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 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!
Video By Chiew Lin May
"Only we understand, can we care.
Only if we care, we will help.
Only if we help, we shall be saved." - Jane Goodall
Poaching and illegal pet trade have brought sun bears and other wildlife to the brink of extinction.
Let's work together to protect them from extinction!
Text by Nithisha Nair (Intern student, University Putra Malaysia Bintulu Campus)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
And so, the journey begins for the three new musketeers- Joe, Romolina and Logan- into the bear house after patiently getting through their days in quarantine.
Romolina, being the oldest of the three was kept as a pet before being handed over to our centre. Whereas Joe was found alone in the forest when he was three months old. A person then sent Joe to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park. The youngest of the three, Logan, was found on a Lokan River near a village who separated from his mother as she crossed the river leaving him behind. He was taken care for a few months by the person who found him before being sent to our centre. These three musketeers, being as young as they are, are nothing short of curious, explorative and energetic.
Due to the lack of space in the bear house, this group of sun bears ended up extending their stay a little longer than expected. But with the release of Boboi, Kitud and Tan-Tan on the 14th this month, new room opened up to welcome our trio.
The week started off with enrichment preparations for the sun bears. Lengths of firehose were used to construct a ‘zig zag firehose’ as well as a wooden structure that the trio will be able to use to climb and play.
This recreational enrichment will go a long way in diverting the sun bear’s attention from the stress they might face through switching homes. Besides that, we also extended our measures and collected barks, dead wood and sacks of dry leaves to be put into their cages for a more forest-like feel. The bears will also be able to dig their claws and teeth into the barks in search for ants and termites. Termites nests were also brought from the forest for the trio to feast on.
Two dens were transformed and decorated to the best of our abilities to give the bears as much of a natural environment as we could, dry leaves, tree barks, ginger leaves and termites nest were all placed in the dens alongside structural enrichments.
Then the long-awaited day finally comes and the cubs were ready to be brought to the bear house. Translocation cages were used to transport them from quarantine to the bear house. Prior to the transfer, they are lured into the translocation cages by quarantine keepers using diluted honey. Then they are weighed before being put on to the car to be brought down to the bear house.
The transfer started off with Romolina, who was no trouble at all to lure into the translocation cage and was quite calm throughout the journey. After Romolina’s transfer, Logan was next. Eventhough Logan was no fuss to get into the translocation cage, he seemed pretty anxious on his way to the bear house. Honey water and bananas were provided upon arrival to eradicate any stress caused by transportation.
All the other bears seemed very alert and peculiar to the arrival of these cubs but did not cause a commotion of any sort, which was great as any vocalization would’ve rendered the cubs more stressed. After the two bears settled down, they enjoyed exploring in their dens and was nothing short of curious and adventurous, sniffing every corner and climbing every angle. They also foraged through the dry leaves for bananas and tore through tree barks in search of insects to feast on.
After ensuring the two cubs were okay, we proceeded with a health check for the last cub, Joe. The health check was done in quarantine with a hand injected anaesthesia by Dr. Boon whilst being distracted with honey. After Joe was unconscious, a full health check was carried out to ensure that the sunbear is well and healthy. Joe was then brought into the bear house and put into a separate den until he was fully conscious and able to join in on the fun.
Once Joe was concious, the three cubs didn’t waste any of their time before exploring all three dens together. They foraged through dry leaves and dead wood, climbed ladders hung on the den basket as well as on the gates of the den, and rolled around the dry leaves goofily with one another.
The cubs will have to go through integration as well as fence training before their debut in the forest enclosure. The cubs can frequently be seen exploring their surroundings and playing around with one another, their playful yet explorative behaviour is one we hope they keep throughout their rehabilitation journey. Here’s wishing good luck to these cubs in their journey before being released to the wild, good luck musketeers!
Video by Chiew Lin May
Little Logan was missing his left thumb and his left front paw has developed abnormally but these have never made give him up in climbing trees.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Joe, a three month old sun bear cub, was found by a person alone in the forest at Kg.Kipaku, Tambunan. The person then sent the cub to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park on the 12th of April 2018. The bear arrived on the 22nd of January 2019. We believe that Joe was stolen from his mother in the wild. Joe appeared tame and would suckle his hind paws which are believed to be a result from being kept as a pet for long periods in captivity. He needs to learn all the skills he will require to survive in the wild – skills that he would have learnt from his mother.
We decided to introduce Joe with two resident cubs.
Joe recently completed his quarantine period. He is now one year old and weighs 22kg.
On the 22nd of February 2019, Joe made his first new friends!
Once Joe entered the den, Logan and Romolina started to greet him by growling!
Both started sniffing around while Joe was busy with exploring the new den first. Once the door opened, Logan started to play fight by biting and rolling with Joe.
Logan has shown to be a more fun-loving bear that always initiates play with Joe.
They can wrestle for hours and hours…nonstop PLAY!!
Logan began spending more time with Joe while Romolina always seemed curious and she would paw Joe in a gentle way. Romolina would still like to maintain her independence and is less interested in joining to play. We found Joe being hugged by Logan when they met.
Joe has had a new experience by learning how to defend himself during play fights and wrestling.
We are glad to see Joe has been having a good time with his new friends, Logan and Romolina. These three bears have a close bond and share their food or enrichment together too. Little Romolina and Logan were quick to accept Joe.
The three bears have been venturing out to the larger exercise dens which are filled with different types of enrichment.
They share their dens which can enrich Joe’s life and help stimulate his natural behaviour.
They enjoy playing, exploring and making us fall in love with their beautiful smiles!
This is important for the rescued bears to help them recover from trauma and start to put their past behind them.
Interactions between Joe, Logan and Romolina have shown to be positive. Joe now has a place full of love. Hopefully, this relationship can help Joe become a more confident and stronger bear!
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
An one year old, male sun bear cub just arrived at the BSBCC. This brings to the total of 46 rescued sun bear at BSBCC currently. Joe (Rescue No.61) was found all alone crying in the forest. His history is still remaining unknown. A person rescued him and sent him to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park on March 2018. Joe has safely settled in BSBCC quarantine. He weighs 22.8 kg.
The team will now be looking after little Joe literally around the clock. There is a long way to go for Joe but he deserves a better life!! Stay tuned with BSBCC to have follow ups on Joe story! Meet Joe!
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
On the 2nd of March 2017, a sun bear cub was handed over to the Sabah Wildlife Department named BJ. He was found after being purchased in Sonsogon village, Pitas, and was sold for the price of RM 300 and then was kept as a pet. He arrived at BSBCC on the 22nd of November, 2018. He is a two year old, sub adult male bear weighing 32.20kg.
After living alone in a cage, BJ was finally free from trauma and now has made some friends for the first time in his life. On the 14th of December 2018, BJ was integrated into a larger social group of female bears – Kina, Sika, Soo and Diana, who would help him adjust to his new life and learn how to be a bear again!
Here we can see how the introduction went:
As soon as BJ saw his new friends, he stood up on his hind legs, began sniffing and pawing them to start play fighting! They showed their strong canines and sharp claws!
He was such a handsome and kind bear towards the group. It is good to know that he is welcomed by them and they also rely on each other for comfort, protection and love. Although sun bears are by nature solitary animals in the wild, the bond between a mother and her cub is strong during the time they are together. During the integration, sun bears can learn from each other as they communicate and play together.
BJ has proven himself to be a friendly bear. He also smiles which shows a few wrinkles on his face.
It is great that BJ has accepted this wonderful new friendship. Kina and Sika are BJ’s bear play friends.
Sometimes, BJ wants to play with Soo and Diana, but both of the female bears seem to ignore him. Once BJ started sharing the large dens with the other female bears, he immediately began exploring. He has found the simple pleasure of good friends. He is a happy go lucky bear who loves running around the dens and convinces the others to play with him by sniffing or pulling them. He is always filled with curiosity and enjoys exploring the enrichment around the dens.
They spend their days wandering around the dens, digging up the dead wood, climbing on the structural enrichment and sharing their toys. They are doing things together and seem to enjoy each other’s company.
For the rest of their first week together, there was no aggression found and they were accepting of each other as it did not take too long for them to become social. Now he has four lovely female bears to keep him company. It was a delight to see him grow into a healthy and loving bear where he could truly be himself.
Text & Photos by Seng Yen Wah
Soo is a four year old female, sub adult bear. She was purchased with the price of RM350 when she was still a cub in Karamatoi Village in Sook Keningau market. After that, she was kept as a house pet in Nambayan village in Tambunan for two years. She was rescued by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and transferred to BSBCC on the 8th of September, 2017. Soo is very alert with her surroundings. She easily gets stressed and starts to pace aggressively when she hears loud, machine noises. This stereotypic behaviour is the consequence of her past life of living as a caged pet. She took a long time to adapt herself. There must be a way to help her more. Maybe it is time for her to have bear friends!
Let’s introduce you Soo’s friends, Diana (12 years old female adult bear), Kina (three years old female sub adult bear), and Sika (two years old female sub adult bear). Kina and Sika integrated on the 19th of November 2017. After that, Diana joined Kina and Sika on 13th of April 2018. And on the 2nd of September 2018, Soo meet them all for the first time.
Soo is curious about the appearance of a new bear beside her cage. She sniffed on the sliding door. The sliding door opens slowly and Sika is waiting for her at another side. This is the first time Soo met a bear. Soo is anxious. She vocalized with Sika when Sika came close. She would like to play with Sika but she doesn’t know how to do it. She shows defensive behaviour which Sika does not like. Therefore the first time is not pleasant.
The second day of integration is Kina’s turn. Kina shows more curiosity about Soo. She tried to initiate play fight with Soo, who is still nervous about her first friendship. Soo demonstrates a big response to Kina’s approach, but this did not stop Kina and still tried getting close to her. If Soo is being stressed at the moment, Kina will not disturb her.
Soo took her time and she tried her best to become friends with Diana, Kina and Sika. They are getting along well now! Only sometimes, Diana is on her temper and shows her aggression to Sika and Soo by vocalizing. But, there would never be a problem for them to stay together. They play fight with whoever they want. They share their food and also rest together. It is so good to see Soo’s improvement since her first arrival. We really hope Soo can live in a better life with her bear friends and we hope to see her grow into a strong and brave bear!