Text by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Photos by Tee Thye Lim & Chiew Lin May
One day in May 2008, a one year old female sun bear cub came from Lok Kawi Wildlife Zoo named Lawa to Sepilok. She had a beautiful face which would catch your eye. But, how does such a gorgeous bear end up at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre? Normally, cubs stay with their mothers until they are two to three years old. However, in Lawa's case, she was separated cruelly by killing the mother in order to get a cute sun bear cub, kept illegal as pet or sold on the illegal wildlife pet trade. Sun bear populations are estimated to have declined over 30% in the last three decades, leading for those bears being in danger of imminent extinction in the wild very real. Now, sun bears have been stated as totally protected species under Sabah Wildlife Enactment in 1997. People who keep them illegally and hunting them, will be fined up to RM50,000 and can be send to jail for 5 years, or both.
Lawa lost her mother when she was still a cub. She had no chance to learn the natural survival skills from her mother. The BSBCC provided her with a second chance, reintroducing her to natural forest enclosures. Lawa has grown into a smart, agile and independent bear. She is now nine years old, weighs 40.5kg. She has spend most of her days eagerly exploring up in the trees. She can make beautiful tree nests by using liana and tree branches. Nest building is one of the important but rare survival skills of a wild bear. After six years going through rehabilitation at the BSBCC there is now a happy ending for Lawa as she has acquired many vital survival skills and she is ready to return to her real forest home.
Release candidates are chosen based on their age and survival skills. They have to be fit in four conditions, they need to know how to forage, climb, nest building and lastly, the most important condition is they need to not attach to human and know how to avoid humans, in order to be at low risk of being killed by poachers or turn into a nuisance bear.
On 24th July 2016, the BSBCC is preparing the final stage for the release of Lawa to a core area of Tabin Wildlife Reserve. Located in the Lahad Datu, Sabah encompasses 120500 hectares of pristine rainforest. Before the big day, the bear team again needed to find Lawa in Pen G at 4 pm. Dr. Rosa Sipangkui, a veterinarian from the Sabah Wildlife Department, sedated Lawa. Once sedated, Lawa was moved from Pen G to bear house in order to undergo a full medical examination to ensure she is in good health before her release. Besides that, Wong Siew Te, BSBCC Founder and CEO made sure that Lawa’s satellite collar is functioning and well fitted on her. Finally, Lawa was moved into the translocation cage. She was then placed at the bear house area for a night. Our bear care keepers spent the night monitoring Lawa. She might not have known it, but after today her life will be totally different!
It is time to go! On 25th July 2016, when it was still dark, the bear release team was getting ready to depart from Sandakan to Tabin Wildlife Reserves on two trucks, taking Lawa to her second chance in the wild. The release team started in full force for the release of second sun bear back into the wild.
The team arrived at Tabin Wildlife Reserve Headquarter at 8.15 am. The morning sun and clear sky reminded us to start moving.
This year our release team will be using helicopter model Sabah Air Aviation Sdn Bhd (Bell 206 B3) Jetranger Underslung to reach our final destination.
We made the final release preparation and inspections to ensure the safety. The operation was split into two difference trips. The first trips, the team entered the mud volcano of Tabin forest to evaluate and identify the suitable release site.
They checked the wrapping net thoroughly. After final checks on Lawa by Dr. Rosa and Wong Siew Te, the team took the transportation cage and loaded it into the wrapping net. The process went smooth.
At 10.15 am, Wong Siew Te (BSBCC CEO & Founder) and Lawa was finally lifted up into the blue sky, heading to Tabin mud volcano. At 10.35 am, Bell 206 Jetranger that carrying Lawa landed safely on the Tabin mud volcano.
The arrival of Lawa was greeted by the sound of birds in Tabin Widlife Reserve. The sights, sounds and smells of Tabin Wildlife Reserve will be very new for Lawa. Immediately Lawa was taken to the release side by BSBCC team. Lawa looked well rested, happy and ready. She realized there were so many higher trees in pristine rainforest around her. She will soon free and ready to live a new life as a true wild sun bear!
After everything was set up, the moment to open the door and let Lawa take a deep breath with the sense of freedom arrived. Once the translocation cage was opened at 11.10 am , Lawa run out of the cage quickly. She was very fast, directly heading into the deep forest! We hope the best for her now! She will be starting to explore, forage and adjust to her new habitat. It was an emotional moment for all of us watching her walk away from the transportation cage and – off course - us. One moment we could still see her and at the blink of an eye, she disappeared into the tall trees. She finally home, in the forest. Enjoy your freedom Lawa! May you have a long and happy life there! Our bear care team will carefully monitor her progress via her satellite collar.
Sun bears are forest animals. They are playing important roles in the forest. They are forest gardeners. After they consume fruits, they travel along and disperse the seeds in the forest. They carry the seeds away from the mother tree, so that the seed has a higher survival rate. Next, they are forest engineers. Sun bears are excellent climber. One of the reasons that they climb up a tree is because they want to harvest the honey from bee hives. They will use their strong canine and sharp claws to tear off the tree trunk and get the honey inside. After that, it will create a cavity that provides a resting place to other animals like hornbills and flying squirrel. Besides that, they also are forest doctors. Termites are small insects which eventually cause a tree to get sick or die. This is because some termite species will build their nest inside the trees. But, sun bears eat termites. So, sun bears can help to control the population of termites and keep the forest healthy. Last but not least, they are forest farmers, because they are good diggers. They do a lot of digging which can actually help to mix up poor soil and rich soil to enhance the nutrient cycle in the forest. And, that is why we call them “the keystone species”. Lawa is now been released in the forest. She is carrying out a very important task. This is what she needs, the forest and the freedom.
We would like to take this opportunity to say a huge Thank Yous to the most amazing partner, the Sabah Wildlife Department, Dr.Rosa Sipangkui, the Sabah Forestry Department, LEAP, the Tabin Rangers, the BSBCC team, our volunteers and Brad Josephs who help fundraise and Kynite Filming Crews who helped and supported us generously with Lawa’s release. Thanks to the years of hard work spent rehabilitating Lawa, she will have the opportunity to roam free in the wild, back where she belongs. Reintroduction programs for sun bears are very costly. We need your support to protect this magnificent species from extinction. Help us release more sun bear back to wild by donating at www.bsbcc.org.my. You can make a difference in the future survival of sun bears!
Text and Photos by Brad Josephs
This past April I had a two week gap between guiding trips in china and Borneo for natural habitat adventures this past April and I could think of no better to spend the time than support the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center (BSBCC.). The founder of the program, Wong Siew Te, is one of the great conservation champions of today. click here to read about Wong, The Sun Bear Hero of Sabah. http://www.alaskabearsandwolves.com/the-sun-bear-hero-of-sabah/
Wong was actually in my freshman class at the university of Montana wildlife biology program in the mid 90"s, and we remember each other, but i transferred to UAF before I really got to know him. He went on to become the first sun bear biologist and founder of the BSBCC, which focuses on public outreach and education, rescuing orphaned bears, or those confiscated by local authorities from the illegal pet trade, and rehabilitating them through introduction into semi wild enclosures. The final goal is to release rehabilitated bears that have regained wild instincts back into the wild to bolster numbers and genetic health of existing wild populations.
Wong took me as a volunteer and my duties were diverse. I cleaned the bear house daily, prepared and dispersed meals of rice, fruits, vegetables and eggs, collected treats such as fresh leaves and insects from the surrounding jungle, photographed the Bears for the center's use, and set up an Instagram account to supplement their social media campaign. I learned so much and it felt so good to work up a sweat every day to help care for these orphaned sun bears, and take some pressure of the dedicated staff.
During dinner one night I asked Wong what I could do to help him the most and he said he needed funding for the release of a female bear named Lawa, a nine year old female bear who was rescued as a orphaned cub and rehabilitated at the BSBCC. Lawa is an excellent climber, builds nests in trees to sleep, forages for termites and other insects, and shows a healthy disassociation and avoidance of humans, which is a crucial behavior for released bears. She has been a candidate for release for a year, but the funding wasn't there. It costs around 13000 U.S. Dollars to charter helicopters for Lawa and the staff to reach a safe wilderness zone, and pay for the radio collar equipment to track Lawa after her release. Monitoring and documenting the status of a released bear is crucial for biologists to learn how rehabilitated bears adjust to the wilderness.
I decided to try a Gofundme campaign to see if I could help with the financial constraints. A few days later I received an email from Natural Habitat Adventures saying that they would like to sponsor the campaign with an impressive 5000 dollars! I was so proud of my company, but not surprised since we are the most conservation focused travel company in the world.
After 10 days around 40 generous donors put up 5000 dollars into the GoFundMe campaign, including one of my high school friends, Ben Bourne, who gave $1000. I guided my trip in early May, which includes a visit to the BSBCC. Tim Brown, one of the travelers in my group pulled me aside and told me that he wanted to donate as much as was needed to finish the campaign, and donated $3000 right there. It was done in three weeks! Lawa will be a wild bear again before this summer is over.
My time volunteering at BSBCC was the most rewarding things I have done in many years. I learned that sun bears are a species unknown to the world, and are in dire circumstances as a species due to poaching and habitat loss. Building a rapport with the bears, and with the dedicated workers specializing in sun bear conservation was an amazing experience. I would recommend this program to anyone who is passionate about wildlife conservation, and can withstand hard work in an oppressive tropical climate.. I hope to return again to support this program, as it needs lots and lots more help. Lets keep fighting!
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May
After a year, it’s time for the bears to do their annual health check.
We really appreciate Dr.Pakeeyaraj Nagalingam, who is a Veterinarian from the Sabah Wildlife Department, Wildlife Rescue Unit, to conduct this health check for all the bears in BSBCC with his valuable time and great efforts.
Each bear requires a full general anesthetic with the purpose of putting them under sedation for doing an extensive health check. After the bear has been darted, it takes some time for the bears to be sufficiently sedated. The bear can only be carried out from the cage once they are sedated enough.
Dr.Pakee conducted a full physical examination including dental condition, paws and wound problems. Growth measurements such as zoological length, head circumstance, neck size, chest girth and shoulder height, and the shank length was taken by bear keepers. All the measurements were recorded in measurement form. We also took hair samples and saliva for research purposes. Blood samples had to be taken by the vet and the samples will be sent to a laboratory in order to get more detail on the health status of the bears.
After we have done all the measurements, we would like to do a paw print for the bears. However, the paw print can only be done when there is not any wounds on their paws. If their paws showed up with wounds, we had to make a record of it.
Lastly, this is the chance for taking a good picture of their chest marks.
All the bears can be considered as healthy bears. However, take the bears away from the wild and keep them in inappropriate conditions can cause many chronic health problems for the bears. They will lose their instinct to take care of themselves.
Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan stayed in quarantine. Now, these three little sub-adult sun bears have moved from quarantine to Bear House 1 to join a big family. Their moving was given a hearty welcome by all the sun bears in the bear house through lots of welcoming barks.
Boboi was the first one who was moved to Bear House 1. He was depressed in the first day. He had no appetite and stayed on the hammock most of the time. Having no friend staying beside him was making him a bit aggressive. Luckily, this situation did not hold for too long. After one day, Kitud was moved to the bear house. Boboi tried his best to take a look at his dearest friend, Kitud, through the cage bar. After Kitud woke up from the health check, they could not wait to stay together. So, keepers integrated them inside a cage. They seemed so happy to have each other. They always stay together in the basket or on the hammock. Boboi grew an appetite after meeting Kitud. They were sharing a tray. After one day more, Tan Tan joined them. Finally, these three little friends met again. And, they help each other to adapt in this new environment. This is because the best enrichment for a bear is other bears.
The happy news for the health check this time is not only Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan joined a big family, but also the very big and special event for Lawa, a 9 year old adult,female bear. Maybe you will be wondering what is the special event for Lawa? And now, we are so happy to share our happiness with you. On June 3rd, 2016, was the collaring for our second release candidate, Lawa. Lawa was surrendered to the BSBCC in 2008 when she was only a one year old cub. She had lost her mother and her forest home, and it was hard to imagine that she ever thought her life might change to be better again.
Lawa is ready to live a new life as a truly wild sun bear! Lawa showed all the signs of an excellent candidate for release after being rehabilitated for nine years. She built up her survival skills and independence and quickly adapted to forest living. Lawa is excellent in climbing trees, foraging for food, nest building and she avoids people! She has explored and stayed in the forest every day for the last nine years.
There was a sunny and challenging day. With the excellent team from the Sabah Wildlife Department, Dr. Rosa Sipangkui and Elis Tambing, Wong Siew Te (BSBCC Founder & CEO) and the BSBCC staff, Lawa was tranquilized without any upset in her forest enclosure. This was so we were able to attach a satellite collar on her before her release into the wild. Our mission of the day was to find Lawa in pen K with the presence of Cerah and Kuamut. All the bear keepers had a short meeting before going to find Lawa. They were fully geared up on this operation. They split into 2 groups, one group went inside the pen and one group stayed outside as backup. We spent some time searching for Lawa due to her high survival skills. She showed up a few times but once she realized something was not right around her, she just ran away from the bear keepers’ eye sight. After a few attempts, finally one of our bear keepers, Thye Lim, found her. She had hidden herself in dense bamboo bushes. With the help of Dr.Rosa Sipangkui and Elis Tambing she was successfully darted in one shot.
Bear keepers moved Lawa from pen K to the bear house once she was under sedation for the health check and collaring. A general health check starts with weighing, she currently weighs 41.3 kg and after an assessment of potential sickness, functionality of organs and physical condition, Wong Siew Te helped fitting the collar on Lawa.
After the health check Lawa was placed into the new forest enclosure. A one month observation will be carried out to make sure the satellite collar functions well and Lawa gets used to the collar. This is a precious opportunity for a bear to be released back to the wild. They belong to the wild. Captivity will never be their first choice. Natalie is the first release candidate bear. Now, Lawa is the second bear candidate for release. It’s time for her to return back to her real home, the forest. It has been a long time but it will never be too late for her to be home. Lawa is extremely curious and has started to explore her new forest environment as a wild sun bear.
It is a pleasure to see a bear given the second chance to return back to where they belong! Thank you to Brad Josephs for your support in helping the fundraising for Lawa’s release. Her journey to freedom has been made possible with generous support and kind contributions from you all!
Lawa has been thriving since she was rescued. She is eager to show that her world is in the forest! Lawa is an agile and cheerful sun bear. She is become excellent in foraging, digging for grubs, sniffing out bee hives, climbing trees and building a tree nest on her own. It makes you realize how wild these sun bears are meant be.
With her strong natural instincts and mastered all the survival skills, Lawa will soon be a great candidate to release in the wild. Please help us to make Lawa’s freedom possible and give her a future where she belongs! Your support is vital to us. We cannot do it without you!
Here is the site just specify for Lawa gofundme campaign.
Your donation is much appreciated!
Text By Leonardo Jainih (Intern Student)
Photo by Chiew Lin May
The primary goal of Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) is to promote sun bear conservation in Borneo by creating the capacity to rehabilitate and release suitable ex-captive bears back into the wild forest again. In order to achieve this goal, one of BSBCC’s efforts or actions is by allowing the bears to explore and forage the beautiful forest enclosure around them. Building up a forest enclosure is not as simple as just putting up a fence as sun bears love to dig the ground and to climb over the fence. The fence cannot be too close to the tall trees in the habitat or the more adventurous chaps might be able to venture out into the wild. From rehabilitation program, it actually encourage the natural bear behaviour and reintroduce them to the forest environment. For example, they dig to find food such as earthworms, termites, ants and bettles, climbing trees to sleep, search for honeybees and feed on fruits. In August this year, some exciting for the bears (Cerah, Jelita, Susie, Kuamat, Lawa and Manis) to experience await them. They are all adult female sun bears aged from 8 to 9 years old except for Manis (14 years old). The bears had been waiting for their new forest enclosure (Pen K) after they were moved to the second bear house when medical check were conducted on them weeks ago.
This process of releasing the bears to their new forest enclosure start with slowly open up the guillotine door for them to start their new chapter of life. Fruits such as papaya, watermelon, rambutan and honey dew were scattered around the ramp and on the forest floor. Usually, the bears will start sniffing their new environment and surely eats the fruits prepared for them. However, almost all the rescued bears at BSBCC had this one tricky habit which was trying to grab the fruits at the ramp and left at least their hind leg inside the den, as if to say, “I bet you would not close the quillotine door as long as parts of my body is still inside the den”.
Cerah was the first bear to come out from her den and began her journey to the new forest enclosure (Pen K). She was hesitant to go outdoors at first, sniffing the air and fruits near the entrance to her indoor enclosure. However, after nearly a week with food laid out on a ramp, Cerah took her first official step out to the forest.
As expected, it took a while for the bears to venture, but after a few sniffs and a scan through the new forest enclosure as well, they became more curious and anxious. No one said that this was an easy task as there were few bears took about 6 months to finally stepped out from their den and foraging the forest.
Cerah is one of Jelita’s bestfriend and roommate. She is a clever and curious young lady-bear, who tends to welcome new faces with a friendly sniff. Whenever new enrichment activitiy is introduced, Cerah is not one to follow her stomach. Unlike Jelita, Cerah is always curiously to seek out and explore the new toys before finding the food, even if it is one of her favourite treats. That is why Cerah was the first one to come out from her den to the forest enclosure.
Finally, Manis was the last bear among all six bears stepped out from her den and start exploring her new environment with high curiousity. In the end, Manis get to shares her enclosure with five other sun bears (Cerah, Jelita, Susie, Kuamut and Lawa). Despite all of this she equally likes her own space and if she is not in the mood for company, she lets the other females know quickly to leave her alone. It can be concluded that this plan is a successful one as it took only a month for all the bears at Pen K step out to the forest enclosure everyday. In no time, they remembered how to be wild sun bear again by digging at dead wood in search of insects like termites and beetles, and exploring and roaming the forest in peace.
Our hope is that one day they will confidently walked out and be ready for the wild forest but this is not an easy task. It really requires a huge amount of resources if it is to be done successfully. Therefore, it is very important to help them to remember how to be bears again so that they can survived in the wild without our help.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Chin was rescued from the Tawau district where she was kept at the primary school’s mini zoo. On October 20th, 2014, we relocated Chin to our BSBCC bear house to join a gorgeous group of bears. We started to introduce Chin to other female adult bears so that they can live together. Integrating sun bears is a helpful process through which the bears can develop and learn pertinent skills for survival in the wild. We hoped the integration would go well.
Chin was introduced to the adult female bears which included Susie, Kuamut, Tokob, Cerah, Jelita and Lawa. Because it would be too overwhelming for Chin to meet all six sun bears at the same time, one by one introduction was started for the first seven days. Through the expressions of Chin’s behaviour, she could not wait to play with other female bears. Five of the female bears were very pleased to have a new playmate, inquisitively sniffing and offering a friendly paw to Chin. Chin is very playful bear! A few months on, they continue to enjoy and learn to understand each other better, and no aggression was noted. They would play chase, climb around and share enrichment with each other. Their friendships blossomed.
Here are couples of photos shows the integration Chin with the other female adult group.
Integration Chin with Cerah
Integration Chin with Jelita
Integration Chin with Lawa
Integration Chin with Susie
Integration Chin with Kuamut
However, Tokob did not welcome the newcomer. Tokob’s reaction toward Chin was very strong, growling and barking on a defensive way. Tokob has a very strong sense of curiosity, but maintains her distance around Chin. Tokob is very alert, and demonstrates a bit more dominance than Chin so we will have to be patient while this integration unfolds. We will continue to monitor these two bears until we are certain that they are good playmates and we will keep you updated on their progress!
Integration Chin with Tokob
Text and video by Chiew Lin May
Tropical rainforest are the sun bear's main habitat. They are tree lover and can climb extremely well. Many of the features are specifically adapted for a more tree-dwelling lifestyle. Example the long, curved, pointy claws and they can rotate their arm just like primate do. However, sun bear faces many challenges for its survival, including destruction of forests and commercial hunting.
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) would like to help and conserve sun bears.Please help us save them.Watch this video to discover what we do know about this amazing and special sun bears in their natural habitat.
Text and photos by Siew Te Wong
Today as I do my routine walk in the forest enclosure of BSBCC to check on the sun bears, I saw Lawa the female sun bear climb a tree and rest on top of it. It was a dead tree full with lianas. I immediately used the Nokon sponsored D5000 and the 18-55 mm zoom lens to capture these images. Please see these photos or yourself to learn the amazing lifestyles of these bears in the tropical rainforest of Borneo. If I have a better zoom or telephoto lenses, I am sure I will take better photos. Anybody wanted to sponsor us a longer lens?
Only in Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, you can see sun bear behave like a wild bear.
Only in BSBCC, you can see sun bear climb the tree and sleep on a tree.
Only in BSBCC, you can learn about the sun bear and their forest habitat.
BSBCC aims to conserve sun bear though animal welfare, education, rehabilitation and research.
We are half way there; please help us make it happen.
Please do what you do best to help us.
Please help sun bears.
Please visit http://sunbears.wildlifedirect.org/how-can-you-help-sun-bears/
After 4 years of idea developing, planning, and more than 3 years of hard working from many people, I am proud to present you the sun bears that we rescued at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre!
Although not all of our bears are in the forest enclosures, we are working hard to train them so that they can adapt their new life in the forest enclosures soon. These sun bears feed a lot on natural food items such as termites, and ants, in the forest enclosures. Both sightings and scat analysis conformed this observation.
Today I have a great day seeing Cerah, Jelita, and Lawa the sun bears destroying decayed wood to feed on termites, climbing on tree to feed on ants, and digging on soil but do not know what they were after. What I know that they were having a lot of fun, chasing and playing with each other in the dense forest floor!
Thanks to you all and your kind support;
Thanks to all the Bear Action Team volunteers who help us built this and built that;
Thanks to all the husbandry volunteers who help us clean cages, prepare bear food, make enrichments, and take good care of our bears;
Thanks to all the BSBCC staff, especially Wai Pak, and all the LEAP team, Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre team, for making the life of our bears better;
Thanks to Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department, and LEAP to be the partners of this project;
WE DID IT BECAUSE OF YOU!
Finally, thanks to Peter Yuen for helping us took these photos of our bears in the forest enclosure.
Now everyone can see sun bears in the forest!
You can read more Peter's Yuen photography work and support BSBCC by buying these photos online:
~ Siew Te Wong, Founder and CEO, Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre
Text by Shauna Tay; Photos by Siew Te Wong
The independent women (sun bears la..) of BSBCC – Cerah, Jelita, and Lawa – were let out into a newly secure forest enclosure (Enclosure C) last week . They’ve previously been out into Enclosure D on a regular basis and have all become confident to outdoors. On the 20th of April we had fixed Enclosure C where the fence were damaged by fallen branches that was much larger and with more new trees, vegetation, and smells for them to discover.
Some background knowledge about these three ladies; all sent at different times from Lok Kawi Zoo in Kota Kinabalu. Their ages range from 4-5 years, with Lawa as the dominant one in the group. Cerah and Jelita are the best of friends (which is surprising as bears are usually solitary animals) and absolutely adore each other’s company.
On Day 1 Cerah and Jelita had gone out happily into this big patch of forest. However Lawa stayed back in the pen – still building up the courage to go out as this was a whole new area. For their 2 o’clock meal of fruits, we had scattered them all over the outdoor enclosure to encourage them to eat out in the forest, where they should, rather than in their pen. This is also done to encourage foraging – a very important skill for a wild bear to have.
While Lawa hung around in their pen, Cerah and Jelita decided to be rebels. They didn’t come back in for their 4 o’clock porridge meal, yet decided to keep on exploring outdoors throughout the night! Although this was not planned, it’s actually a great thing as they would be able to find places for themselves to sleep outside, and also have the opportunity to build their own nests. We had left their pen door open for them to come back when they were ready, and sure enough they were sitting there with open arms for their breakfast in the morning.
Day 2, 3, 4 and 5 went on pretty much the same except that Cerah and Jelita actually returned for their evening meals rather than staying out all night. Day 6, Lawa finally stepped foot into the outdoor enclosure at 2pm. All three of the ladies are outside in the wilderness tonight. Hopefully with more observations, they’ll be in the queue to be released out into the wild – for good.