Text by Gillian Gabriel (UMS Intern Student)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
This story is about Kina, BJ, Sika and Soo being released to the forest enclosure for the first time in their lives!
Attempt in releasing Kina
Among the four bears, Kina appears to be more curious about her surroundings because she is the first one that was brave enough to go out on the first day of the release. Although on the first day she spent most of the time staying on the ramp, she managed to pull herself out of her comfort zone. On the third day, Kina gracefully went out to grab some food and ate it. While enjoying all the fruits, there was the sounds of a chainsaw and blower. She continued to enjoy eating her food and went back inside the cage right after she finished eating. It seems that to Kina, food is way more important than anything else and nothing else can distract her while she is eating!
However, moments later, Kina decided to go out again and explore the surroundings. She continuously went back inside the cage every time she went out. Kina seemed so relaxed being in the outside world as she roamed around gracefully and used her incredible sense of smell to sniff around the area.
On the fourth day of release, Kina was now confident to go outside. She roamed around the forest enclosure, foraged, and at some point, she also dug the woods and the ground to find some termites to eat. Due to her high curiosity, she managed to explore almost the whole of the forest enclosure!
Apart from that, Kina is also an expert in climbing. She appears to be the most outgoing bear as she loves exploring the world by climbing up trees and enrichment. By doing so, she gets to see different parts of the forest enclosure from different views.
Kina is happy because she gets to enjoy the enrichment that was built by the bear keepers and the previous volunteer.
It was on a rainy day when Kina suddenly decided to climb up a tree. Kina is known to be the most active bear among her other friends and that is not just because she is the first one to go out into the forest enclosure, but it is because she normally prefers to live in solitary by isolating herself on top of a tree or an enrichment. Even before she was released to the forest enclosure, she loved spending her time alone, resting and climbing.
Attempt in releasing BJ
At first, BJ was afraid to go outside. He would normally stay on the ramp and watch from afar. However, his curiosity has built up as he saw his friend, Kina, gracefully walking alone at the forest enclosure. Determined enough to step out, he finally, most likely slowly, went out to the forest enclosure to experience the outside world himself. It was soon enough when BJ finally felt secure when he stepped outside. He began to love being outside.
BJ still in doubt whether or not he wanted to go outside.
Not feeling sure enough, he just spent the entire time resting on the ramp and looking at the forest enclosure from afar. Questioning whether or not he should give it a try.
Finally, he decided to go down.
Slowly but surely.
His natural instinct kicked in as he inhaled the smell of the earth.
Now that he finally has begun to trust the outside world, he has no problem enjoying his delicious food in the forest enclosure.
Attempt in releasing Sika
On the first day of releasing Sika to the forest enclosure, it was really a tough one as she refused to go out, even with many trials. Food was scattered all over the place so that she had the urge to go outside. She normally stayed on the ramp and instead of pulling herself out to experience the forest enclosure on her own, she remained still. She was not curious enough to explore the outside world and apparently, she loves staying in her comfort zone. She loves staying where she feels at ease.
Battling with her own thoughts, Sika finally made a decision to go out. But the only way she got distracted and was willing to go down was when honey was applied all over the stairs. With that, she got distracted by the delicious and sweet taste.
She climbed down step by step, licking the delicious honey that was in her way. What a great start she thought to herself.
Now that she was finally out, she got super curious with her surroundings. She was pretty amazed by the new place that she was introduced to. A new home with a lot more to explore.
Getting super curious, she sniffed around the forest enclosure, foraging and roaming around. Then she slowly started to like the outside world more than where she used to be. The taste of freedom was now in her bones.
Realizing how big the forest enclosure is, Sika then gets super comfortable staying outside. Bigger space for her to roam around. Even though she took a long time to finally decide to go out compared to her two other friends, BJ and Kina, she is the one who spends a long time in the forest enclosure. There are times when she does not go back to the cage at all. Sika also loves climbing as much as Kina does, she will spend most of the time on the tree and not want to go down.
Attempt in releasing Soo
Being kept as a pet at a very young age makes Soo less confident to interact with the outside world. Traumatized by her past, she is less active than the rest. Days of attempting to release Soo to the forest enclosure have been difficult as she only stays on the ramp or inside the cage. Not brave enough to go out.
However, she still tries to fight her trauma by taking baby steps and she still tries to build up all her courage. Even though she only stays on the ramp most of the time, she is still able to witness the outside world from the cage.
Instead of using the stairs as the trail to go down, she climbed down from the ramp. This shows that Soo is really attempting to go out. However, she still needs time to be fully ready.
I hope that in the future, all of the bears, Kina, BJ, Sika, and Soo are comfortable enough to stay outside in the forest enclosure. They were kept as pets before, and being kept inside a house has now built curiosity for some of them, such as Sika and Kina. This is why when introduced to the outside world, they got so excited and preferred to stay outside. The taste of freedom excites them. However, this does not apply to BJ and Soo. Instead of building curiosity, they are in fear. Fear of what the outside world is actually like. It takes time for them to build up their trust. With that, a release to the forest enclosure is a great opportunity to give them the life that they deserve and to promote their natural instincts.
Text by Ezi Nurayu binti Abd. Wahab (UMS Intern student)
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
The time to do fence training for BJ, Soo, Kina and Sika before they could be released into the forest enclosure had come. Fence training is very important for us to do as it helps to prevent the sun bears from escaping in the forest either to another pen or out of BSBCC’s area. Not to worry as the fence voltage will never be harmful to them because it is always controllable by our respective staff. The bears will proceed to enter the forest enclosure only if they pass the fence training. These fence training sessions are completed almost every day for roughly a month.
First and foremost, let me briefly explain the history of these four bears. Kina, is rescue bear (55), followed by Sika (56), Soo (57) and BJ (61). When referring to Kina’s name, we know that she was from Kinarut District, Sika was from the village of Sikalabaan in Pensiangan district, Soo’s name was given by her previous owner because she was bought from Sook Keningau Market, and lastly BJ was from Pitas before he was handed to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park when he just five months old. All of them were kept as pets by the villagers before being rescued.
Okay, let’s begin with Sika. She was the first candidate among the four of them which we did the fence training with. But, unfortunately she was the last one who passed the fence training. On her first day of training, she was very cautious to step on the ramp to get the food. She almost finished her food (only a few pieces were left). Unfortunately, she got zapped later by the hotwire and she responded by climbing the fence. You can see in the picture (Photo 1) below how she got zapped by the hotwire. But then, Sika improved day by day. The days before she successfully passed the fence training, she already knew about the hotwire, so she kept her distance from it. She also ate the food which was placed on the ramp. She was the last candidate declared as passed because she kept avoiding going close to the food near the hotwire on her last days before she was considered passed.
Let’s move to Kina, the brave girl. She is a very good explorer when it comes to food (a little bit of a big eater). The day we observed them as a group, she was the very dominant one by monopolising the food. She already knew from training each day how to grab the food without touching the electric fence, even though the food was located underneath the fence. Maybe, because she already got zapped on her first day of training and days after, she knew how to defend herself from getting zapped later. Kina together with BJ always finished the food in the training pen. By the way, she was the second one after Soo that successfully passed in this fence training session and on March 29th, 2020, she was released into the forest enclosure (Pen G).
Congratulations to our, Kina!
Next, our one and only male bear in this group, BJ. On BJ’s first day carrying out fence training, he was really scared to walk and get his food. You can see in the picture (Photo 6) below how he tried to grab his food. He always laid down to grab his food. A few times, his front legs touched the top ramp. He never touched the ramp with all four legs at once. He was very cautious with his new and unfamiliar surroundings. So as a result for his first day, he never got zapped due to his cautious behaviour. However, this originally cautious bear became braver each day, especially when the four of them were released into the training pen together. He knew how to get his food and never hesitated to walk on the ramp and below ground as well with his four legs.
Good job, BJ
And the last bear being observed was Soo. Pity for Soo, on her first time being trained, she got zapped on several occasions. Her response to the zap was barking a few times. Gradually she became more alert to the electric fence, even though most of the time she rarely got out from her cage. But, she still went out to the training pen sometimes to get her food. Guess what, surprisingly Soo became braver recently. Even with the guillotine door closed, Soo and Kina never cared about that. They still continued their beautiful journey in the training pen by only thinking about the food. Big applause to Soo, even though she was the very inactive one during several days in observation (spent most of the time in her cage), lately a plot twist has happened, and the upshot of that is she was the first one to successfully pass the fence training session.
Bravos to Sika, Kina, BJ and Soo! Welcome to your new world!
This is the time for them to explore the outside environment on their own and be independent. I am so sure that this is what every animal wants. They can move in a much larger area compared to their cage and see the bright world. Fence training is never as bad as some people think. This is a crucial step before giving the bears their ‘dream world’.
Text by Pradeep Gunasegaran
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) has been responsible for the care of 4 bears that were received between 2017 and 2018. These four bears are Soo (5 years old), BJ (4 years old), Kina (4 years old), and Sika (3 years old). All four of them were ‘raised’ by people as cubs before they were handed over to BSBCC through Sabah Wildlife Department or personally by the owner. Soo was bought at Sook Keningau Market, BJ was bought for RM 300 in Pitas and Sika was kept as in a pet in Pensiangan in a chicken mesh cage by her owner while Kina was claimed by her caretaker to have been abandoned by her mother by the roadside at Kota Marudu. They grew up without the care of their mothers as their mothers were probably killed by poachers but BSBCC do see potential in them to behave like wild bears due to their age and with the proper rehabilitation process in the next few years. In order to proceed with their rehabilitation process, they would need to be transferred to the Bear House. Due to the high stocking density at BSBCC, three older bears; Phin, Wan Wan and Mamatai would need to be brought to the quarantine while another two older bears; Om and Ronnie would need to be rotated in the Bear House.
The transfer process was done through three phases in order for the bears to not get too stress. During the first phase BJ and Kina were transferred into translocation boxes at Quarantine while Phin was darted. Once the 3 bears were ready for transfer, Phin was brought to Quarantine while BJ and Kina was brought to Bear House 2. The second phase was involving the darting of Mamatai and Wan Wan and then bringing them to Quarantine. By the end of Phase 2, Om and Ronnie were transferred to a different section of Bear House 2 using the sky bridge structure. The last phase was then completed with the darting and transfer of Soo and Sika from Quarantine to Bear House 2. The entire transfer process of all nine sun bears followed through really smoothly without any undesirable incidences.
In order to make the bear feel more comfortable in their new environment, each pen was prepared with a thick layer of dried leaves and also a couple of gunny sacks. The purpose of the dried leaves is to reduce any injuries that could be inflicted on their foot pad due to pacing in a new environment while the gunny sacks are for them to play with. BJ and Kina had no issues with their new environment. As soon as they were in the pens in Bear House 2, they were exploring the entire new space. Both were climbing the structures that were present such as hammock and the vertical log. BJ really seem to like the hammock while Kina liked using the vertical log. Whereas for Sika and Soo, after they woke up from anesthesia, Sika was also as curious as BJ and Kina in her own pen while Soo was alert with the new arrangement; just like how she was in Quarantine. At Quarantine, Phin, Wan Wan and Mamatai was calm after waking up. However, Phin was not used to having dried leaves underneath his feet. He was walking around the pen, taking food that was provided for him but his gait was a little peculiar. Wan Wan was preoccupied sniffing the scent of another bear named Diana at Quarantine. Mamatai on the other hand was enjoying herself with the gunny sacks that were given to her.
On the following day after the transfer process, Phin, Wan Wan and Mamatai were doing well at Quarantine. Our main priority was with the four that were at Bear House 2. BJ, Kina and Sika consumed all of the food given to them and they showed sign that they were doing well in Bear House 2. Kina clawed the log that was available to her; Sika was resting like any wild bear on the log structures while BJ was in the basket. Because of their calmness, they were all integrated together to ensure that they continue to benefit out of this social enrichment. Soo was on the only bear which was on high alert to her surroundings. She stayed at the highest point in the pen and only came down when the keepers left Bear House 2. In the evening, a few keepers were selected to sit in front of her and coax her with food. Then reason for this exercise was not to get her to be used to the keepers but to be calmer with the presence of the keepers as the keepers would need to provide her with supplementation, medication and application of topical medication in case of any injuries. By the end of the day, Soo came down and took the food that was given to her by the keepers and she also took her supplementation. She also was no longer at the highest point in the cage as she was exploring the ground and eating the ration of food provided for her. Over the following days, the four of them continue to behave positively. Environmental enrichments such as Aussie Dog balls, Fire Hose Pockets and coconuts were also provided to them and they did not hesitate interacting with the enrichments provided. With all these positive progresses, in the upcoming weeks or months, BJ, Kina, Soo, and Sika will undergo fence training in order for them to continue with the rehabilitation towards becoming like their wild counterparts. We at BSBCC hope that the rehabilitation process will go well and we would rejoice to their release into the natural habitat some day in the future.
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 and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Diana was kept in a concrete floor cage and was displayed to the public at View Top Resort, Tawau, on the South East coast of Sabah, for about ten years. She was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department on the 31st of July 2013, and was then brought to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) on the 10th of March, 2014. Upon arrival, she was in a bad condition with existing open wounds on the right maxillary area and had unhealthy gums due to fighting with another male, adult sun bear as they were both kept together in a cage. We will never know what happened to her mother, but this can illustrate how vulnerable wild sun bears are to threats from poachers. Stolen from life in the forest, Diana will never be taught by her mother how to survive in the wild.
This year we still continue to fight the battle to rescue illegal pet trade victims in Sabah. Due to the dens in our bear houses and quarantine being full, our team has decided to let Diana meet with two lovely young female bears, Sika and Kina, in quarantine.
They immediately enjoyed their new dens which were full of natural habitat enrichments such as dead wood, green leaves, climbing structures, a sleeping platform, and a hammock. These enrichment activities are all designed to stimulate natural behaviour and keep them active.
They all have their own spot for napping.
Our sun bears are rescued and undergo rehabilitation at our centre. They have suffered some physical disabilities or psychological trauma from their time kept in captivity. Through this integration, life is getting better for these bears that have lived with pain and trauma for so long. For Diana, single enrichment and the company of new friends can make her day.
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Kina is a two year-old female sub-adult bear. She was originally named “Kalong” by the previous owner, but her name has been changed to “Kina”, after the place where she was kept at Kinarut, Sabah. Kinarut is a town in Sabah state, located about 20 kilometres south of the state capital, Kota Kinabalu. Kina had been kept as a pet illegally for a year. Her owner claimed that Kina was abandoned by her mother. The story starts with a mother and her cub crossing a road and getting frightened, and then she ran away without bringing her cub with her. The cub is Kina, who had not even opened her eyes yet. Then, her owner took her and kept her for more than a year. After a year keeping Kina in their house, the owner decided to surrender Kina to the Sabah Wildlife Department on the 22nd of February, 2017. Kina arrived at BSBCC on the 1st of March, 2017.
Sikas’ original name was “Sikala”, but we changed her name to the town she was rescued from, the village of Sikalabaan in the Pensiangan district. The Pensiangan district is considered as one of the most rural areas in Sabah. Sika was found by a foreigner who travelled to the village of Sikalabaan, who had visited BSBCC before. After he found Sika was being kept in a chicken mesh cage as a house pet, he decided to call BSBCC and asked for help rescuing this bear cub. Sika was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department on the 9th of February, 2017 and sent to BSBCC on the same day as Kina, 1st of March 2017.
On the 19th of November, 2017 they meet for the very first time. The sliding door is opened slowly by their keeper. Sika and Kina start sniffing at each other through the small gap. Then the door opens wider and they see each other! They are curious so they get closer and sniff each other politely. Kina and Sika are off to a good start and start to play-fight with gentle pawing and soft biting. This is how a bear friendship begins! They seem to get along very well, and spend more time playing together on the hammock platform. It’s non-stop playing for both of them even when they are panting with tiredness. Nothing will stop them playing! Neither of them are aggressive towards each other, hopefully the sign of a beautiful friendship forming between Sika and Kina.
Sika is clearly the dominant bear. She will grab what she wants first. Kina will try but she always fails, but fear not! This does not affect their friendship! Kina learns to be more tolerant. Sika will dig out some porridge for Kina and they share it. When Sika comes to take Kina’s enrichment, Kina will walk away and go to get the others. Kina is showing how to treat a younger sister – with patience! Sometimes they fight, but they still love each other. When Kina gets tired, Sika is always waiting for Kina to have one more round of playing. Peace and harmony!
Integration is one of the rehabilitation processes for the bears, as they can learn from each other. Sika and Kina were both kept as pets before, so they lost their chance to learn from their mother. Integration is a good chance to learn from each other about all the pertinent survival skills. Under the care and love of BSBCC, we hope Sika and Kina will grow up and return to the forest together, to become a pair of happy and lovely bears!
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Time has flown! Kina recently just finished her quarantine care under BSBCC and is a one year old female juvenile bear. Previously, she was kept as a pet for more than a year before her owner decided to surrender her to Sabah Wildlife Department. Her owner claimed that Kina’s mother abandoned her when they were crossing a road and her mother got frightened and ran away while leaving her behind. During that time, she was just a bear cub and had not opened her eyes yet. She showed signs of malnutrition with her relatively small head compared to her body size. With an appropriate diet in BSBCC, she now weighs 18.4kg! Her favourite foods are papaya, honeydew, egg and of course milk! Though, even with her favourites, Kina is not picky and still enjoys all the food that we have given to her!
She has adapted well in quarantine since she arrived here at BSBCC and spends her time in her cage that is full of fire hose enrichment products such as fire hose hammock, wood hammock, and a heart-shaped honeycomb. Other than that, she also likes to play KONG, Aussie Dog Ball, and her favourite toy, the Bear Ball!! She totally is an enrichment lover. She loves to stay on the hanging platform where this allows her to stay up high and for her resting needs. The hanging platform is like her secret garden – It brings us much joy and happiness to see her bring her favourite food or toys up there to play with it.
In order to encourage her natural bear behaviour, keepers let her out to a larger den where there will be a larger space for her to explore around and get closer to the forest. Kina will step out from her cage with utmost curiosity and will explore the environment around her from every single corner like a good inspector. She enjoys staying in a natural environment like a den that is decorated with leaves and decayed wood. Most of the time, she explores the enrichment that has been prepared in the den. Kina’s day can be so simple where even a small decayed wood can simply make her day. She just knows how to enjoy the time with her own ways by lying on the dry leaves and turning on her relax mode.
Kina is a playful bear. The keepers will play fight with her so she can also learn some of the defence skills to protect herself later onwards. She shows her strength during the play fight that can be seen through pawing, which is a bear way of playing. However, some of the bear survival skills cannot be taught from a caretaker such as foraging, building a tree nest and so on. Hence, we plan to introduce her to a new bear friend who can teach her to become a real bear using the bear way. We one day hope that Kina will forage, build nests and stay in the wild because she truly deserves it, and deserves to be a real wild bear.
Text by Monika Lapka
Photos by Chiew Lin May and Seng Yen Wah
My name is Monika and I'm 24 years old from Australia. I worked as a zoo keeper with mainly giant pandas for 3 years before I decided to quit my job to travel around Asia volunteering at a number of different animal conservation organisations.
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is the third organisation I have volunteered at since starting my travels. I found out about BSBCC during an Advancing Bear Care conference in Vietnam a few years ago, where I met Dr. Wong the founder and CEO of BSBCC. I spent 1 month volunteering at BSBCC and loved every second! I have learnt so much about Bornean Sun Bears, their husbandry requirements and the steps needed to successfully rehabilitate and release them into the wild. I am very grateful to have worked and helped such a beautiful centre who's main priority is definitely the welfare and survival of the species. Dr. Wong and his amazing team are doing an outstanding job for the sun bears.
I felt apart of the keeping team straight away, feeling very appreciated and respected.The keepers and staff that I worked with were extremely friendly and incredibly funny, always making me laugh. The amount of care and passion that the keeping staff have for the bears is very inspirational.
Manual labour and cleaning makes up most of the daily tasks. Cleaning the dens every morning can be quite challenging especially when the weather is very hot and humid. But it doesn't matter that you get all sweaty and smelly because what really is important is giving these beautiful rescued bears a lovely and clean space to spend their time.
One of my favourite parts of the day is making enrichment. A definite highlight was actually the first day when all the keeping staff, interns and volunteers gathered together in the afternoon to make enrichment for the bears. Everyone was sitting around making nest balls out of vines we collected earlier and egg carton sandwiches filled with ginger leaf and bananas. It honestly felt like a big happy family all talking and joking. It was a very heart warming moment for me, I felt apart of something special and a family away from home.
Another highlight was making one of my enrichment ideas come to life for one of my favourite bears, Bermuda. I got the idea from a picture I saw of a similar type of enrichment but for elephants! I thought a mobile, like what hangs over a baby's cot, could potentially be fun and mentally stimulating with the items attached rotating 360 degrees around above the bear. One of the staff, Tommy, helped me put it together and I had an absolute ball making it with him. We called it Bermuda's Lullaby and it turned out exactly as I imagined it in my head. It also looked very neat and pretty, very important I know, especially when a bear is potentially going to destroy it in seconds. We installed it in his den with a few peanut butter and honey smears in the PVC pipes and Bermuda loved it! Swinging it around and grabbing for the PVC pipe. It was wonderful to see that he enjoyed Tommy and my creation so much.
In my final week volunteering I was fortunate to see 2 new arrivals Kina and Sika. 2 tiny little bears that had been rescued and brought to BSBCC for a new start and potentially be released back into the wild in the future. Sika is only 6 months and Kina a year old. I had made firehose cubes before and one of the staff members, Lin May, asked me to make one for the new arrivals. I ended up making a loose cube which turned out to look like a ball. It wasn't until the day after the arrival of the 2 bears that Lin May showed me a video of Kina playing with the ball I'd made! Kina was rolling it around, lying on her back biting it, scratching at it and throwing it with her mouth. It brought tears to my eyes seeing this tiny little bear who had been stolen away from her mother and kept as a pet, in an environment far from her natural habitat being able to feel joy and start feeling more comfortable to settle into her new home. This was the most rewarding experience for me.
The biggest thank you to Dr. Wong Siew Te and the staff at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre for having me volunteer at their beautiful centre!
Volunteering at BSBCC has been an amazing experience that I will remember forever. I have absolutely fallen in love with Sabah, it is such a magical place that I plan to return as soon as possible. I have met some of the kindest, generous and absolutely hilarious people here in Borneo, making life long friends. I was truly sad to leave and say goodbye to what felt like home. The work, passion and determination that the BSBCC team have for sun bears and their conservation is truly inspirational! Keep up the amazing work and I will return soon to finish my Sabahan training!
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Azzry Dusain & Chiew Lin May
Today they saw their rescuers. Each rescued orphan sun bear needs to cope with the traumatic loss of their mother and generally ends up in the illegal pet trade. They all have a terrible start to their young lives. Surely their memories with the forest are all gone. They have never been given the chance to experience and exhibit their natural behavior.
Kina (rescued bear-54), a one year old female, was found around the village of Malak Palak, at Kota Marudu, in the northern region of Sabah. Now named Kina after the place where she was kept (originally nicknamed “Kalong” which was given by the previous owner). Her owner claimed that Kina’s mother was crossing a road and got frightened then just ran away and left Kina behind. Kina was just a bear cub and had not even opened her eyes yet. Hence, her owner took her and kept her for more than a year. We will never know exactly what happened to Kina before she was found alone in the forest. The owner then decided to surrender her to the Sabah Wildlife Department on February 2nd, 2017. Kina arrived at BSBCC on March 1st, 2017.
Kina had been kept as an illegal pet for a year. She had a relatively small head compared to her body and her canines appeared small. During the arrival she weighed 12.85kg. She showed signs of malnutrition and had been poorly cared for since she was a cub. She lacked sufficient nutrients for her growth and development due to being fed inappropriate food. She was fed rice, coconut, sugar cane and Nespray (full cream milk powder). Kina has a slender and pointy muzzle.
Upon rescue, Kina showed no fear of humans which has resulted from the habituation from the effect of being kept as an illegal pet. We are trying to wean her off close contact with humans and will introduce her to new bear friends. It was sad to see the trauma she had with the loss of her mother. She is a young energetic and playful bear full of enthusiasm. She is quickly settling into the quarantine. She is braver and accepts everything on offer. She enjoys the fun enrichment we come up with which can be seen through her love to explore around the den. Kina tries her best at demolishing dead logs to get every delicious treat out of the enrichment. However, feeding time is what she looks forward to the most. Her favourite is milk, banana, papaya, honey dew and HONEY! She will rub it over her head and body! She enjoys playing for hours with the bear ball. She tries different ways to tear, paw and roll to reach enrichment. Kina also is an expert in climbing logs by using her long and curved claws! This allows her to be happy and simply enjoy chilling as a bear!
The youngest female sun bear at our centre, Sika (Rescued bear-55), weighed 4.8kg when she arrived at BSBCC on March 1st, 2017. She was a tiny four month old, female sun bear cub. The Sabah Wildlife Department rescued Sika on February 9th, 2017 from Kampung Sikalabaan in Pensiagan district, one of the most rural areas in Sabah. Sika is named after the place that she was rescued from. Thankfully, Sika was found by a foreigner who travelled to the village. He had visited BSBCC before. He decided to call BSBCC and asked us to rescue this bear cub. He saw that the bear cub was being kept in a chicken mesh cage as a pet and had a diet mostly of condense milk, fruits and cereal.
Little Sika has stolen our hearts with her beautiful blue eyes. She is developing into a lovely and playful bear cub. Sika has a good appetite. She is currently in our intensive care where she will be given a balanced diet that comprises of milk and fruit. She shows more confidence in new surroundings. Sika has an amazing ability to climb high and hang on the platform. She is developing her muscles every day. Since Sika was just rescued and is still recovering from trauma, she prefers to spend most of her time staying high up on the platform or in the hammock to seek shelter and take a siesta. Our bear care staff also teach Sika to develop her defense skills through play fighting. She will show her small, sharp claws and small, curved canines during the play fights! Sika gets her first taste of a sweet life at BSBCC. Slowly, she will develop her forest skills.
These young bears are quickly settling into the new environment. They are in safe hands now and will settle in well at BSBCC quarantine for approximately 30 days. Bear care staff will focus more on enrichment and diet changes which will keep these rescued sun bears busy, active and stimulated. We will give them the care and nourishment they need and teach them all the skills necessary to fend for themselves in the wild. Both bears are building up their strength and are learning to trust their bear care takers.
That was the beginning of Kina and Sika’s new lives! This life of freedom and to put their traumatic pasts behind them is perfect for these beautiful bears. After they finish the quarantine, they will know only becoming WILD bears, sunshine, tall trees, nest building, bear-friends, treats, love and peace. Kina and Sika have many challenges ahead of them and much progress to make in order to succeed on their own in the wild. Sun bears are endangered and in risk of extinction. Please do NOT let sun bears suffer from psychological trauma and give them back the forest and mother bears they belong. Please help make a difference to help secure a future for sun bears like little Kina and Sika.