Text by Natalie Lian Qian Wei (Intern Student, University Science Malaysia)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hello everyone! Today I am going to tell you a story about a little bear making friends. Her name is Romolina, she is one year old. She is tiny, but definitely mighty (Romolina is a grumpy bear! Roar!). Not forgetting to mention that she has two friends, Joe and Logan. They live together in forest enclosure.
But first, we must know that sun bears live solitary in nature, and we can only find sun bears together during the mating season or when a mama bear takes care of her baby. Here in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), helping sun bears to make friends (also known as integration) helps to encourage healthy bear behaviour as the bears can learn from each other of essential skills, conserve space (as we already have 43 bears!), and reduce stress. Before this, little Romolina was already integrated with the other sub-adult sun bears, which include Wawa, Mary, Dodop, Noah and Nano. The integration process was done in an indoor enclosure. However, when they were released to the forest (outdoor) enclosure, Romolina could not live with them harmoniously. This might be due to problems such as territoriality, difference in body size (Romolina has a relatively small body size, which is not good for play-fights), or Romolina’s independent personality. This left a scar in their relationships that needs to be healed.
Therefore, it gave us a mission: Help Romolina to be friends with the other bears again. Each integration session was to be carried out for 30 minutes, in the indoor enclosure of Bear House 1.
It wasn’t an easy process. Besides her bestfriends Logan and Joe, Romolina would run around, growl, huff and bark whenever the other bears approached her.
Anyway, here is a brief summary of Romolina’s interaction with the other bears she was to be integrated with:
Noah is a friendly and playful bear. During integration, Noah would approach Romolina. He chased and wanted to play with her. Little Romolina avoided Noah but there was once, Romolina was “caught” by Noah. Noah bit her in a playful manner. We were pleased that Romolina did not fight with Noah!
As for Nano, during integration, Nano was not interested to approach Romolina and was just minding his own business. Moving on we will talk about her integration with Wawa. Although Romolina would react negatively when the other bears approached her, Wawa is a brave bear as she would still try to approach Romolina. She would go to Romolina slowly, with her head bowed down. Even though Wawa was not aggressive to her, Romolina would still avoid her.
Dodop rarely approached Romolina. However, something happened between Romolina and Dodop during an integration session - A fight! The cause of the fight was an accident, though. Noah was chasing Romolina around the enclosures to play with her, Romolina panicked, ran around and unintentionally, ran into Dodop. A fight then happened between them. We then had to stop the fight rapidly using a bucket of water and a fire extinguisher.
As for Mary, integration did not go well between them too. Romolina would barked and growled at Mary. There was once, Mary attempted to bite Romolina too.
During the sessions, we observed that Romolina avoided all of the bears. She would stay on top of the enclosure, away from the others. Our integration mission in the indoor enclosure thus came to an end. Anyway, let’s hope for the best for little Romolina! Perhaps, one day she will be able to be friends with the other bears again.
Text by Jana Grunwald & Michael Bohne
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
We are Jana (37) and Michael (49) from Germany. Last year we have decided to take a break from our office working routine and go traveling together. As we do not only want to be tourists in the countries that we visit we have searched for animal welfare organization in Malaysia that we can support and found that the BSBBC has very good reviews. The decision to come here was made quickly and even though we have never had anything to do with bears, we are big bear fans by now. This is not only thanks to the bears, but also thanks to the keepers and all the staff that are doing a fantastic job here at the sunbear center. We truly enjoy our time in such a friendly and cooperative atmosphere.
On the first day in the center we already learned that bears are big eaters. We spent hours washing, cutting and weighting fruits and vegetables for them. No wonder, it takes such a long time - there are 43 hungry mouths to be fed and they enjoy four feeding times a day. Watching them eating and enjoying their food makes our heart melt. If there is something especially yummy, all the bears will fall on their back and eat the treat with all four paws up. We can hardly take our eyes away from this cute moment and it happens that the keepers have to remind us to move on.
We soon realized what a strenuous job the bear keeper team does every day. All keepers are in very good physical conditions and we admire them for their strengths. Each day is packed with demanding work: whether it’s cleaning the cages, preparing the food, walking under the midday sun to feed the bears or going out into the wild with the machete to collect fresh leaves and plants for enrichment. Luckily everybody has a lunch hour that is indeed one and a half hours long - time to rest and eat. We could feel how our energy comes back. Also for us humans the food is important.
However not all the tasks that we do at the center are physically hard. On the third day we were invited to assist Dr. Boon with the health check of one of the female bears called Susie 2. We felt very privileged to be part of the team that afternoon and assist a medical check on a sun bear.
We also enjoyed being part of the re-integration of two bears called Wan Wan and Mamatai. These two ladies where once sharing a forest enclosure but ended up fighting with each other. After some time of separation the team has now started to re-introduce them. As the door was opened we carefully observed them and were happy that the first session went on without any fight or need to intervene. We hope, that the two ladies re-establish their friendship and can soon scroll the outside together.
Another activity that we enjoyed a lot was observing the fence training of a bear called Panda. She gets animated with sweet fruits to leave her well known enclosure and to learn in a different enclosure that the fence has electricity and that it is best to not touch it. On the first two days that we saw her she was too afraid to leave. Only the head and the two front paws went out to grab the treats that were within her close reach. The two back paws stayed firm in the old enclosure, no matter how seductive the fruits on the other side where. However with the time she gained confidence and got brave enough to step out of her enclosure with all four paws. What a big achievement. We were very excited for her. Now she is walking pretty confident in the fence training enclosure. Today she could finally get all the sweet fruits that we laid down for her. At the end it seems to be all about the food.
Text by Nithisha Nair (Intern student, University Putra Malaysia Bintulu Campus)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
As I introduced previously, here continues the story of our three musketeers. Romolina, Logan and Joe are now in fence training to prepare them for the forest enclosure. It took the trio 7 days to pass the fence training inside the training pen.
On the first day, the observation began with Romolina, who immediately makes her way into the training pen. Fruits and honey were laid in a trail leading to a pile in the centre with the intention of luring the cubs out and giving them comfort. Nevertheless, it was pointless, Romolina being the explorer that she is made her way out by herself and explored the cage, ignoring the fruits completely. Upon sniffing the corners of cage, she earned her first zap, but that did not deter her from continuing her exploration, it was not until her second zap that she became wearier and alert. After that it took a lot of effort to get Romolina back into the training pen, she would climb around in the den observing the pen from afar no matter what food we used to lure her out. All things aside, all it took to get her back out was dead wood and she happily made her way out digging and rummaging.
The observation proceeded with Joe on the second day. He had his eye and taste buds stuck on to the trail of honey and fruits towards the centre. When that was finished, he roamed around the cage earning his zaps, which eventually led to him suckling on his paw in the water container. His zaps were an obvious lesson to him though, after a few days in the pen Joe was smart enough to claw his food away from the hot wire very slowly and carefully. He showed amazing progress and seemed to be the best out of the trio.
On the third day it was Logan’s turn to train. He was nothing short of Joe in following the trail, he licked every bit of honey left on the ground with none to spare. But once he got zapped, he was the hardest to get back into the training pen. Eventually with help he was able to come back out and learn to claw food away from the wire.
After the three were used to the training pen and was able to explore on their own, they were put in the training pen together in hopes that they would encourage each other to explore their surroundings, and when that didn’t result in a very positive outlook, they were let into the training pen with their integrated buddies, to know more about integration do read our blog titled ‘Catch Up with Our New Friends’!
Upon being integrated and provided with dead wood, it was clear that the trio were more comfortable in the training pen. They were also seen clawing their food from under the fence, proving that they all passed indoor fence training with flying colours. Thus, it was time for outdoor fence training.
The first day of outdoor fence training, also known as their release to Pen D, Joe was the first to touch ground but got zapped while exploring and was afraid after. With Romolina, she ran up the enclosure but went into the training pen after getting zapped, she then proceeded to explore the area below the ramp. Last but not least, upon exploring Logan got zapped, in a panic he rushed his way to the top of the enclosure completely forgetting about the wires and getting zapped several more times. When he reached the top, he climbed on a tree vocalizing while refusing to come down.
The trio remained at the bottom of the enclosure exploring and occasionally pacing. That was until Wawa, another one of our bears were integrated with the cubs in the enclosure, she managed to guide Logan to the top of the enclosure, and eventually Romolina followed. After that the two were more than comfortable to remain at the top, exploring, digging, climbing, playing with the water from the sprinklers and sun bathing, they even refused to go back home for two nights! Joe was a tough shell to crack, while the two was living their best lives in the enclosure, Joe remained suckling and staying at the ramp.
No amount of integration was able to bring Joe up, eventually we decided to try a new tactic, as soon as he set foot on the ramp, we closed the guillotine door so he would not run back in, and then we encouraged him to explore with treats thrown on the grass. It worked! With two days of that, he eventually made his way up the forest enclosure, and once again with the help of our amazing teacher, Wawa, Joe was guided to the top, on his 13th day with outdoor fence training he was finally able to properly explore the enclosure and we could not be happier!
Fence training may seem extreme, in some cases even cruel, but in our case, it is vital and completely necessary to ensure that our bears do not escape once they are released to our forest enclosure. And as we all know; the forest enclosure release is an important step towards their journey in being released to the wild! The voltage of our fence is always monitored and ensured not to be harmful to our sun bears.
So here continues the journey of our trio towards their happy ever after!
Text by Umadevi A/P Murrty (Intern student, University Putra Malaysia Bintulu Campus)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
We decided to integrate our three cubs with the friendly sub-adult group- Nano, Noah, Dodop, Mary & Wawa. Integration can help bears to reduce their stress-related behavior and they can learn pertinent skills from each other such as survival skills and defense skills.
NOAH – The pretender
Logan was playful and gets along with Noah. At first, Logan was excited and played well with Noah but Romolina and Joe did not really like to play with him as they stayed aside or rest on the comfortable hammock. Logan started to play biting and rolling with Noah, even wrestling for the whole time. He has shown to be a more fun-loving bear that always initiates to play with Noah. Noah tries to approach Romolina several times but she seems less interested in joining to play while maintaining her independence whereas Joe would paw Noah in a gentle way and he starts suckling to seek attention. After sometime, Joe and Noah still spent some time playing cheerily. After a few days of integration, Noah gets closer with Logan and they do love slow fights. Noah also likes sniffing Romolina’s body which makes her feel uncomfortable and run all around the cages. Romolina did learn to defend herself by vocalizing and she is SUPER FAST in escaping from others.
MARY – The lovable
Integration starts when the gate opened on 23rd April 2019 among Mary and the group of bears. Logan initiates to walks into Mary’s cage but he looks less confident in approaching Mary. As soon as Mary saw Logan, she kept growling and pawing at him for a minute. This makes Logan and his group afraid of her and they distance themselves from Mary for some time. Mary also barked at Romolina when she tried approaching her. Joe and Romolina, both bears kept suckling to seek comfort. Since the cage is full of new enrichments to boosts up the new cubs, Mary also found it energetic and she kept exploring it. Unfortunately, towards the end of integration Mary seemed to be stressed out and she starts pacing in a stereotypical pattern. Eventually, they get to know that Mary less plays with them, thus the cubs maintain their distance from Mary.
DODOP – The sleepy
When Dodop introduced to the cubs, she was busy exploring her environment while manipulating the enrichments by climbing up and down. Eventually, Dodop slowly came closer to Joe while sniffing to his body. But, Joe do not really interested with Dodop because she keeps biting Joe without releasing. Joe also showed anger towards Dodop by barking at her and avoids. Romolina shows her interest in playing with Dodop as they chasing each other within the cages, UP AND DOWN. Both bears had their good joyful time. Dodop also enjoyed mouthing and wrestling with Logan whenever the other two were fewer shows interest in play.
WAWA- The explorer
As the gate opens, Wawa being the curious one went into the den where the three cubs were located, and tried to approach Romolina, and sniff her. Romolina enjoys it and she did sniffing, mouthing and pawing in a friendly manner. Wawa wrestled her and they were playing some time happily. Logan, playful bear also did approach Wawa and they get along with each other quicker. They both wrestles for the next 15 minutes NON- STOP! They even had some rough fights which filled with fun and excitement. Whereas, Joe and Romolina were busy foragings while exploring the enrichment.
NANO - The Spy
Nano was introduced to the cubs on 26th April 2019. Nano shows his interest by sniffing at Logan’s back body and ears. Both of them vocalized at each other while Nano offers a friendly paw to Logan. Nano loves the enrichment provided in the cub’s cages and he spent a few minutes enjoying the attractive enrichment. Romolina and Joe were a little stressed and ended up in pacing in a stereotypical pattern. Joe gets angry at Nano when he sniffed Joe’s ears. Instead, Nano and Logan played chasing, climbing up and sharing the hammock while hugging and playing jovially.
In conclusion, Logan loves to spend more time in making new friends and is a very active bear. Besides that, Romolina and Joe, who is less interested in making new friends however they are still trying to patch up with other bears slowly. Joe and Romolina are also known to be the explorer and love to live in their own world. Integration between three musketeer’s bears with the sub adult group was absolutely fine and no aggression found.
Text by Emily Tan Yu En
Photo by Chiew Lin May
On January 18th 2015, Montom was rescued by the Sabah Wildlife Rescue Unit from Kampung Melangkap, Kota Marudu and sent him to BSBCC on 21st of January, 2015. The story reported to the Wildlife Rescue Unit was the owner’s dog chased away Montom’s mother and she left him behind. He was taken and kept as a pet for a year in a chicken wire mesh cage and fed with human food. The owner was willing to surrender Montom to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit.
We introduced Montom to the other sub-adult group and was pleased to see him get along well with all the bears. After a few years, Montom is no longer a sub-adult bear so we’re going to let him join the adult bear group and let other sub-adult bears to join in his previous group.
Montom was introduced to the adult bears which included Rungus, Ah Lun, Julaini, Ah Bui and Fulung. Montom was introduced one-by-one for the first six days as he will feel surprise and afraid if he meet all the bears at the same time. At first, Montom played well with all the bears but Rungus and Ah Bui didn’t really likes to play with him as they will stay on aside or rest on the enrichment in the buffer cage. Few days later, all the bears play along with him and they’re trying learn to understand each other better even though sometimes they play rough to each other. They play around and chase each other and no aggression found during the whole integration.
Here are some photos during the integration of Montom with other adult bears.
Integration Montom with Julaini and Ah Lun
Integration Montom with Rungus and Fulung
After all the integration, we let Montom join with the adult bear group to the enclosure .They will move around in the enclosure searching for food. Montom get to learn some surviving skills from the bears such as climbing, self-defence, digging and others.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Joe, a three month old sun bear cub, was found by a person alone in the forest at Kg.Kipaku, Tambunan. The person then sent the cub to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park on the 12th of April 2018. The bear arrived on the 22nd of January 2019. We believe that Joe was stolen from his mother in the wild. Joe appeared tame and would suckle his hind paws which are believed to be a result from being kept as a pet for long periods in captivity. He needs to learn all the skills he will require to survive in the wild – skills that he would have learnt from his mother.
We decided to introduce Joe with two resident cubs.
Joe recently completed his quarantine period. He is now one year old and weighs 22kg.
On the 22nd of February 2019, Joe made his first new friends!
Once Joe entered the den, Logan and Romolina started to greet him by growling!
Both started sniffing around while Joe was busy with exploring the new den first. Once the door opened, Logan started to play fight by biting and rolling with Joe.
Logan has shown to be a more fun-loving bear that always initiates play with Joe.
They can wrestle for hours and hours…nonstop PLAY!!
Logan began spending more time with Joe while Romolina always seemed curious and she would paw Joe in a gentle way. Romolina would still like to maintain her independence and is less interested in joining to play. We found Joe being hugged by Logan when they met.
Joe has had a new experience by learning how to defend himself during play fights and wrestling.
We are glad to see Joe has been having a good time with his new friends, Logan and Romolina. These three bears have a close bond and share their food or enrichment together too. Little Romolina and Logan were quick to accept Joe.
The three bears have been venturing out to the larger exercise dens which are filled with different types of enrichment.
They share their dens which can enrich Joe’s life and help stimulate his natural behaviour.
They enjoy playing, exploring and making us fall in love with their beautiful smiles!
This is important for the rescued bears to help them recover from trauma and start to put their past behind them.
Interactions between Joe, Logan and Romolina have shown to be positive. Joe now has a place full of love. Hopefully, this relationship can help Joe become a more confident and stronger bear!
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
On the 2nd of March 2017, a sun bear cub was handed over to the Sabah Wildlife Department named BJ. He was found after being purchased in Sonsogon village, Pitas, and was sold for the price of RM 300 and then was kept as a pet. He arrived at BSBCC on the 22nd of November, 2018. He is a two year old, sub adult male bear weighing 32.20kg.
After living alone in a cage, BJ was finally free from trauma and now has made some friends for the first time in his life. On the 14th of December 2018, BJ was integrated into a larger social group of female bears – Kina, Sika, Soo and Diana, who would help him adjust to his new life and learn how to be a bear again!
Here we can see how the introduction went:
As soon as BJ saw his new friends, he stood up on his hind legs, began sniffing and pawing them to start play fighting! They showed their strong canines and sharp claws!
He was such a handsome and kind bear towards the group. It is good to know that he is welcomed by them and they also rely on each other for comfort, protection and love. Although sun bears are by nature solitary animals in the wild, the bond between a mother and her cub is strong during the time they are together. During the integration, sun bears can learn from each other as they communicate and play together.
BJ has proven himself to be a friendly bear. He also smiles which shows a few wrinkles on his face.
It is great that BJ has accepted this wonderful new friendship. Kina and Sika are BJ’s bear play friends.
Sometimes, BJ wants to play with Soo and Diana, but both of the female bears seem to ignore him. Once BJ started sharing the large dens with the other female bears, he immediately began exploring. He has found the simple pleasure of good friends. He is a happy go lucky bear who loves running around the dens and convinces the others to play with him by sniffing or pulling them. He is always filled with curiosity and enjoys exploring the enrichment around the dens.
They spend their days wandering around the dens, digging up the dead wood, climbing on the structural enrichment and sharing their toys. They are doing things together and seem to enjoy each other’s company.
For the rest of their first week together, there was no aggression found and they were accepting of each other as it did not take too long for them to become social. Now he has four lovely female bears to keep him company. It was a delight to see him grow into a healthy and loving bear where he could truly be himself.
Text & Photos by Seng Yen Wah
Soo is a four year old female, sub adult bear. She was purchased with the price of RM350 when she was still a cub in Karamatoi Village in Sook Keningau market. After that, she was kept as a house pet in Nambayan village in Tambunan for two years. She was rescued by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and transferred to BSBCC on the 8th of September, 2017. Soo is very alert with her surroundings. She easily gets stressed and starts to pace aggressively when she hears loud, machine noises. This stereotypic behaviour is the consequence of her past life of living as a caged pet. She took a long time to adapt herself. There must be a way to help her more. Maybe it is time for her to have bear friends!
Let’s introduce you Soo’s friends, Diana (12 years old female adult bear), Kina (three years old female sub adult bear), and Sika (two years old female sub adult bear). Kina and Sika integrated on the 19th of November 2017. After that, Diana joined Kina and Sika on 13th of April 2018. And on the 2nd of September 2018, Soo meet them all for the first time.
Soo is curious about the appearance of a new bear beside her cage. She sniffed on the sliding door. The sliding door opens slowly and Sika is waiting for her at another side. This is the first time Soo met a bear. Soo is anxious. She vocalized with Sika when Sika came close. She would like to play with Sika but she doesn’t know how to do it. She shows defensive behaviour which Sika does not like. Therefore the first time is not pleasant.
The second day of integration is Kina’s turn. Kina shows more curiosity about Soo. She tried to initiate play fight with Soo, who is still nervous about her first friendship. Soo demonstrates a big response to Kina’s approach, but this did not stop Kina and still tried getting close to her. If Soo is being stressed at the moment, Kina will not disturb her.
Soo took her time and she tried her best to become friends with Diana, Kina and Sika. They are getting along well now! Only sometimes, Diana is on her temper and shows her aggression to Sika and Soo by vocalizing. But, there would never be a problem for them to stay together. They play fight with whoever they want. They share their food and also rest together. It is so good to see Soo’s improvement since her first arrival. We really hope Soo can live in a better life with her bear friends and we hope to see her grow into a strong and brave bear!
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Bintang was originally known as Ronnie, named after her previous owner who surrendered the bear to the BSBCC on July 15, 2014. Bintang was just a five months old female sun bear cub and weighed 7.9kg when she arrived in BSBCC. Her history is unknown. Owners who find Sun bear cubs will attempt to reason for holding them captive, but no explanation is suitable for the holding of a wild animal. Keeping a wild animal as a pet, such as the Sun bear, is illegal. In 2017, this bear was renamed to “Bintang” when Albert Teo Chin Kion and Borneo Eco Tour Sdn Bhd, both passionate enthusiasts into changing a sun bear’s life, adopted Bintang. Another reason for changing the name to “Bintang” is because her chest mark appears as a sun-shape, sprinkled with light black dots. “Bintang” is a beautiful name which incorporates the Malaysian meaning of “star” to represent her unique chest pattern.
Rescued at such a young age, Bintang spent little time of her cub life alongside her Mother; sun bear cub should remain with their Mother until two/three years old, when living in their natural habitat. The individuals who separated Bintang from her Mother, weakened her chances for survival as she was unable to learn valuable life skills from a young age. Therefore, BSBCC needs to take good care of her and teach her how to be a real bear again. She has been offered lots of fruits such as durian, mangosteen, tarap, rambutan and many more. Other than that, in order to encourage her natural bear behaviour, lots of enrichments are made and given to her. She shows her improvement day by day.
Sunbearo, Loki and Bintang are integrated in quarantine. She met her bear brother, Sunbearo and her bear sister, Loki within this time and all were getting along extremely well. They spend time playing fighting, suckling for comfort seeking, resting and sleeping together. Bintang’s suckling style is different to others; her paw will be placed on one of the friend, whilst suckling.
On 22 November 2015, Sunbearo, Loki and Bintang integrated with Montom and Susie2 and then Damai. On 24 December 2015, they were released to the forest enclosure. They were foraging together and found some bugs, ants and termites but they didn’t seem too interested in climbing. Loki was the first to climb. After being anxious on the first day, Bintang and Sunbearo both started to climb across the following few days, which made them fall in love with climbing. In 2016, the bears integrated with Kala, Mary, Boboi, Kitud, and Tan Tan, as well as Dodop and Wawa. There was no signs of aggression between them. Bintang is very friendly to all the bears, but Damai is her best bear friend ever! Bintang loves to spend time with her bear friend, to play fight, rest and just hang out together in the forest enclosure.
Bintang is a very kind-natured and gentle sun bear. She does not mind being dirty an actually loves digging and tearing up the dead wood across the forest enclosure. She enjoys her nap time and snoozing on her favourite tree. Bintang is an excellent ground nest builder. She tries to grab as many big leaves from the trees and arranges it nicely on the ground. She will continue to build even if her friends try to interrupt her, with a lot of determination to have a nice comfy nest to rest on afterwards.
Bintang is showing excellent survival skills in the forest every day. We hope that soon she will be one of the next candidates for releasing back into the wild. She deserves to stay in the wild and be a WILD bear once again!
Video By Chiew Lin May
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