Text by Nithisha Nair
Photos by BSBCC & Chiew Lin May
One in a million- Om is an adult male bear at the age of 14 years old, who currently resides in the second bear house and spends his time under the daylight in Pen G. He is considered to be one of the ‘originals’; the earlier bears who claimed their spots in our centre. He arrived at BSBCC when he was 5 months old on the 4th of August 2005, after being found at a plantation spot in Telupid. As his rescue was well before many, the reason for his confiscation or rescue is unknown and not under record. Aside from losing his left fore claw, he arrived in a healthy condition.
Om had been in quarantine for a lengthy period of over four years, until he was eventually transferred to the new bear house on the 7th of July in 2010. His transfer included a physical health check upon arrival at the new bear house where he showed optimum health!
Om was integrated with a bear named Ah Chong, another male bear, on the 10th of April 2010, they both went through fence training the next day together. Ah Chong was the only bear that Om has ever and will ever be integrated with, as Om is a dominant male bear. Any integration attempts at this age with another male will result in fights, therefore Om is now spending his days solitarily in BSBCC since the death of Ah Chong in February, 2011.
Once they were deemed to have passed the fence training, they were both released to Pen D together. This marked their first steps in the forest since their arrival.
Long after the death of Ah Chong, Om was released to Pen G in February, 2016. This is now considered Om’s pen as it is where he has resided up till this date.
Om is a bear who loves his enrichments, and adores his food, he may be a vicious bear, but to me, he is nothing short of independent and well behaved.
Sun bears, being a part of the wildlife, require exposure to the forest and have their very own survival instincts, regardless of if they were raised in captivity or if they spent every minute out in the wild. Thus, keeping them as pets would not only bring harm to the bear’s physical health, but would also harm the owner as well, once the bear starts to develop their own natural instincts.
When sun bears are kept as pets, they lose the part of them that is needed to survive once they live in the wild. Often, bears that are rescued from being kept as pets completely lose the ability to be released back into the wild. They either lose important survival instinct characteristics or are often disfigured in terms of being declawed to ensure the health of their ‘owners’. Their claws are extremely valuable to their survival; thus, the lack of these things prevents them from being released as their chances of survival are severely reduced.
I would like to end this by saying that the bears are a part of our ecosystem, a part of wildlife and a part of the forest. Let’s do our part by ensuring they remain that way.
Video by Chiew Lin May
Sun bears live in the tropical rainforest of Southeast Asia.
Here Joe, Logan, and Romolina enjoy exploring in the forest- they loved it!
"Where are your favorite places to explore?"
Video by Chiew Lin May
Music I am Happy by AShamaluevMusic
The best things in life are FREEDOM
Smile, Hug, Friends and Love
Video by Chiew Lin May
The rainy season is slowly starting up in Sepliok, Sabah.
Sun bear Logan and Romolina enjoy a small break in the rain.
Video by Chiew Lin May
"Basking in the sun was all I could think about!"-Mary the sun bear
Text by Khairunnisa binti Mohd Faisal (Intern Student, University Science Malaysia)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Seeing the bears live freely in the forest is such a blessing. That’s what I hoped to see for one of my favorite bears, Panda. Once the bear has passed the fence training, they will be released to the forest enclosure. Now, Panda has passed the fence training and it’s time for her to go out and enjoy the beauty of the forest. We did an enclosure cleaning a few days before Panda is released to pen E.
On the first day of release, Panda spent her time observing the pen by sitting inside the cage and looking through the guillotine door. During this early stage of release, we arranged the food nearby the cage so that she is aware that there is food in the pen. Some of the nearby prepared food is eaten by her but she did not have the courage to go out from the cage yet.
On the next day, we arranged her food slightly further from the cage so that Panda will go out to the pen. Finally, two of her front limbs were out when she was trying to grab the food. However, the ramp in cage 12 was too steep which cause Panda a little bit insecure to go down further to avoid slipping to the bottom of the ramp.
After a few days of training, whenever the guillotine door is opened, Panda directly went out and sniffed the food on the ramp which she was aware that there is food outside. We put the food far from the cage as we wanted her whole body out from the cage. Unfortunately, the ramp was too short for her. Panda able to grab the prepared food just by lengthen her body and lick the peanut butter by using her super long tongue.
During the ongoing observation, there is once when Panda’s whole body was out on the ramp when she was observing the environment. It indicates that Panda started to feel comfortable with the surrounding and she felt safe to be outside the cage. However, both of the ramp used in cage 10 and 12 were not suitable for her release. Ramp on cage 10 is too short and the ramp in cage 12 is too steep for her to go out. Now, we are working on changing the ramp structure. We hope that this project will work for her as we want to see Panda going around freely in the forest.
Text by Megan Katie Noblett
Photos by Megan Katie Noblett & Chiew Lin May
There are three things you need to know about Borneo before you volunteer with BSBCC. It is hot. It is humid. There are a lot of bugs. As someone best suited to the cold and who can barely cope with a British summer and has a deep dislike bordering on phobia of things that have too many legs (aka anything more than six) I did actually get asked the question by my mother why on Earth I was going to a place so hot, so humid and full of creepy crawlies that literally set my skin crawling; the answer – the bears.
I am a zoology graduate and also earned a masters degree in Anthrozoology (the study of human-animal interaction) and was fortunate enough to conduct my research project on Moon bears in China. Even before this, bears have fascinated me and it is on my bucket list to work with each of the eight species or at the very least see them in their natural habitat. But I didn’t want to volunteer with BSBCC just to tick a species off my list but because I was deeply impressed with the vital work Dr. Wong and his team are doing. I have followed the organisation for a few years and finally had the time to take the 16 hour plane ride to Borneo to work with BSBCC and see the Sun bears.
Upon arrival I was met with the heat, the humidity and the bugs (so many bugs) but I quickly forgot them and even embraced them as I was set to work cleaning cages, preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner for 43 bears (they each eat 5kg of food a day so as you can imagine, there is A LOT of food), doing fence checks, helping with public education and making enrichment.
Enrichment was definitely the most enjoyable part of being in the bears houses. Making nest balls (peanut butter, bananas, apples and spices wrapped up in a nest of twigs and leaves), hosepipe honeycombs (fake beehives made from old fire-hoses stuffed with peanut butter, bananas, apples and spices) Sun bear burgers (two egg cartons strapped together around leaves with – you guessed it – peanut butter, bananas, apples and spices) and giant ice pops made from fruits and veg for the Sun bears to enjoy on a hot day. We spent hours carefully crafting these items to watch the bears rip them into pieces a matter of seconds. However, it was most certainly worth all the hard work to see the enjoyment the bears got from seeking out the sweet treats.
The highlight of the trip was working with one particular bear, Sigalung. Being kept illegally as a pet since cubhood until his rescue in 2014, Sigalung was a little afraid to step out of his indoor den into the forest enclosure and I was tasked with trying to get him to go outside and observing him as he did. We laid food and yummy treats like peanut butter and honey to appease his sweet tooth and day by day we moved the treats further down the platform and the steps leading to the enclosure. The first day I observed him, I could clearly see how tense and even frightened he was. He would stretch out as far as he could whilst still keeping his back two paws in doors to reach his food. He would make a quick grab of the food and took it inside so he would have to exposed more than necessary. At one point a butterfly flew at him and he startled so badly he ran back inside. We persevered and each day Sigalung became braver and braver (I think the peanut butter helped a lot) until he was walking out onto the platforms as soon as the doors opened and even ate outside. It was wonderful to see how this bear was overcoming his fears and I hope he will progress further until he can enjoy the forest enclosure with his bear friends.
It was my first time in Borneo and stayed on my own there for a month, but never felt lonely. The keepers and all the staff at BSBCC and APE Malaysia along with my fellow volunteers are wonderful friendly people who are quick to welcome you to the Sun bear family. They have really looked after me, making me laugh and patiently answered all my questions (mainly, ‘which bear is that again?’).
Sabah is a truly gorgeous place. Not only did I get see one of my favourite animals up close but I was surrounded by the beauty of Borneo and all the magnificent creatures that call it home. Geckos, Sunbirds, Flying lemur, Monitor lizards, Giant flying squirrels, baby Macaques, Giant fruit bats, Pygmy squirrels, a whole host of butterflies and dragonflies were only some of the many animals I was able to see in the wild just by looking around the centre and my accommodation. The experience has been truly magical and something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I am a tutor of Animal Management at a FE college back in England, teaching 16 – 19 year olds all about animal biology, husbandry and conservation. It is the type of experience I have had at BSBCC that I can use to encourage my students and inspire them in their own careers in the wildlife and conservation sector. I would encourage anyone to volunteer with BSBCC; even with the heat, the humidity and, yes, the bugs – the bears are so worth it and I will miss them all a lot.
Video by Chiew Lin May
The long sharp claws and canines of the sun bear are handy for tearing apart tree bark.
Noah trying to find some yummy insects!
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!
Video by Chiew Lin May
Life is meant for great adventures and best friends!