Text by Pradeep Aggi Gunasegaran
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Rescued Bear Number 56 which goes by the name Soo maybe be well known among the loyal supporters of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) but for those of you who are new to our cause, here is a little flashback to the beginning of Soo’s life. The details that were provided to us spoke briefly about Soo being traded in a market at Sook, Keningau in the year of 2015. She was purchased by her owner for RM 350 and then lived as pet for two years in the interior division of Sabah. In 2017, Sabah Wildlife Department rescued Soo and handed her over to BSBCC when she was already at the age of three years old. There is no doubt that Soo’s mother would have been killed for her to be sold in a market. A mother bear would always try her best to protect her cub just as like it was potrait in a recent trending news (June 2021) which mentioned that a young American woman pushes off a brown bear to save her dogs. If you would have seen the entire CCTV footage, you would notice that the brown bear had two cubs and the mother bear became defensive when the dogs started barking frantically.
Like any other sun bears that end in BSBCC, Soo also underwent a health check upon arrival. However, unlike many sun bears which arrive in poor health conditions, Soo’s blood work indicated that she was healthy. While her general health was in order, Soo was not adjusting well to the surrounding. She was always in heightened alert state as keeper were around in the day. She would only eat her food and play with environmental enrichment after the keepers leave at the end of the day. The changes to her behaviour were subtle as she would aggressively start pacing if there is the slightest form of stressor such a single loud noise. As her behaviour slowly improved, it was decided that Soo’s rehabilitation process would take a positive turn by integrating her with Sika, Kina, BJ; three young sun bears and Diana; our adult female sun bear. At the beginning of the integration, Soo was apprehensive and confused at time when it came to interacting with the other bears. Although, it was difficult for her in the beginning, she eventually got along with all the other sun bears and she was able to eat, play and sleep together with them. Soo remained vigilant to the presence of keepers but having other sun bears around her did allow her to be more relaxed in comparison to her early life as a solitary bear since arriving at BSBCC.
After staying at BSBCC’s quarantine section for few years, Soo was transferred to bear house with her friends Sika, Kina and BJ in 2020. It was another stressful yet a necessary process that had to be endured by Soo in her rehabilitation program. This time around, there were more sun bears around where she could either see them or catch their smell and of course, there were also more keepers and volunteers around as well. Soo spent her first week clinging to the top of the den, refusing to shift dens for cleaning to be done or even coming down to take her food as long as she knew that keepers were still in the bear house even if they were not standing in front of her. Once she settled down in bear house, the next step in her rehabilitation process was undergoing fence training. Surprisingly, Soo was first to pass fence training among her friend. As soon as Sika, Kina and BJ passed their fence training, all of them were released into Pen G, a small forest enclosure. This time around the transition from a small enclosed space; which was very familiar to her to a large open space was tremendously difficult for Soo.
After a few of month, Soo did not touch the soil in Pen G and it was decided that her entire group would be shifted to Pen K as an effort to get Soo living her life as a wild sun bear. When Soo, Sika, Kina, and BJ were released into Pen K, the initial results were similar as Soo refused to step down to venture into the forest while the others were quick the enjoy the much bigger forest enclosure. It also took Soo few month before she gathered the courage to step on the concrete flooring of Pen K, a flooring that is much familiar to a sun bear like Soo. After a combine of seven months, the bear care unit spotted Soo venturing into the forest enclosure. Although she was brave enough to indulge herself with nature, by afternoon, Soo would be back to bear house, on the all too familiar concrete flooring, waiting for the keepers to bring her back into the bear house later in the evening. In March 2021, Soo and her friends were once again shifted to Pen G as per the rotational practice under BSBCC. Unfortunately, the cycle repeats itself for Soo as she has yet to set her paw onto the ground of Pen G at this point of writing.
The rehabilitation process undergone by Soo with BSBCC has been a long and slow process. The reaction that Soo has been giving throughout the process clearly indicates that she is a traumatised Bornean Sun Bear. The actions of us, the human-beings have robbed her the essence of living her life as a sun bear; especially when she was a mere cub which could have lived peacefully with her mother for at least two years, learning the way of a sun bear.
Sun bears are a totally protected species, protected by the law in Sabah. It is illegal to hunt, to be kept as a possession or to be involved in any activity that could cause harm to a sun bear. Sun bear cubs are cute but it is also a reason for the depleting population of sun bears in the wild and the growing cubs end up having a traumatising lives just like Soo’s. Please say no to illegal wildlife trade and if you happen to see any sun bears being sold, you can alert the Sabah Wildlife Department or BSBCC.
As for Soo, BSBCC would continuously put in the effort to aid her with the rehabilitation program. We would also like to convey our appreciation to Perbadanan Insurans Deposit Malaysia (PIDM) who is adopting Soo under the My Bear Adoption Programme which further aids in our cause to give a second chance to the rescued Bornean Sun Bears in Sabah.
Text by Poon Siau Hui
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
BJ, the energetic five year old male bear was staying in Bear House 2. He was the 61st Bear rescued by the BSBCC. When he gets his favorite foods, he will guard his food by barking loudly.
When he was just five months old, he was purchased in Sonsogon Village, Pitas for RM 300 and then kept as a house pet. He arrived at the BSBCC on November 22nd 2018 when he was two years old. As his previous owner had fed him with rice, meat, honey, and fruits, he weighed 33.8kg.
As BJ is one of the illegal trade victims of a young age, we believe that his mother was either poached or killed. Normally in the wild, the sun bear cub will be cared for by their mother until 2 to 3 years of age.
When entering his new environment and surroundings, BJ takes time to adapt in the den. But as soon as he settled down and was no longer traumatized, he was given a chance to integrate with a larger social group of female bears – Kina, Sika, Soo, and Diana. By integrating with others bears, he can learn how to be a REAL bear and adjust his life living with bears not humans.
To proceed with the rehabilitation process, BJ, Soo, Kina, and Sika were moved to Bear House 2 and released into Pen G. But before BJ is released into the forest enclosure Pen G, he needs to go through fence training. At first BJ was afraid to go outside as this is another new environment for him. But after he tried to be brave and step out into the forest, he falls in love with it. He loves the texture of the ground which is covered with soil not concrete, the place where he belongs.
BJ really learnt a lot on how to be a real sun bear again,bonding with his friends. Hopefully one day he will fulfill all the criterias which a wild sun bear should have and have a chance to feel the freedom in the rainforest.
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by BSBCC & Chiew Lin May
Sweet Manis has been at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) since August 2009. During the arrival, she was suspected to be pregnant. However, her pregnancy was later found to be a pseudo pregnancy. Manis means “Sweet” in Malay language.
Manis was found having health problems which caused changes in skin colour and dryness. Her health condition has improved with intensive treatment and care. She has received health checks since arriving at her new home. Manis settled into the new environment very quickly. A nutritious and balanced diet was given to her.
Being kept as a pet for years can have an effect on the sun bears physical and mental health. Manis will show more stereotypical behaviours in the dens. It is believed that she was never given any enrichment when she was kept at the zoo, thus leading to her stereotypical behaviour. The volunteers and keepers provide different types of enrichment to encourage Manis’s natural behaviour and for stimulation. Manis is a curious bear that is keen on interacting with the new enrichment toys offered. She now has dry leaves as a bed which she has never had before.
After she finished quarantine period, Manis soon moved to the next stage of her rehabilitation. In 2010, Manis was integrated with the larger adult female bear group – Cerah, Jelita, Kuamut, Susie and Lawa.
Manis and her friends were moved to the new bear house on 7th April 2010, after the construction of bear house 1 and forest enclosure 1 was completed.
Integrating them with other bears will enable them to share and roam the forest enclosure together. It also allows Manis to continue to learn more wild sun bear behaviours. Besides, there has been a significant change in Manis’s behaviour since she has bear pals. Over the years, we have watched her grow into a gentle and dominant adult bear. She is the “grandmother” of the group.
Preparing for life in the wild can be a long process. Sun bear cubs will live with their mother for two to three years to learn the skills they will need to become wild sun bears. But for Manis’s case, she will not be able to be released in the wild due to her old age. But in BSBCC, Manis will be given a second chance to survive as a wild bear in order to let her have the freedom to live in the rainforest.
On July 2012, it was the first time for Manis to begin exploring the forest world when she was released into the forest enclosure and was able to be free to forage, climb, play, explore the world and acquire a variety of other survival skills.
Despite her age, Manis tends to spend more time on the ground than climbing high in trees. This includes looking for termites and taking naps. Manis has adapted well to life as a sun bear and is leaving her past behind her. She enjoys the forest and displays absolute enthusiasm!
We cannot imagine the future for sun bears if they continue being caught and sold as house pets, or their home continues to be lost. We must protect sun bears and their forest. Please help to stop illegal wildlife trafficking.
Susie was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department on 07 August 2008. She was being kept as an illegal pet. The owner claimed that Susie was dancing inside the cage. Susie has lost everything –mother, love, wild instinct.
Fortunately, she has given a second chance. Now she is safe and having a lot of fun learning about forest life. She has grown into a beautiful strong bear! Please share her story!
Day 134: The best enrichment of a bear always is another bear!
Most of the rescued bear in BSBCC is being separated from the mother bear and kept as a pet, which causing they spend most of the time having contact with human (direct or non-direct) in the unnatural environment. After living alone in a cage, on 25th December 2020, Little Betung finally free from trauma and now has made new bear friends for the first time in her life.
Through integration, it will help to change these bears' lives and provide them with more physical and mental stimulation, reduce stress, and allow them to learn vital survival skills. Rescued bears learning from each other (bear copying bear behaviour) facilitate the rehabilitation process in our centre - building up their confidence for stepping out again into the forest floor, climbing trees, and self-defense.
Interactions between Betung, Kipaku, and Itam have shown to be positive. Itam & Kipaku help her adjust to her new life and learn how to be a bear again. They enjoy playing, exploring, and making us fall in love with their beautiful smiles!
Text & Photos by Seng Yen Wah
There are two bear stories that began in the year of 2016 at BSBCC.
The story began at a place named Nabawan, an area in the southern part of Sabah. One day in 2016, a villager saw a dog in her orchard. When she tried to look closer, she noticed the dog has round ears and sharp claws. She then realized the dog was actually a sun bear! The sun bear had been kept as a pet ever since. On the 19th of August 2016, the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) rescued him and sent him to Lok Kawi Zoo. The bear came to BSBCC when he was five months old and weighed 8.6kg on the 10th of October 2016. When he was just brought here, his four baby teeth were supposed to be more curved and sharper but were found being reduced to a squarish and smoothen condition which affected his teething structure and arrangement. Despite this condition, he has healthily grown into a four-year-old sub adult male bear and is named Noah.
Another story happened in Kota Marudu, an area in the north of Sabah. This story belongs a six years old adult male bear named Nano. Back in 2016, Nano was kept in a small chicken mesh cage. A lady saw him and wanted to end his unfortunate life. She knew the bear was going to suffer in that small cage and she then decided to purchase Nano for a price of RM1,500 to save his life. After that, she surrendered Nano to the SWD and that sent him to BSBCC on the 20th of November 2016. When he first arrived at BSBCC, he just weighed 9.7kg at the age of two years old.
Noah and Nano were each other’s first bear friend! They always stay together. They look different and have quite different personalities. For instance, Noah is a happy bear and an explorer. He seems like having nothing to worry about in his life and is always curious about everything! Noah has a brighter colour snout and a longer body shape. On the contrary, Nano is shy. He is very alert to the surroundings and gets stressed easily. Nano has a shinier coat and a smaller body size. Noah’s friendly efforts had changed Nano’s life day by day. Nano has changed from being aggressive and inactive to peaceful and active. Due to their friendship and interactions, Nano has become braver and brighter!
After a year of rehabilitation, Noah and Nano explored the forest for the very first time in 2017. Noah was excited about the adventure outside. He was confident and enjoyed freedom. However, Nano showed more distress to explore a new environment. Nano timidly took his time to go out, but Noah never gave up on him. After a few months, Nano finally put his trauma behind him and enjoyed the forest activities with Noah. Even though they are “beary” good friends, they still fight sometimes. However, if Nano is in trouble, Noah will run towards Nano and get him out of the trouble. No bears in BSBCC can bully Nano! Nano feels more secure whenever Noah is around. They just can’t leave each other alone!
Noah and Nano really enjoy their daily forest activities such as digging, foraging, and climbing. Noah is like Nano’s big brother. Noah starts the adventure of the day and Nano is happy to be his follower. They both are foodies. Before and during the food giving, Nano always guards food and Noah will respond as if they are communicating in Bear Language. It is a joy to see them always together like a Best Bear Friends! Hope they gain more courage and sharpen their forest survival skills to ready themselves for their release together in the wild one day!
Text & Photos by Seng Yen Wah
Let’s meet our two rescued bear cubs, Kipaku and Itam.
Kipaku, is a five months old male bear cub. He was found in a forest fire site. After that, he was being kept as a house pet in Kampung Kipaku at Tambunan. He came to the BSBCC on the 18th of July, 2020. Kipaku is a bright and active bear. However,due to his history as a house pet, he is used to the presence of humans. He feels stressed and bawls when he sees there are no people around him.
On the other hand, Itam, is a seven months old female bear cub. She was found at Kampung Maimatom, Kemabong and kept in Kampung Kuala Sabinait, Pagalungan at Nabawan. When she was found, she had wounds from dog bites on her body. She came to the BSBCC on the 27th of July. Itam is an alert and shy bear. Her eyes were always focused on the surroundings.
Kipaku and Itam may come to BSBCC by a different story, but what they have in common is they both are alone now. To provide a better life for these little two cubs, giving them a new friend can encourage their social behaviour and helps them learn from each other. The best enrichment of a bear always is another bear!
This is how their friendship started.
On the 30th of Jul, 2020, was the first day Kipaku and Itam met. However, it is was not pleasant . Kipaku first gives a warning bark to Itam. Kipaku stayed in the hanging platform while Itam stayed in the basket. They both kept huffing and barking. There was not much progress during the first three days of their integration. This is due to neither of them wanting to get close to the other and they were still huffing, growling and barking.
Slowly, Itam took the first move to approach Kipaku. However, Kipaku always warns her to stay away. Itam still tries hard every time. She has no fear of Kipaku’s warning. Due to Itam’s fearless efforts and countless tries, they are getting closer day by day.
Finally after a week,we saw them begin their friendship! Now, Itam always follows behind Kipaku. They are always biting, pawing and wrestling. Kipaku still likes to paw Itam hard. However, Itam is always tolerant with Kipaku. They share food and enrichment and also sleep together. It is so lovely to see their precious friendship. We are hoping that they can grow and learn together and believe that one day they will return to the wild together.
Text & Photos by Chiew Lin May
Simone and Sigalung were victims of the illegal pet trade. Simone was kept in a Mini Zoo Hot Spring in Tawau and Sigalung was rescued from a logging camp in Sipitang. We know what really happened to their mothers to get the baby - despite it being illegal to keep a sun bear as a pet in Malaysia. Rescued sun bears take a long brave step to overcome the psychological trauma they endure during their captive life. Through integration it will help to change these bears lives and provide them with more physical and mental stimulation, reduce stress and allow them to learn vital survival skills. It has been four years, Sigalung did not have the best company because of his aggressive behaviour. We hoped that one day he would be able to find a new bear friend for life.
On 6th June 2020, we shifted Sigalung to the other Bear House. He tends to acclimatise quickly to new environments. The next move was integration with another bear. Due to Sigalung’s rough play behaviour, the integration between the two bears was handled with care. When the sliding door between the bears was opened, Sigalung immediately tried to approach Simone – vocalizing, sniffing, and grabbing her. Sigalung amazed us all with his courage. He was excited and full of energy. Simone was cautiously curious with Sigalung and quite accepted him. Both started gentle-play fighting for more than 30 minutes. It was love at first sight!
Thankfully, it was a positive social interaction, they were play wrestling after the initial introductions. They seem well matched and no aggression was observed. At the end of the wrestling, Sigalung went to the basket and had a rest. They both share their bear stories, food, and enrichment. They have logs and toys to explore to keep them entertained. Sigalung loves his treats. He is always the first to grab enrichment. Nobody is going to stop him from enjoying this.
We are looking forward to watching Sigalung and Simone explore the forest enclosure and learn the skills essential to surviving in the wild together.
Text by Ezi Nurayu binti Abd Wahab (UMS Intern Student)
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Along, the beautiful name given by his previous owner. Yes! He is a male sun bear. He is rescue bear 49. Before he came to BSBCC, he was placed at Mini Zoo Hot Spring in Tawau and was displayed with Simone, a female sun bear, in the same enclosure. Both of them were surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department in early January 2016. After that, they were quarantined at Lok Kawi Wildlife Park.
Along showed his aggressiveness once the transportation cage was being moved and he was continually barking. He was pacing fast inside the cage and kept barking at people passing through. Maybe he felt threatened due to the new environment. But, no worries, Along! You will be safe here. Big hug!
At the time they were integrated, Along became hyperactive once he met Simone.
During my observation of Along, he kept climbing on his cage and looking in Simone’s cage to see Simone. I am so confident that he wanted to play with Simone at that time.
Along did his fence training in August 2016 and he successfully passed in that session. Finally, Along knew how to prevent himself from getting zapped by the electric fence. He was one step closer to the forest enclosure. Bravo Along!
Along’s first time stepping out to the forest was on March 19th, 2017. He improvised to adapt in the new environment. He knew not to go close to the electric fence. He was very alert with his surroundings. He kept looking into the next enclosure to see them and what they did.
As you can see in photo,, Along is frequently climbing up his cage to get himself into the basket. Then, he will take a nap in there. He is easily woken up by noise made by the other bears. So, that is why he only sleeps for a little while.
Along was enjoying himself finding the hidden dog biscuits inside the dry leaves. He is actually a very good food explorer. He is enrichments number 1 lover. No doubt! He wants to be the first to receive the enrichment from the bear keeper. Or else he will bark at you and make some noise! You can see his hot temper in this situation for sure!
By looking at Photo 7 above, don’t you feel scared? He has strong canines! But, do not worry, no harm on you! Because……he is in his cage!
He was readying himself to play with the enrichment in a standing position. He was struggling to take out the food inside the enrichment by using his long tongue. When he could not take it out, he then lost his temper. Either he tried to break the enrichment or paced in his cage.
Along was enjoying himself by playing with his swing honeycomb enrichment. He successfully pulled out the ginger leaves (on the floor already) from the honeycomb. Later then, he used the power of his strong sensory skills to explore the honey inside and licked it out by using his tongue.
As you can see in photo, he used his maximum energy to destroy the rotten wood. He was digging up the wood by using his strong claws and long tongue. He maximized the enrichment usage. No waste to the playful things is Along’s motto! Not to forget, he is a very good enrichment breaker too!
You know what? Along’s enjoyment of the enrichment can be clearly shown when he plays with the Aussie dog ball and the fire hose pocket. He played with them until his body rolled him up like a swiss roll. But, a black swiss roll version of course! Unfortunately, I cannot video him to show you. I only have words and for sure you can imagine how funny he is in that time, can’t you?
Based on my observations of Along, I have found out he paces back and forth, especially in the morning and while not in feeding time yet. He is a very good eater and his food is always finished. He can only sleep for a little while because he is easily woken due to noise which mostly he stays and sleeps on the basket in his cage.
Whatever your personality is, we still forever love you.
Enjoy your time in your current place.
Because one day, you will leave this centre and us as well!
Let’s fight together to achieve your dream to go to your original habitat soon!
Stay healthy, always……
Text by Vincent Chin Yung Fook (UMS Intern Student)
Photos by BSBCC & Chiew Lin May
Kudat, a lovely 12-year old, male bear currently being kept in Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). A little bit of story about Kudat’s past life, Kudat was originally captured from Tawau district but was sent to the Kudat district.
He was kept and presented as a ‘Panda’ together with his female friend, Panda, at Victoria Mini Zoo, Kampung Parapat, Kudat. The bears were confiscated in 2010 by Sabah Wildlife Department after the public had complained due to animals being kept in an unsatisfactory environment. It was revealed that the bears were kept illegally.
Kudat, together with his friend Panda, were living in a small cage with no natural habitat at all. Wild animals belong to the wild and are not for entertainment. Due to increasing rates of people wanting to see wild animals, there are more people tending to illegally capture and confine animals for profit. We are fortunate enough that there are still many people who want to protect wildlife.
Last month, I was given a task to observe Kudat for his behaviours in the Bear House. For the 10 days I was observing Kudat, I noticed that Kudat was a very observant bear. Every time the bear keepers or volunteer passed by his cage, he would eventually sniff and observe them for a few seconds. Kudat likes to hear the sound of keys jingling. When a bear keeper (Pradeep) who usually hangs his keys to his pocket starts walking towards Kudat’s cage, Kudat peeks from his cage to where the sound of keys is jingling.
One of the things that Kudat likes is his hanging basket on the wall. Kudat usually sleeps in the basket and he seems so peaceful sleeping. I guess he really likes that basket. Kudat also likes to play with water. He would stand, reach into his water container and use his paw to splash water to his body.
Kudat is not as aggressive as other bears. Every time the other male bear (Along) started banging the guillotine door between the forest enclosure and Kudat’s cage trying to pick a fight with Kudat, Kudat would just sit back in his cage and enjoy his own sweet time.
Although Kudat is cute, he can be rough when he meets a female bear. When integration through body contact was made between Kudat and Simone, Kudat had a rough play with Simone. All we can say is, Kudat is really a playful bear. Indeed, they are cute and adorable, but remember, they are meant to live in the wild. The 10 days observing a particular bear was just not enough. I wish to have more time to observe and understand more about their behaviours.