By Chiew Lin May
Are sun bears threatened?
Their existence is being fast disappearing who threatened by illegal poaching, pet trade and loss of habitat! Please do something about it!
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Romolina has just finished her 30 day submission to quarantine! She is settling in well at BSBCC. A full body check-up has been conducted by Dr.Nabila Sarkawi who is a veterinarian from Sabah Wildlife Department. Based on the growth condition of her teeth, we found out she is an estimated age of six months instead of four months old. This is because some of her current teeth which have grown through recently, are now permanent and her adult teeth.
Romolina was found alone in the forest before being kept as a pet at Romol Village, Sapulut, in the interior division of Sabah, where she lived her life in a small cage. She was rescued by Bob Hartley and Virgil Joon Gunting, who had found out that a villager was keeping Romolina as a pet. They intended to rescue her so they negotiated with the villager who agreed to hand the young cub over to them. The villager said that he/she had kept Romolina for a duration of roughly three months and fed her sausages, porridge and fruits. The improper diet caused Romolina to have a smaller body size. Now that she is being fed a proper, nutritious diet in the care of BSBCC and she now weighs 8.8kg.
Romolina seems to be attached to humans. When the caretakers are not around, she will suckle and vocalize to seek comfort and safety. Romolina had lost her mother bear, therefore we now have keepers as her surrogate mother. What can the surrogate mother do? Keepers will spend time and play fight with her. Play fighting could teach her how to defend herself. Defence skills is one of the most important survival skills for the bear’s natural rainforest habitats, which can protect themselves from predators.
Besides the companionship from the keepers, Romalina has also been introduced to many types of enrichments to use throughout her days. Enrichment is a common name for the bears TOYs which can stimulate the action of natural behaviours that we would observe in non-captive Sunbears. Romolina is having different enrichments from day to day! But, her favourite toy is the warm, soft and comfy towel! Romolina is a detailed explorer. She will spend a lot of time exploring the enrichments made for her. Thanks to the care taker, Jeniur who made her a circle platform. She loves to sleep up there. Before sleeping Romalina will adjust and fidget until she finds the perfect spot to fall asleep and snooze like a baby!
Romolina is a curious bear who explores her environment through continuous sniffing. She loves milk and also loves to keep the milk on her body, by soaking her body in the milk tray. But she does not enjoy her body being too wet and fur remaining damp. Romolina is a good climber. She always climbs up and down to search and explore her environment. She is always very observant to her current surroundings and will keep checking and watching events that happen around her.
Romolina has lacked a mother’s love since young age, which makes her feel insecure. The way to help her is integrating her with other bears; making a bear friend can allow them to learn from each other and spend time together. The best enrichment of a bear is another bear! We are looking forward to the integration between her and her bear friend Logan, and hope they will get along well. The cute and lovely friendship is already starting to form between these two little bears. Please stay tuned for the updates to the start of this wonderful friendship! With the help of her friend Logan, the care of keepers and the love from you all, we hope Romolina will grow to into a real bear!
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Little Romolina is a six months old female sun bear cub who was kept in a small cage as a house pet at Kampung Romol, Sapulut, Sabah.
The owner claimed that they found the cub alone in the forest and he had kept her in his house. We believed that Romolina’s mom was killed in order to take the cub from the forest. Bob Hartley and Virgil Joon Gunting got knowledge about this cub and quickly helped save her from the villager by negotiating with him to hand over the cub. She was immediately handed over to the Sabah Wildlife Department then sent to BSBCC and placed into quarantine on the same day on July 7th, 2018. During the arrival, she was tiny and weighed 5.95 kg. She was suffering from severe malnutrition. The owner fed Romolina rice, cereals, sausages, fruits and no milk was given to her. She was also being confined in a small cage which restricted her growth. The name “Romolina” was given by the person who rescued her. She was named after the Romol village where she was rescued from.
Romolina is the youngest female sun bear cub at BSBCC. She is kept under close observation around the clock by bear care staff in quarantine.
She was subsequently found to be malnourished and showed signs of stunted growth. Consequently, her claws and teeth appeared too big for her tiny body as a result from an unbalanced diet.
Little by little she has grown to know that she is in a safe place. She adapted really well to her new environment.
During these two weeks she has gained more weight. She has a good appetite but is choosy in accepting a diet of fruits and vegetables. She loves watermelon and Honey!
Little Romolina enjoys playing with enrichment toys.
The enrichment plays a vital role in encouraging Little Romolina – to be a sun bear again! She gets really curious and stands on both her hind legs then gets excited about it! Romolina will use her long sharp claws to tear and destroy the enrichment. She always shows curiosity in new toys and treats where she will learn to dig, climb and destroy the enrichment!
She learns climbing too. She will climb up to the basket or sleeping platform or when there are treats around. As a sun bear cub she will spends most of the day sleeping on the ground or hammock platform.
She is just enjoying her new found second chance of freedom.
Poor Romolina had been kept confined in a cage alone for a long period. It can be seen that she has a habit of sucking her front left paw or rubbing her back near care takers, and she vocalizes to seek comfort and safety. She shows more attachment to humans and appears tame. She needs special care and attention. She should still be with her mother learning how to survive in the forest.
Slowly, Romolina will learn to trust the new environment and put her past behind her. It was truly a blessing when watching Romolina grow more confident and healthy. Please speak up against the illegal pet trade and protect them from extinction!
Text by Yvonne Chong Yee Wen
Photos by Yvonne Chong Yee Wen, Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
The Bornean Sun Bear is scientifically known as Helarctos Malayanus. It is the smallest species of bear found in the tropical forest habitats of Southeast Asia. Characteristics of sun bears include its long tongue (which is used to extract honey and insects) and a chest marking, unique to every sun bear.
Sun bears are opportunistic omnivores that feed mainly on termites, insects, larvae and a large variety of fruit species. Sun bears have several different roles within the forest, which provide many benefits to tropical ecosystems.
Sun bears are now facing the threats of commercial hunting and poaching, habitat loss, and being illegally kept as a pet. They belong in the wild. Please spread the word and protect the sun bear!
< 婆羅洲之子 —— 馬來熊 >
婆羅洲馬來熊（Bornean Sun Bear），又名太陽熊，也叫狗熊，學名為Helarctos Malayanus，屬哺乳熊科，它是全世界8種熊科動物中體型最小的熊類。馬來熊是依賴森林生存的物種，它們棲息和活動於東南亞地區的熱帶雨林，主要分佈於馬來西亞、越南、印尼、柬埔寨、泰國、緬甸、遼國、中國南部與印度東部等。
在1997年沙巴野生動物保護憲法之下，馬來熊已屬「完全受保護」品種（Totally Protected Species），凡觸法者，即盜獵、獵殺、販賣、飼養以及擁有有關馬來熊產製品的人將會面臨10萬馬幣罰款或被判10年徒刑，或兩者兼施。
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Seng Yen Wah and Chiew Lin May
Seven years ago, a two month old sun bear cub was found by a villager’s hunting dog in a remote forest area of Long Pasia, in the Sipitang district of Sabah.
He was found injured and Nooh, the owner, decided to take care of him until he recovered. Nooh named the sun bear cub as “Fulung” which means forest in native Lundayeh language.
Nooh had decided to return Fulung back to the forest but due to the poaching concern happening in the forest he decided to keep Fulung as a pet for the time being.
Until August 2011, where Nooh found out he could give him a better life. He decided to surrender Fulung to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) when Fulung was nine months old.
Fulung arrived at BSBCC on 15th of August, 2011.
During his arrival, it was found that Fulung was malnourished and had a scratch mark on his forehead, which is believed to be caused by rubbing it on a cage bar. The initial health checks showed him in good health and body condition, weighing 9.4kg. During Fulung's placement in quarantine, he started to show signs of self-trauma due to finding it difficult adjusting to new experiences. This result was from being kept as a pet which caused him to scratch his abdomen until the wound was infected. This made him leave a dry scar wound on his abdomen area. Besides the wound, you could hear Fulung would growl and bawl loudly. Sun bear cubs will growl long and loud when they are separated from their mom. That was the problem with Fulung who had been kept in captivity with close human contact for long periods, which resulted in him requiring a great need of comfort.
To avoid this happening, we provided the best care for Fulung, different enrichment activities were given in order to stimulate and encourage his natural behavior.
A proper diet comprises of protein and fruit, medical treatment and great treats which have brought an improvement on Fulung. We could see that he was happily munching, destroying and exploring everything. He started to adapt and would smell, taste, play and paw things.
Fulung is a very cleaver, young male sun bear and checks out his enrichment.
Luckily, Fulung continues to improve day by day. He is settling in well in the new environment.
Moreover, other orphaned sun bears may help Fulung to learn the vital survival skills that he will need in the wild. So, BSBCC made a decision that Fulung needed to have a sun bear companion. On October 27th, 2011 he was introduced to the first ever bear friend, Mary.
For the last seven years, Fulung has known how to charm his way around the females in his group. He has grown up with other orphaned bears.
During the bear integration, they were incredibly playful in friendly greeting ways and no aggression happened beforehand. Bongkud, Mary, Debbie, Ah Bui, Ah Lun, Rungus, Julaini, Montom and Natalie are Fulung’s play bear friends.
He loves to make new friends where he becomes the loved and admired mischievous bear!
Magical! On June 11th, 2013 he took his biggest step and got to enjoy the sunshine with tall trees where he should belong!
Once the door opened, he quickly went out to explore! He was checking every meter of his new forest environment.
Fulung first dug up the dead log to get his favourite termites.
Over the years, Fulung proved to us that he will be one of the most confident and lovely bears in the centre.
Fulung is best known for loving to stand on his hind legs to get a better smell or look.
He will keep busy.
He spends his day roaming around the free range enclosure,
foraging up invertebrates and favourite food
basking in the sun,
taking a nap and loves climbing up high above the trees.
Fulung is an expert climber and will show how well he can climb to the top with rediscovering his natural behaviour!
He is anything and has become a much loved member of the sun bear family.
They are full of enthusiasm and energy!
They will keep learning to be wild bears and have fun everyday!
He always captures the hearts of people with his enthusiasm in loving nature.
This is very impressive when observing him slowly grow use to his new environment and learning as a wild bear. He slowly realizes the special bear he is and there is nothing to fear out there.
Fulung is doing exactly what they should do in the forest!!
Remember that we are not their mother. This is a very pathetic story for keeping a sun bear as a pet only will make the sun bear not know the world beyond the cage bars and they will lose the survival skills that they need to learn in the wild.
But thanks to the ongoing care and support we can give Fulung a second chance to live the happy, safe and healthy life he deserves. One of the things we LOVE about the smallest bears is simply that they make you smile.
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
The sad part of each rescued orphan sun bear that arrive at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) is that they come from having lived through a bitter past. As sun bears grow into fully grown adult, they become dangerous and difficult to handle which will end up their lives in a tiny cage or seeking out sun bear rehabilitation centre to take their sun bear pet in.
This is what happens to our recently rescued a three years old sub adult female bear, Soo (Rescued bear No.56). It was so shock when we received a video showing that the person was playing with this bear (who is fully grown bear). She was purchased from Karamatoi village in Sook Keningau market when she was still cub and kept as a pet by a family in Nambayan village in Tambunan, located in the interior Division of Sabah for almost three years. She was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department and she arrives at BSBCC on 8th September 2017. Soo was fed with rice, cucumber and milk. Undoubtedly her mother had been killed; she is sold illegally throughout Borneo and kept in private home. Sadly many of these orphaned sun bears will never fully learn their natural way of life and lose their ability to survive in the wild.
During the arrival, Soo shows a sorrow face and traumatized. This made her keep alert. She must have been going through traumatizing experience for her. You can feel how this disgusting the pet trade is! Often these rescued sun bears take a long recovery road from the trauma of losing their mom in such a horrific way. They often suffer from physically health issues, malnutrition and poor treatment during her pet trade time.
Luckily for Soo, the Sabah Wildlife Department rescued her and she has been given second chance to survive as a wild bear. She has to go through a quarantine process for 30 days to determine her health status. On 10th September 2017 she received a health check. Dr. Pakeeyaraj Nagalinggam from Wildlife Rescue Unit, Sabah Wildlife Department performed a general health check. These include an assessment of her overall health, function of the internal organs and physical condition and potential sickness. Her weighs was 25.70kg.The blood tests result has shown she is in good health and bright bear.
At the BSBCC, Soo will receive intensive care. The most important first step is to make sure Soo is settled in this new environment. Till now she still avoids to explore new surroundings. Soo was introducing to new correct diet and enrichment to ensure she is growing healthy. But Soo only will explore the enrichment and treats on night time where the surrounding area was quiet. She will quickly move away after detecting our presence. Soo spent the majority of her time and feel safe by staying high up on cage. She is now an orphan and needs much love and care to grow into a trust and confident beautiful sun bear.
We are delighted to welcome Soo to our sun bear family! Soo has a long journey ahead of her in going through rehabilitation until she returns to the wild again. It is illegal to keep sun bears as pets! Please remember the consequences of keeping one as a pet and give them promise of HOPE! We hope to see Soo can be thriving and adapting well to her new home. She has to find the life of a free bear. We will be monitoring to see how she progresses over the coming months at quarantine.
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 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".
Text by Alex O’Keefe (Oregon State University Student)
Photos by Sumira Muis & Chiew Lin May
Completing an internship at the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Center (BSBCC) under Ape Malaysia has been a phenomenal and breathtaking journey. As I progressed through my internship I was able to complete and partake in a number of activities that have benefited sun bears and their conservation. Some of these activities include creating enrichments, structure for maintenance and the bears, partaking in feeding, helping educate the public about sun bears and their conservation needs and conducting observations of sun bears. My specific observations were done every day for two weeks to evaluate the readiness of a male bear named Sigalung to be released into first a training pen (an outside pen connected to the inside doors of the bear house) and eventually an outside enclosure based in the forest. Having the honor to observe this bear’s progression from training pen to outside enclosure was for me exciting and something new. By the end of my observations, I would come to be attached and intrigued by the sun bear known as Sigalung.
First before describing the progress of Sigalung, here’s a little background on his journey to and time at the BSBCC. Sigalung along with a bear named Phin were rescued from a logging camp in Sipitang district, Southwest of Sabah. Likely orphaned by poachers, Sigalung with Phin were alone and would likely have been subjected to a cruel and painful life in inadequate captive conditions. Luckily Dr.Wong and the Sun Bear Conservation team found out about the bears and rescued them when they were (9 years old). Two years ago (2015) Sigalung started training pen integration. It took him more than a year to actually come out of his inside pen and explore the training pen due to fear. Often bears rescued are scared and hesitant to explore anything outside of an inside enclosure as that’s the only environment they’ve ever been exposed to pre-rescue. After more than a year of trying every single day,Sigalung climbed down the ladder connecting to the floor of the training pen and explored around. Following this moment, his confidence grew and his visits to the training pen became more consistent. Nearly a year after his landmark stride I started my internship at the BSBCC.
Two weeks in I began to observe him and his actions in the training pen. By the end of a week I had noticed a very predictable pattern for Sigalung. Immediately when his pen doors would open, he would climb down to the training pen walk in a clockwise circle and eat the food placed in the pen; all the while sniffing and exploring. By the end of two weeks I had concluded that he had comfortably and fully integrated himself into the training pen. It was now time to test our luck with the outside pen.
Before our first attempt at getting Sigalung to commit to entering the outside enclosure, I put fruit and honey outside to entice Siglung into the forest.
Once everything was set up we left the area and opened Sigalung’s inside and training pen doors connecting him to the outside enclosure.
Sigalung conducted his normal routine of climbing down and exploring the training pen. He would look at the open door leading to the forest then quickly move past it with haste signaling anxiety. This pattern of circling past the open door continued until we gave up and decided to try again the next day. The second day offered the same results as Sigalung displayed repetitive behavior comparable to the first day.The third day however, provided different and unexpected results.
The third day stared out similar to the first two days. The doors opened, Sigalung approached the doors but never went outside. He would occasionally army crawl up to the doors stick his head out and grab the food then come back inside to eat. Little progress was being made until a female adult bear named Mamatai in the neighboring outside pen appeared. She came directly face to face with Sigalung then eventually walked away into the forest. Sigalung, be it enticed or aggressive, tried to follow her until he reached the door. He like before stared out but didn’t budge. Then all of a sudden he bolted out of the door and into the forest enclosure! Continuing to sprint, he for the first time stepped on the natural forest floor.
His outside reconnoitering lasted for only five minutes as by that time he quickly ran back into the training pen then into his inside enclosure. Though only for five minutes, Sigalung had taken his first steps in becoming a real sun bear and thriving in the forest. The next two days Sigalung went into the outside pen but only for a similar duration of time. Day six would prove different. Sigalung decided on the sixth day he would not only stay out longer in the forest but also explore farther than he previously had done. Sigalung ended up walking around the entire outside enclosure area!
He had finally conquered his fear of the unknown and is now enjoying the freedom of the outside enclosure based in the rainforests of Borneo! Sigalung has truly come a long way from where he began. From capture to freedom, Sigalung can finally live out his days living as a sun bear should…in the forest.
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Azzry Dusain, Tee Thye Lim, Seng Yen Wah and Chiew Lin May
Without the BSBCC, many captive sun bears would still live in small cages without HOPE; without the BSBCC many people in the world still would not know there is a bear species called the sun bear
– CEO & Founder, Dr. (Hon) Wong Siew Te, D.J.N
Poaching, pet trade and loss of habitat continue to pose a MAJOR threat to the survival of sun bears. Mother bears are often killed and their infants are sold in the illegal wildlife pet trade. Sun bears are very similar to humans - they cannot survive on their own without their mothers. It is tragic that sun bears are still being found orphaned. Sun bear populations have declined by more than 30% in the past 30 years, leaving the danger of imminent extinction in the wild a very real possibility.
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre’s (BSBCC) CEO and Founder, Dr. Wong Siew Te has dedicated more than 20 years of his life to raise awareness and save the “forgotten bear species”. Wong founded the BSBCC in 2008 with the goal to conserve sun bears through a holistic approach that of improves the welfare of rescued sun bears, rehabilitation, education and research. Wong was one of the greatest sun bear conservationists.
The BSBCC has received 55 rescued sun bears since its foundation. Currently there are 44 rescued sun bears housed at the BSBCC. Sadly, we have seen a significant increase in the numbers of sun bears arriving at the centre in 2016. This trend is worrying as it shows that poaching is still going wild with rampant sale of sun bears or illegal bear bile medicine over websites and the numbers will continue to rise rapidly until drastic measures are taken to protect sun bears.
A three months old female sun bear cub Tan-Tan was bought by a person with the purpose of rescuing her from being sold in the remote region of Paitan. Most of the bears arrived at our centre will have in different conditions- frightened, stress and with wounds common to bears rescued from pet trade.
A lady decided to rescue an one years old male sun bear cub Nano when she saw Nano was kept in a small chicken mesh cage in Kota Marudu, north of Sabah. She purchased him from the seller for a price of RM1,500, with the purpose of saving his life. Nano was surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department and arrive at BSBCC on November 20, 2016.
BSBCC has been able to rehabilitate these orphaned sun bears after their years of trauma from being locked up in small cages and sold in the pet trade. Most of our bears have had an extremely difficult lives having witnessed the death of their mother, traumatic experiences through being sold as a pet, suffered unimaginable abuse, infected wounds and poor diet. Being taken away from all of that they had known...many will show stereotypical behavior and will growl in fear.
This has all changed with the greatly appreciated help from Sabah Wildlife Department. They assist in providing care and medical treatment for rescued bears. Our rescued bears will receive round the clock care from our Bear care team by helping and encouraging the bears to build up their strength as well as learning to trust their cares.
Enriching the lives of these rescued bears is an important part of bear management, which improves the bears’ lives by giving them a second chance to survive in the wild. We will make sure that the bears are having their choices and freedom. Little by little, after each rescued bear has passed their quarantine period, they will move on to the next step in the Bear house – a peaceful and safe place they have deserved all their life! Integrating with new friends, giving them access to forest enclosures for them to learn pertinent skills for survival and last but not least get them ready to be back into the WILD.
Even relishing every chop of fresh fruit, playing with their enrichment, roaming the forest, foraging for insects, inquisitive, exploring, snoozing, climbing trees, finding HONEY bees, enjoying the sunshine, tapping to check weak points of dead logs and building tree nests, play fighting with their fellow bears in the BSBCC. No more pain and letting go of the traumatic life – perhaps they are enjoying the smell of freedom !!
Let look how our rescued sun bears learn become wild bear!!
Most of you still remember Mary, a two months old sun bear cub that she was held captive in a cage as pet. She was found to be very malnourished when she first came to BSBCC because her previous owner did not fed her with milk. Her growth stunted and walking in an abnormal way. Now, Mary has improved a lot where every day for her is a treat of good food, friend and freedom.
Every individual sun bear at BSBCC has their own personality. They are growing independent every day. Strong characters like Amaco, Diana, Tan-Tan, Wawa and Nano have emerged. Slowly the rescued bears realize with their new life that they are now in a different, safer, healthier, and happier bear world which is their own.
For example: Tan-Tan is the holder of the record breaking all records among all sun bear cubs we have had so far: At six months old she could construct a little nest in the tree using broken twigs and leaves. It was truly amazing to see!
Besides that, due to the emotional trauma that resulted from his being kept as pet, Nano was very stressed and in pain. After one year, Nano finally has reduced his stereotypical behavior by spending more time with his bear friend, Noah. He is on the road to recovery. We tear up just thinking how Nano has finally overcome his fear...
Sun bears are beautiful animals in nature. They deserve the chance to go back to the deep forest and to become a WILD bear. We all have two things that the sun bears do not, which is a voice and freedom. Please use your voice to help them and stop the hunting or killing of sun bears, we can make a difference to their future survival. Together we must save the sun bears!
On behalf of our rescued bears, a big bark THANKS to Wong, our supporters, funders, volunteers, friends and bear care team for taking care, supporting and loving them!