Recap from Part 1: Cerah is a female sun bear. Cerah means "bright" or "clear" in Malay language.
Two weeks after Cerah was confiscated and sent to Sepilok, Sabah Wildlife Department confiscated another pet female sun bear cub. We named her "Jelita," meaning "Lovely" in Malay. Jelita was few months older and larger then Cerah. She probably a year old on August 2007.
During that time, I was still conducting my fieldwork for my doctorate studying on wild bearded pigs and sun bears in Danum Valley Conservation Area, with logistic based in Danum Valley Field Centre, Sabah. The field project, Bornean Sun Bear and Bearded Pig Research and Conservation Project, started on early 2005 and lasted until 2008. During this three years period, I frequently visited Sepilok on a 5 hours' road trip where Cerah, Jelita, and other confiscated sun bears were housed.
This is a photo album of the first medical checkup for both Cerah and Jelita.
The moment that we all have been waiting for are finally here. After all the sun bears were settling down in their new home, the next challenges for us would be the electric-fence training, integration of different bears, and the introduction of the bears to the new forest enclosures were something that will happen over the next few days. These processes are all crucial and important parts of the “bringing the sun bear a better home.”
On April 9, we first introduced the young female group to the hot wire (electric fence) training pen so that the bears could learn to avoid the hot wire in the forest enclosures and will not escape. This is also the day when Annemarie Weegenaar from AAF have to leave us to go back for the moon bears in China. It is like the fellowship of bears slowly leaving again. Separation is always sad. However, we understand that the moon bears in China needed Annemarie's cares and loves for the moon bears.
The training session went well, although slow. Of the 4 young females, Jelita was the champion of all who first understand the message of the hot wire and later feel much comfortable foraging in the training pen and avoid touching the wire. The other bears- Cerah, Kuamut, and Lawa, pretty much followed Jelita but felt less adventurous to wonder around the hot wire training pen and spend most of the time in their own dens relaxing in the bear basket and playing. They never seem to complain much although the den is concrete floor and iron bars wall, maybe this is what they grow up with and get use to- without touching the real soil and without nurture of the forest.
By now we mixed these four young female up. They occupy 4 dens/cells where they can move freely as they wish. We give them and other bears plenty of enrichments such as leaves, browse, logs, ice block, kong toys, Aussy balls, coconuts, water bath, etc. to keep them busy. During the hot wire training session that last most of the day, we open the doors between their dens to the training pen so that they can come in and out of the training pen as they wish. We want to make the bears have a positive experience with these training so that they eventually learn to avoid the hot wires surrounding the enclosures and hence discourage them from climbing the fences in the forest enclosure when they go out one day. We do not want to push them to do something that they are feel less comfortable to do. We work according to their clock.
On April 12, three days after their training, we decided to let this young female group out to their forest enclosure. We open the door of the den for the first time. We thought today will marked history for the captives sun bears at BSBCC because the forest enclosure is the second items beside the new bear house that we all have been working hard for them. The moment that the bear step out from their den and put their feet on the forest's floor will be a historic moment for sun bear in BSBCC and sun bear as a species-a big step forward to save the species. However, what happen in the next few hours to the next few days after the doors of the bear's den opened was something that we did not expect - Only Jelita show interest of the outside world by sniffing the forest air over and over again. She made one step on the ramp that connect the den to the forest enclosure and hesitate to wonder any further. For the rest of the three girls - Cerah, Kuamut and Lawa, they preferred to enjoy their basket nap and stay put in their spacious den.
It is understandable why these four bears hesitate to come out to the forest enclosure. First they are still young (> 3 year old) and sense of wariness to the new environment still very strong. In the wild, they would still be accompanied by their mother who give them security in term of protection and food. Second, perhaps they grow up in a small space and confine to cages pretty much all their life and feel more comfortable in their new house now than the outside world. Nonetheless, we are sure that they will come out from their den one day to enjoy their forest, their home.
We have been working around the clock since our multinational bear moving team arrived in Sandakan last Saturday. We have been sweating more than 10 hours a day over the past 4 days working really hard to make this event go smoothly, from cleaning the bear house, enriching each bear den, checking the bear enclosures, and finally, moving the bears into our new bear house.
Today is the second day of the moving. We moved the four young females in the morning: Kuamut, Lawa, Jelita, and Cerah,, followed by the big dominant male Bermuda in the afternoon. The move went smoothly and the bears settling down in their new home smoothly.
The bear basket that we provide them 5 feet above the ground is the best thing to give them comfort and security.
Don’t believe me? Look for yourself!
Five done today, 4 more to go!
Photos and text by Jocelyn Stokes
Over here at the centre the bear crew can’t help but take a keen liking to a trio of young sun bears who may have actually been acrobats in a past life. While one is hanging upside down from the ceiling with its head arched back and legs flailing in the air, another will be swinging though the air in a tire, whilst the other is usually balancing stealthily in the corner, arms straight up, or perhaps tearing open a coconut. They’re a regular riot to observe with their overflowing abundance of character and youthful antics! Deemed the ‘three amigos’ by a troupe of loyal volunteers from New Zealand, these three bears, Jelita, Lawa and Cerah, truly delight in each other’s company. “The reason they get along so well,” explains Wai Pak, the onsite Educational Officer, “is because they are so young. At their age they need playmates. They all happen to be the same age, as well, and they have grown up in captivity, so they are particularly fond of each other!”
It’s a truly enjoyable sight to behold when a group of young wild, animals with a rather unfortunate past can be helped to live in such contentment. And, why not? These bears are blessed with more love and attention than most creatures could dream of having. Although their living space in not quite adequate yet, these bears are still receiving the utmost care. Through the hard work and dedication of the small BSBCC staff, along with the fresh, motivated energy of the volunteer groups, these bears receive healthy nourishment, instinctual stimulation, and well-cared for environments. All the bears have to worry about is how they’ll break open their next coconut and even that doesn’t seem to challenge them for too long.