Text by Vivian Lee Ker Chuon
Photos by Vivian Lee Ker Chuon & Chiew Lin May
Hi there! My name is Dr Vivian Lee and I am a Malaysian veterinarian from the state of Penang. I first found out about the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre when I attended a talk by Dr Wong Siew Te, who is the founder of BSBCC. Over the years I have followed the work of him and his team and heard many good things. I finally decided to make the trip and volunteer for two weeks, and I’m really glad I did, because the last two weeks have been amazing!
This is my first time to Sabah, and BSBCC were kind enough to pick me up from the Sandakan airport. It’s easy to figure out who is picking you up because they will have a sunbear shirt on. It’s all about the sunbears here. I was greeted by a smiling Azzry, who pointed out the sights to me on the way to the centre. Once there, we proceeded to do a security briefing (in short, be careful of macaques and orangutans), and then I had a quick tour of the centre before I went to Bjorn Hala with my housemates for the next two weeks.
The next day, I started my first official day at BSBCC. I met my buddy keeper, Roger, and assisted him with his tasks. We were assigned to Bear House 1 that first day, and I worked up a really good sweat! Cleaning up after 43 bears is a lot of work, but I enjoyed giving my muscles a good workout. I really do feel a lot fitter after these two weeks. Whilst working in the bear house, I started getting to know each of the individual bears, as each of them has a very distinct personality. You can tell that the staff at BSBCC really care a lot about their bears and the work that they do. The keepers know what each bear likes and dislikes, what health issues they might have, which bear is friends with which other bear, which bear won’t eat their veggies, which bear won’t come back home at night because they’re having too much fun playing in their enclosure, and which bear likes to break all the branches off the tree they’re climbing. After two weeks, I can only identify maybe 3-4 bears by sight, but ask any keeper and they’ll be able to tell you which bear is which.
After all the cleaning tasks are done, we get to do one of my favourite tasks, which is feeding. I don’t think I will ever get tired of watching the bears crunch through a juicy carrot or chase after a coconut. Most of the bears, except the ones with dental disease which I’ll talk about later, get a diet of raw green veggies and fruits, with some starchy foods like raw sweet potato and pumpkin as well. The bears love fruit the most, enjoying things like watermelon, honeydew, bananas, papaya, and this interesting little fruit called snake fruit or salak, which to me looks like a little pangolin. Most of them won’t say no to a leaf of Chinese lettuce or a cucumber either. As a little treat or for positive reward training, the bears go nuts over a dab of peanut butter, Marmite or honey.
The afternoons are mostly devoted to creating enrichment for the bears. I got to develop my non-existent carpentry skills, doing sawing, drilling, tightening screws and putting together a structure for one of the pens. The keepers are very skilled at providing motivational support for volunteers, hence even though I was a bit hesitant at first, by the end I was happily sawing and hammering away. During Hari Raya, we even made ketupat stuffed with apple and peanut butter for a festive sunbear treat!
I was happy to be able to assist Dr Yeoh Boon Nie, BSBCC’s resident veterinarian, on the days when she was conducting a few annual health checks for some of the bears. We also took the opportunity to conduct dental scaling and polishing of the bears teeth as well. I’ve only ever done dental scaling and polishing for dogs and cats, so this was very interesting for me. Some of the older bears have been eating a soft, cooked diet for a long time, and as such, their teeth weren’t in a great condition. Bears in captivity also live a lot longer than bears in the wild, due to the provision of a steady source of food and absence of dangers in the wild. Thus their teeth have to last a lot longer. As their human carers, we have a responsibility to make sure that they are as healthy and as comfortable as possible.
After sedating the bear, we brought them to the clinic where they were intubated and maintained on a gas anaesthetic whilst we performed the procedure. I also jumped at the chance to be able to place an intravenous catheter in a sunbear (they have really thick skin!). After ensuring that the anaesthetic was stable, we proceeded to do the dental charting, scaling and polishing. Seeing the bears shiny clean and polished teeth after each procedure was very gratifying. Besides the dental, the bears were also given a physical examination, blood was drawn for an annual health screen, and things like overgrown nails were addressed.
I found the volunteer program at BSBCC to be very well rounded, as I got to experience so many different aspects of this organization in my two weeks here, gaining an understanding of how the group works as a whole. Everyone from the bear care team to the education team and the maintenance guys always have a smile for you and are more than happy to have a chat and share their considerable knowledge. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting to Gloria and Jerome about managing visitors (and macaques!) up on the viewing platforms, with Mizuno and Boboy about jungle trekking and night walks, with Thye Lim and Lin May about their exploits in the Tabin reserve, with Azzry about growing up taking care of orangutans, with Wawa about different sunbear personalities, and Dr. Boon on sunbear health and management. Dr. Wong himself even makes it a point to set aside time out of his busy schedule to have chats with volunteers, and you can ask him anything. He has 20 years of experience and lots of helpful advice to share. Two weeks is barely enough to scratch the surface of all there is to learn here. I also had the best time together with my new friends at Bjorn Hala, going out to sample a selection of the best food Sandakan has to offer, night walks to see wildlife, attending Hari Raya open houses, hiking up Bukit Sim Sim and admiring the view of the fishing village, singing in the car, and tasting each other’s cooking. It’s been a great experience and I would love to come back again for another visit.
Text by Nithisha Nair (Intern student, University Putra Malaysia Bintulu Campus)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
And so, the journey begins for the three new musketeers- Joe, Romolina and Logan- into the bear house after patiently getting through their days in quarantine.
Romolina, being the oldest of the three was kept as a pet before being handed over to our centre. Whereas Joe was found alone in the forest when he was three months old. A person then sent Joe to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park. The youngest of the three, Logan, was found on a Lokan River near a village who separated from his mother as she crossed the river leaving him behind. He was taken care for a few months by the person who found him before being sent to our centre. These three musketeers, being as young as they are, are nothing short of curious, explorative and energetic.
Due to the lack of space in the bear house, this group of sun bears ended up extending their stay a little longer than expected. But with the release of Boboi, Kitud and Tan-Tan on the 14th this month, new room opened up to welcome our trio.
The week started off with enrichment preparations for the sun bears. Lengths of firehose were used to construct a ‘zig zag firehose’ as well as a wooden structure that the trio will be able to use to climb and play.
This recreational enrichment will go a long way in diverting the sun bear’s attention from the stress they might face through switching homes. Besides that, we also extended our measures and collected barks, dead wood and sacks of dry leaves to be put into their cages for a more forest-like feel. The bears will also be able to dig their claws and teeth into the barks in search for ants and termites. Termites nests were also brought from the forest for the trio to feast on.
Two dens were transformed and decorated to the best of our abilities to give the bears as much of a natural environment as we could, dry leaves, tree barks, ginger leaves and termites nest were all placed in the dens alongside structural enrichments.
Then the long-awaited day finally comes and the cubs were ready to be brought to the bear house. Translocation cages were used to transport them from quarantine to the bear house. Prior to the transfer, they are lured into the translocation cages by quarantine keepers using diluted honey. Then they are weighed before being put on to the car to be brought down to the bear house.
The transfer started off with Romolina, who was no trouble at all to lure into the translocation cage and was quite calm throughout the journey. After Romolina’s transfer, Logan was next. Eventhough Logan was no fuss to get into the translocation cage, he seemed pretty anxious on his way to the bear house. Honey water and bananas were provided upon arrival to eradicate any stress caused by transportation.
All the other bears seemed very alert and peculiar to the arrival of these cubs but did not cause a commotion of any sort, which was great as any vocalization would’ve rendered the cubs more stressed. After the two bears settled down, they enjoyed exploring in their dens and was nothing short of curious and adventurous, sniffing every corner and climbing every angle. They also foraged through the dry leaves for bananas and tore through tree barks in search of insects to feast on.
After ensuring the two cubs were okay, we proceeded with a health check for the last cub, Joe. The health check was done in quarantine with a hand injected anaesthesia by Dr. Boon whilst being distracted with honey. After Joe was unconscious, a full health check was carried out to ensure that the sunbear is well and healthy. Joe was then brought into the bear house and put into a separate den until he was fully conscious and able to join in on the fun.
Once Joe was concious, the three cubs didn’t waste any of their time before exploring all three dens together. They foraged through dry leaves and dead wood, climbed ladders hung on the den basket as well as on the gates of the den, and rolled around the dry leaves goofily with one another.
The cubs will have to go through integration as well as fence training before their debut in the forest enclosure. The cubs can frequently be seen exploring their surroundings and playing around with one another, their playful yet explorative behaviour is one we hope they keep throughout their rehabilitation journey. Here’s wishing good luck to these cubs in their journey before being released to the wild, good luck musketeers!
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
It is a vital step to protect the health of all the rescued bears at our centre. Every year the bears will receive full health checks and any medical procedures they require. Once again, we were very fortunate to have veterinary care from Sabah Wildlife Departments, Dr. Nabila Sarkawi.
A basic health check corner has been set up complete with a surgery table and health check equipment. 44 of the bears have been checked. The health check began with each bear being individually anaesthetized.
Dr. Nabila and the bear care team performed a thorough check on the bears’ health. This included taking the bears’ weight,
temperature, pulse and respiration rate, body measurement, blood and hair samples, dental treatment, cutting back severely overgrown claws for those bears that stay inside the bear house, x-ray, being checked for potential sickness (signs of ill-health, disease and injury), and functioning of internal organs.
cutting back severely overgrown claws for those bears that stay inside bear house,
If the bear had a wound, then treatment and medication would be provided during the examination.
Once the health checks were completed, the bears were brought back to their dens to recover from the sedative and their condition was monitored. From this health check, we will have a much clearer idea of the bears' future needs, including diet.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), they are categorized as “vulnerable”. We need to highlight sun bear conservation and help protect them from the threat of extinction. On the 13th of July 2017, an application of advanced reproductive technology in the conservation of endangered wildlife programme (ART programme) - training in immobilization and reproduction of sun bear in Sabah, was conducted. ART programme is a project under the 11th Malaysia Plan administered by Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD). Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) is appointed as consultant to help develop the ART programme. By conducting this ART programme, the “sample size” of living individuals is large and there are opportunities for the captive sun bear population to contribute to the long term survival of the species. During the health check, eight healthy adult male bears and one adult female bear were chosen. Sun bear semen was collected.
In very exciting news, on the 26th of November 2017, Debbie and Damai were fitted with satellite collars. Debbie and Damai have shown signs of being excellent in their forest skills, enough to cope sufficiently in the wild. They have prepared for life back in the wild. Our team will monitor their adaptation, making sure the collar is functioning well and will evaluate their progress.
Our rescued bears get the best care. Thankfully, a number of the bears examined had nothing serious going on. Only Diana, an eleven year old, adult female bear had poor conditions with her teeth, suffering from severe damage ever since having a highly unsuitable diet when she kept as an illegal pet. Diana requires extensive medical care ahead. She was moved to Quarantine for future special care by our bear team. Diana will recover well by receiving pain relief and being fed soft blended fruit. She is continuing to show good progress with less signs of stereotypical behavior compared to when she was staying at the bear house. Every day she can enjoy the forest scenery and smells around her. After finishing her food, she climbs up and rests comfortably back in her basket.
After one year of Noah and Nano undergoing rehabilitation at our centre, they made such good progress that they graduated from cub rehabilitation in quarantine to “big bear” dens in Bear House. Here they can see other sun bears so they can learn from them and get used to the sounds and sights of the outside world. The bear house bears were delighted to welcome Noah and Nano to the family. The new dens where they are settling in have been stocked with climbing structures to play on, a comfy hammock to take naps on and dried leaves as browse to explore. After a period of adaption in the new den where the rehabilitation will continue, there will be eventual access out to the forest enclosure. Noah and Nano are very quick settle into their new environment.
They are sniffing in curiosity all the time. Noah and Nano are exceptionally brave and inquisitive explorers. Noah adapted well to his new environment, proving to be a fast learner and loving the fruits given by his care taker. Nano’s response was quite amazing, but his favourite past time is sleeping in his basket.
They are being monitored and are being continuously stimulated with enrichment items. They will have the opportunity to climb, explore and adjust to this new space. Every time they are given extra treats and new enrichment they get really excited!
They also have received lots of love from our bear care team, doing everything they can to help them build strength and courage to live as a wild bear! It is wonderful knowing that what is coming next makes it even more incredible.
It is so exciting that the rescued sun bears will take the biggest step in their life. This year will be a big movement for our bears. Some groups will go into an outside forest enclosure for the first time. Other bear groups will change to have access out to the new forest. Several groups will undergo electric fence training. While one group will be introduced to a larger group. There are also two release candidate bears preparing to be released back into the wild. The bears will realize this new life is good and finally live the life denied to them by pet trade.
Thanks for the hard work and wonderful care provided by Dr. Nabila, Dr. Pakee, Dr. Reza, Elis Tambing and the bear care team! Huge thanks for being part of the team. Job well done!!!
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
The sad part of each rescued orphan sun bear that arrive at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) is that they come from having lived through a bitter past. As sun bears grow into fully grown adult, they become dangerous and difficult to handle which will end up their lives in a tiny cage or seeking out sun bear rehabilitation centre to take their sun bear pet in.
This is what happens to our recently rescued a three years old sub adult female bear, Soo (Rescued bear No.56). It was so shock when we received a video showing that the person was playing with this bear (who is fully grown bear). She was purchased from Karamatoi village in Sook Keningau market when she was still cub and kept as a pet by a family in Nambayan village in Tambunan, located in the interior Division of Sabah for almost three years. She was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department and she arrives at BSBCC on 8th September 2017. Soo was fed with rice, cucumber and milk. Undoubtedly her mother had been killed; she is sold illegally throughout Borneo and kept in private home. Sadly many of these orphaned sun bears will never fully learn their natural way of life and lose their ability to survive in the wild.
During the arrival, Soo shows a sorrow face and traumatized. This made her keep alert. She must have been going through traumatizing experience for her. You can feel how this disgusting the pet trade is! Often these rescued sun bears take a long recovery road from the trauma of losing their mom in such a horrific way. They often suffer from physically health issues, malnutrition and poor treatment during her pet trade time.
Luckily for Soo, the Sabah Wildlife Department rescued her and she has been given second chance to survive as a wild bear. She has to go through a quarantine process for 30 days to determine her health status. On 10th September 2017 she received a health check. Dr. Pakeeyaraj Nagalinggam from Wildlife Rescue Unit, Sabah Wildlife Department performed a general health check. These include an assessment of her overall health, function of the internal organs and physical condition and potential sickness. Her weighs was 25.70kg.The blood tests result has shown she is in good health and bright bear.
At the BSBCC, Soo will receive intensive care. The most important first step is to make sure Soo is settled in this new environment. Till now she still avoids to explore new surroundings. Soo was introducing to new correct diet and enrichment to ensure she is growing healthy. But Soo only will explore the enrichment and treats on night time where the surrounding area was quiet. She will quickly move away after detecting our presence. Soo spent the majority of her time and feel safe by staying high up on cage. She is now an orphan and needs much love and care to grow into a trust and confident beautiful sun bear.
We are delighted to welcome Soo to our sun bear family! Soo has a long journey ahead of her in going through rehabilitation until she returns to the wild again. It is illegal to keep sun bears as pets! Please remember the consequences of keeping one as a pet and give them promise of HOPE! We hope to see Soo can be thriving and adapting well to her new home. She has to find the life of a free bear. We will be monitoring to see how she progresses over the coming months at quarantine.
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Wawa is a 11 months old female bear. She was found alone in the Forest Management Unit (FMU) 16, Pinangah, Telupid District on March 11st, 2016. She was surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department and sent to the Lok Kawi Wildlife Zoo after that. She arrived at BSBCC on March 18th, 2016. She appeared weak and showed signs of dehydration when she arrived.
Dodop is a one year old female bear. She came to the SBCC on June 2nd, 2016. The Sabah Wildlife Department rescued her from being kept as house pet in a Singgaron village in Ranau district. She had been found with missing all of her milk teeth. But now her permanent teeth have grown into strong and sharp canines.
Both of them have been growing well in quarantine. So, now is the time for them to meet their big brothers and sisters in bear house. They had to undergo a general health check by Dr. Pakeeyaraj Nagalingam, a veterinarian from Sabah Wildlife Department, Wildlife Rescue Unit first. Both of them had been proven healthy. Their new friends could not wait to meet them and gave their greatest welcoming bark to them.
Before Dodop and Wawa moved to bear house, bear keepers prepared lots of enrichment for them. They not only build a platform and a hammock to provide them a resting place, but they also went to collect dry leaves and decayed wood. This is because Wawa is a playful bear. She likes to spend her time with enrichment. So, bear keepers placed different kinds of enrichment items inside the cages to help them adapt to their new environment. For the first day, Wawa seems alert to the surroundings. But thanks to the enrichment, they had adapted well into the bear house after the second day. They spend their time exploring the environment and the enrichment together.
The next for them is to integrate with the biggest group, the sub adult group with Sunbearo, Loki, Bintang, Montom, Susie2, Damai, Kala, Boboi, Kitud, Tan Tan and Mary. They are around one to five years old. After the integration, they have to undergo fence training to be able to release them back to the forest. In the forest, they can learn from the others and improve their survival skills as well. At last, we hope they can be back to the wild sooner or later within the rehabilitation program at the BSBCC.
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
He was surrendered by a villager and was found roaming alone at a villager’s orchard with his mother nowhere to be seen. Noah was handed-over to the Sabah Wildlife Department from Nabawan, a southern part of Sabah, and brought into the BSBCC on the 10th of October, 2016. We have named him “Noah”. We are unsure as to why he was found alone, he may have been abandoned, or his mother may have been killed by poachers. Noah was nervous, alert and timid at first sight during the arrival.
On the 10th of October 2016, Dr. Pakeeyaraj Nagalingam from the Wildlife Rescue Unit of Sabah Wildlife Department, performed a general health check. This included an assessment of his overall health, potential sickness, function of the internal organs and physical condition. During the health check, it was found that Noah’s four milk canines had been crushed off. Because of their small and cuddly appearance, sun bears are used in illegal pet trade. This is common with captive sun bears to prevent them from causing injuries and they are easy to handle. As a pet, he suffered from loneliness, rotting teeth, and malnutrition due to improper diet and care. Little Noah nearly lost everything – just because someone was greedy.
Noah is responding well to treatment. He has been receiving a proper diet and has a big appetite which has increased his body weight. He absolutely loves milk, banana, papaya and honey which ends up being a mouthful! Noah spends hours trying his best to get every drop of delicious honey out of the enrichment logs. As soon as he smells the food, he will quickly descend to find it. He will get involved in various types of enrichment to strengthen his muscles and senses. He is mischievous and prefers wrestles with his care taker. He continues to be as playful as ever!!
One of the BSBCC's missions is to give rescued bears lifelong loving care. The bears are reintroduced to their natural habitat. A huge thanks to the Sabah Wildlife Department who rescued and bought Little Noah to BSBCC. We will provide the best care possible through the rehabilitation process, so someday he can return to the wild. After completing the quarantine phase, Noah will embark on his new life. Little Noah will follow a process of gradual adaptation in the forest till he becomes an independent wild bear, then he will get this unique chance to return to the forest home he was once stolen from. We will take all appropriate steps to ensure that Noah makes a smooth transition into life as a wild sun bear.
We are confident that he will continue to practice the skills needed to survive as a wild sun bear in the future. Noah will spend his days learning new and vital skills in the forest canopy. We cannot wait for the day when Noah is roaming free back in the forest where he belongs.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Dodop was rescued from Singgaron village, Ranau district, Sabah. She was kept as a pet in a small cage. She arrived at BSBCC on 2nd June, 2016.
On June 2nd, 2016, Dr. Rosa Sipangui, a veterinarian from the Sabah Wildlife Department and the BSBCC team performed a general health check. Dr. Rosa sedated Dodop and made a full assessment of her health status. This is crucial for sun bears as it puts us in a position to immediately assess the correct diet and possible medical treatment for them. During the health check it was confirmed that Dodop is missing her all of her four permanent canines. The blood test results on the other side have shown, that she is healthy. Today, Dodop weighs 19.6 kg. She has gained a lot of weight in just one month!
Dodop finished her quarantine on July 2nd, 2016. Dodop settled in well. She has grown into a beautiful young female and also a fussy bear. That is the problem with cubs that have been kept in captivity with close human contact for long periods, which ends in the bears requiring a great need of comfort. People who kept her as pet completely did not know the basic needs of a sun bear. They fed her the wrong diet and made the sun bear be stressed, at times depressed with a poor physical condition and malnutritioned.
Dodop has been introduced to new large dens. The moment she was release into the large den, she barked but then without hesitation, Dodop ran in, looked around, climbing over everything but she still needed to find her surrogate mother to suckle for comfort. During the day she is in big dens with a nice view over the playground. So that she can get used to her new surroundings, where she is taught to use the climbing structures and how to forage for food. We are for example now hiding hid food in her dens so that Dodop could practice foraging skills. In the wild sun bear cubs would be with their mother until they are about three years old. The cubs learn all the necessary behavior and survival skills that they need.
We will be anxious to see how she develops her bear skills. We hope for Dodop to become wilder, which is what we are always looking for in a rehabilitation process. In the coming weeks, Dodop will be introduced to another sun bear cub and taken out for walks to the adjacent forest reserve. Here she will be learn and develop her survival skills for the wild. Stay tuned with BSBCC to have follow ups on Dodop out to the forest story!
Here are photos of Dodop introduction to larger dens.
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May
After a year, it’s time for the bears to do their annual health check.
We really appreciate Dr.Pakeeyaraj Nagalingam, who is a Veterinarian from the Sabah Wildlife Department, Wildlife Rescue Unit, to conduct this health check for all the bears in BSBCC with his valuable time and great efforts.
Each bear requires a full general anesthetic with the purpose of putting them under sedation for doing an extensive health check. After the bear has been darted, it takes some time for the bears to be sufficiently sedated. The bear can only be carried out from the cage once they are sedated enough.
Dr.Pakee conducted a full physical examination including dental condition, paws and wound problems. Growth measurements such as zoological length, head circumstance, neck size, chest girth and shoulder height, and the shank length was taken by bear keepers. All the measurements were recorded in measurement form. We also took hair samples and saliva for research purposes. Blood samples had to be taken by the vet and the samples will be sent to a laboratory in order to get more detail on the health status of the bears.
After we have done all the measurements, we would like to do a paw print for the bears. However, the paw print can only be done when there is not any wounds on their paws. If their paws showed up with wounds, we had to make a record of it.
Lastly, this is the chance for taking a good picture of their chest marks.
All the bears can be considered as healthy bears. However, take the bears away from the wild and keep them in inappropriate conditions can cause many chronic health problems for the bears. They will lose their instinct to take care of themselves.
Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan stayed in quarantine. Now, these three little sub-adult sun bears have moved from quarantine to Bear House 1 to join a big family. Their moving was given a hearty welcome by all the sun bears in the bear house through lots of welcoming barks.
Boboi was the first one who was moved to Bear House 1. He was depressed in the first day. He had no appetite and stayed on the hammock most of the time. Having no friend staying beside him was making him a bit aggressive. Luckily, this situation did not hold for too long. After one day, Kitud was moved to the bear house. Boboi tried his best to take a look at his dearest friend, Kitud, through the cage bar. After Kitud woke up from the health check, they could not wait to stay together. So, keepers integrated them inside a cage. They seemed so happy to have each other. They always stay together in the basket or on the hammock. Boboi grew an appetite after meeting Kitud. They were sharing a tray. After one day more, Tan Tan joined them. Finally, these three little friends met again. And, they help each other to adapt in this new environment. This is because the best enrichment for a bear is other bears.
The happy news for the health check this time is not only Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan joined a big family, but also the very big and special event for Lawa, a 9 year old adult,female bear. Maybe you will be wondering what is the special event for Lawa? And now, we are so happy to share our happiness with you. On June 3rd, 2016, was the collaring for our second release candidate, Lawa. Lawa was surrendered to the BSBCC in 2008 when she was only a one year old cub. She had lost her mother and her forest home, and it was hard to imagine that she ever thought her life might change to be better again.
Lawa is ready to live a new life as a truly wild sun bear! Lawa showed all the signs of an excellent candidate for release after being rehabilitated for nine years. She built up her survival skills and independence and quickly adapted to forest living. Lawa is excellent in climbing trees, foraging for food, nest building and she avoids people! She has explored and stayed in the forest every day for the last nine years.
There was a sunny and challenging day. With the excellent team from the Sabah Wildlife Department, Dr. Rosa Sipangkui and Elis Tambing, Wong Siew Te (BSBCC Founder & CEO) and the BSBCC staff, Lawa was tranquilized without any upset in her forest enclosure. This was so we were able to attach a satellite collar on her before her release into the wild. Our mission of the day was to find Lawa in pen K with the presence of Cerah and Kuamut. All the bear keepers had a short meeting before going to find Lawa. They were fully geared up on this operation. They split into 2 groups, one group went inside the pen and one group stayed outside as backup. We spent some time searching for Lawa due to her high survival skills. She showed up a few times but once she realized something was not right around her, she just ran away from the bear keepers’ eye sight. After a few attempts, finally one of our bear keepers, Thye Lim, found her. She had hidden herself in dense bamboo bushes. With the help of Dr.Rosa Sipangkui and Elis Tambing she was successfully darted in one shot.
Bear keepers moved Lawa from pen K to the bear house once she was under sedation for the health check and collaring. A general health check starts with weighing, she currently weighs 41.3 kg and after an assessment of potential sickness, functionality of organs and physical condition, Wong Siew Te helped fitting the collar on Lawa.
After the health check Lawa was placed into the new forest enclosure. A one month observation will be carried out to make sure the satellite collar functions well and Lawa gets used to the collar. This is a precious opportunity for a bear to be released back to the wild. They belong to the wild. Captivity will never be their first choice. Natalie is the first release candidate bear. Now, Lawa is the second bear candidate for release. It’s time for her to return back to her real home, the forest. It has been a long time but it will never be too late for her to be home. Lawa is extremely curious and has started to explore her new forest environment as a wild sun bear.
It is a pleasure to see a bear given the second chance to return back to where they belong! Thank you to Brad Josephs for your support in helping the fundraising for Lawa’s release. Her journey to freedom has been made possible with generous support and kind contributions from you all!
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Our one year old, female sun bear cub Kala is growing up! Kala was bought by someone on Kalabakan-Sapulut Road near Maliau Basin with the intention of saving the cub they then surrendered her to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit. She had never even been given the chance to experience life as a wild bear - poached from the wild as a cub after her mother was killed; this horrific life was all she had ever known.
When she first arrived at BSBCC, Kala was emaciated, dehydrated and malnourished. Back then her weight was just 3kg and she was very thin.
We are very glad that Kala health is now in a stable condition. She has been relying on FIDO Premium Milk Powder for her growth. A huge thanks to our most generous and certainly loveliest supporters from TTL Distributors Sdn Bhd who have given our orphaned sun bear cubs a life full of meaning and joy.
During her rehabilitation, Kala was taken out for daily forest walks to learn important forest skills by our bear care staff for almost one year. She is making good progress through gaining confidence while climbing in the trees, loving to be outside and finally learning how to be a bear. When she was about one year and three months old, she had reached the age where she was no longer vulnerable for a human to walk with her in the forest.
Last year in November we tried to let Kala meet new cubs and make friends (Boboi, Kitud and Tan-Tan). Unfortunately, Kala was not accepted by her three companions due to her rough play fighting, but we will continue to look for other bears who she might find some companionship with. This is a time for little Kala to make new friends and go out into the sunshine. On February 23rd, 2016 a veterinarian from the Sabah Wildlife Department, Dr Laura Benedict, and Wong Siew Te with our bear care team helped in the moving process. During the process, a general health check on Kala was conducted to assess potential sickness, functionality of organs and physical condition. The blood tests concluded that Kala was a healthy bear and she now weighs 23.35kg.
When moving Kala to her new dens, the other neighboring bears showed curiosity to the little cub. Kala’s den is designed in a semi natural style to give her a real taste of freedom and to stimulate her natural behavior in the wild.
The bear care team has given Kala various enrichment items – these have included puzzle feeders, fire hose bags, fire hose pockets filled with peanut butter, green leaves, logs, and hidden treats encouraging Kala to forage. Little by little she tried out every enrichment and ventured around the new den. Kala is extremely playful and loves to investigate new toys! When it comes to food, she eats all her meals with relish!
These events have given Kala a new journey in life. Beautiful Kala has been so strong and brave in shaking off her past and loves her freedom today. We will continue to help Kala develop the forest skills she needs until she returns to the wild again. The next step for Kala is she will be introduced to the bears who are the same age as her and slowly will have access to the natural forest enclosure. So stay turned!
Text by Kelvin Chee (Intern student)
Photo by Chiew Lin May
In June an annual health check for all the 34 rescued sun bears (13 males, 21 females) was done. This annual health check was done by the Sabah Wildlife Rescue Unit veterinarian, Dr. Sandy Ling Choo, Dr Laura Benedict, Eco Health Alliance and the BSBCC team. The main procedure of the annual health check was a check through of their pulse, respiration, temperature, assessment of their potential sickness (example: signs of disease, ill health, distress and wounds), inspection of their teeth and claws, taking their blood sample, hair sample, measurement of the body parameters and taking prints of the paw. All the bears were also given vitamins and a de-worming injection. Some of the bears were chosen to move from bear house 1 to bear house 2 or bear house 2 to bear house 1.
In the wild, sun bears are solitary animals and at BSBCC they have taken the innovative approach of integrating sun bears. Integration of the sun bears is one of the rehabilitation processes. In order to enable the best use of space and living conditions.
During this period, there were five bears that were selected to undergo castration (physical removal of both testicles from the male bear). Amaco, Gutuk, Kudat, Julaini and Fulung were castrated based on two conditions:
1. Male bears that will never be released in the wild as they are old, injured or need strong human attention
2. Male bears that will never be involved in a captive breeding programme
We hope the castration will further improve the animals’ welfare, promote social behaviour, further learning of survival skills and effectiveness on space use.
After the annual health check for 28 bears from the bear house, next was the bears in quarantine. There were five bears transferred from the quarantine to the bear house. The bears that transferred to the bear house will be living with other bears the same age and will slowly be released to the natural forest enclosure to promote their social behaviour with other bears. This will encourage them to adapt with the forest environment as well. We are hoping that these bears can adapt well in the forest enclosure and can be released back to the wild later as our objective is to rehabilitate the bears and release them back to the wild.
At the end of the health check the bears will be unloaded into their new den. The existing bear house residents will be curious, checking out his/her new neighbour or bark. The next step is that we will provide different types of enrichment for the bears which let them learn and adapt to their new environment.
We are grateful and thanks to the Sabah Wildlife Department and all their support, the health check, castration and moving process for all the 34 bears went smoothly.