Text by Dr. Yeoh Boon Nie
Photos by BSBCC
2019 was a challenging year to initiate a new line of health care for our bears. Dental health in captive wildlife is a common but easily overlooked health issue. Last year we equipped ourselves with the basic equipment required for dental work.
In the past year, we have conducted a detailed dental examination, scaling and polishing for all resident sun bears. We noticed some positive behavioural changes in bears that received dental treatment. The bears are now confidently eating, smiling and playing with a healthier set of teeth.
You must be wondering why they have such terrible oral health.
Before and after dental scaling:
Sun bear dental check-up. We found one of the female bear had chronic gingivitis and dental tartar with numerous loose teeth.
It is ridiculous to assume that human food is suitable to feed wildlife.
“If Bruno could talk, it would surely say the food I gave was delicious. He ate chocolate,”
What would you do if you were locked in an extremely small and barren cage? Bar biting is one of the stereotypical behaviours developed in some of our bear’s prior to being rescued. This behaviour has weakened the tooth, and eventually has resulted in a tooth fracture. The damage caused on teeth is permanent with the treatment likely to be extraction. Without a functional canine tooth, eating a normal diet is greatly affected.
We are glad that last year we started looking into these issues; pin pointed the problems and scheduled the treatments. The work is ongoing and many dental treatments still require expertise from our vet dentist.
Please support our work. Your donation will be channelled towards purchasing more suitable dental equipment, treatment costs for the bears, and funds to seek expertise assistance.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Each rescued sun bear that has arrived at BSBCC were previously kept locked in cages and would try to bite the bars to find their way out; this has caused them to suffer from severe dental disease. Inappropriate diet in the pet trade can also lead to long term dental damage. Dental disease is an often overlooked threat to the comfort and health of bears.
BSBCC organised a workshop about the “Sun Bear Dental Case” on 20-23 Aug 2019. It was a real honour and privilege to have amazing guests from Singapore Zoo, Dr. Ali Anwar and Dr. Serena Oh from Wildlife Asia Veterinary Services (WAVES) came to share their experiences with veterinarians and us about how to detect and treat dental problems in the bears. The workshop focused on animal dental anatomy, dental charts, dental radiography techniques, and periodontal diseases.
Three sun bears: Diana, Logan, and Kudat were chosen to receive treatment for dental radiography and dental extraction. Through receiving these dental care treatments, it will improve the wellbeing and health of the bear.
Thank you Dr. Anwar and Dr. Serena, we will make sure their health continues to improve and they are able to enjoy their nutritious food. See you again!
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.
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.