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.
Text By BSBCC
Photos By BSBCC & Scuba Zoo
Finally able to breathe true freedom in the wild…
Just before Christmas 2010 baby cub Natalie was rescued from illegal pet trade and sent to Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) on December 23rd. It was claimed that she was found alone and abandoned by her mother. However, we suspected that her mother was killed by poachers and she was captured and illegally kept as a pet.
A 5 year old adult female beautiful Natalie built up her survival skills, independence and learned to behave like a wild sun bear. Her improvement in her survival skills in the forest enclosure has been excellent. She became an exceptional climber and tree nest maker. After learning in BSBCC for five years Natalie is ready to be released back to where she belongs – the forest. The ultimate goal of BSBCC is to return rehabilitated sun bears back to the wild and on Sunday May 17th, 2015 it was time to follow this goal; BSBCC started the journey to release Natalie back to the protected forest. Previous to her journey she was fitted with a satellite collar to keep track of her even after her release. In order to transport the sun bear to the forest as far as possible we choose to use a helicopter. After a long discussion, Wong decided that the helicopter model Layang-Layang Aerospace Sdn Bhd (BO105) was the suitable for our purposes because it could fit transportation cage.
This is the FIRST time that a captive sun bear got reintroduced to its natural habitat in Sabah using a helicopter and is monitored post release with the help of a satellite collar. Natalie is ready to live a new life as a truly wild sun bear in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve. The experience she has gathered throughout her 5 years at the rehabilitation centre will help her explore her true home in the core area of Tabin Wildlife Reserve. The core area encompasses 120500 hectares and is a pristine rainforest with no human disturbances but lots of big trees, fig trees and a variety of wildlife.
It was a challenging day. All hopes and prayers were solely for this release activity to go as smoothly as planned. The release team’s preparations already started at 3pm on May 16th, 2015 at the bear house of BSBCC when Sabah Wildlife Department vet, Dr. Laura Benedict started the sedation process. A full physical health examination showed that Natalie was completely healthy at 45kg of weight. Dr. Laura Benedict inserted a microchip into Natalie’s body.
Natalie was then moved to her translocation cage. Natalie’s journey started on a WRU truck to Wildlife Department Quarter Lahad Datu in the east of Sabah, two hours from BSBCC. Natalie was kept in the translocation cage overnight close to the veterinarians, the WRU team and the team of BSBCC. She was under constant observation and fed with water, honey and banana. Natalie seemed to be stressed in the translocation cage, but freedom was just around the corner.
The team woke up early in the morning on May 17th 2015, and got ready at Tabin Headquarter at 6.30 am. After a full assessment, the weather was considered safe for the helicopter to land at Tabin Headquarter. Once the helicopter arrived, the operation was split into three different trips. With the first two trips the team entered the mud volcano of Tabin to evaluate and identify the most suitable release site.
At 10.17 am, it was Natalie’s turn to be flown to Tabin mud volcano
Once Natalie arrived, the team set up the translocation cage in the correct direction for release. Dr. Laura Benedict conducted a final check, to ensure that Natalie was ready to enter her new home!
A 20 m rope was tied to the sliding gate of the cage. The team stood 15 m away from the translocation cage.
As soon as the door of her cage was opened, Natalie straight headed into the forest. She explored everything, sniffed the air of Tabin and assessed her new environment before disappearing into the tall tree canopy of the forest. Tabin Wildlife Reserve has welcomed her into a new protected home. The emotions running through the forest while watching Natalie enjoying her newfound freedom are un-describable. A heart-warming moment filled with tears of joy.
Wildlife Rescue Unit team, Tabin Rangers, BSBCC team and Scuba Zoo Filming Crews in Tabin Headquarter. Thanks for all your support in helping sun bear and release work.
Natalie! Stay healthy, happy and keep growing gracefully!
You will always be in our hearts!
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
This rescue did not change the world that we lived in, but it definitely changed the whole world of these three rescued bears!
Why does sun bear’s survival threatened? Sun bears are threatened for various reasons; one reason in particular is humans. Human activities pose many threats to sun bears and their habitat. Intensive illegal logging paired with increased agricultural expansions are just two ways in which humans are forcing sun bears out of their homes. Illegal animal trade is also leading to the extinction of sun bears. Mothers are being killed so that their cubs can be taken in as pets; many of which end up in small cages, and due to a lack of knowledge on how to properly handle the babies, often times they become malnourished and traumatised. This needs to stop if we ever want to see wild sun bears living happy and free in the rainforest!
This past July, the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre received three rescued sun bears named Ronnie, Susie and Chin. These three rescued sun bears arrived at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre from the Lok Kawi Wildlife Zoo in Kota Kinabalu.
We prepared a quarantine area for the bears which included a den enriched with decayed wood, climbing structures, hammocks, and green leaves. Upon arrival to the centre we unloaded the bear’s cages and secured it safely to the gate of the den. When we opened the doors the bears were hesitant to go inside. All three of them were slightly stressed from the move, but eventually each one entered its new home and began to explore.
All newly rescued bears must undergo a month long quarantine period so that wildlife veterinarians can conduct an extensive health check, blood and hair examinations, and monitor the body measurements of the bears.
Ronnie, a five month old female sun bear cub is always capturing people’s attention! Her history is still unknown but we believe that she was kept as a ex-pet and was sent to the BSBCC on July 15, 2014. Her mother was most likely killed by poachers, and now, this kind natured gentile sun bear is quickly adjusting to her new surroundings.
When Ronnie arrived at the centre, she weighed only 7.9 kg and took the spot as youngest bear at the centre, as well as one of the smallest. Now her weight is 10.8 kg.
She is learning all the skills pertinent to survival in the wild. She is also enjoying this learning process very much, and loves to play in the dirt! She also likes to dig, and tear apart the dead wood around her.
If we give her ginger leaves or decayed branches, she will spend an entire day biting, twisting or tearing apart her enrichments.
During play fights, Ronnie likes to show her small curved canines and sharp claws.
Now that Ronnie is getting plenty of milk and fruit to eat she is developing a big belly too!
We special made a new sleeping platform for Ronnie so that she can seek shelter and hide when she encounter strange condition.
Aside from playing in her new environment, she also enjoys her nap time and snoozing on her sleeping platform.
The chest mark of Ronnie similar to sun shaped with sprinkled with light black dots.
Susie, a 3 year old sub-adult female sun bear came to the centre on July 15, 2014. She was kept illegally as a pet by an individual who bought her from the Pensiangan Village in the Keningau District while she was still cub. He paid RM 200 for Susie. The owner's son then surrenders Susie to the Sabah Wildlife Department on June 2014. The previous owner fed her primarily rice, meat, honey and fruits. Susie now weights 23 kg.
Susie can be short tempered and rather sensitive, and is quite aware when strangers are around. When food is present, especially her favourite varieties of fruits, she eats extremely fast.
Susie has a large and broad chest mark with a “meteor” at the middle of her body.
Chin, an adult female sun bear, arrived to BSBCC from Lok Kawi Wildlife Zoo on July 22, 2014. Chin is named after the primary school that she was rescued from in Tawau, a town in the southeast region of Sabah. Chin was kept at the primary school’s mini zoo for a very long time and was displayed illegally in a small metal cage. She was previously fed fruits, bread, and milk while she was kept at the school.
Upon arrival we discovered that Chin is missing her left hind claw, which for a human would be the ring finger on the left hand.
Chin may look like a heavy and grumpy bear but she is actually a gentle and friendly bear.
We believe that Chin was never given any enrichment when she was kept at the mini zoo, which explains her curious behaviour towards enrichment activities. Here at the centre she is finding more and more activities to enjoy! Chin loves to tear things into pieces, such as dead logs and coconuts, and is a big fan of ginger leaves! She also loves playing in the water and enjoys splashing water out of the water basin onto her chest.
Chin's chest mark
Well, these three new bears are doing well at BSBCC now! The bears slowly put their past behind them and are learning to live like wild bears again! Next step for the rescued sun bears will be integrating them with other bears, and slowly giving them access to the natural forest enclosure. The bears are in good hands with our caring staffs, and have been nurtured back to health. Throughout the day we provide different types of enrichment for the bears, and allow them the ability to freely explore, play, and forage. These activities stimulate their natural behaviour and help to prepare them for life back in the wild. Currently the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is taking care of 35 rescued sun bears, and is delighted to care for these bears!
Text and Photos by Risa Arimoto (有本リサ)
I volunteered in BSBCC for two weeks. I’m from Japan and studying Veterinary Medicine in my university. This is my first time to come to Malaysia. One day I got friends from Malaysia in my university. They told me about Malaysia's beautiful nature and wild animals, especially in Borneo!
Here in Sepilok, I could see exactly! You can sleep with birds singing, see wild animals, full of stars…
I almost misunderstood, this is just a vacation. But I could work for Bornean Sun Bears!!
I helped workers clean bear’s dens, cut fruits and vegetables, feed them by walking in the jungle.
We cut these fruits every morning for sun bears. Even just cutting or calculating the fruits or vegetables is hard work! Because bears eat a lot, sometimes I got muscular pain. A whole pumpkin is the most hard to cut! I haven’t seen that such a big pumpkin in Japan…
Bears are inside fence. The fence last PenA to PenE. We can walk in the jungle, but with the bucket full of fruits or vegetables are a little bit difficult to walk.
The way they eat cucumbers, sugar canes, bananas, coconuts, pineapples, corns... everything is really cute!! And I surprised they are skillfull with their craws.
The time I watch how they eat in the forest is my most favorite time.
Eating a cucumber
I took this picture during she peal a coconut. I wanted to see her style drinking a coconut. She pealed almost all coconut's skin, but she suddenly stopped! Because she was tired of pealing a coconut!!
I also helped make hammock for bears. This is for enrichment. They use fire hose for this. It’s very clever and ecological!!
I was really really lucky, because I could see 5 bears coming to the center, also their medical check.
Yes, I am the first volunteer could see that!! Yeah!!
When they were coming, they roared scary voice. I haven't heard that in the center before. Because bears in the center are really used to the center and people. I was afraid of that voice , but I think bears are more frightened than us. And the most scary part is to transport cage to new cage. Bears are instantly not in the cage. Sun bears are smaller than other bears and sometimes they behave like a human, but when I saw the new bears from wild or heared their scary voice taught me once again they are real bears.
The next day, I could see the health check. I thought I just could see that but I could help Mr. Wong take TPR and blood samples!! I'm so sorry bears, I was afraid of you! Because maybe you have bad diseases!! I learnt in my school about animal's bacteria, parasites and a lot of diseases. But this experience is my first time touched wild animal. That was amazing! I was so excited! His(that new bear's name is Ronney) fare, claws, body, how to breathe, tongues... Everything is interesting! I haven’t seen these so closely.
I know they are not pets, so I shouldn't touch them, treat as pets just curious or for fan. In BSBCC, keepers and workers know a lot about sun bears. Their behaviors, why they do, what they want.. and they always think what is the best for bears.
Some people say, why you captured bears and feed them, Let's release bears to the jungle! At first, I thought almost same thing.
But I learnt if bears don't know how to survive, they can't live in jungle. If they don't have mother while they are young, they can't survive. So people in the BSBCC become their mother. They treat bears so well not as pets , as wildlife.
Yes, they are really serious about bears, BUT they are also funny person!!
Bear house always full of laughter.
And they bring me to Sandakan city to eat sea food, Sepilok Orang Utan Center, bird watching....
I went there with Thye lim(quick tongued),Tommy(play boy),Bee Yin(intelligent girl), Azzry(OTAKU)and David(Hentaino ojisan)!!
I had great great great time with not only sun bears but also staffs in BSBCC.
When I go back to Japan, I'll tell my friends, family, classmates about sun bears and my experience!
And I hope I could come back here again!!!!
Thank you so much!!!
Text by Jocelyn Stokes
Photos by BSBCC Staffs
Late Monday night, the BSBCC staff waited patiently in the moonlight as a large truck full of bears slowly pulled into the conservation centre’s docking area. It was 10pm on the 10th of March, when five rescued sun bears arrived at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre from Lok Kawi Zoo, Kota Kinabalu. The BSBCC is grateful to receive the assistance of the Wildlife Rescue Unit from Sabah Wildlife Department in their efforts to bring these bears to their new home
As the bears barked and rattled their cages, the staff managed to safely unload and transfer the four adult bears and one cub into the centre’s new rehabilitation facilities, all within the course of only 3 hours! Only one bear required sedation for the transfer, which occurred the following day in addition to a health check, revealing that this big, blue-eyed male is in good physical condition.
While observing the freshly-relocated baby sun bear explore its new home, Wong Siew Te, CEO & Founder of the BSBCC, announced that this beautiful young male will be named 'Sunbearo' in recognition of all the enabling support that the company Neways has given to the centre. “Without the generous support of companies like Neways, these bears could not have been given a home here,” Wong said with deep appreciation.
Wong and Sunbearo's first feeding. Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre mission is to conserve sun bear through improving animal welfare, raising conservation awareness with education, conducting research, and rehabilitating the sun bear cubs like Sunbearo who have the second chance to return his life in the forest!
In Sabah it is completely illegal to hunt or keep sun bears captive because the Bornean sun bear is a Class I protected species. Although it is illegal to keep sun bears, it is sadly not uncommon and wild sun bear populations continue to be at risk. Sigalung, Phin, Diana, Ronney and Sunbearo are the names of our well-received new bears. They are all victims of this crime. The BSBCC is grateful for the opportunity to assist them in their plight, however it is necessary to remember why they need our help.
In the midst of all the inherent excitement of receiving 5 new bears, a surprise guest visited the centre as well. Sir David Attenborough, famed naturalist and narrator, was graciously welcomed to the BSBCC with a personal tour from Wong as they observed and discussed the sun bears together. Although the bears being observed in the forest enclosure may not have been especially aware of his presence, Wong the BSBCC staff, were quite pleased to welcome such an honorary guest.
More news on the progress of our new arrivals will be coming soon, so stay connected as we embrace our new count of 32 sun bears!
Text by Dawn Tukalan and photo by Gloria Ganang
It’s time for another health check in BSBCC. The sun bear health check has to be done to detect disease at an earlier stage for a better control of diseases and also to avoid it from transmit to other sun bear.
This time its Om’s turn to undergo the annual health checks. Unlike the usual physical checks and blood sample, the veterinarian also has to perform a dental surgery on Om’s to remove the loose tooth.
We were hoping that Om’s tooth will drop out itself overnight, but it did not happen. The following day, BSBCC staff prepares all items needed for the health check and waiting for Om to be sedated by Dr Nigel, a vet from Orang Utan UK Appeal. Once Om’s weighted, he was move to the surgery table where Dr Nigel performed the surgery and assisted by Wai Pak (BSBCC) and Dr Vivien (UK Appeal). BSBCC staff also assisted in taking Om’s body measurements and body temperature.
Figure 2 Dr Nigel assisted by Dr Vivien and BSBCC staff
The surgery was successful as Dr Nigel able to remove the loose tooth and the health check went on without hassle. Om was transferred to his den and his condition was monitored. It may take few weeks before Om can enjoy another coconut. There are 18 sun bear left to go through the annual health check.
Text by Chiew Lin May and Joanna Yeo Mei Ling
Photo by Dawn Serene and Tee Thye Lim
As we approach the end of the year, it is time for the sun bears at BSBCC to do their annual health check. Typically conducted within the time frame of an hour, the purpose of the check up is to allow the Veterinary team to make a full assessment of the sun bears’ health status. These include an assessment of their overall health, potential sickness (e.g. signs of distress, ill-health, disease, injury etc.), functioning of the internal organs, healing rate of their wounds and physical being. If needed, medications and treatments are also provided during the examination. The veterinary team has been very helpful in giving advices and instructions for the care of our sun bears.
The first two bears to undergo health examination were female adult sun bears, Keningau (12 years old) and Susie (6 years old). This time round, the health check is done by a veterinarian from the Sabah Wildlife Department with the help of senior ranger Mr. Elis Tambing. Conducted in the morning, the entire procedure took around 2 hours to complete.
A typical health check starts off with the bears being put on general anesthesia. Following, the veterinary team will perform a thorough check on the bears’ health that includes the measurement of their weight, a check through of their physical condition, temperature, pulse and respiration rate as well as an inspection of their teeth, claw and joints. Blood and hair samples were also obtained to do further testings on potential infections by parasites. A few members of the BSBCC team, Gloria, Dawn, Thye Lim, Beyri and myself were also there to assist the veterinary team.
The procedure will then end off with the sun bears being brought back to their dens and monitoring the condition of the bears. For the coming weeks, the same routine will be conducted on the rest of the bears at the centre.
Text by Siew Te Wong; Photo by Pia Sundstrom
Debbie the female sun bear cub was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department on January 6th and sent to us on the following day. Today (Feb 16,) we did the first health check for Debbie since she was sent here about a month ago. The check up is a routine check up for all new bears house in BSBCC to inspect abnormality, potential diseases, and body condition. Debbie was sedated by the Veterinarian from Sabah Wildlife Department and Orangutan Appeal UK Dr. Nigel Hicks and senior ranger Mr. Elis Tambing. All of the handling process went well. We also took body measurements, where she tipped the scale at 13 kg, hair samples, and blood sample. Everything looks pretty good for her. Although we did not weigh her when she first came here, I am sure that she has again few kilograms over the past 5 weeks and deposited some fat on her as well as we found out during the check up. Once the blood test results came back and clear for any diseases, she will join the party of Mary and Fulung to form the sun bear cub gang. For the youngster, there are no better enrichment than the companionship of other cubs when they are in captivity. Together they can interact with each other, play fight with each other, support with each other, and snuggle with each other!
Grow well Debbie! We are glad that you are in our care.
It is time for an annual health check for the sun bears in Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. On October 7th and 8th, Dr Diana Ramirez from Wildlife Rescue Unit, Sabah Wildlife Department performed a general health check on 8 of our bears- Susie, Keningau, Takob, Manis, Cerah, Jelita, Lawa and Om. This health check is a routine annual medical checkup for all of our bears to assess health, potential sickness, function of the internal organs, and physical condition.
During the checking, the bears were first being sedated with sedative so that we can handle them safely. Once they were unconscious, Dr Diana took blood samples, give deworming and multivitamin injections, while Elis (senior ranger of SORC), Wai Pak, Roshan and me were busy monitoring TPR (temperatures, pulse rate, and respiration rate), taking body measurements and photos, colleting hair samples (for future DNA studies). This was also a good opportunity to show Roshan, who will start his MSc project studying wild sun bear next year, on the procedures of handling and taking data on the wild sun bear in the future.
The checking and handling procedures went smoothly without any complication. The team took about 30 minutes to complete all the tasks. After that, the sedated bears were placed in their den to recover from the sedative, which usually took an hour or less. We will conduct the medical check on more of our bears in the coming week. Thanks for the hard work for all staff and especially Dr Diana! Gracias!
Sun bears are the smallest among the 8 living bear species. However, relative to their small size, their canines are largest among these bear species. Here is a close up photo of the canines from Om, a 6 year male sun bear in his prime age. Note the lower right canine was broken. Wild sun bear usually suffered from broken or chipped canines as a result of biting and breaking into hard wood to find bee nest.