Text by Emily Tan Yu En
Photo by Chiew Lin May
On January 18th 2015, Montom was rescued by the Sabah Wildlife Rescue Unit from Kampung Melangkap, Kota Marudu and sent him to BSBCC on 21st of January, 2015. The story reported to the Wildlife Rescue Unit was the owner’s dog chased away Montom’s mother and she left him behind. He was taken and kept as a pet for a year in a chicken wire mesh cage and fed with human food. The owner was willing to surrender Montom to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit.
We introduced Montom to the other sub-adult group and was pleased to see him get along well with all the bears. After a few years, Montom is no longer a sub-adult bear so we’re going to let him join the adult bear group and let other sub-adult bears to join in his previous group.
Montom was introduced to the adult bears which included Rungus, Ah Lun, Julaini, Ah Bui and Fulung. Montom was introduced one-by-one for the first six days as he will feel surprise and afraid if he meet all the bears at the same time. At first, Montom played well with all the bears but Rungus and Ah Bui didn’t really likes to play with him as they will stay on aside or rest on the enrichment in the buffer cage. Few days later, all the bears play along with him and they’re trying learn to understand each other better even though sometimes they play rough to each other. They play around and chase each other and no aggression found during the whole integration.
Here are some photos during the integration of Montom with other adult bears.
Integration Montom with Julaini and Ah Lun
Integration Montom with Rungus and Fulung
After all the integration, we let Montom join with the adult bear group to the enclosure .They will move around in the enclosure searching for food. Montom get to learn some surviving skills from the bears such as climbing, self-defence, digging and others.
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Seng Yen Wah and Chiew Lin May
Seven years ago, a two month old sun bear cub was found by a villager’s hunting dog in a remote forest area of Long Pasia, in the Sipitang district of Sabah.
He was found injured and Nooh, the owner, decided to take care of him until he recovered. Nooh named the sun bear cub as “Fulung” which means forest in native Lundayeh language.
Nooh had decided to return Fulung back to the forest but due to the poaching concern happening in the forest he decided to keep Fulung as a pet for the time being.
Until August 2011, where Nooh found out he could give him a better life. He decided to surrender Fulung to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) when Fulung was nine months old.
Fulung arrived at BSBCC on 15th of August, 2011.
During his arrival, it was found that Fulung was malnourished and had a scratch mark on his forehead, which is believed to be caused by rubbing it on a cage bar. The initial health checks showed him in good health and body condition, weighing 9.4kg. During Fulung's placement in quarantine, he started to show signs of self-trauma due to finding it difficult adjusting to new experiences. This result was from being kept as a pet which caused him to scratch his abdomen until the wound was infected. This made him leave a dry scar wound on his abdomen area. Besides the wound, you could hear Fulung would growl and bawl loudly. Sun bear cubs will growl long and loud when they are separated from their mom. That was the problem with Fulung who had been kept in captivity with close human contact for long periods, which resulted in him requiring a great need of comfort.
To avoid this happening, we provided the best care for Fulung, different enrichment activities were given in order to stimulate and encourage his natural behavior.
A proper diet comprises of protein and fruit, medical treatment and great treats which have brought an improvement on Fulung. We could see that he was happily munching, destroying and exploring everything. He started to adapt and would smell, taste, play and paw things.
Fulung is a very cleaver, young male sun bear and checks out his enrichment.
Luckily, Fulung continues to improve day by day. He is settling in well in the new environment.
Moreover, other orphaned sun bears may help Fulung to learn the vital survival skills that he will need in the wild. So, BSBCC made a decision that Fulung needed to have a sun bear companion. On October 27th, 2011 he was introduced to the first ever bear friend, Mary.
For the last seven years, Fulung has known how to charm his way around the females in his group. He has grown up with other orphaned bears.
During the bear integration, they were incredibly playful in friendly greeting ways and no aggression happened beforehand. Bongkud, Mary, Debbie, Ah Bui, Ah Lun, Rungus, Julaini, Montom and Natalie are Fulung’s play bear friends.
He loves to make new friends where he becomes the loved and admired mischievous bear!
Magical! On June 11th, 2013 he took his biggest step and got to enjoy the sunshine with tall trees where he should belong!
Once the door opened, he quickly went out to explore! He was checking every meter of his new forest environment.
Fulung first dug up the dead log to get his favourite termites.
Over the years, Fulung proved to us that he will be one of the most confident and lovely bears in the centre.
Fulung is best known for loving to stand on his hind legs to get a better smell or look.
He will keep busy.
He spends his day roaming around the free range enclosure,
foraging up invertebrates and favourite food
basking in the sun,
taking a nap and loves climbing up high above the trees.
Fulung is an expert climber and will show how well he can climb to the top with rediscovering his natural behaviour!
He is anything and has become a much loved member of the sun bear family.
They are full of enthusiasm and energy!
They will keep learning to be wild bears and have fun everyday!
He always captures the hearts of people with his enthusiasm in loving nature.
This is very impressive when observing him slowly grow use to his new environment and learning as a wild bear. He slowly realizes the special bear he is and there is nothing to fear out there.
Fulung is doing exactly what they should do in the forest!!
Remember that we are not their mother. This is a very pathetic story for keeping a sun bear as a pet only will make the sun bear not know the world beyond the cage bars and they will lose the survival skills that they need to learn in the wild.
But thanks to the ongoing care and support we can give Fulung a second chance to live the happy, safe and healthy life he deserves. One of the things we LOVE about the smallest bears is simply that they make you smile.
Text and Photos by Brad Josephs
This past April I had a two week gap between guiding trips in china and Borneo for natural habitat adventures this past April and I could think of no better to spend the time than support the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center (BSBCC.). The founder of the program, Wong Siew Te, is one of the great conservation champions of today. click here to read about Wong, The Sun Bear Hero of Sabah. http://www.alaskabearsandwolves.com/the-sun-bear-hero-of-sabah/
Wong was actually in my freshman class at the university of Montana wildlife biology program in the mid 90"s, and we remember each other, but i transferred to UAF before I really got to know him. He went on to become the first sun bear biologist and founder of the BSBCC, which focuses on public outreach and education, rescuing orphaned bears, or those confiscated by local authorities from the illegal pet trade, and rehabilitating them through introduction into semi wild enclosures. The final goal is to release rehabilitated bears that have regained wild instincts back into the wild to bolster numbers and genetic health of existing wild populations.
Wong took me as a volunteer and my duties were diverse. I cleaned the bear house daily, prepared and dispersed meals of rice, fruits, vegetables and eggs, collected treats such as fresh leaves and insects from the surrounding jungle, photographed the Bears for the center's use, and set up an Instagram account to supplement their social media campaign. I learned so much and it felt so good to work up a sweat every day to help care for these orphaned sun bears, and take some pressure of the dedicated staff.
During dinner one night I asked Wong what I could do to help him the most and he said he needed funding for the release of a female bear named Lawa, a nine year old female bear who was rescued as a orphaned cub and rehabilitated at the BSBCC. Lawa is an excellent climber, builds nests in trees to sleep, forages for termites and other insects, and shows a healthy disassociation and avoidance of humans, which is a crucial behavior for released bears. She has been a candidate for release for a year, but the funding wasn't there. It costs around 13000 U.S. Dollars to charter helicopters for Lawa and the staff to reach a safe wilderness zone, and pay for the radio collar equipment to track Lawa after her release. Monitoring and documenting the status of a released bear is crucial for biologists to learn how rehabilitated bears adjust to the wilderness.
I decided to try a Gofundme campaign to see if I could help with the financial constraints. A few days later I received an email from Natural Habitat Adventures saying that they would like to sponsor the campaign with an impressive 5000 dollars! I was so proud of my company, but not surprised since we are the most conservation focused travel company in the world.
After 10 days around 40 generous donors put up 5000 dollars into the GoFundMe campaign, including one of my high school friends, Ben Bourne, who gave $1000. I guided my trip in early May, which includes a visit to the BSBCC. Tim Brown, one of the travelers in my group pulled me aside and told me that he wanted to donate as much as was needed to finish the campaign, and donated $3000 right there. It was done in three weeks! Lawa will be a wild bear again before this summer is over.
My time volunteering at BSBCC was the most rewarding things I have done in many years. I learned that sun bears are a species unknown to the world, and are in dire circumstances as a species due to poaching and habitat loss. Building a rapport with the bears, and with the dedicated workers specializing in sun bear conservation was an amazing experience. I would recommend this program to anyone who is passionate about wildlife conservation, and can withstand hard work in an oppressive tropical climate.. I hope to return again to support this program, as it needs lots and lots more help. Lets keep fighting!
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
In August BSBCC integrated Montom (a three year old, sub-adult male bear) and Susie (a four year old, adult female bear) into a new group with one adult, male sun bear (Fulung) and four adult, female sun bears (Mary, Debbie, Damai and Ah Bui). Montom showed positive interaction and easily adapted with his new friends. Montom and Fulung enjoyed epic wrestles together. They have spent a great deal of time sniffing, chasing, and rolling on their backs in a very friendly way. Damai is the exception and has shown less interest in play. Montom is a very sociable bear, whereas Susie is an aggressive bear and has displayed stress due to emotional trauma which resulted from her being kept as a pet. For the rest of their weeks, they integrated well and began to understand each other better. Debbie is the dominant female bear in this large social group.
Interaction between Montom, Susie with Ah Bui
Interaction between Montom, Susie with Debbie
Interaction between Montom, Susie with Fulung
Interaction between Montom, Susie with Mary
Finally the day came for Montom and Susie to feel the forest floor under their paws again. Although at the beginning it was a new environment for Montom and Susie with having to share the new enclosure with other bears, they are still adjusting themselves and getting along with their new mates. The whole group will be sharing one forest enclosure! It is hard to imagine that both of the bears ever thought their life could change. Susie is still aware surroundings and is having the time of her life. It has been a delight to watch Montom and Susie grow into happy and healthy bears.
Thankfully Montom and Susie are growing stronger and are progressing well. Their natural ability gives hope to our team that in the future they will learn all the skills they need to return to their natural habitat. From being rescued to their time in quarantine to forming relationships with other bears to stepping out into the forest enclosure, giving Montom and Susie a new journey in life. Sun bear rehabilitation is a long process. It changes many sun bears’ lives. Thank you for supporting our work to help Montom, Susie and many orphaned sun bears. Let’s make second chances for them to be free sun bears in the wild.
Text and Photo Chiew Lin May
Look who is moving on up! In June this year, something exciting happened in the forest. Damai, a beautiful two-years-old sub adult female sun bear with black eyes full of curiosity and energy is finally stepped onto the forest floor on last week 3rd June 2014.
Currently, Damai shares her enclosure with six other sun bears, namely Mary, Debbie, Koko, Ah Bui, Fulung and Bongkud. It was observed that once Damai was out in the forest enclosure, she tried to avoid the other bear friends. She ran, stood on her hind legs and kept growling, this might be due to her fearfulness and insecurity in the new environment. The other bears were curious and puzzled, they seemed like “What happening to Damai?” All of them, especially Koko tried to approach and sniff her. It took sometimes for Damai to feel more relaxed and began to explore the surroundings. The door of bear house will be kept open for one week so that Damai could go in and out as she wishes until she gains back her confidence and sense of security.
Damai is independent in nature. She knows what she wants and tries to take care of her own needs all by herself. She seldom interacts with the other female playmates except for Fulung, the sub adult male bear. When the other female bears try to approach her, she will start growling, try not to have anything to do with them and walks off alone into the forest. It seems that the other five female bears have to be gentle with little Damai.
When it comes to feeding time, the staffs scatter the food, Damai would usually be the last in line, while the other bears help themselves with the fruits first. Nevertheless, Damai is an excellent forager in the wild. Even with her small size, she would enthusiastically searching for insects and fruits in the forest enclosure.
Remember that when come to walking in the forest with the bear staffs, Damai behaves the same way as when she was first brought to walk in the forest at the age of five months. It is amazing to watch Damai getting back her freedom, foraging for food, roaming around the forest and in tune with the new surroundings. She never hesitates to climb trees as high as she could go and keep perfecting her arboreal skills. Damai likes to gaze up into the trees and into the sky. It stole our heart to know that she is still a wild sun bear. This is such an exciting moment!
After spending hours in the forest observing Damai’s behaviour, we hope that after a few months, Damai will adapt herself with the life in the forest enclosure and with the other new bears. We are certain that one day Damai will be happy and live freely as a wild sun bear in the forest.
Text by Jaike Bijleveld
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Damai is a shy and sweet little girl of 2 years old who loves splashing herself with water. Besides the two sun bear cubs Loki and Sunbearo, she is the youngest sun bear in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC).
When Damai was only 5 months old, she was found wandering at a car park before she was brought to the BSBCC.
In the first seven months or so, one of the bear care staffs showed her the jungle around the Sepilok Jungle, to get her familiar with the surroundings. To surprise of everybody, she started making a nest in a tree without a mother to show her how!
When she was about 1 year old, it became too dangerous for a human to walk with her in the jungle, so she moved to the indoor bear house. Usually this is also the age that people, who keep sun bear as a pet, start to realize that sun bears are wild animals and their huge canines and claws can and will be very dangerous. Next stop for a captured sun bear is often a tragic one: the cooking pot, the traditional medicine store or the black market.
In the wild, baby sun bears will stay with their mother until they are 2 to 4 years old, before they take off to live a solitary life. They learn all kinds of practical things to survive. Damai lost her mother too young, so she needs to learn these things from other sun bears, although she already proved that some skills depend on nature rather than nurture!
TIME TO MEET SOME OTHER BEARS
Now she reached the age that she is not so vulnerable anymore, so it was time to start an integration process with six other bears of her age: the females Mary, Debbie, Koko, Ah Bui and Bongkud, and the male Fulung. They all share four adjacent indoor cages, connected by sliding doors, but until two weeks ago the sliding door of Damai's cage was kept closed until the six others went to the outdoor enclosure at day time.
Because it would be too overwhelming for Damai to meet all six sun bears at the same time, one by one introduction was started for the first five days. Except Mary and Ah Bui, all of them where curious, started sniffing at her and wanted to play with Damai, but only Fulung succeeded. Not because Damai wanted to play with Fulung, but simply because it was not possible to escape strong and playful Fulung!
The playing of sun bears looks a lot like a wrestling match, with a lot of neck biting and clawing, but as long as there is no growling, you know it's just playing. Later, in the wild, the fighting skills they learn while playing are very useful when they get attacked by, for instance, a python or clouded leopard or other competitive sun bears.
In the following days, the number of bears integrating with Damai slowly increased, until after about 8 days the complete group could be with Damai at the same time. In the days that passed, it became clear that Damai is a girl that likes to be alone. Bongkud and Debbie manage to play fight with her for a few minutes, and Fulung still is record holder playing with Damai. The rest of the group is simply ignored or ignores Damai. But there is no aggression either, so the integration sessions can be called successful. After all, being alone is their nature.
NEXT STEP: GET READY TO LEAVE THE BEAR HOUSE
Before any sun bear can leave the indoor bear house to the outside forest enclosure, there is training required: fence training. Each forest enclosure has a fence with electrical wire (hot wire). This is necessary to make sure that non-integrated groups won't climb to each other's enclosure, or that any of the sun bears won't climb outside the enclosure where humans walk and dangers for the sun bear lure.
In the indoor bear house, next to the cages where Damai had her integration sessions, is a large training pen. With honey, porridge and fruit Damai was encouraged to come near the hot wire, with a very low voltage in the beginning. The first day, the same day of her first integration session, Damai touched the hot wire while licking the honey. It scared her so much that she immediately ran back to her own cage! The next day the same thing happened, and the three following days she had just enough courage to walk into the training pen before hurrying back to her own safe cage. It took a whole week and four more 'zappings' before Damai understood how to get the food without touching the hot wire and walk confident around in the training pen. At that point the integration area could be extended to the training pen.
This week she will be allowed to go to the outside enclosure together with the rest of her group to reach the final stage of her training: get her ready to release her back in the wild!
Oakland Zoo, 3rd January 2014
by Amy Gotliffe
Time with Bears:
Fulong means forest in Lundayieh, a tribal language in Borneo. A tiny sun bear cub, the smallest of all bear species, was found in the forest by a hunter’s dog and brought to the master who gave him the name Fulong. The man kept the bear in a cage as a pet — but when he found out he could give her a better life, he relinquished her to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, where we sat this morning in rapt attention as Gloria, the head of education, told us the history of some of the beautiful sun bears at the centre.
Sun bears and the work of Siew Te Wong was our inspiration to embark on a conservation expedition to Borneo in the first place. We have been in full support of his efforts to give a wonderful home to sun bears that all have a different conservation back story. This new center is right next to the Sepilok Orangutan Center and sure to be a hit. Many visitors to Borneo know about Orangutans, and now many will know about this amazing bear.
After six years of helping Wong work as the founder and raise funds for this center, it is a THRILL for our group to be here to help them get ready for their soft opening to the public in January. After a survey of our skills and their needs — Gloria and I put together a schedule – and we rolled up our sleeves and got to work!
What a day we are having! In the rain and heat, one group is moving gravel with shovels and wheelbarrows, watching for venomous snakes and tiger leeches. Another is in the bear house, chopping diets of banana, papaya, green beans – and heating an oatmeal-like super nutritious bear meal. Some even enjoy cleaning the night houses in this sparkling new facility.
Carol and Jereld are off with Ling Mai to set up camera traps. We then work with her to create a matrix for observing bears which we will try out this afternoon. Diana then helps create a program to illustrate the data that will be gathered. Carol and Rob sit together at a laptop editing copy for the educational signage for hours and hours, quite happily. Tina then gives her ideas around signage design. We hardly want to break for lunch, but we do, ‘cause it is hot and we have worked up quite an appetite.
After lunch with the bear staff, Lovesong and Mary go off with the bear keepers, exchanging stories and ideas on how to best care for a sun bear. A crew works with Gloria to envision the visitor center’s future displays and interactives. Another crew gathers around Ernie to discuss the gift shop and other ways to bring in extra funds to the program. Apparently t-shirts and postcards are the big sellers, but creativity is flowing. I get to download about education programs, volunteer positions and conservation action and messaging. I also got the pleasure of taking portraits of the staff for their website.
As the afternoon rolls along, I feel so fortunate to have gotten to be here on this day atthis time in the center’s history. What a joy to share what we could with them, and how inspiring to meet this talented and dedicated staff who shared so much with us. We are all lucky, especially bears like Fulong!
Text by Shelly Smith
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Following up on the indoor integration of the Mary and Natalie groups, today we saw the culmination of the exercise – the whole group outside sharing one forest enclosure!
By regularly allowing the indoor socializing and ‘wrestling parties’ these bears so love, the bear house team ensured the two groups remained on friendly terms.
Finally the time had come to test their ‘friendliness’ outdoors, where controlling a tense situation or fight would be impossible. A few of us entered the forest enclosure to scatter loads of fruit which would serve to distract from conflict, and fill tummies, hopefully creating a contented environment. Having only fed and observed from the feeding platform into this forest enclosure, I felt a little like being in someone’s home without their permission!
Then the bear keepers opened the bear house doors while we waited expectantly at the feeding platform, anxious to see who would be the first to arrive in the pen. It took a good 5 minutes before we finally saw Fulung and another of the Mary group trundling along, calmly foraging on the scattered fruit. We had another wait until we saw any of Natalie’s cronies come to investigate the main area of the forest enclosure. Slowly Rungus, Natalie and Julaini began to familiarise themselves with the change of environment. Fresh alliances were forged and tree trunks were explored. Curiosity ruled the day.
Late afternoon found Natalie relaxing under her new favourite tree with a new found favourite friend – Bongkud, while Ah Bui sunned her tummy as her latest cohort Rungus dug for termites. Debbie showed off her climbing skills and Fulung continued his endless search for tasty snacks.Fortunately the day passed wonderfully uneventfully.
Introduce the ten sun bears that share in one forest enclosure:
The bears all headed indoors for their much-loved evening meal; Julaini had chosen to stay indoors during this change of routine, which was probably fortunate as this young male could be a rough playmate with Fulung at times. While Natalie and Bongkud like to stay outside forest enclosure.
The next day proceeded to be just as peaceful and without any incidents. This must be a world first - successfully integrating ten bears into a single forest enclosure.
Obviously this is not ideal, much more space is required. But it shows how well the competent bear staff know their bears - to manage factors like age, sex, character traits, and hierarchies within established groups - to pull this off so smoothly in the limited space available. Congrats, guys, it was a great privilege to be involved in this venture!
Now Bermuda can have his turn out in the forest:-)
Text by Shelly Smith
Photos by Chiew Lin May
As the BSBCC presently only has 3 outdoor pens large enough to accommodate several bears at the same time, some seriously strategic ‘bear shuffling’ has to occur in the bearhouse in order to get the right bears into the right cages for the outdoor exit ramps.
There are 2 existing groups that need to be integrated so they can occupy one outdoor pen instead of two, freeing up the second outdoor pen for Bermuda, a large mature male who is eagerly awaiting his outdoor sessions.
The two groups are ‘matriarchal’. The’’ Mary’’ group consists of 6 sub adult bears – little Mary, Ah Bui, Debbie, Koko, Bongkud and young male Fulung. 2nd group is Natalie’s group of four, with Natalie, Ah Lun, Runggus and young male Julaini.
Bear etiquette dictates that a polite introduction is by way of curiously sniffing through an interconnecting gateway - if no sign of aggression is seen, then the gateway is opened cautiously by the bear keeper, and one bear may proceed into the adjoining cage where the sniffing procedure progresses to a stage of playful paw inductions. Hereafter it is quite permissible to raucously cavort around the cage and wrestle in the hammock (or other enrichment provided) until one or both bears are completely exhausted. Suckling on a bear’s ears is a privilege for best friends only.
Integration started on the 9th September by daily introducing one bear from Mary’s group to the Natalie group bears, one bear at a time over an hour or so. These introductions over the week went amazingly well with no hint of aggression as each bear learnt the smells, stature and behaviour of the others, in spite of two females being on heat during the process.
However, there came a turning point when the two young males were introduced. All went smoothly at the beginning of the session with 7 of the bears occupying 3 interlinking cages, playing and rough-housing with great abandon. Fulung, the young male from Mary’s group, has a wound that he continuously scratches at and thus it cannot heal. Julaini, the young male from Natalie’s group, curious to see if this could be meat, took a bite, with the ensuing fracas becoming quite violent, and intervention needed.
Lesson learnt! - since then Fulung’s would is treated with medication so he no longer smells like a meal, and all bears taking part in integration sessions are fed copious amounts of fruity treats, so tummies are full and everyone’s content beforehand.
All 10 bears will continue to mingle for a period every day under the watchful eyes of the bear team until they are deemed ‘’suitably merged’’ to enter the outdoor pen together. Bermuda can then finally be moved up the chain of linked cages to the outdoor exit of forest enclosure, and experience the freedom of the natural forest again!
Special Moments with Mary, Ah Bui, Koko, Debbie, Fulung and Bongkud in the BSBCC Forest Enclosure Part III
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Chiew Lin May and Tee Thye Lim
Here are some photos of our sub – adult sun bears, out in the forest enclosure. They love to be by trees and will find activities to occupy their time that will keep them close to the canopy. These include looking for termites, other forest invertebrates, climbing trees, playing together and taking naps. They get on really well, and enjoy playing together. These six sun bears at the forest enclosure is buzzing with cheer and joy. Look what they are doing in the forest enclosure!!