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!
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Tee Thye Lim & Chiew Lin May
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) is glad they attended the 9th East and Southeast Asian Wild Animal Rescue Network Conference (WARN Conference) from 7th to 11th November 2017 in Cuc Phuong, Vietnam. This year, the WARN Conference was hosted by the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre (Cuc Phuong, Vietnam). A total of 70 participants from 18 organizations attended the conference and shared their experiences related to animal rescue, rehabilitation and release through presentations, practical workshops and site visits to their rescued centres. The theme of this year was “Wildlife Rescuing,Rehabilitation and Release”.
The purpose of WARN is to enhance the capabilities of East and South East Asian wildlife rescue centers to rescue and conserve wildlife, provide conservation awareness education for the public and advocate minimum standards for wildlife rescue centers.
One of the highlights of the conference was the post conference tour to
i. Endangered Primate Rescue Center
ii. Save Vietnam’s Wildlife (Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program)
iii. The Turtle Conservation Centre
iv. FOUR PAWS Bear Sanctuary Ninh Binh
v. Van Long Nature Reserve
The conference was a great opportunity to tackle the ongoing wildlife crisis and develop better rescue, rehabilitation and release animal care. Huge thanks to WARN Members and Endangered Primate Rescue Center for hosting this successful 9th WARN Conference. It was great sharing experience!!
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!
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 Claire Buckingham (Volunteer)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
It sounds cliché to say it, but the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is all about second chances. Chin, now nine years old, came to BSBCC in July 2014 via a wildlife rescue unit, who took her from a primary school’s mini zoo. It’s illegal to keep sun bears as private pets, especially in small cages like she was. She was also not given much in the way of enrichment, which may have some bearing on why she’s been christened “The Curious” at BSBCC. At the centre she finally has the opportunity to explore her surroundings and learn something about life in the forest as a sun bear!
Things cannot be just that simple, of course. When the bears are brought to the centre it is a big adjustment for them simply to become accustomed to life in the dens in the vicinity of other bears, and also the humans who provide their food and tools for enrichment. But even when this just becomes day to day life, the bears still need to learn about life in the forest, and life around other bears.
Sun bears appear to be primarily solitary animals, except when a mother is looking after her cubs. This doesn’t mean they live in the forest alone – they still need to have some idea of how to act with other animals, whether in play, mating, or defence; being that sun bears don’t generally get a lot of their protein from meat, they probably don’t need to practice a lot of attacking, but they do need to know how to stand up for themselves.
At the centre, there are two bear houses, and currently only one is open to the enclosures outside; bear house two will be open shortly to its more recently completed forest enclosures. Several enclosures allow bears to go outside alone, such as those used by Kudat and Manis, but the other enclosures have bears sharing their spaces with one another. Two of these enclosures can be seen from the feeding platform, and anyone who has come to BSBCC will no doubt have fond memories of hungry bears at play amongst the trees.
Bears in the outdoor enclosure cannot be immediately controlled by the keepers – and in some ways, they should not be. Hopefully many of the bears at BSBCC will eventually return to the wild, and there they will need to be able to take care of themselves. This doesn’t mean all care isn’t taken to ensure the bears are familiar with one another – and this is why integration between bear individuals and groups takes place in the bear house before they are allowed to mingle together in the forest enclosures.
Chin’s first chance at returning to a more naturalised surrounding began with her integration into a group of six bears. Tokob was the dominant female, and was most closely associated with Susie and Kuamut. Three more females rounded out the group: Cerah and Jelita, and then Lawa. Given these six females had already comfortably sorted themselves into two groups of three, it would always have proved somewhat of a challenge for Chin to find her place amongst them. However, within the confines of the bear house, it appeared Chin was accepted by the group and happy enough with her place within it.
In January 2015, Chin was released into Pen C with these six bears. It was to prove, unfortunately, a difficult four days for her. The other bears rejected her, and she resorted to hiding under a tree to avoid their attacks. They caused injuries to her hind foot, and to her muzzle. Curious as she was about her new surroundings, she was distracted by the need to be constantly on alert; this can be seen by her behaviour in a favoured spot, where she kept her back to a large tree. Its shape kept her protected on three sides, and gave her a vantage point to watch for the other bears.
In those four days, the other bears did not permit her to share in the food brought to the enclosure. It was definitely a tough few days for Chin, and when she finally came back inside it was decided she would not be placed in this group again.
In February 2015, she was instead introduced to another group, known as the Rungus group. This comprises the females Rungus, Panda, and Ah Lun, and the male Julaini (whose brilliant chest mark adorns a BSBCC t-shirt that became my favourite!). The group tentatively began to play together within the bear house, and then Chin began to show dominance. It appears she learned this from Tokob, and she learned it well.
I personally first met Chin in June 2015, which is when she was first beginning to be encouraged into Pen A. Because of her experiences with Tokob’s group, it was decided she would not be immediately placed in the forest enclosure with the Rungus group in Pen B, even though they appeared to be integrating well within the bear house. Instead, Chin would be given her second chance by being allowed into Pen A on her own.
Chin was one of the first bears I got to know, as she tends to night den in one of the four cages just inside bear house one’s entrance. Given the only other bear in this area is Bermuda – a big, no-nonsense male – she was easy to recognise and to get to know. I spent my first three days primarily in the kitchen, preparing and splitting up the food for the bears depending on where they were. On day three, I came in and immediately noticed a change in the food split – Chin was categorised today in Pen A. Chin was going outside!
After her earlier experience with the forest enclosures, Chin was naturally somewhat recalcitrant about the very idea of it. Most of the dens have four entrances – two side doors for transfers between dens, one main entrance, and the back guillotine door that leads to the enclosures. The guillotine door usually opens to either a climbing frame or a ramp, and Chin would make good use of her ramp. Indeed, when Lin May came to tell me about Chin’s release to the forest plan, she showed me how Chin was going about it – and I peeked into the den to see little more than two bear feet hanging over the lip of the door.
Chin’s naturally curious, and likes to play – certainly I often found her attempting to use her water bowl like a bath, despite the fact it was barely large enough to take only her backside. So Chin couldn’t quite resist the lure of the outdoors, though she was also nervous of it. More than once I saw her seated sideways in the guillotine door, one front paw appearing to prop the door up, a faraway look in her eyes as she surveyed the forest beyond her den. Other times, she’d stay inside, but displayed a frank fascination with the door structures. She would pick at the tracks with those massive claws, and then get irritated and yank the back door right down, as if to say, “I said I wasn’t going out today!”
But Lin May would come open it right up again, and Chin would go back to her dreamy watchful state. Sometimes, if a little food was scattered, she’d go back to lying belly-down on the ramp like a little kid about to take their first slide all the way from the top.
It was also interesting to watch some of the indoor integration she continues to have with the Rungus group. I watched her “talking” with Panda one day; the bears were in separate dens, but the grate that locked the side entrance gives the bears a way to watch one another. At first Chin just pulled her lips back over her teeth, moving her muzzle in a silent roar; Panda echoed the motion. Then Chin appeared to pull back, front paws straight out before her and her backside raised, head ducked down low. I thought this was a submissive position and, confused, asked Thye Lim about it as I had been told that Chin was acting dominant amongst the Rungus group. He explained to me that this is, for Chin, a dominant posture; much like elephants tuck their ears back before they charge, this is Chin getting down into a charge position. Being that they were in separate dens it wasn’t going to happen, but I did notice that Panda backed away and left the grate between them when Chin did this.
I also watched her with the others, split between two dens with an open grate; Chin spent a lot of her time at the grate, appearing to act as both a watchman and a gatekeeper. She particularly seemed determined to stop Julaini from coming over to “her” side. Later, she had to be bribed with honey to come back to den 13, where she would have access to the forest. Instead of going out, she played with the now closed and locked side gate. She even managed to lift it just a little, only to be disappointed to find the only way out was to the forest!
Of course the only time Chin went fully outside was on one of my days off – though she only managed ten minutes before she decided it was time to come back in again! Since my last day at BSBCC she has continued on these little jaunts outside, and Lin May told me the next step is to close the guillotine door and see what happens next.
This is all a part of Chin’s second chance – both at getting back into the forest enclosure, and then just in her general life. She’s had a cruel start to things, but at BSBCC she has a chance to learn what it is to be a regular sun bear. It’s not going to be easy, but they don’t call her Chin the Curious for nothing. I think she’s going to be all right.