Text by Khairunnisa binti Mohd Faisal (Intern Student, University Science Malaysia)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Seeing the bears live freely in the forest is such a blessing. That’s what I hoped to see for one of my favorite bears, Panda. Once the bear has passed the fence training, they will be released to the forest enclosure. Now, Panda has passed the fence training and it’s time for her to go out and enjoy the beauty of the forest. We did an enclosure cleaning a few days before Panda is released to pen E.
On the first day of release, Panda spent her time observing the pen by sitting inside the cage and looking through the guillotine door. During this early stage of release, we arranged the food nearby the cage so that she is aware that there is food in the pen. Some of the nearby prepared food is eaten by her but she did not have the courage to go out from the cage yet.
On the next day, we arranged her food slightly further from the cage so that Panda will go out to the pen. Finally, two of her front limbs were out when she was trying to grab the food. However, the ramp in cage 12 was too steep which cause Panda a little bit insecure to go down further to avoid slipping to the bottom of the ramp.
After a few days of training, whenever the guillotine door is opened, Panda directly went out and sniffed the food on the ramp which she was aware that there is food outside. We put the food far from the cage as we wanted her whole body out from the cage. Unfortunately, the ramp was too short for her. Panda able to grab the prepared food just by lengthen her body and lick the peanut butter by using her super long tongue.
During the ongoing observation, there is once when Panda’s whole body was out on the ramp when she was observing the environment. It indicates that Panda started to feel comfortable with the surrounding and she felt safe to be outside the cage. However, both of the ramp used in cage 10 and 12 were not suitable for her release. Ramp on cage 10 is too short and the ramp in cage 12 is too steep for her to go out. Now, we are working on changing the ramp structure. We hope that this project will work for her as we want to see Panda going around freely in the forest.
Text by Megan Katie Noblett
Photos by Megan Katie Noblett & Chiew Lin May
There are three things you need to know about Borneo before you volunteer with BSBCC. It is hot. It is humid. There are a lot of bugs. As someone best suited to the cold and who can barely cope with a British summer and has a deep dislike bordering on phobia of things that have too many legs (aka anything more than six) I did actually get asked the question by my mother why on Earth I was going to a place so hot, so humid and full of creepy crawlies that literally set my skin crawling; the answer – the bears.
I am a zoology graduate and also earned a masters degree in Anthrozoology (the study of human-animal interaction) and was fortunate enough to conduct my research project on Moon bears in China. Even before this, bears have fascinated me and it is on my bucket list to work with each of the eight species or at the very least see them in their natural habitat. But I didn’t want to volunteer with BSBCC just to tick a species off my list but because I was deeply impressed with the vital work Dr. Wong and his team are doing. I have followed the organisation for a few years and finally had the time to take the 16 hour plane ride to Borneo to work with BSBCC and see the Sun bears.
Upon arrival I was met with the heat, the humidity and the bugs (so many bugs) but I quickly forgot them and even embraced them as I was set to work cleaning cages, preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner for 43 bears (they each eat 5kg of food a day so as you can imagine, there is A LOT of food), doing fence checks, helping with public education and making enrichment.
Enrichment was definitely the most enjoyable part of being in the bears houses. Making nest balls (peanut butter, bananas, apples and spices wrapped up in a nest of twigs and leaves), hosepipe honeycombs (fake beehives made from old fire-hoses stuffed with peanut butter, bananas, apples and spices) Sun bear burgers (two egg cartons strapped together around leaves with – you guessed it – peanut butter, bananas, apples and spices) and giant ice pops made from fruits and veg for the Sun bears to enjoy on a hot day. We spent hours carefully crafting these items to watch the bears rip them into pieces a matter of seconds. However, it was most certainly worth all the hard work to see the enjoyment the bears got from seeking out the sweet treats.
The highlight of the trip was working with one particular bear, Sigalung. Being kept illegally as a pet since cubhood until his rescue in 2014, Sigalung was a little afraid to step out of his indoor den into the forest enclosure and I was tasked with trying to get him to go outside and observing him as he did. We laid food and yummy treats like peanut butter and honey to appease his sweet tooth and day by day we moved the treats further down the platform and the steps leading to the enclosure. The first day I observed him, I could clearly see how tense and even frightened he was. He would stretch out as far as he could whilst still keeping his back two paws in doors to reach his food. He would make a quick grab of the food and took it inside so he would have to exposed more than necessary. At one point a butterfly flew at him and he startled so badly he ran back inside. We persevered and each day Sigalung became braver and braver (I think the peanut butter helped a lot) until he was walking out onto the platforms as soon as the doors opened and even ate outside. It was wonderful to see how this bear was overcoming his fears and I hope he will progress further until he can enjoy the forest enclosure with his bear friends.
It was my first time in Borneo and stayed on my own there for a month, but never felt lonely. The keepers and all the staff at BSBCC and APE Malaysia along with my fellow volunteers are wonderful friendly people who are quick to welcome you to the Sun bear family. They have really looked after me, making me laugh and patiently answered all my questions (mainly, ‘which bear is that again?’).
Sabah is a truly gorgeous place. Not only did I get see one of my favourite animals up close but I was surrounded by the beauty of Borneo and all the magnificent creatures that call it home. Geckos, Sunbirds, Flying lemur, Monitor lizards, Giant flying squirrels, baby Macaques, Giant fruit bats, Pygmy squirrels, a whole host of butterflies and dragonflies were only some of the many animals I was able to see in the wild just by looking around the centre and my accommodation. The experience has been truly magical and something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I am a tutor of Animal Management at a FE college back in England, teaching 16 – 19 year olds all about animal biology, husbandry and conservation. It is the type of experience I have had at BSBCC that I can use to encourage my students and inspire them in their own careers in the wildlife and conservation sector. I would encourage anyone to volunteer with BSBCC; even with the heat, the humidity and, yes, the bugs – the bears are so worth it and I will miss them all a lot.
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 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 Amanda Wilson
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Every individual has a story to tell, therefore it is only right that a bear’s story is told; a life behind iron bars displayed for people to see, exploited as money boosters through mistakenly presented for something they are not. This particular case involves two sun bears who were previously displayed as Giant Pandas. One of them was Kudat, an adult male sun bear who currently lives at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) who is now 9 years old. Kudat was rescued from a private mini zoo in a district named Kudat, within northern Sabah, where he was kept alongside another adult female sun bear named Panda. They were both kept in a small cemented-floored cage together, where they were fed chicken meat everyday, which was clearly an unfit diet for a Sun Bear. Kudat was named after the district where he was rescued from, although he originally is from Tawau.
It is heart-wrenching to hear that these animals were exploited merely for human’s greed. These animals deserve to be in the wild where they can enjoy being in the forest. According to the rescue report, both bears came from Tawau and were still infants when they were presented as gifts to the zoo’s owner back in 2008 (most likely involving a lot of money). From then on, these bears were labeled as “Pandas” and became the main attraction of the zoo. Fortunately, in 2010, the bears were surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department before being sent to BSBCC. A hopeful journey for these bears began. When they first arrived at the Centre, they were quite tame and adapted to the new environment very fast. In terms of size, both bears were much bigger compared to other bears of the same age, which was probably due to their heavy meat consumption at the mini zoo previously.
As soon as they arrived at the centre, Kudat and Panda were kept in quarantine for specific amount of time before being moved to the Bear House. Due to limited space in the forest enclosure at that time, Kudat had to stay in the Bear House for a few years.
Kudat is a playful bear, although he can be perceived as aggressive, this is his manner of playing. He is a sweet and friendly bear. He loves to play with water and is one of the few bears in the centre that eats fruit peels. At the Centre, Kudat is fed with a proper diet and was able to socialize with other bears like Along and Simone. He was introduced to various types of enrichments and learnt to climb, dig and forage for food like any other bear does in the wild. In his den, he loves to lounge up in his hammock. Before he was released to the forest enclosure, Kudat successfully went through fence training. Fence training is a required process for the bears to be introduced to the electric wires. This is so that they recognize the existence of these wires that surround the forest enclosures to prevent the bears from escaping, getting into fights and so on.
For the bears to be reintroduced to the forest, it takes patience and a whole lot of courage but it is rewarding to see. Being only steps away from the outside, it took some time for Kudat to brace himself and explore his new surroundings for it was pure fear that kept him inside. The bear keepers and volunteers tried various ways to lure him out of his den from drizzling honey on the ramps and forest floor, to placing food as incentives for him to come outside. These tricks did not only help to trigger his sensory smell, but also encourage the bear’s curiosity of the situation. At first, he only took food that was close enough for his paw to grab without stepping outside of the den’s door. He also showed unnatural stretching to grab the food on the ramp whilst keeping his back feet in the door to his den. After some time, he would come out of his den only to grab the food and quickly went back inside.
It took a good two weeks or so for him to have the courage to explore the outside world. We were overjoyed and proud of him! It was touching and rewarding to see him finally roaming around and exploring the greeneries. From only stepping on cemented-floor everyday, he finally got to feel the forest floor. From being cautious of his surroundings, he got more comfortable and acclimated by day. He even climbed up trees and scraped dead logs in the enclosure. He was first released in Pen D of the forest enclosures at the centre before he was moved to Pen L. Recently, due to required maintanence work in Pen L, he had to be abstained from going out into the forest enclosure for some time. However, he is now free to go out again and climb trees, dig and play in the mud like any bear should be able to. We are hoping for more happy stories for more of our beary friends!
Climbing up on trees and playing with enrichments
Borneo Post Online, 9th March 2018
by Winnie Kasmir
New Straits Times, 8th March 2018
by Avila Geraldine
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!