Text by Pradeep Gunasegaran
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) has been responsible for the care of 4 bears that were received between 2017 and 2018. These four bears are Soo (5 years old), BJ (4 years old), Kina (4 years old), and Sika (3 years old). All four of them were ‘raised’ by people as cubs before they were handed over to BSBCC through Sabah Wildlife Department or personally by the owner. Soo was bought at Sook Keningau Market, BJ was bought for RM 300 in Pitas and Sika was kept as in a pet in Pensiangan in a chicken mesh cage by her owner while Kina was claimed by her caretaker to have been abandoned by her mother by the roadside at Kota Marudu. They grew up without the care of their mothers as their mothers were probably killed by poachers but BSBCC do see potential in them to behave like wild bears due to their age and with the proper rehabilitation process in the next few years. In order to proceed with their rehabilitation process, they would need to be transferred to the Bear House. Due to the high stocking density at BSBCC, three older bears; Phin, Wan Wan and Mamatai would need to be brought to the quarantine while another two older bears; Om and Ronnie would need to be rotated in the Bear House.
The transfer process was done through three phases in order for the bears to not get too stress. During the first phase BJ and Kina were transferred into translocation boxes at Quarantine while Phin was darted. Once the 3 bears were ready for transfer, Phin was brought to Quarantine while BJ and Kina was brought to Bear House 2. The second phase was involving the darting of Mamatai and Wan Wan and then bringing them to Quarantine. By the end of Phase 2, Om and Ronnie were transferred to a different section of Bear House 2 using the sky bridge structure. The last phase was then completed with the darting and transfer of Soo and Sika from Quarantine to Bear House 2. The entire transfer process of all nine sun bears followed through really smoothly without any undesirable incidences.
In order to make the bear feel more comfortable in their new environment, each pen was prepared with a thick layer of dried leaves and also a couple of gunny sacks. The purpose of the dried leaves is to reduce any injuries that could be inflicted on their foot pad due to pacing in a new environment while the gunny sacks are for them to play with. BJ and Kina had no issues with their new environment. As soon as they were in the pens in Bear House 2, they were exploring the entire new space. Both were climbing the structures that were present such as hammock and the vertical log. BJ really seem to like the hammock while Kina liked using the vertical log. Whereas for Sika and Soo, after they woke up from anesthesia, Sika was also as curious as BJ and Kina in her own pen while Soo was alert with the new arrangement; just like how she was in Quarantine. At Quarantine, Phin, Wan Wan and Mamatai was calm after waking up. However, Phin was not used to having dried leaves underneath his feet. He was walking around the pen, taking food that was provided for him but his gait was a little peculiar. Wan Wan was preoccupied sniffing the scent of another bear named Diana at Quarantine. Mamatai on the other hand was enjoying herself with the gunny sacks that were given to her.
On the following day after the transfer process, Phin, Wan Wan and Mamatai were doing well at Quarantine. Our main priority was with the four that were at Bear House 2. BJ, Kina and Sika consumed all of the food given to them and they showed sign that they were doing well in Bear House 2. Kina clawed the log that was available to her; Sika was resting like any wild bear on the log structures while BJ was in the basket. Because of their calmness, they were all integrated together to ensure that they continue to benefit out of this social enrichment. Soo was on the only bear which was on high alert to her surroundings. She stayed at the highest point in the pen and only came down when the keepers left Bear House 2. In the evening, a few keepers were selected to sit in front of her and coax her with food. Then reason for this exercise was not to get her to be used to the keepers but to be calmer with the presence of the keepers as the keepers would need to provide her with supplementation, medication and application of topical medication in case of any injuries. By the end of the day, Soo came down and took the food that was given to her by the keepers and she also took her supplementation. She also was no longer at the highest point in the cage as she was exploring the ground and eating the ration of food provided for her. Over the following days, the four of them continue to behave positively. Environmental enrichments such as Aussie Dog balls, Fire Hose Pockets and coconuts were also provided to them and they did not hesitate interacting with the enrichments provided. With all these positive progresses, in the upcoming weeks or months, BJ, Kina, Soo, and Sika will undergo fence training in order for them to continue with the rehabilitation towards becoming like their wild counterparts. We at BSBCC hope that the rehabilitation process will go well and we would rejoice to their release into the natural habitat some day in the future.
Text by Nithisha Nair
Photos by BSBCC & Chiew Lin May
One in a million- Om is an adult male bear at the age of 14 years old, who currently resides in the second bear house and spends his time under the daylight in Pen G. He is considered to be one of the ‘originals’; the earlier bears who claimed their spots in our centre. He arrived at BSBCC when he was 5 months old on the 4th of August 2005, after being found at a plantation spot in Telupid. As his rescue was well before many, the reason for his confiscation or rescue is unknown and not under record. Aside from losing his left fore claw, he arrived in a healthy condition.
Om had been in quarantine for a lengthy period of over four years, until he was eventually transferred to the new bear house on the 7th of July in 2010. His transfer included a physical health check upon arrival at the new bear house where he showed optimum health!
Om was integrated with a bear named Ah Chong, another male bear, on the 10th of April 2010, they both went through fence training the next day together. Ah Chong was the only bear that Om has ever and will ever be integrated with, as Om is a dominant male bear. Any integration attempts at this age with another male will result in fights, therefore Om is now spending his days solitarily in BSBCC since the death of Ah Chong in February, 2011.
Once they were deemed to have passed the fence training, they were both released to Pen D together. This marked their first steps in the forest since their arrival.
Long after the death of Ah Chong, Om was released to Pen G in February, 2016. This is now considered Om’s pen as it is where he has resided up till this date.
Om is a bear who loves his enrichments, and adores his food, he may be a vicious bear, but to me, he is nothing short of independent and well behaved.
Sun bears, being a part of the wildlife, require exposure to the forest and have their very own survival instincts, regardless of if they were raised in captivity or if they spent every minute out in the wild. Thus, keeping them as pets would not only bring harm to the bear’s physical health, but would also harm the owner as well, once the bear starts to develop their own natural instincts.
When sun bears are kept as pets, they lose the part of them that is needed to survive once they live in the wild. Often, bears that are rescued from being kept as pets completely lose the ability to be released back into the wild. They either lose important survival instinct characteristics or are often disfigured in terms of being declawed to ensure the health of their ‘owners’. Their claws are extremely valuable to their survival; thus, the lack of these things prevents them from being released as their chances of survival are severely reduced.
I would like to end this by saying that the bears are a part of our ecosystem, a part of wildlife and a part of the forest. Let’s do our part by ensuring they remain that way.
Text by Dawn Tukalan and photo by Gloria Ganang
It’s time for another health check in BSBCC. The sun bear health check has to be done to detect disease at an earlier stage for a better control of diseases and also to avoid it from transmit to other sun bear.
This time its Om’s turn to undergo the annual health checks. Unlike the usual physical checks and blood sample, the veterinarian also has to perform a dental surgery on Om’s to remove the loose tooth.
We were hoping that Om’s tooth will drop out itself overnight, but it did not happen. The following day, BSBCC staff prepares all items needed for the health check and waiting for Om to be sedated by Dr Nigel, a vet from Orang Utan UK Appeal. Once Om’s weighted, he was move to the surgery table where Dr Nigel performed the surgery and assisted by Wai Pak (BSBCC) and Dr Vivien (UK Appeal). BSBCC staff also assisted in taking Om’s body measurements and body temperature.
Figure 2 Dr Nigel assisted by Dr Vivien and BSBCC staff
The surgery was successful as Dr Nigel able to remove the loose tooth and the health check went on without hassle. Om was transferred to his den and his condition was monitored. It may take few weeks before Om can enjoy another coconut. There are 18 sun bear left to go through the annual health check.
Text by Paul Clenton
This is Om. He’s a great bear, if you pardon the pun. Om is very playful and loves playing with his tyres and other toys. This can get rather noisy but he seems to enjoy it. He is also very fond of his sleeping basket and will spend quite a bit of time there if he is not biting, clawing, twisting or tearing whatever else he manages to claim.
One thing he doesn’t do much, for a sun bear, is climb. I decided to remedy this by giving him something to motivate him to get up off the ground. We are not permitted to go around willy-nilly cutting down trees for the bears’ amusement as the forest around us is of great value. Fortunately however, I knew just the thing.
Not far away, alongside a trail in the jungle, at tree had recently been brought down by heavy rains. I had already salvaged parts from it to make climbing structures for Natalie and knew that what remained was certainly an “Om-sized” piece of wood. So off I went with my Swiss army knife to sort out something for Om’s amusement.
It was big, bulky and rather heavy for me to handle on my own. Nevertheless, by removing all the obstructions around it and rocking it about a pivot point halfway along, I managed to gradually inch it out of the place where it had fallen and get it onto the trail. Once on the trail things got better, although the vegetation was still hindering me slightly; even on its side, this chunk of tree was still taller than I was.
After a considerable amount of effort and a greater amount of grunting and swearing i managed to get it out of the forest and down to the quarrantine area. It was there that I was met by Seana, a Malaysian volunteer, who was attracted to the area by sounds of “something not human” in the jungle. That made me laugh.
Anyway, she helped me get it down to the bear house and the next day it was put up in one of the pens Om uses. Getting it in was quite a game as it was over 3.8 metres in length; if it were another 2 inches long it would have not been able to fit in at all. Once it was in it was secured with rope and drilled with holes for enrichment.
It gave me great satisfaction afterwards to see Om enjoying this new structure and he certainly seemed enthusiastic about the mashed banana I’d hidden too. Quite an effort, but well worth it. Enjoy, Om!
PS. With the exception of 2 cuts, I managed to dismember the entire tree using the saw attachment on my Victorinox Swiss army knife!
It is all happening. Both of our big boys are enjoying their forest enclosure.
All the hard works from every one finally pay off by seeing them in the forest enclosure. This is their story...
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/U4f102762CI" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
The trouble with hotwires.http://matahari-bears.tumblr.com/post/644289648/chong-day-one
By Mark Rusli
Conditioning captive animals requires a great deal of patience, as any experienced animal handler should know. Domestic animals are relatively easier - they’ve had decades of history working with humans. Sun bears? An entirely different ballgame.
There are many factors involved when it comes to conditioning: you can’t force situations, for example, because that would destroy whatever trust and rapport you’ve established with the animal. And you also have to note that not all animals behave the same way: like humans, each of them have their own characters, and you need to approach them accordingly.
Here’s a tricky situation we currently have: Chong refuses to enter the exercise yard because he was shocked during his first visit in there. He hasn’t associated the hotwires with the shocks yet, so he probably thinks some invisible lightning monster exists within the yard. The yard’s used to teach the bears about the hotwires, before they are exposed to the outdoor pens: these have fences secured with hotwires, in case the bears decide to make a break for it. In my opinion, I don’t think they’re really concerned about public safety if a bear escapes; it’s what the people will do to the bears that they’re worried about.
So far, no tactic has been successfully employed to rid Chong of his fear. Today we roped in Om, Chong’s best friend to help us out. Om’s already learnt to stay away from hotwires, and he normally crosses the training yard to get to Om’s den where they have short wrestling matches.
We recycled yesterday’s enrichment that we used for the females, securing it inside the yard, complete with honey and mashed banana trails leading to it from his den. Chong showed a lot of interest, but he still kept his hind legs firmly planted inside his den:
We gave Chong about half an hour to make a decision, but with no further development, Om was then released into the yard:
Om, who had been watching these proceedings very closely, attacked the log immediately. The plan is for Chong to watch and learn from another bear that the yard isn’t that scary….. it’s just the hotwires. We’re going to repeat this for the next few days.
Today’s results? Chong did a lot of watching, a little bit annoyed that Om was getting all the treats hidden within the log. We could tell fear still prevented him from venturing out, but with a little patience, he’ll get over it soon. (And hopefully it’s before I leave!)
Sunday, May 30th 2010 1:54am
Chong, day two.
I wish I could say Chong finally went out today, but it’s wistful thinking. Sometimes our impatient selves make unnecessary decisions to rush an outcome, but when it comes to animals you always have to constantly remind yourself that these are living things. Recklessness may cause you to move a few steps back, losing whatever you’ve already accomplished. Even worse - there’s a zoological term I heard before: a “lost cause”, which is self-explanatory. The animal completely disregards any form of captive interaction, and depending on the situation, the animal may even be euthanized.
So today it was more of this:
What the pictures don’t express is his clearly increased agitation, as compared to yesterday. We did the same thing - gave Chong half an hour to decide if the assortment of treats hidden in the log was worth crossing the yard for, and then releasing Om, who stuffed his face in front of Chong.
Today Chong was banging at the race door, picking fights with Om, climbing all over his den….. you could clearly see his frustration. And it’s a postive sign, because he’s weighing his options and turning those risk-calculating gears in his head. I’m sure we’re going to get increasingly stronger reactions from him over the next couple of days.
Monday, May 31st 2010 12:46am
Sun bear generally is a solitary animal in the wild. The only times when wild sun bears are not solitary is during the breeding season when male and female bears travel together for several days until mating takes place, and female sun bear with their cubs. These bear cubs can live with their mother for at least two years until they reach adulthood and are as big as their mother. Different male sun bears overlap their territory at a minimum level. They are territorial and defense their territory from other bears. Six out of the 7 adult male sun bears that I caught in the wild had bite marks and scars on their body especially neck resulting from severe fights with other bears. One male adult bear was known to kill a young female bear known as “Little one”, the sun bear that appears in the logo of BSBCC. Little one was a 10-month old female sun bear that was killed by a 3-year old male sun bear in the forest. The territorial and aggressive behavior of sun bear is a result of competition in a habitat where food is a limited resource and the male bears compete for access to female bears. Compared to other sun bear habitat in SE Asia, the rainforest of Borneo has the lowest productivity, which intensifies competition among the bear population. Sun bears are also known to be more aggressive to each other as compared to Asiatic black bears in captivity. Sun bears can live in groups in most captive situations where food is not a limiting resource and competition for mates is not an issue. However, the initial stage of integration or introduction of non-familiar bears can be the most stressful events that a bear can experience in captivity. In the wild, a bear can have the choice of interact with a strange bear based on environmental, familiarity, and safety conditions. In captivity, such choices may be limited.
At BSBCC, Om and Ah Chong are two male bears that we would like to integrate so that they can live together because we simply do not have enough enclosures for individual bear. This is the first integration for male bears at our centre and we hope the integration go well. We would like to pair them up as they have been live in adjacent cages for years with no aggression behavior in our old bear house and both of them have similar size. So finally on April 10th, we integrate them for the first time. This is what happen over the next two hours:
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/7bQ3m-Hr59o" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
[youtube Om Chong http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bQ3m-Hr59o]
The integration of Om and Ah Chong
Today saw one small step for a sun bear, but one giant leap for BSBCC. On Tuesday 20th April at approximately 10am, Om one of the adult male bears, took his final step into the new Jungle enclosure. The process of giving the sun bears a better life started many years ago, but today it was actually happening.
I had the incredible privilege to be present at the time, alongside Waipak and Charlie Hoare, a professional wildlife photographer, who has kindly volunteered to photograph the sun bears in their new home, following working with Raleigh Borneo.
Om had been thinking about venturing outside for a few days, but was always leaving just one paw inside for security. However this morning after the hatch to the outside had been opened for nearly an hour, Om finally crawled down the ramp and onto the forest floor. It was an amazing moment to watch with Charlie lost for words. He couldn’t believe his luck, he is use to waiting days to get the desired shot and Om had provided it in only an hour.
Once on the ground Om ran back and forth with enthusiasm, this was followed by loud excited barking. He only stayed outside for a few minutes returning back inside bounding up the ramp. He didn’t venture out again, most likely resting from the adrenalin of the mornings activities.
So now we hope that the other bears will soon follow Om into what is their natural habitat. Good luck to everyone working at the centre in the coming weeks, especially the sun bears themselves.
Jim Clements, Country Director, Raleigh Borneo
Photos by Charlie Hoare
Today marked history of BSBCC as we are starting to move the 12 bears in the old bear house to the state of the art new bear house 1. Our plan today is to move Om, Ah Chong and Suria in the morning but the move have to delay because we have found a problem with the locking device of the bear den’s door in the new bear den during our final checking an hour before the move. Luckily, the issue has been solved immediately and everything went according to plan.
We start the entire procedure with Om, one of our three males bear in the centre. Om is a 5 year old bears who was confiscated by the Wildlife Department from private owner some 5 years ago. I have the privilege to witness his growth over the past 5 years and have been taking good care of him over the past 5 years.
It has been a very good day. 3 moved, 9 to go!