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 Gillian Gabriel (UMS Intern Student)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
This story is about Kina, BJ, Sika and Soo being released to the forest enclosure for the first time in their lives!
Attempt in releasing Kina
Among the four bears, Kina appears to be more curious about her surroundings because she is the first one that was brave enough to go out on the first day of the release. Although on the first day she spent most of the time staying on the ramp, she managed to pull herself out of her comfort zone. On the third day, Kina gracefully went out to grab some food and ate it. While enjoying all the fruits, there was the sounds of a chainsaw and blower. She continued to enjoy eating her food and went back inside the cage right after she finished eating. It seems that to Kina, food is way more important than anything else and nothing else can distract her while she is eating!
However, moments later, Kina decided to go out again and explore the surroundings. She continuously went back inside the cage every time she went out. Kina seemed so relaxed being in the outside world as she roamed around gracefully and used her incredible sense of smell to sniff around the area.
On the fourth day of release, Kina was now confident to go outside. She roamed around the forest enclosure, foraged, and at some point, she also dug the woods and the ground to find some termites to eat. Due to her high curiosity, she managed to explore almost the whole of the forest enclosure!
Apart from that, Kina is also an expert in climbing. She appears to be the most outgoing bear as she loves exploring the world by climbing up trees and enrichment. By doing so, she gets to see different parts of the forest enclosure from different views.
Kina is happy because she gets to enjoy the enrichment that was built by the bear keepers and the previous volunteer.
It was on a rainy day when Kina suddenly decided to climb up a tree. Kina is known to be the most active bear among her other friends and that is not just because she is the first one to go out into the forest enclosure, but it is because she normally prefers to live in solitary by isolating herself on top of a tree or an enrichment. Even before she was released to the forest enclosure, she loved spending her time alone, resting and climbing.
Attempt in releasing BJ
At first, BJ was afraid to go outside. He would normally stay on the ramp and watch from afar. However, his curiosity has built up as he saw his friend, Kina, gracefully walking alone at the forest enclosure. Determined enough to step out, he finally, most likely slowly, went out to the forest enclosure to experience the outside world himself. It was soon enough when BJ finally felt secure when he stepped outside. He began to love being outside.
BJ still in doubt whether or not he wanted to go outside.
Not feeling sure enough, he just spent the entire time resting on the ramp and looking at the forest enclosure from afar. Questioning whether or not he should give it a try.
Finally, he decided to go down.
Slowly but surely.
His natural instinct kicked in as he inhaled the smell of the earth.
Now that he finally has begun to trust the outside world, he has no problem enjoying his delicious food in the forest enclosure.
Attempt in releasing Sika
On the first day of releasing Sika to the forest enclosure, it was really a tough one as she refused to go out, even with many trials. Food was scattered all over the place so that she had the urge to go outside. She normally stayed on the ramp and instead of pulling herself out to experience the forest enclosure on her own, she remained still. She was not curious enough to explore the outside world and apparently, she loves staying in her comfort zone. She loves staying where she feels at ease.
Battling with her own thoughts, Sika finally made a decision to go out. But the only way she got distracted and was willing to go down was when honey was applied all over the stairs. With that, she got distracted by the delicious and sweet taste.
She climbed down step by step, licking the delicious honey that was in her way. What a great start she thought to herself.
Now that she was finally out, she got super curious with her surroundings. She was pretty amazed by the new place that she was introduced to. A new home with a lot more to explore.
Getting super curious, she sniffed around the forest enclosure, foraging and roaming around. Then she slowly started to like the outside world more than where she used to be. The taste of freedom was now in her bones.
Realizing how big the forest enclosure is, Sika then gets super comfortable staying outside. Bigger space for her to roam around. Even though she took a long time to finally decide to go out compared to her two other friends, BJ and Kina, she is the one who spends a long time in the forest enclosure. There are times when she does not go back to the cage at all. Sika also loves climbing as much as Kina does, she will spend most of the time on the tree and not want to go down.
Attempt in releasing Soo
Being kept as a pet at a very young age makes Soo less confident to interact with the outside world. Traumatized by her past, she is less active than the rest. Days of attempting to release Soo to the forest enclosure have been difficult as she only stays on the ramp or inside the cage. Not brave enough to go out.
However, she still tries to fight her trauma by taking baby steps and she still tries to build up all her courage. Even though she only stays on the ramp most of the time, she is still able to witness the outside world from the cage.
Instead of using the stairs as the trail to go down, she climbed down from the ramp. This shows that Soo is really attempting to go out. However, she still needs time to be fully ready.
I hope that in the future, all of the bears, Kina, BJ, Sika, and Soo are comfortable enough to stay outside in the forest enclosure. They were kept as pets before, and being kept inside a house has now built curiosity for some of them, such as Sika and Kina. This is why when introduced to the outside world, they got so excited and preferred to stay outside. The taste of freedom excites them. However, this does not apply to BJ and Soo. Instead of building curiosity, they are in fear. Fear of what the outside world is actually like. It takes time for them to build up their trust. With that, a release to the forest enclosure is a great opportunity to give them the life that they deserve and to promote their natural instincts.
Text by Vincent Chin Yung Fook (UMS Intern Student)
Photos by BSBCC & Chiew Lin May
Kudat, a lovely 12-year old, male bear currently being kept in Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). A little bit of story about Kudat’s past life, Kudat was originally captured from Tawau district but was sent to the Kudat district.
He was kept and presented as a ‘Panda’ together with his female friend, Panda, at Victoria Mini Zoo, Kampung Parapat, Kudat. The bears were confiscated in 2010 by Sabah Wildlife Department after the public had complained due to animals being kept in an unsatisfactory environment. It was revealed that the bears were kept illegally.
Kudat, together with his friend Panda, were living in a small cage with no natural habitat at all. Wild animals belong to the wild and are not for entertainment. Due to increasing rates of people wanting to see wild animals, there are more people tending to illegally capture and confine animals for profit. We are fortunate enough that there are still many people who want to protect wildlife.
Last month, I was given a task to observe Kudat for his behaviours in the Bear House. For the 10 days I was observing Kudat, I noticed that Kudat was a very observant bear. Every time the bear keepers or volunteer passed by his cage, he would eventually sniff and observe them for a few seconds. Kudat likes to hear the sound of keys jingling. When a bear keeper (Pradeep) who usually hangs his keys to his pocket starts walking towards Kudat’s cage, Kudat peeks from his cage to where the sound of keys is jingling.
One of the things that Kudat likes is his hanging basket on the wall. Kudat usually sleeps in the basket and he seems so peaceful sleeping. I guess he really likes that basket. Kudat also likes to play with water. He would stand, reach into his water container and use his paw to splash water to his body.
Kudat is not as aggressive as other bears. Every time the other male bear (Along) started banging the guillotine door between the forest enclosure and Kudat’s cage trying to pick a fight with Kudat, Kudat would just sit back in his cage and enjoy his own sweet time.
Although Kudat is cute, he can be rough when he meets a female bear. When integration through body contact was made between Kudat and Simone, Kudat had a rough play with Simone. All we can say is, Kudat is really a playful bear. Indeed, they are cute and adorable, but remember, they are meant to live in the wild. The 10 days observing a particular bear was just not enough. I wish to have more time to observe and understand more about their behaviours.
Text by Gillian Gabriel (UMS Intern student)
Photos by BBSCC & Chiew Lin May
Hello everyone, my name is Panda and you might think that I am a round, fluffy, black and white bear that loves eating sugarcane. Yes, you’re right! I love sugarcane but I am not round, nor even fluffy and not a single white spot on my body. I have a black, sleek fur and I am pretty short. When I was younger, I was kept inside a small cage and was named after the sign that was pointing towards my cage.
I was kept together with another sun bear, his name is Kudat. Kudat looks exactly like me and looks nothing like a panda. The truth was revealed when I first arrived at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) on the 10th of July 2010, it turns out that I was right the whole time, I am a sun bear!
On the 6th of July 2010, Sabah Wildlife Department and the team at BSBCC finally came to the rescue!
Besides not looking round like a panda, I still have a perfectly round stomach. Probably because I love to eat! However, I am still considered as fit for my age. Lucky me!
Yes, that was me. But the picture was taken from the wrong angle, I’m slimmer, I swear!
I was unhappy back when I was kept inside the small cage. I was fed with chicken meat the whole time and there was barely enough space to roam around. However, as you can see from the picture, I finally have enough space for myself and I love sitting and leaning against a tree especially on a bright, sunny day. So relaxing!
In the forest, I love spending my time exploring, observing the environment, roaming around and relaxing. When I return back in the evening, I will splash water all over my body and as the water reaches the ground, I will lay down with my stomach facing downwards and will move my body slightly. That is just a way of me cooling myself down after a while in the forest.
How can I be mistaken as a panda? I have no dark circles surrounding my eyes but instead, my whole face is just plain dark. I am thankful enough that I was finally recognized as a sun bear.
It reminds me of when I was first brought to BSBCC, I was in quarantine for 30 days. Despite being in quarantine, the staff introduced me to new friends (Natalie, Ah Lun, Julaini and Rungus). They are so nice. I learned and developed my social and survival skills from them and slowly, I kind of trust all the staff here. They take great care of me, they feed me with healthy food and they even give me toys to play with.
All the rehabilitation processes I went through helped me to overcome the trauma due to being locked and kept inside a small cage for entertainment purposes, and these processes taught me to behave like how a normal wild animal would do.
The rehabilitation processes that I went through included fence training and the integration process. While learning and developing my survival skills, I realized that I am capable of doing a lot of things. I can crack open a coconut in seconds, can dig deep holes so that I can reach termites at the hollow of the tree branches and have an incredible sense of smell as I can smell honey from far away. Yes, I love honey so much and so do the rest of my friends here. Honey is like our main diet!
I am grateful for all the efforts given by Sabah Wildlife Department and Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) since day one. Because of them, I finally have the life that I deserve. I hope that in the future, no other sun bears are mistaken as Panda. The thing that appears to be so appealing on our chest area, is our chest mark. That is the best way to identify us.
Video by Chiew Lin May
"Basindo nan tenggil"
Did you know the Malay name for the sun bear means “he who likes to sit high"?
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.
Video by Chiew Lin May
Sun bears climb trees to forage for food, rest or protect themselves from predators.
Ah Bui is an arboreal bear. You may wonder what is it that makes Ah Bui such a good climber?
Dear Santa 🎅,
We have been a good bear all year!
We are doing well and practicing our survival skills and to be a wild bear.
It is the season holiday of the year to make our wishes come true!
This Christmas, buy them a gift including delicious fruits, hammocks, honey pots, enrichment toys, medication and protect sun bears from extinction!to edit.
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?"