Text & Photos by Seng Yen Wah
There are two bear stories that began in the year of 2016 at BSBCC.
The story began at a place named Nabawan, an area in the southern part of Sabah. One day in 2016, a villager saw a dog in her orchard. When she tried to look closer, she noticed the dog has round ears and sharp claws. She then realized the dog was actually a sun bear! The sun bear had been kept as a pet ever since. On the 19th of August 2016, the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) rescued him and sent him to Lok Kawi Zoo. The bear came to BSBCC when he was five months old and weighed 8.6kg on the 10th of October 2016. When he was just brought here, his four baby teeth were supposed to be more curved and sharper but were found being reduced to a squarish and smoothen condition which affected his teething structure and arrangement. Despite this condition, he has healthily grown into a four-year-old sub adult male bear and is named Noah.
Another story happened in Kota Marudu, an area in the north of Sabah. This story belongs a six years old adult male bear named Nano. Back in 2016, Nano was kept in a small chicken mesh cage. A lady saw him and wanted to end his unfortunate life. She knew the bear was going to suffer in that small cage and she then decided to purchase Nano for a price of RM1,500 to save his life. After that, she surrendered Nano to the SWD and that sent him to BSBCC on the 20th of November 2016. When he first arrived at BSBCC, he just weighed 9.7kg at the age of two years old.
Noah and Nano were each other’s first bear friend! They always stay together. They look different and have quite different personalities. For instance, Noah is a happy bear and an explorer. He seems like having nothing to worry about in his life and is always curious about everything! Noah has a brighter colour snout and a longer body shape. On the contrary, Nano is shy. He is very alert to the surroundings and gets stressed easily. Nano has a shinier coat and a smaller body size. Noah’s friendly efforts had changed Nano’s life day by day. Nano has changed from being aggressive and inactive to peaceful and active. Due to their friendship and interactions, Nano has become braver and brighter!
After a year of rehabilitation, Noah and Nano explored the forest for the very first time in 2017. Noah was excited about the adventure outside. He was confident and enjoyed freedom. However, Nano showed more distress to explore a new environment. Nano timidly took his time to go out, but Noah never gave up on him. After a few months, Nano finally put his trauma behind him and enjoyed the forest activities with Noah. Even though they are “beary” good friends, they still fight sometimes. However, if Nano is in trouble, Noah will run towards Nano and get him out of the trouble. No bears in BSBCC can bully Nano! Nano feels more secure whenever Noah is around. They just can’t leave each other alone!
Noah and Nano really enjoy their daily forest activities such as digging, foraging, and climbing. Noah is like Nano’s big brother. Noah starts the adventure of the day and Nano is happy to be his follower. They both are foodies. Before and during the food giving, Nano always guards food and Noah will respond as if they are communicating in Bear Language. It is a joy to see them always together like a Best Bear Friends! Hope they gain more courage and sharpen their forest survival skills to ready themselves for their release together in the wild one day!
Video by Chiew Lin May
"Excited to be in forest where was surrounded by tall trees, green grass and everything wild!" - Noah & Dodop
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.
Video by Chiew Lin May
The long sharp claws and canines of the sun bear are handy for tearing apart tree bark.
Noah trying to find some yummy insects!
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
Life is meant for great adventures and best friends!
Video By Chiew Lin May
What is the reasons that makes you smile..?
The best thing what you can get is hanging out with best pals!
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
It is a vital step to protect the health of all the rescued bears at our centre. Every year the bears will receive full health checks and any medical procedures they require. Once again, we were very fortunate to have veterinary care from Sabah Wildlife Departments, Dr. Nabila Sarkawi.
A basic health check corner has been set up complete with a surgery table and health check equipment. 44 of the bears have been checked. The health check began with each bear being individually anaesthetized.
Dr. Nabila and the bear care team performed a thorough check on the bears’ health. This included taking the bears’ weight,
temperature, pulse and respiration rate, body measurement, blood and hair samples, dental treatment, cutting back severely overgrown claws for those bears that stay inside the bear house, x-ray, being checked for potential sickness (signs of ill-health, disease and injury), and functioning of internal organs.
cutting back severely overgrown claws for those bears that stay inside bear house,
If the bear had a wound, then treatment and medication would be provided during the examination.
Once the health checks were completed, the bears were brought back to their dens to recover from the sedative and their condition was monitored. From this health check, we will have a much clearer idea of the bears' future needs, including diet.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), they are categorized as “vulnerable”. We need to highlight sun bear conservation and help protect them from the threat of extinction. On the 13th of July 2017, an application of advanced reproductive technology in the conservation of endangered wildlife programme (ART programme) - training in immobilization and reproduction of sun bear in Sabah, was conducted. ART programme is a project under the 11th Malaysia Plan administered by Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD). Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA) is appointed as consultant to help develop the ART programme. By conducting this ART programme, the “sample size” of living individuals is large and there are opportunities for the captive sun bear population to contribute to the long term survival of the species. During the health check, eight healthy adult male bears and one adult female bear were chosen. Sun bear semen was collected.
In very exciting news, on the 26th of November 2017, Debbie and Damai were fitted with satellite collars. Debbie and Damai have shown signs of being excellent in their forest skills, enough to cope sufficiently in the wild. They have prepared for life back in the wild. Our team will monitor their adaptation, making sure the collar is functioning well and will evaluate their progress.
Our rescued bears get the best care. Thankfully, a number of the bears examined had nothing serious going on. Only Diana, an eleven year old, adult female bear had poor conditions with her teeth, suffering from severe damage ever since having a highly unsuitable diet when she kept as an illegal pet. Diana requires extensive medical care ahead. She was moved to Quarantine for future special care by our bear team. Diana will recover well by receiving pain relief and being fed soft blended fruit. She is continuing to show good progress with less signs of stereotypical behavior compared to when she was staying at the bear house. Every day she can enjoy the forest scenery and smells around her. After finishing her food, she climbs up and rests comfortably back in her basket.
After one year of Noah and Nano undergoing rehabilitation at our centre, they made such good progress that they graduated from cub rehabilitation in quarantine to “big bear” dens in Bear House. Here they can see other sun bears so they can learn from them and get used to the sounds and sights of the outside world. The bear house bears were delighted to welcome Noah and Nano to the family. The new dens where they are settling in have been stocked with climbing structures to play on, a comfy hammock to take naps on and dried leaves as browse to explore. After a period of adaption in the new den where the rehabilitation will continue, there will be eventual access out to the forest enclosure. Noah and Nano are very quick settle into their new environment.
They are sniffing in curiosity all the time. Noah and Nano are exceptionally brave and inquisitive explorers. Noah adapted well to his new environment, proving to be a fast learner and loving the fruits given by his care taker. Nano’s response was quite amazing, but his favourite past time is sleeping in his basket.
They are being monitored and are being continuously stimulated with enrichment items. They will have the opportunity to climb, explore and adjust to this new space. Every time they are given extra treats and new enrichment they get really excited!
They also have received lots of love from our bear care team, doing everything they can to help them build strength and courage to live as a wild bear! It is wonderful knowing that what is coming next makes it even more incredible.
It is so exciting that the rescued sun bears will take the biggest step in their life. This year will be a big movement for our bears. Some groups will go into an outside forest enclosure for the first time. Other bear groups will change to have access out to the new forest. Several groups will undergo electric fence training. While one group will be introduced to a larger group. There are also two release candidate bears preparing to be released back into the wild. The bears will realize this new life is good and finally live the life denied to them by pet trade.
Thanks for the hard work and wonderful care provided by Dr. Nabila, Dr. Pakee, Dr. Reza, Elis Tambing and the bear care team! Huge thanks for being part of the team. Job well done!!!
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 by Batrisyia Teepol (UNIMAS student)
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Integration is one of the rehabilitation processes which takes place at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center. Although sun bears are known to be solitary in the woods, in this center however, integration between the bears plays a crucial role in the rehabilitation of the bears. It is debatable whether this process is against the bears' nature or not. But know that the bears here in the center are restricted to a lot of things. One example of this is that space is insufficient. Further, having another bear sharing this space is the best enrichment for a bear. What is the best way to learn how to be a bear if it is not learning from one another? Bears can learn from one another as much as we humans can learn from them. With the limited amount of capacity for the bears, integration grants the idea of letting the bears live together (in the same cage).
Obviously, you cannot simply decide in an instant whether a particular bear can stay with another bear without doing integration between them first. From the word 'integration', it is pretty self-explanatory on how the process would go down. This process can be done in two different stages where the first step, 'cage by cage', is where the bears are placed in cages next to each other. This is to let them familiarize with the others' scent and presence. Second step, 'body contact integration', can only be taken if you are at least 80% sure that the bears will not try to harm each other. This step starts when the bears make contact with each other. They usually start it off by sniffing and carry on with playing which includes pawing, wrestling, showing their canines and even biting. Integration must be done with the presence of a bear keeper.
This time, we integrated two bears who were already the best of friends (Noah and Nano) with other bears who belong to their own groups. Group 1 who use forest enclosure Pen D (Wawa, Mary and Dodop) and Group 2 who use forest enclosure Pen C (Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan). The criteria which affects the target of integration is that first off, their body sizes are preferably of the same proportion. Secondly, they are of the same age or within a similar range. The main purpose of this integration is to figure out which group Noah and Nano can go out into the enclosure with.
So, let's get to know some of the bears!
Nano’s name carries the meaning of "small" and "tiny", which definitely suits him. He is at the age of 2, which is a little older than Noah, however, is smaller in size. Noah, the youngest male cub, is definitely the most playful and most energetic. In contrast, Nano is always sleepy and shy. Although their personalities are the complete opposite, they however are very close friends.
Moving on to our bears who roam around forest enclosure Pen C, Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan (all 2 years old). Boboi is much more playful and bigger compared to his friends in Pen C. Kitud, easily identified with his brownish ears, is quite shy and quiet. Tan Tan is definitely not afraid of heights as she is always climbing trees in Pen C.
For bears in forest enclosure Pen D, Mary, Wawa and Dodop (all female), Mary is the oldest as she is 6 years old, but her body is smaller compared to the other bears of her age. This is due to her unbalanced diet during her days being kept as a pet. However, despite the age difference with Wawa (known as the ‘explorer’) and Dodop (known as the ‘sleepy one’), they have a very good friendship.
So, now you have touched the surface, let's dive deeper! Keep in mind that Nano and Noah have never met any of the other bears mentioned before. In the hope of at least one of the groups would make room for our cute cubs, Nano and Noah, and embrace them into the wilderness, we integrated them.
We started the integration one bear at a time. One bear from any of the groups were placed into a cage next to Nano and Noah (‘cage by cage’). They would start sniffing from between the grill to feed their curiosity! Once we were sure and confident, we slid open the doors between the cages and there you have it, ‘body contact integration’. They would start sniffing the other's sex organs and sometimes their ears. Slowly, they would start to play.
Words alone cannot explain how beautiful and amazing integration works for our bears, so these pictures would definitely tell you a thousand words.
Once they had already been introduced to one bear at a time, then Noah and Nano were integrated with two bears at the same time. We also did the integration between the bears in the training pen, just to observe whether the bears could share their food or not.
Throughout all the days I did my observation, no aggression was found. Hoping that the other bears would welcome our little boys, Noah and Nano with bear hugs. Their gestures would teach and allow these two little bears to learn and understand the idea of how to be a bear in the wild. As Dr. Wong would say, "The best enrichment a bear could have is another bear".