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.
By SayLin Ong
I am into my final week of volunteering in BSBCC. It definitely feels like time is passing by much too quickly. I am hoping to accomplish as much as I can in the remaining days before I fly home with Yuru.
It is important to keep our mindsets in line with that of BSBCC. It is after all Phase 1 of the project now, and much needs to be done to prepare the bears for Phase 2. The aim is to empower the bears with the confidence to step out into the outside enclosures, exposing them to their natural habitat. In our first 2 weeks, good enrichment ideas were implemented, much credit to Mark and Yuru. Some of these devices are still being utilized by the bears. It is always an achievement to come up with enrichment devices that the animals do not get bored of easily.
From now onwards, we will attempt to implement enrichments with specific goals in mind. 3 bears are of particular concern to us, namely Ah Chong, Bermuda and Manis. Ah Chong is a mature male, somewhat too comfortable in his den. He is definitely the heaviest of the 12 bears in the centre, almost always ground-dwelling, contrary to his species description. Upon being tempted by tasty bananas smeared with honey, his rare display of arboreal skills almost warrant a round of applause from all of us watching.
This here is an unflattering picture of Ah Chong’s rear. The problem with him is that he is curiously afraid of stepping out into the training enclosure, a big area meant for acclimatising bears to the outside enclosures. Our challenge is to try and coax him out, to let him know that everything’s alright outside his comfort zone. More details can be seen in Mark’s post @ http://matahari-bears.tumblr.com/post/644289648/chong-day-one.
Today was the 2nd day using the same method for Ah Chong. He showed an improvement in response to the ‘stimulus’. It was evident that he was very frustrated, with both his best friend Om as well as the log stuffed with treats barely beyond his reach. He constantly looked out at Om, paced around impatiently and tugged at the sliding gates much to our amusement. We held our breaths every time he leaned through his doorway. Hopefully in the coming days, he will be tempted enough to venture out and stay out.
This here is Bermuda, showing off his powerful frame. He was practically in that position for at least 15 minutes trying to tackle his enrichment device. A simple concept designed by myself to encourage Bermuda to be more constructive. I was surprised that he didn’t destroy everything in minutes, the positioning might have made things difficult for him.
Bermuda has the tendency to be reclusive, often not bothering with the leaves and branches that we provide in his den. After meals, he’d regurgitate and eat up the liquid expulsion repeatedly, a sign of boredom that captive animals display. I hope to provide enough enrichments to interest him and hopefully pry him away from his bad habits. He still went back to his rather unsightly habit today after last feeding, hopefully we’ll have better luck tomorrow.
Manis is a special little girl whom everyone has a soft spot for as well. She has the tendency to display the typical pacing behaviour that would make all caretakers worried. She was taken in from a zoo, probably one that did not provide much space nor enrichment for her, thus leading to her pacing behaviour. When she is not socialising with the rest of the females, she would usually be walking in circles in an anti-clockwise direction. It is heartbreaking to see that even her head is tilting in that particular direction while she circles. She also ranks the lowest in her group hierarchy, often not able to participate in enrichments provided to sharing.
This was the device Amanda, Mark and Yuru came up with, an adaptation from the Macaw enrichments back in Night Safari. We managed to confine her to a single den of her own, thus giving her a chance to enjoy her enrichment without competition from the other 3 girls. Manis was so occupied that she left her dinner half eaten!
She did however go back to her pacing habit shortly after. We plan to continue such enrichments for all 3 bears in the hope that they will respond better in time to come.
Posted May 30, 2010 at 12:24pm
By Mark Rusli
Coconuts for the adult females today. Was trying to figure out a creative way to use our large stash of coconuts which were collecting dust and harvesting ants; eventually Amanda and I somehow concluded to suspend it in unreachable places. Manis got her own personal alone time with her coconut, because we were afraid her groupmates would steal it from her.
We were talking about how enrichments that successfully occupy Manis gives us a personal sense of satisfaction. Manis has this perpetual glazed, distant look, which is probably another manifestation of the psychological damage derived from her time in the zoo. To bring her back, to make her do normal “bear” things, means so much more.
Saturday, June 5th 2010 12:13am
Text by Ng Wai Pak
Elis and I stayed one night at Kota Kinabalu. The next morning, Dr. Sen was checking on the pregnant bear before we put her into the translocation cage. The bear’s name is Manis, which mean “sweet” in Malay language. Her weight was 43.7 kg. She might give birth within this month.
After made sure Manis was in healthy condition, we placed her in the cage with leaves and twigs. Then we hit the road back to Sepilok.
Manis did well in her 8 hours road trip to BSBCC at Sepilok especially when we drove passed the foothill of the Mount Kinabalu. Mt Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Southeast Asia with an elevation of 4095 m a.s.l. We all enjoyed the beautiful scene and the cold air that is so much different from the warm, humid lowland air. Like the day before, we stopped several times to let Manis drink and eat some fruits. Manis was very gentle to me and Elis even though we were new to her. She never barked or show any signs of stress and aggression at us.
We were arrived at BSBCC Sepilok about 6 pm. I hope Manis will like her new home and live happily in our centre. Now her new home has a birthing den with a 24 CCTV monitoring system to record her very movement. Finally, we also pray that Manis could give birth to a healthy bear cub successfully this time.