Text & Photos by Seng Yen Wah
There are eight bear species in this world and the sun bears are the smallest bear. Sun bears are named as the sun bear because they have the chest patch in the colour range of cream and orange which looks like the rising sun. Every bear has a unique chest mark. This is the best way of identifying an individual bear. This is because no two bears share the same chest mark pattern even when they are a twins.
Although sun bears are the smallest bear, they have the longest tongue. Their tongue can be 25 to 30cm long! The long tongue is an adaptation for licking honey and eating termites and ants. Other than invertebrates and honey, they are also eating a large variety of fruit species, especially figs. This is because fig trees produce fruit all year long. Therefore, sun bears are considered as the opportunistic omnivores. As the food is available all year round, sun bears are the only bears that do not hibernate.
Sun bears can be found throughout South East Asia. There are two subspecies of sun bears which are Malayan sun bears and Bornean sun bears. Malayan sun bears are found on the Asian Mainland and in Sumatra while Bornean sun bears are only found in Borneo. The difference between the Malayan sun bears and Bornean sun bears is their size. Malayan sun bears are bigger than the Bornean sun bears.
Sun bears are a forest-dependent species. Their large, sickle-shaped (curved) claws are important tools for them because they can spend most daylight hours foraging, digging and climbing. Sun bears are the arboreal animal. They are the excellent climbers. They often take naps on the tree. Sun bears climb trees in the wild to not only find fruits and look for honeybees but also to avoid predators such as pythons. I wonder if you know that sun bears can build a nest? It can be a tree nest or a ground nest. Sometimes people are confused between an orangutan’s nest and a sun bear’s nest. They look alike but sun bear’s nest look messier. Mostly they use the tree leaves and tree branches to build up the nest. They can spend a few days building a nest. However, not every bear has the ability to build a nest. Therefore, they will borrow other bear’s nests. People say sharing is caring and sun bears as well!
Sun bears not only spend time in the trees but also spend time on the forest floors. They are more likely to dig for snacks such as termites, ants, pill millipede and others. Or else, they are foraging for fruit in the forest. They grip on the tree bark or rip apart the decayed wood for getting yummy, crunchy snacks. The different types of invertebrates are the important protein source for them.
Sun bears are having outstanding sense of smell and excellent hearing. Among all the senses, the bear's eyesight is considered as not good. They are near-sighted but they can detect form and movement at a long distance. They depend on their senses to be alert to their surroundings. This is their wild instinct to protect and defend themselves.
"Each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius." - Edward O. Wilson.
Sun bear is the least known bear species. Therefore, they need your attention for saving them from extinction.
Text & Photos by Seng Yen Wah
Do you still remember the little Betung?
She arrived at the BSBCC on the 26th of August, 2020. Betung was wandering alone and found by a dog in an orchard at Kampung Betung, Ranau. After that, she was kept for five months. Then, her owner surrendered her to the Sabah Wildlife Department. On her arrival, she only weighed 1.4kg. She was tiny and weak. She looked much smaller than she should be. Other than that, she is also suffering pruritus and multiple alopecias on her body. She is the smallest, weakest sun bear that we had ever received.
Now, Betung has settled well in the quarantine. The bear keepers, Adrian and Danny, are taking care of her around the clock. The keepers are her surrogate mothers. They spend their time bonding with her. Betung likes to sit on their laps, resting and of course she loves to play with them too. She is little, but she never gives up during their play fights! She will show her small but sharp canines and paw with her tiny front paws to let you know how she strong she can be!
To improve her health condition, we decided to give Betung a walk in the sun. Having some sun can help her obtain Vitamin D and boost her immune system. During the first walk, she showed curiosity about her surroundings.
Betung tried to climb during the walk. However, she is too weak and unable to climb to any great height. Her muscles and strength need time to build up. To encourage her to climb the keepers will show her a tree and go with her. It took some time, but It’s working! Now she spends more time on a tree, especially when the keeper is on there too. Now, she is more active outdoors.
Every time she goes out, we will get her ready in a box. She loves to stay in the box. She feels safe and finds this fun! After she arrives in the forest, she walks out of the box and begins the day’s adventure. Digging is one of her favourite activities in the woods. Tearing, digging and biting will never make her bored. After exploring, she often keeps her mouth open because the wood debris is in her mouth, and she does not like it. She will keep using her front paw to remove the debris or sometimes she will need help from the keepers.
In the forest, everything for her is huge! But she keeps walking without any fear. She is courageous. When there is a breeze, she enjoys it! It is delightful to see how much she enjoys the forest!
The rehabilitation of Betung may be long. However, the team at the BSBCC will do their best to give Betung a better life! Please share your love with her; she needs your help. You can help to make her life different!
Text & Photos by Seng Yen Wah
There are two bear stories that began in the year of 2016 at BSBCC.
The story began at a place named Nabawan, an area in the southern part of Sabah. One day in 2016, a villager saw a dog in her orchard. When she tried to look closer, she noticed the dog has round ears and sharp claws. She then realized the dog was actually a sun bear! The sun bear had been kept as a pet ever since. On the 19th of August 2016, the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) rescued him and sent him to Lok Kawi Zoo. The bear came to BSBCC when he was five months old and weighed 8.6kg on the 10th of October 2016. When he was just brought here, his four baby teeth were supposed to be more curved and sharper but were found being reduced to a squarish and smoothen condition which affected his teething structure and arrangement. Despite this condition, he has healthily grown into a four-year-old sub adult male bear and is named Noah.
Another story happened in Kota Marudu, an area in the north of Sabah. This story belongs a six years old adult male bear named Nano. Back in 2016, Nano was kept in a small chicken mesh cage. A lady saw him and wanted to end his unfortunate life. She knew the bear was going to suffer in that small cage and she then decided to purchase Nano for a price of RM1,500 to save his life. After that, she surrendered Nano to the SWD and that sent him to BSBCC on the 20th of November 2016. When he first arrived at BSBCC, he just weighed 9.7kg at the age of two years old.
Noah and Nano were each other’s first bear friend! They always stay together. They look different and have quite different personalities. For instance, Noah is a happy bear and an explorer. He seems like having nothing to worry about in his life and is always curious about everything! Noah has a brighter colour snout and a longer body shape. On the contrary, Nano is shy. He is very alert to the surroundings and gets stressed easily. Nano has a shinier coat and a smaller body size. Noah’s friendly efforts had changed Nano’s life day by day. Nano has changed from being aggressive and inactive to peaceful and active. Due to their friendship and interactions, Nano has become braver and brighter!
After a year of rehabilitation, Noah and Nano explored the forest for the very first time in 2017. Noah was excited about the adventure outside. He was confident and enjoyed freedom. However, Nano showed more distress to explore a new environment. Nano timidly took his time to go out, but Noah never gave up on him. After a few months, Nano finally put his trauma behind him and enjoyed the forest activities with Noah. Even though they are “beary” good friends, they still fight sometimes. However, if Nano is in trouble, Noah will run towards Nano and get him out of the trouble. No bears in BSBCC can bully Nano! Nano feels more secure whenever Noah is around. They just can’t leave each other alone!
Noah and Nano really enjoy their daily forest activities such as digging, foraging, and climbing. Noah is like Nano’s big brother. Noah starts the adventure of the day and Nano is happy to be his follower. They both are foodies. Before and during the food giving, Nano always guards food and Noah will respond as if they are communicating in Bear Language. It is a joy to see them always together like a Best Bear Friends! Hope they gain more courage and sharpen their forest survival skills to ready themselves for their release together in the wild one day!
Video by Chiew Lin May
"Sniffing out honey bee nests,
Digging for termites,
Climbing on favourite trees,
Develop my survival skills!" - Logan, the Sun bear
Stay Safe . Stay home . Stay healthy
Video by Chiew Lin May
"Time is running out! The next ten years will be crucial. If we fail, a lot of species will become extinct." - Dr. Wong Siew Te (Founder & CEO BSBCC)
The sun bears is the world's smallest bear species. They can be found in the tropical rainforest of Southeast Asia. Major threats from poaching, illegal pet trade and deforestation are pushing sun bears to extinction. If no action is taken, the remaining population will be wiped out soon.
Please keep the fight to save the species against the threat of extinction!
Video by Chiew Lin May
What was the highlight of your weekend?
"I think mine was foraging the bird's nest fern!" - Little Romolina
Text by Ummu ‘Atiyyah Mohamed Talhah
Photos by Ummu ‘Atiyyah Mohamed Talhah & Chiew Lin May
My name is Ummu ‘Atiyyah, a Zoology student from Universiti Sains Malaysia and I was an intern at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre for 8 weeks.
Around 3 years ago, I didn’t even know bears existed in Malaysia. That’s something a Zoology student should be ashamed of. One day I saw a picture of my lecturer at a Bear Conservation Centre, so I searched the name of the centre online and to my surprise it was in Malaysia.
A few years later, I find myself applying for a role as an intern at the centre. A few months later, I’m already in gumboots and holding a bucket of fruits.
I love working in the kitchen. Whenever I have to go through the bananas, I will always think of the song from The Jungle Book, the Bear Necessities. Nevertheless, I love going out to feed the bears in the enclosure. Seeing them out in the forest, closest to their natural habitat really made me happy, especially when I get to see them napping high up on the trees, digging, and playing.
The first half of the day is usually planned routine work and after lunch we usually get to relax a little by making enrichments.
Sometimes I feel like I’m in an advertisement promoting Malaysia. Orangutans minding their own business just only 1 metre from me, hornbills flying to a nearby tree right in front of me, as well as their unforgettable sound, almost like the sound of a duck. Not just that, countless number of unknown beautiful birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians, the cute pygmy elephants, pygmy squirrels and even giant squirrels! All these sightings really make me appreciate our flora and fauna especially.
Not just the animals, I have not yet met any rude Sabahan’s during my 8 weeks stay. I admit that I am among those who call themselves slow learners. Even so, the staff, especially the bear keepers have always been motivating and patient with me. Being the only Muslim in the house, I am so relieved and grateful that they can try to understand and respect my beliefs and my “pantang larang”.
There are days where Dr Wong would have discussion sessions with the interns and volunteers. We would talk about almost everything from the bears to conservation and environmental issues, Malaysia’s forest and palm oil issues and a lot more. One time, he showed us a quote from Jane Goodall which goes like this, “Only if we understand, can we care. Only if we care, we will help. Only if we help, we shall be saved.”
Some days we were assigned to go for outreach programs at schools, and some days we were assigned to go on the platform to talk to the visitors. Although I haven’t been the very best at talking with strangers, I really enjoyed talking to people especially those who were interested to know more.
Believe it or not, during my 8 (short) weeks of interning, I got to differentiate the bears based on how they look, and even based on their behaviours!
After a few weeks at the centre, I start to think more and more about the bears especially the ones that cant be released outside to the enclosure due to reasons that cannot be avoided. I tried to think of how I can help to minimize their stress and improvise the environment that they are currently in.
Finally, six days prior to ending my internship, I managed to provide a humble dry cage for Amaco, the oldest bear who is sadly never going to see the forest again. Brandon and I gathered dried leaves, grasses and twigs and placed them on the cage floor. For me, a dry cage is more like a fake forest, where the bears can get comfortable. Amaco and Panda (his companion) were curious enough to sniff around like cats. I wish I could’ve done more for Amaco and the others but I really hope the dry cage helped Amaco and Panda in any small way it can.
Two days before I left, a windstorm and a short but heavy rain hit the centre at around 4:30pm. We waited for the bears to come back to the bear house, fearing that there might be fallen trees, which might cause bears to escape. In the end, there was only one bear, Wawa who hadn’t returned. Everyone including the people from Wildlife Rescue Unit and other organizations came to help. David (a staff) accompanied me and another three interns in the bear house. After all of their hard work out in the dark and in the rain, Wawa finally came back. I admired all of the staff’s heroism, something I never thought I’d be able to witness. Days that usually end at 5:00pm ended at 7:00pm that day. Only after all that did we know that some of the pens in the enclosure as well as the platform for visitors were destroyed. Looking at the pictures really broke our hearts.
“Who is your favourite bear?” I always get asked this question. I usually just pick names just to give an answer because I don’t think I actually have favorites and not because of the cliché “I love them all”, but because I have weak spots for some of them. Week after week, my list of “favourites” just keeps on getting longer and longer.
Some are fierce and some are gentle. However they are, I still love them all even though they couldn’t care less about me.
When I try to look back on the first day that I arrived here, with me being awkward with everyone, it feels like a lifetime ago. However my 8 weeks internship feels so short! The bears now have a special place in my heart, and strangers became friends. How things changed since I arrived. Even though the work was tiring, hot and sweaty, I always find myself missing the days where feeding the bears was a routine for me.
To all the bear keepers and staffs at BSBCC, I thank you all so much for making this experience something so fruitful for me. Though I smell like cow dung every evening, I sincerely loved the work at BSBCC. I apologize if I have been too slow or if I asked too many questions (I know I do). I hope you will all continue fighting for our bears and for Malaysia’s forests.
Text and Photos by Seng Yen Wah
Logan is the youngest male cub (estimated eight months old) that we have here at BSBCC. He was found, abandoned near Lokan River, Kulu-Kulu Village in Sabah. He was surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department and sent to BSBCC on the 19th of May, 2018. Once Logan was found, it was evident he was missing his left thumb which left his front paw disformed.
On the 7th of June, 2018 Logan first ventured out into the forest. He is so excited and alert with the surroundings. He is following behind his caretaker and explores around the forest slowly. Our caretakers have brought him out to the forest for just over two months now and he is becoming more at ease with the forest. Logan is no longer following behind but leading the caretaker where they should go that day. If he starts heading back when caretaker is not following his pace, Logan will even try get the caretaker’s attention to take him somewhere else.
A wild animal will always have their wild instinct. Logan has performed well in the forest day by day through his growth in climbing, digging and foraging skills. He has proved his foraging skills through finding many different types of invertebrates, just in one day, including ants and termites! Ants and termites are the most important protein source for sun bears in the forest. He is an expert at finding the termite nests mound; Logan will start by destroying the termite mound, digging into the nest and then consuming as many as possible. Logan is playing his part by being a forest doctor and maintaining the termites and wildlife, keeping the trees safe healthy.
Logan is a great climber. He can climb up to 4 to 5 metres. He is an explorer. He will try out every possible tree branch in order to climb a tree and practice holding his balance, even though he does fail often. It is said that, “Practice makes perfect”, which we can see Logan continuing to do, in order to perfect his climbing skills. Logan is a playful and naughty bear. He loves to climb up to the top of a small tree, so that he can bend the tree down to reach the forest floor. The tree is not the only thing that he loves to climb, with his favourite thing to climb being the lianas.
Logan seems to enjoy being in the water. He knows how to easily find the water and loves to soak his body with the water. Before he goes into the water, he will check and take a look at the water level at the stream side. He will not enter the water when it is too high, as sometimes it is even taller than him! Nonetheless, he attempt to search in another site that will have water ponds or a river for him to enjoy. Soaking his body in water is a must for Logan, for every time he is in the forest. On days that it rains, Logan will become hyperactive with pure enjoyment; water is a simple pleasure that could make a bear happier in the forest.
Many people will ask what a sun bear will do when encountering another animal: Logan has encountered with the macaques before and immediately became alert as well as slightly insecure. He ran to the surrogate mother, which is a natural for a bear cub wanting to get protection from the mother bear. He stayed close to the caretaker and checked the surroundings as he remained close to his surrogate Mother. He gave a warning bark to the macaques when the individuals would come close, as he felt threatened and will try to retreat from them again.
Logan is thriving daily, with his improvement becoming more and more evident. He is more confident in the forest, which is key for the rest of Logan’s journey here at BSBCC. We hope this is the start of the road to Logan’s freedom and eventual reintroduction back into the forest. This is the biggest hope for a bear, to be reintroduced back to their real home where he belongs.
Text by Woo Chee Yoong
Photos by Woo Chee Yoong and Tee Thye Lim
The Island of Borneo is famous as the largest island in Asia and third largest island in the world. A vast and astonishing green area, covered with mysterious tropical rainforest, and so many amazing creatures that have not yet been discovered. Inside the island lies a very important habitat for the wildlife of Sabah. The Tabin Wildlife Reserve was once home to the Sumatran Rhinoceros, but sadly, the Sumatran Rhinoceros was declared extinct in the wild in Sabah, leaving the only two in captivity with Borneo Rhino Alliance, BORA, at Tabin.
During my internship period, I was given the chance to assist Tee Thye Lim, the BSBCC’s Operation Executive, who is currently conducting his Master’s research in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, with sun bears as his focus. His team assisted with his final sampling in the core area of the Tabin Wildlife Reserve for one month. First of all, I am very thankful for this opportunity given by Dr(Hon) Wong Siew Te, the founder of Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), as well as Thye Lim. Besides myself, the other team members were Jeniur, Mizuno and Logan, who made the team complete, fit and tough. Each of them has their own strengths, and combined performed excellent teamwork. Hence, the sampling was smoothly completed. I feel thankful for the presence of these three warriors because they took good care of me as I was inexperienced living in a forest environment, and they always unselfishly taught and guided me with their own survival skills.
The methods we used for studying the sun bears at Tabin Wildlife Reserve were baited camera trapping and hair trapping. At each camera station, two trees were chosen as the targets and wrapped with duct tape to get the sun bear hair samples, and one of the trees was tied with bait made of shrimp paste and salted fish. The bait was wrapped inside a black net, and was hung above the tree within view of camera, in order to lure the sun bear to climb so its hairs would stick on the tape. Each camera was set up with photo and video mode. We stayed in the forest for two weeks in order to change the bait after one week.
Each day living in the forest posed a challenge for us, especially when the climate was not on our side. During the first two weeks, rainy days caused panic among us when the river water almost flooded to our camp site. Even huge trees were flushed away, known as “Water Head”. Then, in the next two weeks, we were hit by huge winds, known as “Wind Head”, and we could hear the sound of large trees falling to the ground. Even the calls of elephant or fresh footprints served to make us more alert to our surroundings.
However, it was not all hard work. We shared funny moment’s everyday which cheered us up and helped us forget our tiredness. We designed our own camp with comfortable hand-made furniture, and built tables, chairs and a kitchen area to induce more homely feeling. We bathed together in the super cold river (with underwear on of course), and watched movies in the forest using a phone and a speaker. We also played a poker card game called Bridge, where the losers were punished by washing the dishes, lighting the candles and making tea and coffee. The fried rice cooked by Mizuno was better than most of the dishes served by restaurant in the city. We did some crazy stuff, which will always be kept a secret by our team.
The best part of the experience was being able to witness the wildlife freely roaming in the forest. We heard the calls of gibbons and helmeted hornbills in the morning, and saw great argus’s right in front of us. Spotted hornbills flew round us, and bearded pigs, mouse deer, muntjac and sambar deer ran past us. A Malay civet even broke into our kitchen area! Lastly, we found sun bear claw marks and heard the loud barks of a sun bear when Jeniur and I were on our way to service a camera. Frightened and shocked were my reactions at the time, because the barks clearly showed that our presence was unwelcome. But it was a wonderful experience that I will always remember.
The forest is the sun bear’s home. We arrived uninvited, which is something that none of us in this world would like. Loggers and poachers are becoming more daring, and are exploiting every piece of this green land and the wildlife living inside it without mercy. More attention and funding are given to captive animals for education and research purposes, but wild animals need to be given the same attention and protection. I hope the public from all over the world will give more support to conservationists, like us at the BSBCC and other organisations which work to protect important species, such as Sun Bear. Preserving their main habitats is important to assure future of these species so they can continue to survive.
On the 24th and 25th of October 2017, BSBCC joined a conference exhibition on the International Conference on Heart of Borneo (HoB) that was held at the Magellan Sutera Harbour Resort, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. This two-day event organized by the Sabah Forestry Department, themed 'A Decade of HoB Initiative: Accomplishments and the Way Forward, marked the 10th year of HoB's initiatives. The event was officiated by Sabah Chief Minister Y.A.B. Tan Sri Datuk Seri Panglima Musa Haji Aman. Hundreds of participants from various organizations, sectors and higher institutions: locally and international participated in this programme. The objectives of this conference are to share the current achievements of the HoB Initiative throughout a decade of its implementation, to re-assess major activities which are critical to the HoB and the responsibilities of stakeholders by key sectors; and to streamline and coordinate actions towards realising the HoB Initiative.