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 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.
Video By Chiew Lin May
Sunset + beg log + cicada sound = Best Life
Mary is having a "sunbathe" yoga on her favourite bed log! Please say NO to illegal logging and PROTECT their forest home!
Video by Chiew Lin May
Did you know that sun bears are excellent tree climbers?
Video by Chiew Lin May
Sun bears serve as "forest farmers" by help mix nutrients in the soil to enhance the forest nutrient cycle.
One of our female rescued sun bears, Mary finds great joy in digging and digs like an archaeologist looking for grubs and termites!
Please protect sun bears from extinction. They serve important ecologic roles to maintain the health of our forest ecosystem!
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by BSBCC & Chiew Lin May
I am not an ordinary sun bear cub as I became a victim of the illegal wildlife trade.
A villager reported that I was found on a palm oil plantation while hunting for bearded pigs. I was kept as a house pet and ended up spending the beginning of my life confined in a tiny cage.
I was only two months old and weighed 2-3 kg. At two months old, I should be with my mother. In the wild, I should be tightly with my mum and relying on her protection and care for two to three years of my life. My mum was killed by a poacher, which is a common fate for sun bears. Many people still are not aware of the negative impacts and how illegal it is to keep a sun bear as a pet.
Due to the unbalanced diet with no milk and being kept in severely cramped conditions, I showed signs of malnutrition, calcium deficiency and stunted growth. It was sad to see the trauma I had to suffer alone. I am a dwarf with my limbs weak so I need to walk slowly.
Thankfully, on September 12th, 2011 Sabah Wildlife Department came and rescued me, and BSBCC gave me very close care.
During my rehabilitation, my papa bear, Dr. Wong Siew Te (BSBCC CEO &
Founder), took me out for daily forest walks to learn the survival skills I need in the wild. Wong is like my surrogate mother. This was amazing since it gives me the chance to return to my forest home. I learnt from my papa bear how to climb trees, how to balance myself when resting on trees, how to forage for wild food (example: fruits and invertebrates), how to defend myself and how to avoid predators. I am adapting really well to my new forest environment and am getting good practice for my life in the forest home. My papa bear helps me strengthen my muscles and makes sure I am capable in walking, climbing trees, running, and learning useful moves everyday! They prepared a variety of enrichment for me to ensure my natural instincts are prevalent. Mary, the sun bear wants to give Thanks to my papa bear, Wong – “Despite my stunted body, I am still a brave and confident bear! He helped me grow stronger, his tireless efforts to care for me while learning to become a wild bear and for giving me a second chance, and the dedication to protecting my fellow sun bears. I truly did not believe I would survive. It has meant everything to me, my Papa bear!”
It took a long time for me to undergo the rehabilitation process. I am in good health while under the care of BSBCC. For me, being previously kept as a pet made me forget that I am actually a sun bear. Suckling is an innate behavior. I should suckle my mum for seeking comfort but I had lost her, and the chance to seek protection and comfort. This makes me only able to suckle my own feet to seek comfort.
But a year later, with the care from BSBCC, I am slowly thriving!
I am a friendly character which makes me so incredibly loveable. I love to wrestle with the other bears.
Due to my relatively short and smaller sized body, I am now only able to socialise with the sub-adult group. Within these six years, I have been introduced to many groups of bears which have included Fulung, Debbie, Ah Bui, Bongkud, Koko, Damai, Sunbearo, Loki, Bintang, Boboi, Kitud, Tan-Tan, Dodop, Wawa, Montom, Susie2, Kala, Nano and Noah. I am very social with the other bear friends – through lots and lots of happy bear wrestling.
I greatly enjoy the time in the jungle with my friends
I am keen to explore my surroundings.
I am always up to something which is connected to food and have a good appetite.
I am at the age where I still am learning to be a wild bear and show a lot of natural behaviors such as digging, foraging, climbing and love finding my own protein supply of termites, beetles, beetle larvae or soil.
I love climbing to the top of the trees.
Although we are very arboreal and agile, here we sometimes will compete with each other to get to the top of the tree canopy! We are up in the trees, which is where we belong!
During sunny days, I prefer to stay in shady places – either in the underbrush or in the trees.
It is my determination!
The rest of the time, we enjoy wrestling, chasing each other, rolling, climbing trees, snoozing on a treetop or the forest floor, feeling the breeze stirring the treetops,
lounging by a pool
and carrying on making mischief and it is a whole load of fun! We find out about life in the forest together and are loving every minute of it! I am in my own world! But most importantly, I know I am part of the sun bear family.
What a wonderful experience and opportunity I have after such a traumatic beginning. Please spread the word that sun bears are WILD animals that belong in the forest, and NOT to end up behind bars. We need to clear the pet trade, poaching and deforestation. It is not over yet! Please let us enjoy the taste of freedom in the forest where we belong!
Text by Nur Athirah Binti Asrif (UNIMAS student)
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Sunbears belong to the wild, in a vast forest and not in a cramped cage or behind iron bars. All the sunbears in the centre have their own despairing stories from before they were rescued. There might be more bears out there that need our help, faint voices that long to be rescued. Sunbears belong in the forest where trees become their shade and bushes comfort them as their pillows. However, not all of them have the opportunity to be able to enjoy the life they deserve. The canopies that are supposed to give them shelter are replaced with a human house, the tree branches for them to sleep and relax on are substituted with iron bars. The state of the 'homes' that are provided by humans are devastating enough, let alone the food they consume. Some of the bears are given only condensed milk by their previous owner, when their true diets range from fruits, insects and small mammals. As a conservation centre, this place provides all the essential things for the bears to experience the life they are supposed to. In the process of rehabilitation, the bears will be released into the forest enclosure after passing their fence training and integration with the other bears. For most of us at the centre, the small steps that the bears take to enter the forest enclosure is a big leap for everyone, especially the sunbears themselves.
This time around is our favorite duo, Noah and Nano. Both Noah and Nano have never been into a forest enclosure before let alone the vast jungle. On the 13th of August 2017, both Noah and Nano were given their first attempt to be released inside the forest enclosure of Pen D. As the guillotine door was opened, both Noah and Nano were full of anxiety. Both of them had never smelt the scent of the trees, nor had they seen the vibrancy of the greeneries. For them, it was like a new world that may or may not be secure for the both of them. Noah and Nano took their turns to take a glimpse outside of the cage. The rays of sunshine gave them a warmer impression of the forest. For their first attempt to be released in the forest enclosure, both Noah and Nano showed a positive response by letting their heads outside the G-door, although they had zero intention to go out in that moment.
Luckily, a great troop from the same pen which consists of Mary, Wawa, and Dodop, came down the forest enclosure of Pen D and had a visit to their new pen-mates, Noah and Nano. As Noah saw Wawa, Dodop and Mary playing under the sun and smothering their bodies with mud, Noah finally tried to walk down the ramp. Noah took a very little and cautious step down the ramp. It took him several attempts to finally touch the ground for the very first time. Noah's paw touched the wet mud but he was quick to retrieve himself and climbed back into the cage. It may have been humorous to us, but it was a bizarre experience for Noah as it was his first time experiencing the feel of the muddy texture. The weird greetings of the forest ground did not stop Noah from trying.
Wawa and Dodop, the other bears who also stay in the forest enclosure of Pen D, have helped Noah a lot in encouraging him to go down. As various foods were thrown into the pen, Noah finally went down and followed the other bears which were Wawa and Dodop. Noah enjoyed himself by playing with the water in the drainage and scraping most of the dead logs in the enclosure. Even the great amount of honey on the ground did not bother him as he was too immersed in his new surroundings. As days passed, Noah became more adventurous like he used to be.
He even climbed the trees which were guarded by Wawa and Dodop. The moment when Noah climbed the tree for the first time was such an enchanting and touching scene, showing how great it is for them to be able to enjoy the forest again. There was nothing in the world that could stop Noah in that moment as he ventured the whole forest enclosure himself. He digs every possible pit, scrapes every stray log and sniffs every inch of the greeneries.
Nano, on the other hand, is still cautious and chooses to stay in the cage by himself. Nevertheless, he always appears to be calm and has his own ways of enjoying the forest. Unlike Noah, Nano has his front legs crossed on the ramp while having his head resting on it. Nano chooses to enjoy the forest in a more calmer way and is more interested in the view of the forest rather than the touch of it.
As for now, Noah has become a part of Mary’s group and has the best time of his life everyday in the forest. Every morning when the guillotine door is opened, Noah is always there getting ready to enter the forest enclosure again to begin his new journey. On the ramp, Nano is always there relaxing and enjoying the forest with his own ways and will join Noah in the forest soon!
Text and Photos by Seng Yen Wah
Every bear carries different baggage arriving to BSBCC. But they learn everything necessary from the beginning in the forest enclosure with their friends.
In nature, sun bear cubs stay with their mothers until they two to three years old. When people take cubs away from their mothers, they also take away their chance of learning the survival skills from their mothers as well. If people only keep them as a pet in a small cage, they can never learn what they need to survive in the wild. This is the reason why our integration program becomes so important for the bears.
The best enrichment for a bear is another bear. When they spend their time with their friends, they can learn relevant skills from them. Besides that, socialization can help to reduce bears stereotypical behavior. The forest enclosure provides them with a natural environment and enough space where they can explore with lots of activities, such as foraging, digging, climbing and play fight with each other.
Sun bears are the smallest bears among the bear species. But, they have the longest tongue amongst their peers. Their tongue is about 25cm to 30cm long. They not only use their long tongue to lick the honey out of bee nests, but also eat small insects found in decayed wood, such as ants and termites. By using their long tongue, they can reach the deep inside of bee nests or decayed wood to get themselves lots of yummy treats.
Sun bears have a keen olfactory sense. In order to encourage them to utilize their sense of smell, food is scattered around in the forest enclosures by bear keepers. This will encourage them to do more foraging. In the forest enclosure, they can also forage for the small insects.
Sun bears have very strong canines and sharp claws. They are the excellent climbers. With the help of their curved shape claws, the can climb up trees reaching to 60m heights. Sun bears are the arboreal animals. They climb up on trees for sunbathing and resting. Besides that, there are using their claws for tearing apart the dead wood to get their important source of protein, the small insects as well.
Sun bears are a forest dependent species. The expertise of sun bears in their habitat makes them survive in the wild. However, poaching issues are still threatening their survival even though sun bears are a totally protected species under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment of 1997. Poachers are continuously hunting them illegally for consumption, medicine or decorative purposes. Please save the sun bears. They deserve to stay in the wild free and happy. Thank you!
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Tan-Tan was bought by a person with the purpose of rescuing her from being sold in the remote region of Paitan. After the person bought Tan-Tan, he informed the Sabah Wildlife Department and the Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit sent her to BSBCC on August 5th, 2015. On the other hand, Boboi and Kitud were kept together in a cage before they were handed over to the Sabah Wildlife Department in Singgaron Village, Ranau district. They were originally from Pitas, Sabah and only arrived at BSBCC on October 30th, 2015.
Boboi, Kitud and Tan-Tan stayed together in quarantine. Boboi is like a big brother that always backs up Kitud and Tan-Tan. Tan-Tan is the little one. She likes to follow behind Kitud so that she can get more comfort. If Boboi and Kitud are not around her, she will seek for them. Kitud is dominant, even though her size is not as big as Boboi. But, she always leads them to take an adventure with her. After the health check, they were moved from quarantine to the bear house. This was the time for them to meet the sub-adult group.
The sub-adult group and also the big group was very welcoming for them to join as new members. The sub-adult group members included Sunbearo, Loki, Ronnie Girl, Momtom, Damai, Susie2, Mary and Kala. They were playing well together, even though Kitud and Tan-Tan have a smaller body size than them. Here we have a little warm story about Tan-Tan and Susie2. Susie2 had trauma with her early life. This made Susie2 avoid herself from others. But, little sweet Tan-Tan would approach her and follow her when she met Susie2. She would accompany her silently from behind. Momtom and Sunbearo, the big brothers and Mary, Loki and Ronnie Girl, the big sisters, have shown more interest to play with them. Damai has no interest to play with them. She prefers to stay in the hammock and when they try to disturb her, she will give them warning. Also, the way that Kala played was too rough for them. But they did not have serious aggression with each other. And now, they can share a cage and stay with the sub-adult group.
Before they went back to the forest, they had to go through fence training. Fence training is a training to let the bears know that the hot wire may zap them if they get too close to it.This is because all the forest enclosures are surrounded by hot wire. These three little bears are full of courage. From the first day they got zapped, they climbed on the electric fence and began barking. Now, they can move freely between the buffer cage and training pen. They even can play fight in the training pen. Most of the bears do not like the training pen. This is because every bear has been zapped in here before. But, not for Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan. From the first week, the three of them almost had been zapped everyday. But, they never gave up learning. After that, Tan-Tan knew to use her claws to get the food that was near the hot wire without getting zapped. Once one of them knew how, the rest of them would learn from her. After 20 days of training, they finally passed.
The day came! Once the guillotine door opened, their first actions were sniffing the surroundings and looking outside at the forest. They tapped on the ramp just like they were testing whether the ramp was safe for them or not. There was lots of tasty treats, fruits and honey on the ramp. They slowly stepped out and saw the outside world. Kitud was the bravest bear among them. She was the first who touched the ground. Tan-Tan followed Kitud back. When Kitud and Tan-Tan took their first steps outside, Boboi was looking at them through the guillotine door. He went in between the buffer cage and training pen, and tried to find a way out with different styles. After 20 minutes he struggled and he finally joined them in the forest. They explored the forest together. When they met with others, they’d play fight with them as well. Now they enjoy to stay in the forest. Once the guillotine door opens, they just go out and take their adventures all day long in either pen C or pen D with their big brothers and sisters. Let’s see how they enjoy life in the forest.
Watching Boboi, Kitud and Tan-Tan growing healthy and adapting well in the forest is undoubtedly one of our greatest pleasure. They will never again live in fear and well entitled to do anything they love!
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
In August BSBCC integrated Montom (a three year old, sub-adult male bear) and Susie (a four year old, adult female bear) into a new group with one adult, male sun bear (Fulung) and four adult, female sun bears (Mary, Debbie, Damai and Ah Bui). Montom showed positive interaction and easily adapted with his new friends. Montom and Fulung enjoyed epic wrestles together. They have spent a great deal of time sniffing, chasing, and rolling on their backs in a very friendly way. Damai is the exception and has shown less interest in play. Montom is a very sociable bear, whereas Susie is an aggressive bear and has displayed stress due to emotional trauma which resulted from her being kept as a pet. For the rest of their weeks, they integrated well and began to understand each other better. Debbie is the dominant female bear in this large social group.
Interaction between Montom, Susie with Ah Bui
Interaction between Montom, Susie with Debbie
Interaction between Montom, Susie with Fulung
Interaction between Montom, Susie with Mary
Finally the day came for Montom and Susie to feel the forest floor under their paws again. Although at the beginning it was a new environment for Montom and Susie with having to share the new enclosure with other bears, they are still adjusting themselves and getting along with their new mates. The whole group will be sharing one forest enclosure! It is hard to imagine that both of the bears ever thought their life could change. Susie is still aware surroundings and is having the time of her life. It has been a delight to watch Montom and Susie grow into happy and healthy bears.
Thankfully Montom and Susie are growing stronger and are progressing well. Their natural ability gives hope to our team that in the future they will learn all the skills they need to return to their natural habitat. From being rescued to their time in quarantine to forming relationships with other bears to stepping out into the forest enclosure, giving Montom and Susie a new journey in life. Sun bear rehabilitation is a long process. It changes many sun bears’ lives. Thank you for supporting our work to help Montom, Susie and many orphaned sun bears. Let’s make second chances for them to be free sun bears in the wild.