Video by Chiew Lin May
"It hard to say goodbye but it is their destiny!"
Three sun bears were released back into the wild in Tabin Wildlife Reserve on April 14th, 2019 after four years of rehabilitation at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC).
Watch how Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan have been prepared for their new life in the wild!
Orphaned sun bears who have been given a second chance of survival in the wild, thanks to your support for our work! To make a donation or find out other ways to help, visit the BSBCC website at www.bsbcc.org.my
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May, Tee Thye Lim & Seng Yen Wah
One of the missions of the BSBCC is to promote sun bear conservation in Borneo through animal welfare, conservation and rehabilitation. Giving captured sun bears a better home and restoring their rights to live in the wild by enabling the rehabilitation and release of suitable orphaned and ex-captive bears back to the wild. In the past four years the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) has released four bears in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Natalie (16 May 2015), Lawa (24 July 2016), Debbie and Damai (7 March 2018).
The released candidates are independent, forest loving bears that are skilful in digging, foraging, climbing, and nest building (can be either tree nest or ground nest) and the most importantly they know how to avoid humans. Even though the sun bears have been made a totally protected species under the Sabah Wildlife Enactment in 1997, people are still trying their luck at hunting a sun bear in the forest. There is no acceptable reason for hunting a wild animal; however, it is crucial that sun bears must know how to avoid humans.
We are pleased to share that we broke our record this year by releasing three bears in one go. They were released into the core area of Tabin Wildlife Reverse, in Lahad Datu, Sabah on the 14th of April, 2019. These released were Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan and were all sub adult bears. Each bear has their own story and were rescued from different places within Sabah.
Boboi is a four year old sub adult male bear. He is the only male bear in the release group and the first male bear that we released in the wild. Boboi has a best bear friend, Kitud, she is a four year old sub adult female bear. Boboi and Kitud were kept together in Singgaron Village, Ranau district. However, they originally were from Pitas, Sabah. Both of them were handed over to the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and arrived at BSBCC on 30th of October, 2015. Boboi loves to spend his time with Kitud and he always feels comfort and security when Kitud is around. Boboi has a wide and bright chest mark. However, Kitud has a thin and incomplete “U” shaped chest mark. Besides, her chest marking another discernable feature is that she has brown coloured ears. Kitud is a curious and adventurous sun bear. She likes to stay up high and enjoys playing with the tree branches. Her daily activities are filled with climbing, digging and foraging in the forest.
Tan Tan is another four year old sub adult female bear. She came to the centre slightly earlier than Boboi and Kitud, on the 5th of August, 2015. Tan Tan was rescued from the remote region of Paitan. The person bought Tan Tan with the intention of saving her life. After that, he/she informed the SWD and the Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) who sent her to BSBCC. Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan stayed together in quarantine. Tan Tan is a great climber, she broke the record at BSBCC for which bear has climbed the highest and she knew how to build a nest from just six months old.
A day before departure, the veterinarian from BSBCC, Dr.Yeoh Boon Nie, sedated Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan for a final check-up and the keepers assisted to transfer them to the translocation cages. The team cared for them well through close monitoring. On the 14th of April 2019, at 3 am, the sky still dark, but the bear release team and the bears are getting ready for the long journey of the day.
After the three hours’ drive, the team and the bears reached the Tabin Wildlife Reserve. However, the core area of the forest could not be reached by road. Therefore, the helicopter, model Sabah Air Aviation Sdn Bhd (Bell 206) Longranger Underslung took us the rest of the way there. A group of team members went on the first trip for the preparation and site inspection of the location. The site inspection is used to evaluate and identify the suitability of the release site. Then, the second and following trips included one group of the team member with the bears.
Everyone waited for Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan to arrive at the core area. The first bears to be brought over were Kitud and Tan Tan together, then Boboi. To all be released together. The team carried them with heavy footsteps. It is no easy job to release three bears at once. Everyone was getting tired and sweating a lot. Nevertheless, no one was complaining, because they know that it is totally worth it for the bears and this is what they want.
There were noises coming from every direction; clicking, rustling, bird song, and mammalian call. The rainforest smells earthy and the scent fills the air. It is a new home for them! After the four years of rehabilitation process at the BSBCC, now a new adventure and new chapter of their lives are just beginning. Once the door opened, Tan Tan and Boboi ran straight to the forest. On the other hand, Kitud was exploring her new environment. After few minutes, all of them disappeared in front of our eyes, into the forest. The feeling is complicated for us. But, we are so glad that they finally get the happiness they deserve! Their movement will be monitored via satellite collar. Be brave and strong Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan!
The BSBCC truly appreciate efforts and assistance from all parties to our success. It was challenging but you all made it easier. You can help us by spreading the word or by donating at http://www.bsbcc.org.my/donate.html. Your kindness will help to give the sun bears a better future!
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
We are delighted to report that we have successfully released our third and fourth release candidates to the core area of Tabin Wildlife Reserve, located in Lahad Datu, Sabah on the 7th of March, 2018. Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) aims to give back freedom to our rescued bears. Damai and Debbie are ready for reintroduction to their natural habitat. It has stolen our hearts to know that they are behaving like wild sun bears. This is an exciting moment and is wonderful to see our sun bears getting a second chance at life.
Debbie was purchased by a guy from Tuaran. She was surrendered to Sabah Wildlife Department and sent directly to BSBCC in January 2012. Debbie has grown into a healthy sun bear. She is a keen explorer! She developed a strong set of survival skills with her agility and superb climbing abilities, she adjusted to forest life with confidence and ease. After six years in rehabilitation, Debbie has grown to be the perfect candidate for release. She is now able to return to a life of freedom!
Damai arrived at BSBCC way back in November 2012, when she was found wandering in a car park near Kota Kinabalu. She was then rescued and transported to BSBCC. Now at six years old, beautiful Damai weighing 39.6 kg is ready to say goodbye to BSBCC after years of rehabilitation. Damai is independent in nature. She knows what she wants and tries to take care of her own needs all by herself.
Both Damai and Debbie are now in excellent condition and are progressing well in BSBCC rehabilitation, where they are learning their survival skills. Both have become very skilled tree nest builders by using branches, liana and green leaves. They love to spend time up in the treetops! They are also excellent in foraging for termites, grubs and invertebrates. They have quickly picked up forest skills. These two rescued sun bears had completed their rehabilitation and are ready to live independently in the wild. They are looking forward to enjoying life in the wild! We cannot wait for Damai and Debbie to enjoy this freedom!
On 6th March 2018, Dr. Nabila Sarkawi from Sabah Wildlife Department veterinarian, sedated the release candidates at around 2.50 p.m. and moved the two bears to the medical tables for a final health check, and then safely transferred them into the transportation cages. They were placed at the bear house for a night with close monitoring by our release team.
Ready to depart!! On 7th March 2018, at 3.00 a.m. Damai and Debbie were loaded onto the vehicles at BSBCC, ready for the long journey. They were very well cared for by the release team throughout this process. The journey from BSBCC to Tabin Wildlife Reserve took about three hours by car.
It is time!!
We are wishing the best of luck to Damai and Debbie as they begin their new lives in the wild.
Upon reaching Tabin Wildlife Reserve, the team quickly prepared the transport cages to be airlifted by helicopter (model Sabah Air Aviation Sdn Bhd (Bell 206) Longranger Underslung). Damai and Debbie were then airlifted to their new home!
In the meantime, our release team entered the mud volcano of Tabin Wildlife Reserve before the bears arrived in order to evaluate and identify the suitable release site.
This is the moment that everyone was waiting for. Once Damai and Debbie arrived at the core area,
The team carried them to the release points deep in the forest.
It was amazing to see them getting back their freedom!
We started by releasing Damai first, and then followed by Debbie.
As soon as the transportation cage door opened, Damai explore the nearest tree to begin her life of freedom.
While Debbie walk straight into the forest without becoming agitated.
We kept our distance and continued to observe them through the tall trees! Damai and Debbie were released into their Borneo forest and could taste true freedom in their new home! We were delighted to see Damai and Debbie thriving in our care. They have all made long journeys in their lives, and now is it the right time for them to return back to where they belong. Stay healthy and strong Damai and Debbie!! We also will monitor their movement via satellite collar to ensure they are thriving.
BSBCC would like to express gratitude for the support of all parties, their contributions and dedication to assisting with this release process and our sun bear conservation efforts!
This is where you can help make a difference! Every donation helps orphan sun bears like Damai and Debbie here back to the their true home - FOREST. You can donate to http://www.bsbcc.org.my/donate.html Your donation is much appreciated!
Text by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Photos by Tee Thye Lim & Chiew Lin May
One day in May 2008, a one year old female sun bear cub came from Lok Kawi Wildlife Zoo named Lawa to Sepilok. She had a beautiful face which would catch your eye. But, how does such a gorgeous bear end up at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre? Normally, cubs stay with their mothers until they are two to three years old. However, in Lawa's case, she was separated cruelly by killing the mother in order to get a cute sun bear cub, kept illegal as pet or sold on the illegal wildlife pet trade. Sun bear populations are estimated to have declined over 30% in the last three decades, leading for those bears being in danger of imminent extinction in the wild very real. Now, sun bears have been stated as totally protected species under Sabah Wildlife Enactment in 1997. People who keep them illegally and hunting them, will be fined up to RM50,000 and can be send to jail for 5 years, or both.
Lawa lost her mother when she was still a cub. She had no chance to learn the natural survival skills from her mother. The BSBCC provided her with a second chance, reintroducing her to natural forest enclosures. Lawa has grown into a smart, agile and independent bear. She is now nine years old, weighs 40.5kg. She has spend most of her days eagerly exploring up in the trees. She can make beautiful tree nests by using liana and tree branches. Nest building is one of the important but rare survival skills of a wild bear. After six years going through rehabilitation at the BSBCC there is now a happy ending for Lawa as she has acquired many vital survival skills and she is ready to return to her real forest home.
Release candidates are chosen based on their age and survival skills. They have to be fit in four conditions, they need to know how to forage, climb, nest building and lastly, the most important condition is they need to not attach to human and know how to avoid humans, in order to be at low risk of being killed by poachers or turn into a nuisance bear.
On 24th July 2016, the BSBCC is preparing the final stage for the release of Lawa to a core area of Tabin Wildlife Reserve. Located in the Lahad Datu, Sabah encompasses 120500 hectares of pristine rainforest. Before the big day, the bear team again needed to find Lawa in Pen G at 4 pm. Dr. Rosa Sipangkui, a veterinarian from the Sabah Wildlife Department, sedated Lawa. Once sedated, Lawa was moved from Pen G to bear house in order to undergo a full medical examination to ensure she is in good health before her release. Besides that, Wong Siew Te, BSBCC Founder and CEO made sure that Lawa’s satellite collar is functioning and well fitted on her. Finally, Lawa was moved into the translocation cage. She was then placed at the bear house area for a night. Our bear care keepers spent the night monitoring Lawa. She might not have known it, but after today her life will be totally different!
It is time to go! On 25th July 2016, when it was still dark, the bear release team was getting ready to depart from Sandakan to Tabin Wildlife Reserves on two trucks, taking Lawa to her second chance in the wild. The release team started in full force for the release of second sun bear back into the wild.
The team arrived at Tabin Wildlife Reserve Headquarter at 8.15 am. The morning sun and clear sky reminded us to start moving.
This year our release team will be using helicopter model Sabah Air Aviation Sdn Bhd (Bell 206 B3) Jetranger Underslung to reach our final destination.
We made the final release preparation and inspections to ensure the safety. The operation was split into two difference trips. The first trips, the team entered the mud volcano of Tabin forest to evaluate and identify the suitable release site.
They checked the wrapping net thoroughly. After final checks on Lawa by Dr. Rosa and Wong Siew Te, the team took the transportation cage and loaded it into the wrapping net. The process went smooth.
At 10.15 am, Wong Siew Te (BSBCC CEO & Founder) and Lawa was finally lifted up into the blue sky, heading to Tabin mud volcano. At 10.35 am, Bell 206 Jetranger that carrying Lawa landed safely on the Tabin mud volcano.
The arrival of Lawa was greeted by the sound of birds in Tabin Widlife Reserve. The sights, sounds and smells of Tabin Wildlife Reserve will be very new for Lawa. Immediately Lawa was taken to the release side by BSBCC team. Lawa looked well rested, happy and ready. She realized there were so many higher trees in pristine rainforest around her. She will soon free and ready to live a new life as a true wild sun bear!
After everything was set up, the moment to open the door and let Lawa take a deep breath with the sense of freedom arrived. Once the translocation cage was opened at 11.10 am , Lawa run out of the cage quickly. She was very fast, directly heading into the deep forest! We hope the best for her now! She will be starting to explore, forage and adjust to her new habitat. It was an emotional moment for all of us watching her walk away from the transportation cage and – off course - us. One moment we could still see her and at the blink of an eye, she disappeared into the tall trees. She finally home, in the forest. Enjoy your freedom Lawa! May you have a long and happy life there! Our bear care team will carefully monitor her progress via her satellite collar.
Sun bears are forest animals. They are playing important roles in the forest. They are forest gardeners. After they consume fruits, they travel along and disperse the seeds in the forest. They carry the seeds away from the mother tree, so that the seed has a higher survival rate. Next, they are forest engineers. Sun bears are excellent climber. One of the reasons that they climb up a tree is because they want to harvest the honey from bee hives. They will use their strong canine and sharp claws to tear off the tree trunk and get the honey inside. After that, it will create a cavity that provides a resting place to other animals like hornbills and flying squirrel. Besides that, they also are forest doctors. Termites are small insects which eventually cause a tree to get sick or die. This is because some termite species will build their nest inside the trees. But, sun bears eat termites. So, sun bears can help to control the population of termites and keep the forest healthy. Last but not least, they are forest farmers, because they are good diggers. They do a lot of digging which can actually help to mix up poor soil and rich soil to enhance the nutrient cycle in the forest. And, that is why we call them “the keystone species”. Lawa is now been released in the forest. She is carrying out a very important task. This is what she needs, the forest and the freedom.
We would like to take this opportunity to say a huge Thank Yous to the most amazing partner, the Sabah Wildlife Department, Dr.Rosa Sipangkui, the Sabah Forestry Department, LEAP, the Tabin Rangers, the BSBCC team, our volunteers and Brad Josephs who help fundraise and Kynite Filming Crews who helped and supported us generously with Lawa’s release. Thanks to the years of hard work spent rehabilitating Lawa, she will have the opportunity to roam free in the wild, back where she belongs. Reintroduction programs for sun bears are very costly. We need your support to protect this magnificent species from extinction. Help us release more sun bear back to wild by donating at www.bsbcc.org.my. You can make a difference in the future survival of sun bears!
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May
After a year, it’s time for the bears to do their annual health check.
We really appreciate Dr.Pakeeyaraj Nagalingam, who is a Veterinarian from the Sabah Wildlife Department, Wildlife Rescue Unit, to conduct this health check for all the bears in BSBCC with his valuable time and great efforts.
Each bear requires a full general anesthetic with the purpose of putting them under sedation for doing an extensive health check. After the bear has been darted, it takes some time for the bears to be sufficiently sedated. The bear can only be carried out from the cage once they are sedated enough.
Dr.Pakee conducted a full physical examination including dental condition, paws and wound problems. Growth measurements such as zoological length, head circumstance, neck size, chest girth and shoulder height, and the shank length was taken by bear keepers. All the measurements were recorded in measurement form. We also took hair samples and saliva for research purposes. Blood samples had to be taken by the vet and the samples will be sent to a laboratory in order to get more detail on the health status of the bears.
After we have done all the measurements, we would like to do a paw print for the bears. However, the paw print can only be done when there is not any wounds on their paws. If their paws showed up with wounds, we had to make a record of it.
Lastly, this is the chance for taking a good picture of their chest marks.
All the bears can be considered as healthy bears. However, take the bears away from the wild and keep them in inappropriate conditions can cause many chronic health problems for the bears. They will lose their instinct to take care of themselves.
Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan stayed in quarantine. Now, these three little sub-adult sun bears have moved from quarantine to Bear House 1 to join a big family. Their moving was given a hearty welcome by all the sun bears in the bear house through lots of welcoming barks.
Boboi was the first one who was moved to Bear House 1. He was depressed in the first day. He had no appetite and stayed on the hammock most of the time. Having no friend staying beside him was making him a bit aggressive. Luckily, this situation did not hold for too long. After one day, Kitud was moved to the bear house. Boboi tried his best to take a look at his dearest friend, Kitud, through the cage bar. After Kitud woke up from the health check, they could not wait to stay together. So, keepers integrated them inside a cage. They seemed so happy to have each other. They always stay together in the basket or on the hammock. Boboi grew an appetite after meeting Kitud. They were sharing a tray. After one day more, Tan Tan joined them. Finally, these three little friends met again. And, they help each other to adapt in this new environment. This is because the best enrichment for a bear is other bears.
The happy news for the health check this time is not only Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan joined a big family, but also the very big and special event for Lawa, a 9 year old adult,female bear. Maybe you will be wondering what is the special event for Lawa? And now, we are so happy to share our happiness with you. On June 3rd, 2016, was the collaring for our second release candidate, Lawa. Lawa was surrendered to the BSBCC in 2008 when she was only a one year old cub. She had lost her mother and her forest home, and it was hard to imagine that she ever thought her life might change to be better again.
Lawa is ready to live a new life as a truly wild sun bear! Lawa showed all the signs of an excellent candidate for release after being rehabilitated for nine years. She built up her survival skills and independence and quickly adapted to forest living. Lawa is excellent in climbing trees, foraging for food, nest building and she avoids people! She has explored and stayed in the forest every day for the last nine years.
There was a sunny and challenging day. With the excellent team from the Sabah Wildlife Department, Dr. Rosa Sipangkui and Elis Tambing, Wong Siew Te (BSBCC Founder & CEO) and the BSBCC staff, Lawa was tranquilized without any upset in her forest enclosure. This was so we were able to attach a satellite collar on her before her release into the wild. Our mission of the day was to find Lawa in pen K with the presence of Cerah and Kuamut. All the bear keepers had a short meeting before going to find Lawa. They were fully geared up on this operation. They split into 2 groups, one group went inside the pen and one group stayed outside as backup. We spent some time searching for Lawa due to her high survival skills. She showed up a few times but once she realized something was not right around her, she just ran away from the bear keepers’ eye sight. After a few attempts, finally one of our bear keepers, Thye Lim, found her. She had hidden herself in dense bamboo bushes. With the help of Dr.Rosa Sipangkui and Elis Tambing she was successfully darted in one shot.
Bear keepers moved Lawa from pen K to the bear house once she was under sedation for the health check and collaring. A general health check starts with weighing, she currently weighs 41.3 kg and after an assessment of potential sickness, functionality of organs and physical condition, Wong Siew Te helped fitting the collar on Lawa.
After the health check Lawa was placed into the new forest enclosure. A one month observation will be carried out to make sure the satellite collar functions well and Lawa gets used to the collar. This is a precious opportunity for a bear to be released back to the wild. They belong to the wild. Captivity will never be their first choice. Natalie is the first release candidate bear. Now, Lawa is the second bear candidate for release. It’s time for her to return back to her real home, the forest. It has been a long time but it will never be too late for her to be home. Lawa is extremely curious and has started to explore her new forest environment as a wild sun bear.
It is a pleasure to see a bear given the second chance to return back to where they belong! Thank you to Brad Josephs for your support in helping the fundraising for Lawa’s release. Her journey to freedom has been made possible with generous support and kind contributions from you all!
Lawa has been thriving since she was rescued. She is eager to show that her world is in the forest! Lawa is an agile and cheerful sun bear. She is become excellent in foraging, digging for grubs, sniffing out bee hives, climbing trees and building a tree nest on her own. It makes you realize how wild these sun bears are meant be.
With her strong natural instincts and mastered all the survival skills, Lawa will soon be a great candidate to release in the wild. Please help us to make Lawa’s freedom possible and give her a future where she belongs! Your support is vital to us. We cannot do it without you!
Here is the site just specify for Lawa gofundme campaign.
Your donation is much appreciated!
Text By BSBCC
Photos By BSBCC & Scuba Zoo
Finally able to breathe true freedom in the wild…
Just before Christmas 2010 baby cub Natalie was rescued from illegal pet trade and sent to Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) on December 23rd. It was claimed that she was found alone and abandoned by her mother. However, we suspected that her mother was killed by poachers and she was captured and illegally kept as a pet.
A 5 year old adult female beautiful Natalie built up her survival skills, independence and learned to behave like a wild sun bear. Her improvement in her survival skills in the forest enclosure has been excellent. She became an exceptional climber and tree nest maker. After learning in BSBCC for five years Natalie is ready to be released back to where she belongs – the forest. The ultimate goal of BSBCC is to return rehabilitated sun bears back to the wild and on Sunday May 17th, 2015 it was time to follow this goal; BSBCC started the journey to release Natalie back to the protected forest. Previous to her journey she was fitted with a satellite collar to keep track of her even after her release. In order to transport the sun bear to the forest as far as possible we choose to use a helicopter. After a long discussion, Wong decided that the helicopter model Layang-Layang Aerospace Sdn Bhd (BO105) was the suitable for our purposes because it could fit transportation cage.
This is the FIRST time that a captive sun bear got reintroduced to its natural habitat in Sabah using a helicopter and is monitored post release with the help of a satellite collar. Natalie is ready to live a new life as a truly wild sun bear in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve. The experience she has gathered throughout her 5 years at the rehabilitation centre will help her explore her true home in the core area of Tabin Wildlife Reserve. The core area encompasses 120500 hectares and is a pristine rainforest with no human disturbances but lots of big trees, fig trees and a variety of wildlife.
It was a challenging day. All hopes and prayers were solely for this release activity to go as smoothly as planned. The release team’s preparations already started at 3pm on May 16th, 2015 at the bear house of BSBCC when Sabah Wildlife Department vet, Dr. Laura Benedict started the sedation process. A full physical health examination showed that Natalie was completely healthy at 45kg of weight. Dr. Laura Benedict inserted a microchip into Natalie’s body.
Natalie was then moved to her translocation cage. Natalie’s journey started on a WRU truck to Wildlife Department Quarter Lahad Datu in the east of Sabah, two hours from BSBCC. Natalie was kept in the translocation cage overnight close to the veterinarians, the WRU team and the team of BSBCC. She was under constant observation and fed with water, honey and banana. Natalie seemed to be stressed in the translocation cage, but freedom was just around the corner.
The team woke up early in the morning on May 17th 2015, and got ready at Tabin Headquarter at 6.30 am. After a full assessment, the weather was considered safe for the helicopter to land at Tabin Headquarter. Once the helicopter arrived, the operation was split into three different trips. With the first two trips the team entered the mud volcano of Tabin to evaluate and identify the most suitable release site.
At 10.17 am, it was Natalie’s turn to be flown to Tabin mud volcano
Once Natalie arrived, the team set up the translocation cage in the correct direction for release. Dr. Laura Benedict conducted a final check, to ensure that Natalie was ready to enter her new home!
A 20 m rope was tied to the sliding gate of the cage. The team stood 15 m away from the translocation cage.
As soon as the door of her cage was opened, Natalie straight headed into the forest. She explored everything, sniffed the air of Tabin and assessed her new environment before disappearing into the tall tree canopy of the forest. Tabin Wildlife Reserve has welcomed her into a new protected home. The emotions running through the forest while watching Natalie enjoying her newfound freedom are un-describable. A heart-warming moment filled with tears of joy.
Wildlife Rescue Unit team, Tabin Rangers, BSBCC team and Scuba Zoo Filming Crews in Tabin Headquarter. Thanks for all your support in helping sun bear and release work.
Natalie! Stay healthy, happy and keep growing gracefully!
You will always be in our hearts!