Text by Pradeep Aggi Gunasegaran
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Rescued Bear Number 56 which goes by the name Soo maybe be well known among the loyal supporters of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) but for those of you who are new to our cause, here is a little flashback to the beginning of Soo’s life. The details that were provided to us spoke briefly about Soo being traded in a market at Sook, Keningau in the year of 2015. She was purchased by her owner for RM 350 and then lived as pet for two years in the interior division of Sabah. In 2017, Sabah Wildlife Department rescued Soo and handed her over to BSBCC when she was already at the age of three years old. There is no doubt that Soo’s mother would have been killed for her to be sold in a market. A mother bear would always try her best to protect her cub just as like it was potrait in a recent trending news (June 2021) which mentioned that a young American woman pushes off a brown bear to save her dogs. If you would have seen the entire CCTV footage, you would notice that the brown bear had two cubs and the mother bear became defensive when the dogs started barking frantically.
Like any other sun bears that end in BSBCC, Soo also underwent a health check upon arrival. However, unlike many sun bears which arrive in poor health conditions, Soo’s blood work indicated that she was healthy. While her general health was in order, Soo was not adjusting well to the surrounding. She was always in heightened alert state as keeper were around in the day. She would only eat her food and play with environmental enrichment after the keepers leave at the end of the day. The changes to her behaviour were subtle as she would aggressively start pacing if there is the slightest form of stressor such a single loud noise. As her behaviour slowly improved, it was decided that Soo’s rehabilitation process would take a positive turn by integrating her with Sika, Kina, BJ; three young sun bears and Diana; our adult female sun bear. At the beginning of the integration, Soo was apprehensive and confused at time when it came to interacting with the other bears. Although, it was difficult for her in the beginning, she eventually got along with all the other sun bears and she was able to eat, play and sleep together with them. Soo remained vigilant to the presence of keepers but having other sun bears around her did allow her to be more relaxed in comparison to her early life as a solitary bear since arriving at BSBCC.
After staying at BSBCC’s quarantine section for few years, Soo was transferred to bear house with her friends Sika, Kina and BJ in 2020. It was another stressful yet a necessary process that had to be endured by Soo in her rehabilitation program. This time around, there were more sun bears around where she could either see them or catch their smell and of course, there were also more keepers and volunteers around as well. Soo spent her first week clinging to the top of the den, refusing to shift dens for cleaning to be done or even coming down to take her food as long as she knew that keepers were still in the bear house even if they were not standing in front of her. Once she settled down in bear house, the next step in her rehabilitation process was undergoing fence training. Surprisingly, Soo was first to pass fence training among her friend. As soon as Sika, Kina and BJ passed their fence training, all of them were released into Pen G, a small forest enclosure. This time around the transition from a small enclosed space; which was very familiar to her to a large open space was tremendously difficult for Soo.
After a few of month, Soo did not touch the soil in Pen G and it was decided that her entire group would be shifted to Pen K as an effort to get Soo living her life as a wild sun bear. When Soo, Sika, Kina, and BJ were released into Pen K, the initial results were similar as Soo refused to step down to venture into the forest while the others were quick the enjoy the much bigger forest enclosure. It also took Soo few month before she gathered the courage to step on the concrete flooring of Pen K, a flooring that is much familiar to a sun bear like Soo. After a combine of seven months, the bear care unit spotted Soo venturing into the forest enclosure. Although she was brave enough to indulge herself with nature, by afternoon, Soo would be back to bear house, on the all too familiar concrete flooring, waiting for the keepers to bring her back into the bear house later in the evening. In March 2021, Soo and her friends were once again shifted to Pen G as per the rotational practice under BSBCC. Unfortunately, the cycle repeats itself for Soo as she has yet to set her paw onto the ground of Pen G at this point of writing.
The rehabilitation process undergone by Soo with BSBCC has been a long and slow process. The reaction that Soo has been giving throughout the process clearly indicates that she is a traumatised Bornean Sun Bear. The actions of us, the human-beings have robbed her the essence of living her life as a sun bear; especially when she was a mere cub which could have lived peacefully with her mother for at least two years, learning the way of a sun bear.
Sun bears are a totally protected species, protected by the law in Sabah. It is illegal to hunt, to be kept as a possession or to be involved in any activity that could cause harm to a sun bear. Sun bear cubs are cute but it is also a reason for the depleting population of sun bears in the wild and the growing cubs end up having a traumatising lives just like Soo’s. Please say no to illegal wildlife trade and if you happen to see any sun bears being sold, you can alert the Sabah Wildlife Department or BSBCC.
As for Soo, BSBCC would continuously put in the effort to aid her with the rehabilitation program. We would also like to convey our appreciation to Perbadanan Insurans Deposit Malaysia (PIDM) who is adopting Soo under the My Bear Adoption Programme which further aids in our cause to give a second chance to the rescued Bornean Sun Bears in Sabah.
Text by Poon Siau Hui
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
BJ, the energetic five year old male bear was staying in Bear House 2. He was the 61st Bear rescued by the BSBCC. When he gets his favorite foods, he will guard his food by barking loudly.
When he was just five months old, he was purchased in Sonsogon Village, Pitas for RM 300 and then kept as a house pet. He arrived at the BSBCC on November 22nd 2018 when he was two years old. As his previous owner had fed him with rice, meat, honey, and fruits, he weighed 33.8kg.
As BJ is one of the illegal trade victims of a young age, we believe that his mother was either poached or killed. Normally in the wild, the sun bear cub will be cared for by their mother until 2 to 3 years of age.
When entering his new environment and surroundings, BJ takes time to adapt in the den. But as soon as he settled down and was no longer traumatized, he was given a chance to integrate with a larger social group of female bears – Kina, Sika, Soo, and Diana. By integrating with others bears, he can learn how to be a REAL bear and adjust his life living with bears not humans.
To proceed with the rehabilitation process, BJ, Soo, Kina, and Sika were moved to Bear House 2 and released into Pen G. But before BJ is released into the forest enclosure Pen G, he needs to go through fence training. At first BJ was afraid to go outside as this is another new environment for him. But after he tried to be brave and step out into the forest, he falls in love with it. He loves the texture of the ground which is covered with soil not concrete, the place where he belongs.
BJ really learnt a lot on how to be a real sun bear again,bonding with his friends. Hopefully one day he will fulfill all the criterias which a wild sun bear should have and have a chance to feel the freedom in the rainforest.
Text by Mohammad Naqiuddin bin Alipudin
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Kala is a 6 year old, adult female sun bear in BSBCC. She arrived at the BSBCC in January 2015 as a cub and she was separated from her mother at an early age. She was actually being illegally traded and someone bought her with the intention of surrendering her to Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit. Upon arrival at the BSBCC, she showed signs of dehydration, emaciation and malnutrition; basically in a very poor condition.
However, Kala is treated full of care here and has been progressing into a strong adult sun bear. She was introduced back to her natural habitat, the forest, on June 2016.
Kala loves wandering in the forest, foraging in the soil, biting tree bark in search for foods such as invertebrates like earthworms, termites and pill millipedes. With her sharp claws and full set of canines, she has no problem to bite through the tree bark or any wooden logs. Walking around the forest alone is really her thing. She would find her favorite spot and just sit there, sunbathing under the rich sun rays before going back to foraging again, or sleep on dead logs.
She loves being in the forest, just like how humans like being at home. Most of the time, almost every day, she doesn’t go back to her den and spends the night out in the forest. As adventurous as she might be, she’s still learning several survival skills and hopefully, she will soon be completely rehabilitated and able to be released and live on her own in her natural habitat, away from humans.
In the bear house, Kala stays with Susie 2 in the same den and her neighbour, Bintang. All three of them went out to the forest together. When Bintang had a grumpy moment, she would growl at both Kala and Susie 2 after the door is opened. However, it didn’t affect their bonding at all as there is no aggression. Susie 2 sometimes growls back. As for Kala, she is one chilled bear. In their den, she will rest alone on the platform and remain unbothered.
Even during feeding time, unlike other bears who are so eager to get fed first, Kala would only come down when she really is hungry and she has no problem sharing foods with Susie 2.Kala is not really fond of new people which is really good being part of her natural instinct. When she feels threatened, she knows how to defend and fight for herself with a warning bark. She is cool around other sun bears but not around human. She is always observant. When any keeper enters her neighboring dens to clean, she lies down and watches from above, sometimes sniffing then barking but when she gets bored she falls asleep!
Kala is not only an adorable sun bear but also strong and brave. Her journey whilst at the BSBCC has been positive and she still consistently improves, mastering skills for what it takes to be a wild sun bear and keeping in touch with her natural instinct. She loves the forest, the air, the sun’s rays and playing in the greens that grow on the rich soil. Hopefully, she will soon be fulfilling all the criteria of a wild sun bear and able to be released in the future. Good days are coming Kala!
Text by Mohammad Naqiuddin bin Alipudin
Photos by Adrian Damsha Sufri & Seng Yen Wah
Hello everyone! My name is Mohammad Naqiuddin Ali and people call me Nick. I am 20 years old and for the past 2 months, I have been doing my internship here in the BSBCC.
I would say I am very lucky to be given the opportunity to be doing my internship here.
Initially I was so nervous as I have zero experience in working together with so many people, let alone working with sun bears. I’ve never imagined myself assisting in sun bear’s rehabilitation and to look at them really close and getting to know them more. I came here with a lot of expectations and doubts but, as each day went by, I was always showered with words of encouragement by all the staff.
During my time as an intern, I learnt so many things but the greatest lesson I’ve learned is empathy. Hearing how each and every sun bear has it’s own story with humans, some are so traumatised they have permanent complications and develop stereotype behavior which is just so sad. These sun bears were kept illegally as a pet, locked in the smallest cage, fed with improper diet, so when they came to BSBCC they had medical issues like malnutrition and dental problems. These stories made me feel more than just motivated into lending a hand here, as hard as I could, to provide these poor sun bears a better environment for a better life.
Things that I always look forward to everyday would be feeding the bears and making their enrichments. When I first assisted during feeding time, I could see how some of the sun bears are picky over their food and also not really open for sharing. It was funny and cute and I realized how despite having a very frightening bark, long claws, sharp canines, sun bears also have their own adorable side. But, as cute as they can be, they are definitely not a pet and their real home is out there, in the forest, not in our concrete building.
As for their enrichments, I think the sun bears aren’t the only one excited for it because I did too! I’ve always looked forward to enrichment activities every day and I love every second of being together with the staff, making enrichments, getting to know each other and just having fun. I made a lot of enrichments for these sun bears such as the egg tray burger, ginger leaves, stick paradox, nest ball, paper roll and more. I love seeing how these sun bears are so into it when they’re given the enrichments. It is just so amazing seeing these sun bears climbing up the dens to grab those food enrichments or when some of them would play with coconuts or the Aussie dog balls.
I am proud of the structural enrichments that I made; Boat Hammock and Confetti Bomb. I made the Boat Hammock for Simone and the making of it was mostly helped by Roger, Adneen and Marshah. I named it as ‘The Black Pearl’ and I couldn’t have done it alone without their help. Just happy to see Simone climbing up to her boat, being a sailor ready to sail. Although, it was no surprise that The Black Pearl was ‘wrecked’ by Sigalung, Simone’s neighbor, where he bit the rope attached to the hammock just after 3 days of installation. We then moved the hammock to another den where Wawa is staying. She seems to like it too! Every morning when I go to the bear house, I always see her chilling on the boat, sleeping. She even took her food up there.
I made Confetti Bomb for Amaco as I was thinking that he may be feeling bored in his den because he doesn’t want to go out to the forest enclosure. Confetti Bomb is made of a hanging gunny sack filled with dried leaves, honey, dog biscuits and banana. Amaco has to tear the gunny sack to get all these foods, and I think this enrichment is important to him as it encourages exploratory, sensory and foraging behavior. I feel satisfied seeing him eating all of the stuff after his hard work.
At first, it was a bit difficult for me to remember and differentiate every sun bear but as the days went by, I realized that all of them have their own unique chest mark and face shape and it is easier to tell them apart. Witnessing all this made me fall in love with sun bears even more because just like every other animal, they have different behavior, different preferences and each and every one of them is cute in their own way. If I could at least talk to them and they could understand me, I’d tell them to always live well, be strong and I am gonna miss them! I am gonna miss every second of feeding, cleaning the dens, watching their behavior and their cute belly when they lay down.
Lastly, I wanna give a big bunch of thanks and gratitude towards my buddy Roger, who has always been so understanding and considerate in my limitation of doing tough work, my supervisor, Yen Wah who guided me on my first day and made me feel welcome, and not to forget David, the experienced keeper who would always tell me stories of each and every sun bear, Adneen and Marshah; who never fail to make funny remarks that lightens up our mood, Mizuno; who greeted me on my first day and welcomed me, Pradeep; who educated me on so many things and introduced me to all of the sun bears, Julamih, Adrian, Dr. Boon and many others. Personally, I found that I was being so awkward on my early days but these people were very welcoming and provided so much comfort and I couldn’t ask for a healthier working environment.
These amazing people have been guiding me since day 1 and not a single day goes by without new knowledge, fun activities, laughs, sweats and most important, experiences. They are the best. This whole adventure has been nothing but inspiring for me to always try something new, even if it’s a thing that I’ve never done before. I came here with zero knowledge and left with a luggage full of memories. I hope more people would come to volunteer in the future to actually know how it feels to be helping these cute Bornean sun bears. Oh, and I lost a few kg off my weight too, so thanks BSBCC!
Text & Photos by Seng Yen Wah
Kina is a five year old adult female bear. She always has a bright face with curious eyes, big ears similar to the moon bear’s ears. And, this is how she got the title, “the Moon’s cousin”. Besides, Kina also has a beautiful, unique chest mark.
Kina was originally named Kalong by her previous owner, but we renamed her “Kina” after where she came from, Kinarut, Sabah. Kina was kept as a pet for more than a year. Her owner said that she saw a mother bear with a bear cub crossing a road. The mother bear suddenly got frightened, ran away and left Kina behind. She was tiny and had not even opened her eyes. We never knew the truth about what happened to Kina. Do you believe a mother bear would leave her cub behind? Mother bears protect their bear cubs instinctively. The cub will generally follow their mother for two to three years to learn forest survival skills in the wild. Can you imagine, without their mother beside them, how will the cub survive in the wild?
Fortunately, Kina was surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department on the 22nd February 2017 and sent to BSBCC on the 1st March 2017.
In the quarantine, Kina made friends with Sika, Soo, BJ and Diana. They get along very well as Kina is a friendly bear. She always initiates play fight with the others. Sun bears are a solitary animal in the wild. However, during the integration process, the sun bears can learn from each other and encourage healthy behaviour. They spend their days together and enjoy each other’s company.
On the 6th February 2020, Kina moved from quarantine to the bear house with her groupmates (Sika, Soo and BJ). Kina is an active bear full of enthusiasm. She shows dominance in her group. She is curious about her surroundings. Kina is not picky and enjoys all the food. There is no food leftover at all. She will cheekily grab all the food for herself too. It seems that food is more important than anything else for her!
Kina is an excellent explorer. She likes to roam freely in the forest. She always has some favourite spots to stay in. In the forest, Kina spends some time with Sika and BJ. However, Kina tends to be independent. She loves to explore the forest alone, digging and foraging all day long. She enjoys sleeping in the trees when she is full. She also spends time searching for small invertebrates as snacks, including ants, termites, beetle larvae and many more. Sometimes she will spend the night outside. This all shows that she is completely relaxed about being outside.
Kina went through these unhappy experiences. Without the company of her mother, she has lost her world once. After coming to BSBCC, her life took on a whole new look. Kina is doing her best every day. We will also continue to work hard to create a brighter future for her and her bear friends.
The forest is the natural habitat of the sun bears. In BSBCC, we reintroduce the rescued bears to their natural habitat - the forest enclosures, so that the sun bears can be the closest to life in the wild.
In the forest, the bears develop the skills necessary - foraging, tree climbing, nest building and self-defence - for independence.
Noah, the 53rd rescued sun bear, arrived at BSBCC in 2016. After five years of the rehabilitation process, Noah has grown into an energetic bear.
In this video, you can meet Noah, who may melt your heart in an instant.
On Betung arrival, she only weighed 1.4kg. She was tiny and weak. She looked much smaller than she should be. After six months of care, she has grown to a healthy sun bear.
Seeing the forest's beauty, and Betung found reasons to love the forest more.
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Simone is a sweet-natured sun bear and is one of the favourite bears of people who have met her. She is an 11 year old adult female bear and has a wide and beautiful chest mark which looks like a webbed foot. Before Simone arrived at BSBCC, she was kept with a male sun bear, Along, in a Mini Zoo, Hot Springs at Tawau. On 2016, the owner surrendered them to Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and they came to BSBCC together.
Simone captures people’s hearts with her irresistible attractiveness. Simone is always chilled and calm. She is an observer, preferring to stay somewhere high, to be able to observe her surroundings. She is always curious and wants to get involved in whatever is happening at that moment. For this reason, she is always sitting on the water container to get a closer and better view of the activities around her.
Simone loves her enrichments and always looks forward to them. She enjoys everything that is offered to her. You can see how much she enjoys the enrichments as she climbs, explores, tears, bites and enjoys.
On the 28th of December, 2018, Simone finally took her first step into the forest. Now, she is confident to explore there, she spends more time observing her new environment. Due to the limited forest enclosures for the bears in our centre, she takes turns to go out to the forest enclosure with Sigalung and Kudat. This is because they are staying in the same row of dens. Sometimes Kudat is in a bad mood with Simone, especially when Simone gets the food or enrichment first, yet, this seldom bothers Simone. Along, the bear who came to the BSBCC with Simone used to be her neighbour. We exchanged Along with Sigalung. However we found both Sigalung and Along showed negative social behaviour with Simone during integration. Therefore, they are separated into different dens.
It is very interesting to observe Simone's behaviour. She likes to sit on the food holder and enjoys her food by holding it with both front paws. However, when offering her food on a tray, she likes to dig everything out and this is how she got the gold digger title. Simone is a slow eater. Sometimes she will not eat the food immediately, she will wait and begin to eat when she is ready.
After four years of rehabilitation in our centre, Simone has improved a lot. She is enhancing her skills every day. It makes us happy to see Simone enjoying her life and learnimg to be a wild bear.
Day 177: Give Betung the best of everything to speed her recovery.
Wow looks how Little Betung has grown! She had made great progress in the forest and learns the essential skills needed to survive in the wild. To her, freedom means to able to do whatever she want, explore, climbing favourite trees, forage for food and be herself! She loves this adventure.
It will be a long road to recovery. This illegal pet trade - unable to express natural behaviours, left the bears traumatized and alone. There is always a reason for HOPE. Now she is safe and lives a second chance at a happy life, thanks to people like you!
Sun bears belong in the wild and should never be kept as pets! You can show your care by adopting Little Betung here:
Beautiful transformation, is not it? ❤️
Please share Little Betung's story!