Text by Gillian Gabriel (UMS Intern student)
Photos by BBSCC & Chiew Lin May
Hello everyone, my name is Panda and you might think that I am a round, fluffy, black and white bear that loves eating sugarcane. Yes, you’re right! I love sugarcane but I am not round, nor even fluffy and not a single white spot on my body. I have a black, sleek fur and I am pretty short. When I was younger, I was kept inside a small cage and was named after the sign that was pointing towards my cage.
I was kept together with another sun bear, his name is Kudat. Kudat looks exactly like me and looks nothing like a panda. The truth was revealed when I first arrived at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) on the 10th of July 2010, it turns out that I was right the whole time, I am a sun bear!
On the 6th of July 2010, Sabah Wildlife Department and the team at BSBCC finally came to the rescue!
Besides not looking round like a panda, I still have a perfectly round stomach. Probably because I love to eat! However, I am still considered as fit for my age. Lucky me!
Yes, that was me. But the picture was taken from the wrong angle, I’m slimmer, I swear!
I was unhappy back when I was kept inside the small cage. I was fed with chicken meat the whole time and there was barely enough space to roam around. However, as you can see from the picture, I finally have enough space for myself and I love sitting and leaning against a tree especially on a bright, sunny day. So relaxing!
In the forest, I love spending my time exploring, observing the environment, roaming around and relaxing. When I return back in the evening, I will splash water all over my body and as the water reaches the ground, I will lay down with my stomach facing downwards and will move my body slightly. That is just a way of me cooling myself down after a while in the forest.
How can I be mistaken as a panda? I have no dark circles surrounding my eyes but instead, my whole face is just plain dark. I am thankful enough that I was finally recognized as a sun bear.
It reminds me of when I was first brought to BSBCC, I was in quarantine for 30 days. Despite being in quarantine, the staff introduced me to new friends (Natalie, Ah Lun, Julaini and Rungus). They are so nice. I learned and developed my social and survival skills from them and slowly, I kind of trust all the staff here. They take great care of me, they feed me with healthy food and they even give me toys to play with.
All the rehabilitation processes I went through helped me to overcome the trauma due to being locked and kept inside a small cage for entertainment purposes, and these processes taught me to behave like how a normal wild animal would do.
The rehabilitation processes that I went through included fence training and the integration process. While learning and developing my survival skills, I realized that I am capable of doing a lot of things. I can crack open a coconut in seconds, can dig deep holes so that I can reach termites at the hollow of the tree branches and have an incredible sense of smell as I can smell honey from far away. Yes, I love honey so much and so do the rest of my friends here. Honey is like our main diet!
I am grateful for all the efforts given by Sabah Wildlife Department and Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) since day one. Because of them, I finally have the life that I deserve. I hope that in the future, no other sun bears are mistaken as Panda. The thing that appears to be so appealing on our chest area, is our chest mark. That is the best way to identify us.
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by BSBCC & Chiew Lin May
I was still an infant when I arrived at the local mini zoo in 2008. I was found in Tawau district of Sabah and was later sent to Kudat district, in the northern part of Sabah.
My friend and I were displayed in a mini zoo as panda bears, but instead we are Bornean Sun Bears.
The reason behind this was to attract visitors or inexperienced animal managers, who apparently did not have the knowledge or skills to care for the animals that they received, which could be why we were mistaken as species we are not.
We were fed with chicken daily which led us to have bigger body sizes compared to other sun bears our age.
My suffering ended when I was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department on the 6th of July 2010, and was brought to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) on the 10th of July, 2010.
During the arrival, no external wounds were found on me, except my friend, Kudat showed his fur coat had multiple alopecic patches. We were both placed into Quarantine.
On the 8th of August 2010, after I completed my 30 day quarantine period, I was growing well and I was then a ten year old, adult female sun bear.
I have beautiful mauve-coloured eyes. I started to enjoy the delights on offer in this new environment.
Rescued sun bears at BSBCC are given a second chance to live freely in the BSBCC forest - free to explore, forage, climb and play as wild sun bears.
On the 20th of December 2013, I was undergoing fence training, which is one of the BSBCC’s rehabilitation processes that is before the bears can go out to the forest enclosure.
This stage is very important because the BSBCC forest enclosures are surrounded by electric fences that prevent the bears from escaping. However, up until now this fence training had not worked with me due to the fact that I still bared the scars from years of trauma after being locked up in a cage for entertainment purposes.
The bear care staff never gave up on me by trying to introduce me with new bear friends (Natalie, Ah Lun, Julaini and Rungus), to help improve my social and survival skills, and gain trust towards these rehabilitation processes.
It would take time for me to learn to trust the outside forest world.
On May 20th 2014, I had a traumatic injury on the rostral area due to an aggressive bite from a male, adult bear in the neighbouring cage.
Thank you to Veterinarian, Dr. Laura who helped me by reconstructing suture of the tissue on my rostral area. The bear staff kept a close watch on me and took care of my diet. Slowly, my snout improved.
On the 1st of July 2015, I was moved to another cage near Amaco (the oldest bear). I loved having these new dens to explore. I loved splashing in the water and taking lots of baths in the dens.
BSBCC provide the best care for all the rescued sun bears in our Centre, different enrichment activities are given by bear care staff in order to stimulate our natural behaviour and keep us occupied.
I am a big foodie and enjoy the bear’s main diet of fruit, coconut and HONEY!
I am very inquisitive and am always quick to come whenever there are YUMMY treats. There are different types of climbing structures and I take great joy in climbing them. I love the opportunity to play with a number of toys. I will figure out a toy by tapping on them with my superb sharp-curved, long claws and by checking them carefully. We love volunteers designing comfy bed for us!! It brightens our day!
My best friend is Amaco who is a male bear. The integration has really enriched my life.
Most important is that I am the first play pal for him. I am very sweet towards him so we love playing together. We are playing and wrestling non-stop. We share a very close bond and can be seen hanging out together.
However, I am sorry that I do not get along well with Chin, as sometimes she will get feisty if I wrestle with her which will end up in small brawls during play fights.
This year something has changed my life! With the help from our lovely volunteer, Khairunnisa Faisal and keeper, Adrian. Here I started to put my past behind me and recover from my traumatic years in captivity. A huge smile crossed my face as I received the life that I deserve!! I was finally brave enough to take my first step out to the forest after five years of training. I love to explore the grassy forest enclosure, forage for my favourite termites and rest in the hammock. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to try learning as a wild bear!
BSBCC are delighted I have been able to let go of the previous trauma in my life.
I have overcome my fear and feel completely at home! Sun bears are classified as a Totally Protected Species under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment, 1997. Please STOP keeping sun bears as pets! We DO NOT belong inside cages. Years of being kept as illegal pets have left many of us suffering from long term disabilities and physiological trauma. It requires considerable time and expense to restore the wild behaviour to us that have been victims of the illegal wildlife pet trade. If you care about us, you would not want to be left out of the fight for our survival. Please be our voice!
Text by Khairunnisa binti Mohd Faisal (Intern Student, University Science Malaysia)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Seeing the bears live freely in the forest is such a blessing. That’s what I hoped to see for one of my favorite bears, Panda. Once the bear has passed the fence training, they will be released to the forest enclosure. Now, Panda has passed the fence training and it’s time for her to go out and enjoy the beauty of the forest. We did an enclosure cleaning a few days before Panda is released to pen E.
On the first day of release, Panda spent her time observing the pen by sitting inside the cage and looking through the guillotine door. During this early stage of release, we arranged the food nearby the cage so that she is aware that there is food in the pen. Some of the nearby prepared food is eaten by her but she did not have the courage to go out from the cage yet.
On the next day, we arranged her food slightly further from the cage so that Panda will go out to the pen. Finally, two of her front limbs were out when she was trying to grab the food. However, the ramp in cage 12 was too steep which cause Panda a little bit insecure to go down further to avoid slipping to the bottom of the ramp.
After a few days of training, whenever the guillotine door is opened, Panda directly went out and sniffed the food on the ramp which she was aware that there is food outside. We put the food far from the cage as we wanted her whole body out from the cage. Unfortunately, the ramp was too short for her. Panda able to grab the prepared food just by lengthen her body and lick the peanut butter by using her super long tongue.
During the ongoing observation, there is once when Panda’s whole body was out on the ramp when she was observing the environment. It indicates that Panda started to feel comfortable with the surrounding and she felt safe to be outside the cage. However, both of the ramp used in cage 10 and 12 were not suitable for her release. Ramp on cage 10 is too short and the ramp in cage 12 is too steep for her to go out. Now, we are working on changing the ramp structure. We hope that this project will work for her as we want to see Panda going around freely in the forest.
Text by Jana Grunwald & Michael Bohne
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
We are Jana (37) and Michael (49) from Germany. Last year we have decided to take a break from our office working routine and go traveling together. As we do not only want to be tourists in the countries that we visit we have searched for animal welfare organization in Malaysia that we can support and found that the BSBBC has very good reviews. The decision to come here was made quickly and even though we have never had anything to do with bears, we are big bear fans by now. This is not only thanks to the bears, but also thanks to the keepers and all the staff that are doing a fantastic job here at the sunbear center. We truly enjoy our time in such a friendly and cooperative atmosphere.
On the first day in the center we already learned that bears are big eaters. We spent hours washing, cutting and weighting fruits and vegetables for them. No wonder, it takes such a long time - there are 43 hungry mouths to be fed and they enjoy four feeding times a day. Watching them eating and enjoying their food makes our heart melt. If there is something especially yummy, all the bears will fall on their back and eat the treat with all four paws up. We can hardly take our eyes away from this cute moment and it happens that the keepers have to remind us to move on.
We soon realized what a strenuous job the bear keeper team does every day. All keepers are in very good physical conditions and we admire them for their strengths. Each day is packed with demanding work: whether it’s cleaning the cages, preparing the food, walking under the midday sun to feed the bears or going out into the wild with the machete to collect fresh leaves and plants for enrichment. Luckily everybody has a lunch hour that is indeed one and a half hours long - time to rest and eat. We could feel how our energy comes back. Also for us humans the food is important.
However not all the tasks that we do at the center are physically hard. On the third day we were invited to assist Dr. Boon with the health check of one of the female bears called Susie 2. We felt very privileged to be part of the team that afternoon and assist a medical check on a sun bear.
We also enjoyed being part of the re-integration of two bears called Wan Wan and Mamatai. These two ladies where once sharing a forest enclosure but ended up fighting with each other. After some time of separation the team has now started to re-introduce them. As the door was opened we carefully observed them and were happy that the first session went on without any fight or need to intervene. We hope, that the two ladies re-establish their friendship and can soon scroll the outside together.
Another activity that we enjoyed a lot was observing the fence training of a bear called Panda. She gets animated with sweet fruits to leave her well known enclosure and to learn in a different enclosure that the fence has electricity and that it is best to not touch it. On the first two days that we saw her she was too afraid to leave. Only the head and the two front paws went out to grab the treats that were within her close reach. The two back paws stayed firm in the old enclosure, no matter how seductive the fruits on the other side where. However with the time she gained confidence and got brave enough to step out of her enclosure with all four paws. What a big achievement. We were very excited for her. Now she is walking pretty confident in the fence training enclosure. Today she could finally get all the sweet fruits that we laid down for her. At the end it seems to be all about the food.
Text by Khairunnisa binti Mohd Faisal (Intern Student, University Science Malaysia)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Every sun bear should be given an opportunity to be released into the forest. They deserve to live a free life in their natural habitat. There is this one sun bear named Panda. She is 11 years old and originated from Tawau District. Panda is in good terms with a male bear, Kudat. She was named “Panda” because both of the bears were mistakenly displayed as “Panda Bears” at a private mini zoo located in Kudat District.
Fence training is conducted because the forest enclosure is surrounded with an electric fence which is to make sure the bears do not escape from the forest enclosure. A few years ago, Panda had her first fence training. However, Panda failed the test as she was zapped and refused to go out to the training pen.
There is always a second chance for Panda as we believe that she can do better. This year, we gave Panda a second chance and conducted another fence training for her. To sum the experience up, Panda did very well and so much improvement was recorded during the sessions.
On the first day of fence training, Panda did not want to go out from the cage. She spent most of her time sniffing the sliding door and tapping the ground. She likes to tap a lot. Two of her front limbs were out and she managed to only use her tongue to eat the food in the training pen. She ended up pacing in the cage after she was no longer able to grab any more food in the training pen.
On the fifth day of training, Panda made a huge improvement in which her whole body was out to the training pen. She started by observing the environment in the training pen and began to eat the prepared food in the middle of the pen. However, she was a little bit insecure whenever she heard noise made by another bear. Whenever there was a strange sound, Panda would run into the cage and pace. It took a while for Panda to go out to the training pen again.
Panda got her first zap on the 7th day of training. Amazingly, she did not panic. She stayed in the training pen and continued searching for food. Panda approached the electrical fence area and grabbed the food underneath it using her claws. It looked like Panda was aware of the fence and kept some distance whenever she tried to grab the food.
Over 4 consecutive fence training sessions, Panda made herself comfortable in the training pen. She started to remove the log to find food, often got herself near the fence to grab food underneath it and spent a longer amount of time observing the environment in the training pen instead of pacing in the cage. It was so overwhelming to see such improvement in her. However, she was still startled by the noise made by other bears. When there was a noise, Panda took the food in the training pen and brought it into the cage and continued eating there. Panda is very sensitive to loud noise as she feels unsafe whenever she hears it.
Starting Day 11 until Day 17 of the fence training session, Panda felt safer in the training pen and she already knew the right technique to grab the food underneath the electrical fence. The prepared food for the session is almost finished being eaten by her. Panda spent most of her time eating in the training pen and exploring the environment in the pen.
Now, the fence training progress has been upgraded and Panda will be released into the training pen for around 3 hours every day to make her feel comfortable in the pen. Once she passes the fence training, she will become an eligible candidate to be released to the forest enclosure in BSBCC.
Video by Chiew Lin May
Sniffing, Tapping, Rolling….
Panda, the sun bear has been enjoying lots of love from our volunteers and keepers doing everything they can to help Panda enhances her foraging skills.
Loud bear bark thank you go out to APE Volunteers Celeste Kara Lequigan Chalk and Priya Colville giving the sun bears an opportunity to express their natural instinct !!
Want to make a difference?
For more info on becoming a volunteer visit www.bsbcc.org.my
Text by Bellinda Raymond (Intern Student)
Photos by BSBCC
Kudat is a 7 years old adult male sun bear, who was named after a district in the northern part of Sabah. Before he was sent to Kudat district, he came originally from Tawau district. Kudat was kept as a display in a private mini zoo together with a female sun bear named Panda. At the private mini zoo, both Kudat and Panda were on display as ‘black panda’. Later, they were surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department and BSBCC in 2013. At BSBCC, Kudat enjoy his new environment and began to explore the forest around him.
Kudat’s last friend was Panda which is in year 2013. Although sun bear is a solitary animal when they are in the wild, BSBCC encouraged a healthy positive social behaviour among the bears at the centre. At BSBCC, sun bears are integrated according to their body size, personality and age group. Bears integration is encouraged in this centre to bring out the positive behaviour development among the bears such as defensive skills and learning from each other through socializing. The number of cages in the bear house is very limited too where for now it only can accommodate up to 40 bears. Therefore, integration is also one of the ways to save up space in the bear house where the bears are integrated so that they can be in groups.
The first step in integration is integrating the bears cage by cage. The bears will start to sniff around their new environment especially when there is a new bear next to their cage. After that, integration body contact will be carried out where the sliding door between the two cages will be opened and the bears will start to meet each other.
In July 2015, Kudat started to be integrated to a group consisting Julaini, Rungus, Ah Lun, Panda and Chin. Kudat is integrated one by one from the group before they can be in one big group together. The integration of Kudat started off with the bear that is the dominant in the group. Kudat is integrated with Ah Lun first. When Kudat placed next to Ah Lun’s cage, Kudat started to become curious and keep sniffing around. He climbed the cage to have a peek of the bear next to his cage. As soon as the sliding door is opened, Ah Lun went into Kudat’s cage first. When Kudat and Ah Lun met, they took some time to get to know to each other. After they feel confident about each other, they started to play with each other.
After Ah Lun, Kudat is introduced to Chin. When she met Kudat, she was curious at first. Kudat and Chin sniff around their new environment and even sniff at each other.
Besides Ah Lun and Chin, Kudat is also introduced to Julaini, a male sun bear who has the same age with him. Kudat is friendly to Julaini when both of them met each other. Both Kudat and Julaini immediately play when they met! The way they play is a bit aggressive compared to Ah Lun and Chin. Maybe it is just a way of male sun bears play with each other? Kudat and Julaini played nonstop and continue to wrestle.
Finally, Kudat is reintroduced to his long lost friend, Panda! The integration between Kudat and Panda does not make us worry when they were integrated because Kudat and Panda are best friends!
Rungus is the last bear that being introduced to Kudat. Amazingly, Kudat also shows positive reaction to Rungus when they were integrated. Like the other bears in the group, Kudat played with Rungus too! Rungus is the female bear in the group that is most interested to Kudat and they played together and ignored the other bears!
The integration between Kudat and all the bears showed positive integration except for Chin. When Kudat and Chin were integrated earlier, they played in a friendly manner. However, after some time Kudat and Chin started to become aggressive and they fighted. Kudat and Chin were then separated by cages. We tried to integrate Kudat and Chin again, but there are still aggressions occurred between them. This means that the integration between Kudat and Chin is negative. We concluded and decided that Kudat and Chin cannot be integrated to each other. Despite this, Kudat’s integration with Julaini, Rungus, Ah Lun and Panda shows positive result.
Kudat’s integration with the other bears is still on going. Hopefully, their integration can be successful in the end. When the integration is successful, Kudat, Julaini, Rungus, Ah Lun and Panda will be in one group and will step into the forest together.
Text by Joanna Buckingham (Volunteer BSBCC)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Given the space constraints and the growing population between bear house 1 and 2, integration of bears into groups is a large focus for BSBCC. Integration not only allows more of the curious bears to experience the limited outdoor forest enclosures but also lets the bears learn skills off each other that they would have normally been taught by their mother's in their natural wild habitat of the Bornean rainforest.
One of the bears currently in the integration program is the 7 year old Panda. Panda's journey with BSBCC began with a rescue mission from a mini zoo in 2010 along with Kudat. Both had been mislabelled as pandas in the Kudat region and thus their names bearing testament to their previous life.
Panda's time was finally up and it was decided that she would be integrated with an established group of bears around her age who currently enjoy pen D, Julaini the male of the group and the two females Ah Lun and Rungus. Integration into this group began in February 2015 introducing Panda to the most aggressive of the group first Ah Lun. This is to ensure a successful match as integration of bears who are normally solitary can take a long time. If the dominant bear doesn't accept the new bear then it would be wasted time to familiarise Panda with the other bears if ultimately she would always be rejected by the "leader". It is all a bit high school!
While the BSBCC team began the group integration from February 5th, the integration work is still continuing several months later demonstrating the patience and time needed to group the bears. As part of my volunteer program, I got to observe one of Panda´s integration sessions in July 2015. I noted quickly that while Panda is large for her size due to a previous diet of a daily chicken in the mini zoo, she doesn't use that to her advantage as she is much more interested in playing with the other bears. It was great to see Julaini and Panda played with each other with playful barks and bites on the back. Both take turns using their strength to pull the other down. Bear playfights reminded me of growing up with my three siblings while sometimes it looks too rough, the bears know their limits and know when to bark in a way to demonstrate that they have had enough or the playing has gone too far.
During my observation, Panda and Ah Lun played in their cage while Julaini alternated between watching from the hammock or resting between the cages. It is a good sign when bears are happy to rest while the other bears are in their cage as it shows that they are happy to be in each other´s presence. Also another good sign is if the bears are happy to share food.
It was also decided after an unsuccessful integration with another group that Chin would be introduced to this group. Chin perhaps learning from the previous experience always displays her dominance. Chin was introduced last during my observation as the team know that Chin will show these traits. When Chin was introduced into the third cage, giving the bears more space in case the dominance went too far, she was quick to growl and bark and pull back her nose to show her teeth when she approached the other two cages. Panda showed interest in playing but Chin was more interested in ensuring that no one came into the cage she was occupying and sat firmly in the doorway. Ah Lun showed some signs of fear as Chin ended up in the doorway holding the other three bears in one cage and not letting any of the bears play with her or enter the other cages. Chin was quite interesting to watch as the noises they are make are quite unusual and can grow from low growls to barks like a dog. Chin also shows her dominance by standing up.
Panda and Chin´s integration into the group continues at BSBCC and demonstrates the time, patience and expertise of the BSBCC team. Supporting BSBCC will ensure my bear friends like Panda will have the time dedicated to her to ensure that she integrates into an accepting bear group and get to experience the outdoor enclosures.
Text by Wai Pak Ng
I am not sure you still remember I posted an article about 2 “Panda” that live in a mini zoo in Kudat, Northern Sabah in this blog last year. It is such a shame that my country men name these two Malayan sun bears as "Panda!". Besides that, these two sun bears were kept in a small cemented floor cage without any enrichment and display them to the public to attract more visitors to the zoo. That was a very typical example that wildlife is being manipulated and explioted in this part of the world.
Fortunately, the newly formed Wildlife Rescue Unit from Sabah Wildlife Department carried out an operation to confiscate these two illegal kept sun bears last month and sent to BSBCC. BSBCC promised to give these two rescued “Panda” a new life and a chance to go back to their real home.
According to the rescue report, two sun bears were still infants when they arrived at the local mini zoo in 2008. They were both came from Tawau region, southeastern Sabah, presented as gifts to the zoo owner (probably "gift" with a lot of money involved!"). The owner calls both of them as “Big Big”, with a sign board written as “panda” in English and Chinese. Since then, “Panda” were the main attraction of the zoo. The local is just need to pay as low as RM5 (US$1.50) for adult, and RM3 (US$1.00) for children to visit the zoo.
These two bears are now staying at our quarantine area in the old bear house. They were very tame and get used to the new environment very fast. In their file, I name the male bear as "Kudat", and the female as "Panda". Both of them are quite healthy and bigger size compare to other bears with the same age in our centre. This might due to their heavy meat consumption (they were fed a chicken each day!) by their previous owner at the mini zoo.
Once they pass the quarantine period, Kudat and Panda will be transfer to the new bear house and join with others. I sincerely hope Kudat and Panda's sad story will give our people a clear message: it is not right to exploit wildlife to just amuse our own kind!