it is located near the bear house entrance. Keepers who are not in charge of the training will sometimes do their work outside the bear house which made those sound-sensitive bears to be extra alert, thus whenever there’s a sound, even footsteps of us, the bears which are still not used to it will rush back to their dens.
At 24th December 2015, it was a very special day because guillotine door was ordered to close after the bears had gone outside forest. When the guillotine door was shut down, the bears were in alert and stayed very closed to the door, but after a few minutes, Loki and Ronnie started to do what they did as usual, foraging, eating bugs, ants, and termites. Sunbearo then followed them and went even further, he went to all the areas of the surrounding fence and unluckily got zapped again, and he pulled back but not long and went deep in the forest in search for ants and termites. It was a special day indeed that all the bears start confident explore the environment.
On day (28th December 2015), my supervisor, Thye Lim, had a plan to make some food enrichment to be hanged on trees to encourage them to climb. It is a huge success because Loki finally climbed a tree for the first time in her life and successfully climbed her way to get the fruits as her reward. We were then felt extremely happy that Sunbearo and Ronnie also made their first time climbing a tree on the following day (29th December 2015), not only climbed a tree but several trees in the enclosure.
It was a nice pleasure and glad to see the bears given the second chance to touch the earth for the first time in their whole life. I like to see them exploring the environment, foraging, digging, climbing trees and sometimes stand up to watch further in alert to the surrounding area, these are what bears should do, and I really hope they can have a good progress to become candidates to be released back to the wild.
By SayLin Ong
I am into my final week of volunteering in BSBCC. It definitely feels like time is passing by much too quickly. I am hoping to accomplish as much as I can in the remaining days before I fly home with Yuru.
It is important to keep our mindsets in line with that of BSBCC. It is after all Phase 1 of the project now, and much needs to be done to prepare the bears for Phase 2. The aim is to empower the bears with the confidence to step out into the outside enclosures, exposing them to their natural habitat. In our first 2 weeks, good enrichment ideas were implemented, much credit to Mark and Yuru. Some of these devices are still being utilized by the bears. It is always an achievement to come up with enrichment devices that the animals do not get bored of easily.
From now onwards, we will attempt to implement enrichments with specific goals in mind. 3 bears are of particular concern to us, namely Ah Chong, Bermuda and Manis. Ah Chong is a mature male, somewhat too comfortable in his den. He is definitely the heaviest of the 12 bears in the centre, almost always ground-dwelling, contrary to his species description. Upon being tempted by tasty bananas smeared with honey, his rare display of arboreal skills almost warrant a round of applause from all of us watching.
This here is an unflattering picture of Ah Chong’s rear. The problem with him is that he is curiously afraid of stepping out into the training enclosure, a big area meant for acclimatising bears to the outside enclosures. Our challenge is to try and coax him out, to let him know that everything’s alright outside his comfort zone. More details can be seen in Mark’s post @ http://matahari-bears.tumblr.com/post/644289648/chong-day-one.
Today was the 2nd day using the same method for Ah Chong. He showed an improvement in response to the ‘stimulus’. It was evident that he was very frustrated, with both his best friend Om as well as the log stuffed with treats barely beyond his reach. He constantly looked out at Om, paced around impatiently and tugged at the sliding gates much to our amusement. We held our breaths every time he leaned through his doorway. Hopefully in the coming days, he will be tempted enough to venture out and stay out.
This here is Bermuda, showing off his powerful frame. He was practically in that position for at least 15 minutes trying to tackle his enrichment device. A simple concept designed by myself to encourage Bermuda to be more constructive. I was surprised that he didn’t destroy everything in minutes, the positioning might have made things difficult for him.
Bermuda has the tendency to be reclusive, often not bothering with the leaves and branches that we provide in his den. After meals, he’d regurgitate and eat up the liquid expulsion repeatedly, a sign of boredom that captive animals display. I hope to provide enough enrichments to interest him and hopefully pry him away from his bad habits. He still went back to his rather unsightly habit today after last feeding, hopefully we’ll have better luck tomorrow.
Manis is a special little girl whom everyone has a soft spot for as well. She has the tendency to display the typical pacing behaviour that would make all caretakers worried. She was taken in from a zoo, probably one that did not provide much space nor enrichment for her, thus leading to her pacing behaviour. When she is not socialising with the rest of the females, she would usually be walking in circles in an anti-clockwise direction. It is heartbreaking to see that even her head is tilting in that particular direction while she circles. She also ranks the lowest in her group hierarchy, often not able to participate in enrichments provided to sharing.
This was the device Amanda, Mark and Yuru came up with, an adaptation from the Macaw enrichments back in Night Safari. We managed to confine her to a single den of her own, thus giving her a chance to enjoy her enrichment without competition from the other 3 girls. Manis was so occupied that she left her dinner half eaten!
She did however go back to her pacing habit shortly after. We plan to continue such enrichments for all 3 bears in the hope that they will respond better in time to come.
Posted May 30, 2010 at 12:24pm
The trouble with hotwires.http://matahari-bears.tumblr.com/post/644289648/chong-day-one
By Mark Rusli
Conditioning captive animals requires a great deal of patience, as any experienced animal handler should know. Domestic animals are relatively easier - they’ve had decades of history working with humans. Sun bears? An entirely different ballgame.
There are many factors involved when it comes to conditioning: you can’t force situations, for example, because that would destroy whatever trust and rapport you’ve established with the animal. And you also have to note that not all animals behave the same way: like humans, each of them have their own characters, and you need to approach them accordingly.
Here’s a tricky situation we currently have: Chong refuses to enter the exercise yard because he was shocked during his first visit in there. He hasn’t associated the hotwires with the shocks yet, so he probably thinks some invisible lightning monster exists within the yard. The yard’s used to teach the bears about the hotwires, before they are exposed to the outdoor pens: these have fences secured with hotwires, in case the bears decide to make a break for it. In my opinion, I don’t think they’re really concerned about public safety if a bear escapes; it’s what the people will do to the bears that they’re worried about.
So far, no tactic has been successfully employed to rid Chong of his fear. Today we roped in Om, Chong’s best friend to help us out. Om’s already learnt to stay away from hotwires, and he normally crosses the training yard to get to Om’s den where they have short wrestling matches.
We recycled yesterday’s enrichment that we used for the females, securing it inside the yard, complete with honey and mashed banana trails leading to it from his den. Chong showed a lot of interest, but he still kept his hind legs firmly planted inside his den:
We gave Chong about half an hour to make a decision, but with no further development, Om was then released into the yard:
Om, who had been watching these proceedings very closely, attacked the log immediately. The plan is for Chong to watch and learn from another bear that the yard isn’t that scary….. it’s just the hotwires. We’re going to repeat this for the next few days.
Today’s results? Chong did a lot of watching, a little bit annoyed that Om was getting all the treats hidden within the log. We could tell fear still prevented him from venturing out, but with a little patience, he’ll get over it soon. (And hopefully it’s before I leave!)
Sunday, May 30th 2010 1:54am
Chong, day two.
I wish I could say Chong finally went out today, but it’s wistful thinking. Sometimes our impatient selves make unnecessary decisions to rush an outcome, but when it comes to animals you always have to constantly remind yourself that these are living things. Recklessness may cause you to move a few steps back, losing whatever you’ve already accomplished. Even worse - there’s a zoological term I heard before: a “lost cause”, which is self-explanatory. The animal completely disregards any form of captive interaction, and depending on the situation, the animal may even be euthanized.
So today it was more of this:
What the pictures don’t express is his clearly increased agitation, as compared to yesterday. We did the same thing - gave Chong half an hour to decide if the assortment of treats hidden in the log was worth crossing the yard for, and then releasing Om, who stuffed his face in front of Chong.
Today Chong was banging at the race door, picking fights with Om, climbing all over his den….. you could clearly see his frustration. And it’s a postive sign, because he’s weighing his options and turning those risk-calculating gears in his head. I’m sure we’re going to get increasingly stronger reactions from him over the next couple of days.
Monday, May 31st 2010 12:46am
The moment that we all have been waiting for are finally here. After all the sun bears were settling down in their new home, the next challenges for us would be the electric-fence training, integration of different bears, and the introduction of the bears to the new forest enclosures were something that will happen over the next few days. These processes are all crucial and important parts of the “bringing the sun bear a better home.”
On April 9, we first introduced the young female group to the hot wire (electric fence) training pen so that the bears could learn to avoid the hot wire in the forest enclosures and will not escape. This is also the day when Annemarie Weegenaar from AAF have to leave us to go back for the moon bears in China. It is like the fellowship of bears slowly leaving again. Separation is always sad. However, we understand that the moon bears in China needed Annemarie's cares and loves for the moon bears.
The training session went well, although slow. Of the 4 young females, Jelita was the champion of all who first understand the message of the hot wire and later feel much comfortable foraging in the training pen and avoid touching the wire. The other bears- Cerah, Kuamut, and Lawa, pretty much followed Jelita but felt less adventurous to wonder around the hot wire training pen and spend most of the time in their own dens relaxing in the bear basket and playing. They never seem to complain much although the den is concrete floor and iron bars wall, maybe this is what they grow up with and get use to- without touching the real soil and without nurture of the forest.
By now we mixed these four young female up. They occupy 4 dens/cells where they can move freely as they wish. We give them and other bears plenty of enrichments such as leaves, browse, logs, ice block, kong toys, Aussy balls, coconuts, water bath, etc. to keep them busy. During the hot wire training session that last most of the day, we open the doors between their dens to the training pen so that they can come in and out of the training pen as they wish. We want to make the bears have a positive experience with these training so that they eventually learn to avoid the hot wires surrounding the enclosures and hence discourage them from climbing the fences in the forest enclosure when they go out one day. We do not want to push them to do something that they are feel less comfortable to do. We work according to their clock.
On April 12, three days after their training, we decided to let this young female group out to their forest enclosure. We open the door of the den for the first time. We thought today will marked history for the captives sun bears at BSBCC because the forest enclosure is the second items beside the new bear house that we all have been working hard for them. The moment that the bear step out from their den and put their feet on the forest's floor will be a historic moment for sun bear in BSBCC and sun bear as a species-a big step forward to save the species. However, what happen in the next few hours to the next few days after the doors of the bear's den opened was something that we did not expect - Only Jelita show interest of the outside world by sniffing the forest air over and over again. She made one step on the ramp that connect the den to the forest enclosure and hesitate to wonder any further. For the rest of the three girls - Cerah, Kuamut and Lawa, they preferred to enjoy their basket nap and stay put in their spacious den.
It is understandable why these four bears hesitate to come out to the forest enclosure. First they are still young (> 3 year old) and sense of wariness to the new environment still very strong. In the wild, they would still be accompanied by their mother who give them security in term of protection and food. Second, perhaps they grow up in a small space and confine to cages pretty much all their life and feel more comfortable in their new house now than the outside world. Nonetheless, we are sure that they will come out from their den one day to enjoy their forest, their home.