Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Bintang was originally known as Ronnie, named after her previous owner who surrendered the bear to the BSBCC on July 15, 2014. Bintang was just a five months old female sun bear cub and weighed 7.9kg when she arrived in BSBCC. Her history is unknown. Owners who find Sun bear cubs will attempt to reason for holding them captive, but no explanation is suitable for the holding of a wild animal. Keeping a wild animal as a pet, such as the Sun bear, is illegal. In 2017, this bear was renamed to “Bintang” when Albert Teo Chin Kion and Borneo Eco Tour Sdn Bhd, both passionate enthusiasts into changing a sun bear’s life, adopted Bintang. Another reason for changing the name to “Bintang” is because her chest mark appears as a sun-shape, sprinkled with light black dots. “Bintang” is a beautiful name which incorporates the Malaysian meaning of “star” to represent her unique chest pattern.
Rescued at such a young age, Bintang spent little time of her cub life alongside her Mother; sun bear cub should remain with their Mother until two/three years old, when living in their natural habitat. The individuals who separated Bintang from her Mother, weakened her chances for survival as she was unable to learn valuable life skills from a young age. Therefore, BSBCC needs to take good care of her and teach her how to be a real bear again. She has been offered lots of fruits such as durian, mangosteen, tarap, rambutan and many more. Other than that, in order to encourage her natural bear behaviour, lots of enrichments are made and given to her. She shows her improvement day by day.
Sunbearo, Loki and Bintang are integrated in quarantine. She met her bear brother, Sunbearo and her bear sister, Loki within this time and all were getting along extremely well. They spend time playing fighting, suckling for comfort seeking, resting and sleeping together. Bintang’s suckling style is different to others; her paw will be placed on one of the friend, whilst suckling.
On 22 November 2015, Sunbearo, Loki and Bintang integrated with Montom and Susie2 and then Damai. On 24 December 2015, they were released to the forest enclosure. They were foraging together and found some bugs, ants and termites but they didn’t seem too interested in climbing. Loki was the first to climb. After being anxious on the first day, Bintang and Sunbearo both started to climb across the following few days, which made them fall in love with climbing. In 2016, the bears integrated with Kala, Mary, Boboi, Kitud, and Tan Tan, as well as Dodop and Wawa. There was no signs of aggression between them. Bintang is very friendly to all the bears, but Damai is her best bear friend ever! Bintang loves to spend time with her bear friend, to play fight, rest and just hang out together in the forest enclosure.
Bintang is a very kind-natured and gentle sun bear. She does not mind being dirty an actually loves digging and tearing up the dead wood across the forest enclosure. She enjoys her nap time and snoozing on her favourite tree. Bintang is an excellent ground nest builder. She tries to grab as many big leaves from the trees and arranges it nicely on the ground. She will continue to build even if her friends try to interrupt her, with a lot of determination to have a nice comfy nest to rest on afterwards.
Bintang is showing excellent survival skills in the forest every day. We hope that soon she will be one of the next candidates for releasing back into the wild. She deserves to stay in the wild and be a WILD bear once again!
Do you love sleeping in a comfy bed at the end of the day? So do sun bears!
Check out a two years old sub adult female sun bear, Bintang making some fabulous nest!
Text and Photos by Seng Yen Wah
Every bear carries different baggage arriving to BSBCC. But they learn everything necessary from the beginning in the forest enclosure with their friends.
In nature, sun bear cubs stay with their mothers until they two to three years old. When people take cubs away from their mothers, they also take away their chance of learning the survival skills from their mothers as well. If people only keep them as a pet in a small cage, they can never learn what they need to survive in the wild. This is the reason why our integration program becomes so important for the bears.
The best enrichment for a bear is another bear. When they spend their time with their friends, they can learn relevant skills from them. Besides that, socialization can help to reduce bears stereotypical behavior. The forest enclosure provides them with a natural environment and enough space where they can explore with lots of activities, such as foraging, digging, climbing and play fight with each other.
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Tan-Tan was bought by a person with the purpose of rescuing her from being sold in the remote region of Paitan. After the person bought Tan-Tan, he informed the Sabah Wildlife Department and the Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit sent her to BSBCC on August 5th, 2015. On the other hand, Boboi and Kitud were kept together in a cage before they were handed over to the Sabah Wildlife Department in Singgaron Village, Ranau district. They were originally from Pitas, Sabah and only arrived at BSBCC on October 30th, 2015.
Boboi, Kitud and Tan-Tan stayed together in quarantine. Boboi is like a big brother that always backs up Kitud and Tan-Tan. Tan-Tan is the little one. She likes to follow behind Kitud so that she can get more comfort. If Boboi and Kitud are not around her, she will seek for them. Kitud is dominant, even though her size is not as big as Boboi. But, she always leads them to take an adventure with her. After the health check, they were moved from quarantine to the bear house. This was the time for them to meet the sub-adult group.
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Kala is a one year old, female bear. She is at BSBCC because her previous owner surrendered her to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit with the intention to save her after they found her on Kalabakan-Sapulut Road near Meliau Basin. Kala got to walk in the forest with a bear keeper when she was still a cub. However, it had been a while since Kala had experienced the forest. Walking a cub is not an easy task. The task becomes harder while the cub is growing up because they can be very hard to control. Now, Kala is growing well. Hence, there is no more need for her to walk with a bear keeper. But this does not mean that she will not go back into the forest anymore.
Fence training is a very important step before the bears can go out to the forest enclosure. This is because the forest enclosure is surrounded with high voltage hot wire. The hot wire is to prevent the bears escaping from the forest enclosure.
Text by Seng Yen Wah (Intern Student from University Malaysia Sabah)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Kala was bought by a person who with the intention of saving cub on Kalabakan-Sapulut Road near Maliau Basin and then the owner surrendered her to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit. When she arrived at the BSBCC, she was weak. This may cause by the early separation of Kala and her mother. A small cub usually will stay with her mother until 2 to 3 years old. What is the reason will cause a mother to separate with her own cub when they are still in a very young age? The answer is, they had been killed by poachers in order to poach the cute bear cubs. We will say that, the overload cuteness of bear cubs is a horrible curse for them. Kala may have a horrific early life, but now she is growing up and starting her new happy life in BSBCC.
Kala used to stay with our other sun bear cubs Boboi, Tan-Tan and Kitud. However the way Kala played made her little to no friends and the other little bears did not like to play with her. After Kala moved from the quarantine to bear house, she had to stay alone. And in order to find some companions for Kala, bear keepers were trying to integrate Kala with our sub-adult group, the bears Sunbearo, Loki, Ronnie Girl, Montom, Susie2 and Damai.
The integration between Kala and the sub-adult group was closely monitored to see whether Kala could be integrated with this group or not. If one of the bears in sub-adult group could not be integrated well with Kala, it usually means the integration within the entire group does not work. One has to bear in mind the integration is not simply putting bears together, it is also depended on their age, weight and sex. Their age and weight have to be similar, if not the worst case scenario would be the smaller bear could be injured or during the integration.
Moreover, if the condition of any bear is of lesser healthy, the integration may have to be halted to prevent the spread of disease etc. that may cause other bears illnesses eventually.
Starting any integration, 30 minutes of time spent together is seen as the limit. Later, if they play well with each other, the time of the integration periods can be extended. During the integration, bear keepers have to observe and if needed step in. Before any integration starts, at least 2 buckets of water and a fire extinguisher are ready and prepared in close proximity of the observing bear keepers. So, in case of any aggression, the bear keeper can step in and use the water or fire extinguisher to separate the aggressive bears or stop aggressive behavior. If the situation becomes worse a loud horn can also be used but we see this as a matter of last resort because the sound might cause other bears distress. The ultimate separation tool in any case of aggression is the use of a water jet to separate them. All actions during the integration sessions are carefully recorded by observers in an integration form.
The integration for Kala is having an additional purpose, which is let Kala learn and eventually know how to play with other bears. Most of the time, Kala is the one who first enters to other bears cage. She loves to play by moving backwards without looking who she is actually with. And Kala is a very playful bear, she likes to play fight, to chase and run after other bears. However to be honest, Kalas play is really rough, she often paws and snaps after other bears. And hence, Montom, Ronnie Girl, Sunbearo and Susie2 reacted aggressive when they played with Kala during the very first days. The good news is, they are getting to know Kala better after they met for few times, at lately no more aggressive behavior was shown.
Montom and Loki are the ones who always approach Kala. Both of them have showed much more interest in playing with Kala. Sunbearo plays with Kala too, but not as much as Montom and Loki do. On the other side, Kala always approaches Ronnie Girl and Susie2. But, the way she plays seems not acceptable to them. Susie2 always tries to avoid Kala. Damai on the other hand is a solitary bear. She shows the least interest in playing with Kala among the group. Most of the time, she was just stays in a hammock and looking at Kala from hammock.
For now, Kala was integrated with 2 of 6 bears in one session. In the future we will try to integrate her with at least 4 of the 6 bears at one time. We are looking forward to the integration of Kala with the sub-adult group and hope she can be friends with them soon. After the little bears would not play with her, we want to find her some companion. Now she will get new friends, and is not a lonely bear anymore.
Text by Koo Wei Chee (BSBCC Intern Student)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
There was a project that I assigned for to upgrade myself to do something more advance besides the regular routine of what volunteers and interns can do and I got myself one, Thye Lim and Lin May gave me a big project to do, the objective is rehabilitate young sun bears Sunbearo, Ronnie, and Loki back to the wild.
Sunbearo, a 1 year old a male juvenile, was kept in a Mini Zoo Hot Spring, Tawau, South Eastern of Sabah before he was handed over to the Sabah Wildlife Department and BSBCC.
Loki, a 1 year old female juvenile, was discovered in the backyard of an inn, where she had been illegally kept as a pet for about five months. It was confiscated by the Sabah Wildlife Department and sent to BSBCC on 24th March 2014.
Ronnie, a 1 year old female juvenile, has an unknown history but we believe that she was kept as an ex-pet and was sent to the BSBCC on July 15, 2014.
They had already been integrated and became very good friends, rolling and playing around every day.
Fence training is a session for the bears to be aware of electric fences. The place where they are trained is in a moderate size indoor enclose den called training pen with 6 lines of electric wires from top to bottom in the inside perimeter. It is a nightmare for them but a very crucial and important stage to let the bears know that they should not touch those wires or else will be zapped in an electricity. One bear is only allowed in the training in one time if the bear was the first time training in the training pen because if there were two or more newly introduced bears in the training pen and one got zapped, it will immediately thought that it was the other bear which made the torture where will result a bear fight. The fence training period depend on the bears’ progress and it may take up to three months for the bears to get used to the training pen or never. Fruits were scattered near the sliding gate to encourage the bears to go into the training pen, fruits were then scattered near the electric fence once they feel confident to enter to the training pen. Each session of fence training is 30 minutes, the keepers and volunteers in charge have to observe carefully and write down in a table quickly of any moments and behaviours of the bears during the fence training session, this is the most tiring part when keeper in charge sometimes have to recall back what has not been written after the training session. A bear is considered pass the fence training is when it can be able to move freely between cage and training pen in normal behaviour without zap be able to avoid the fence. The bears will then be able to proceed to the next training, the forest enclosure training.
It was hard to watched when we saw them got zapped the first time and they barked, becoming very stressful and will start to pace in the furthest dens they can be from the training pen. Sunbearo was the one the which got the most zap, he did not know what to do at one time but to climb up and got even worse to be zapped in the second electric wire, Lester quickly run to switch off the electricity of the training pen, Sunbearo then climbed down and run to the furthest den and started to bark and moaning, he knew the pain, looking at us and keep moaning for doing this to him.
Integration sun bear is one of the rehabilitation process in BSBCC. Integration between rescue sun bears is one of the rehabilitation process in BSBCC through which the bears can learn pertinent skills for survival in the wild. There are some facts which needs to evaluate before targeting any two or more sun bears for the integration training to prevent or decrease bear fight possibility: (1) age, size, and weight have to be similar, if they have big difference, a bear would definitely be killed if they fought; (2) the bears have to be healthy. Younger bears and group bears seem to have a high possibility in successful integration because they have less thought, more curious, and have social group experience for the group bears. Before integration process, few pails of water and a fire extinguisher have to be prepared near the integration cage in case of emergency. Integration lasts for one hour, a paper with a list of table, behaviour codes, and remarks was used to write down the behaviours of the bears in any movement during the integration, this is the detail or data which will be the appendix of the research on how those bears react with each other.
Integration Pros and Cons
Sun bears appears to be solitary because their food are scattered all around the forest and they need their own territory to maintain their own food supply, thus for those integrated captive sun bears in the forest enclosure, we need to scatter enough foods all over the area to prevent them for fighting for food supply. Bears and others animal are solitary mainly due to the food shortage issue, in captive condition, foods are always been provided, so we encourage them to stay in a group to promote positive behavior development. Although there is a conflict between the bears natural characteristics and integration, it is used to assist the bears to get along well with each other so that they can be in a single forest enclosure because the main issue is about the centre’s limited number of forest enclosures and dens. Newly rescued captive sun bears need their own space, thus the integration stays an important role for the bear care unit.
On 22 November 2015, we integrate Sunbearo, Loki and Ronnie with Montom (a 3 years old sub adult male bear) and Susie (a 4 years old adult female bear).
We were surprised that Sunbearo, Ronnie, and Loki had a very fast progress in the integration and fence training with Montom and Susie where they played, foraged, and eat together without aggression. Three weeks after the training, the management team decided to let Sunbearo, Loki, and Ronnie to enter the last stage of training, the enclosure training in forest enclosure.
Forest enclosure training is the practice of the applications given to the sun bears in the previous stages of all training and enrichment such as giving them the second chance to climb, toys to improve their senses of smell, sight, touch and taste, integration training and electric fence training. Before the bears went out to the forest, prepared fruit pieces are placed near the cage or guillotine door to encourage the bears to go out and eat, time by time when the bears are confident with the area, the fruit will then be placed further from the cage to encourage them to go further to the forest. At least two keepers have to take a broom and keep an eye of the bears around the forest enclosure outside perimeter to prevent the bears to climb out from the enclosure because the bears may still not get use to the electric fence and may climb up if they got zapped. The training duration for keepers to watch over is the same as training pen, it may take months to have a success for the bears to touch the ground or even not, but the training is not over as it lasts until the bear can really be able to take care of itself for example searching foods in nature, climbing trees and make nest. This is the last stage for the bears before they can be the candidates to be released back to the wild, thus this training is crucial, giving the bears a second chance to go back to their natural wild habitat in a very large area of natural forest.
Within two weeks the three bears got their first zap from the electric fence near the dens. They still got zapped because they were introduced to a new environment although they already knew there is electric fence which results an environment shock to them. In the first week, I put their prepared cut fruits near their dens to encourage them to go out and explore the enrichment and environment. When they got used to the area, I then started to put further from the den and deeper to the forest enclosure time by time to encourage them to explore more.
The training on forest enclosure E has some issues not only the bears character and behaviour but also the location itself as it is located near the bear house entrance. Keepers who are not in charge of the training will sometimes do their work outside the bear house which made those sound-sensitive bears to be extra alert, thus whenever there’s a sound, even footsteps of us, the bears which are still not used to it will rush back to their dens.
At 24th December 2015, it was a very special day because guillotine door was ordered to close after the bears had gone outside forest. When the guillotine door was shut down, the bears were in alert and stayed very closed to the door, but after a few minutes, Loki and Ronnie started to do what they did as usual, foraging, eating bugs, ants, and termites. Sunbearo then followed them and went even further, he went to all the areas of the surrounding fence and unluckily got zapped again, and he pulled back but not long and went deep in the forest in search for ants and termites. It was a special day indeed that all the bears start confident explore the environment.
On day (28th December 2015), my supervisor, Thye Lim, had a plan to make some food enrichment to be hanged on trees to encourage them to climb. It is a huge success because Loki finally climbed a tree for the first time in her life and successfully climbed her way to get the fruits as her reward. We were then felt extremely happy that Sunbearo and Ronnie also made their first time climbing a tree on the following day (29th December 2015), not only climbed a tree but several trees in the enclosure.
It was a nice pleasure and glad to see the bears given the second chance to touch the earth for the first time in their whole life. I like to see them exploring the environment, foraging, digging, climbing trees and sometimes stand up to watch further in alert to the surrounding area, these are what bears should do, and I really hope they can have a good progress to become candidates to be released back to the wild.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Like most mammals, bear cubs require intense maternal care during their first few months of life. As cubs grow and gain mobility, they romp and play, but they never stay far from their protective mothers, who keep them safe from predators and other mishaps. The mothers also teach cubs the secrets of survival— where to find food, and what to eat. – Siew Te Wong
The rescued sun bear cubs have to learn to live together. The interactions between bear cubs can help them to develop and learn some skills that are needed in the wild. On August 25, 2014, we introduced Ronnie to other sun bear cubs, Sunbearo and Loki. However, when Ronnie was moved to quarantine area during her first arrival at BSBCC, she was not very welcomed by Sunbearo where Sunbearo kept growling at Ronnie. Therefore during the first integration, our team monitored them with extra cautions and were prepared for a sudden fight between them.
Luckily, after opening the sliding gate between their dens, Sunbearo was the first to initiate the play and it was Ronnie first contact with other bears. Both of them spent the most of the time playing at the small platform and basket. On the next day, Ronnie was integrated with another bear cub, Loki. Loki was very curious towards Ronnie and barked on her during their first meeting. When the two bears met, both of them played and wrestled immediately.
On August 29, 2014, we integrated Ronnie with Sunbearo and Loki. Ronnie body size is small as compared to Sunbearo and Loki. They are now learning to enjoy their life again after suffering the pain from the loss of their mothers and being kept as pets by illegal poachers.
Sometimes, Ronnie continues to play even though she is already tired and exhausted. They like to climb, chase, and bite with each other. These three bears are getting along very well and showing no signs of aggression.
However, Ronnie seems to be the dominant one if there is food. She becomes slightly aggressive by growling and barking to whom trying to approach her. She also makes it clear that she is no longer interested in playing but to continue eating. Nevertheless, the three of them still mingle well as Sunbearo and Loki perceived the message from Ronnie clearly!
Over the past few weeks, they explored, played, wrestled, climbed, foraged and rested together in the big exercise pen. Ronnie is now able to live in community and loves her new companions. She seems to become more playful and active in the presence Sunbearo and Loki. All of us are very excited to see her begins her new life with other bears.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
This rescue did not change the world that we lived in, but it definitely changed the whole world of these three rescued bears!
Why does sun bear’s survival threatened? Sun bears are threatened for various reasons; one reason in particular is humans. Human activities pose many threats to sun bears and their habitat. Intensive illegal logging paired with increased agricultural expansions are just two ways in which humans are forcing sun bears out of their homes. Illegal animal trade is also leading to the extinction of sun bears. Mothers are being killed so that their cubs can be taken in as pets; many of which end up in small cages, and due to a lack of knowledge on how to properly handle the babies, often times they become malnourished and traumatised. This needs to stop if we ever want to see wild sun bears living happy and free in the rainforest!
This past July, the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre received three rescued sun bears named Ronnie, Susie and Chin. These three rescued sun bears arrived at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre from the Lok Kawi Wildlife Zoo in Kota Kinabalu.
We prepared a quarantine area for the bears which included a den enriched with decayed wood, climbing structures, hammocks, and green leaves. Upon arrival to the centre we unloaded the bear’s cages and secured it safely to the gate of the den. When we opened the doors the bears were hesitant to go inside. All three of them were slightly stressed from the move, but eventually each one entered its new home and began to explore.
All newly rescued bears must undergo a month long quarantine period so that wildlife veterinarians can conduct an extensive health check, blood and hair examinations, and monitor the body measurements of the bears.
Ronnie, a five month old female sun bear cub is always capturing people’s attention! Her history is still unknown but we believe that she was kept as a ex-pet and was sent to the BSBCC on July 15, 2014. Her mother was most likely killed by poachers, and now, this kind natured gentile sun bear is quickly adjusting to her new surroundings.
When Ronnie arrived at the centre, she weighed only 7.9 kg and took the spot as youngest bear at the centre, as well as one of the smallest. Now her weight is 10.8 kg.
She is learning all the skills pertinent to survival in the wild. She is also enjoying this learning process very much, and loves to play in the dirt! She also likes to dig, and tear apart the dead wood around her.
If we give her ginger leaves or decayed branches, she will spend an entire day biting, twisting or tearing apart her enrichments.
During play fights, Ronnie likes to show her small curved canines and sharp claws.
Now that Ronnie is getting plenty of milk and fruit to eat she is developing a big belly too!
We special made a new sleeping platform for Ronnie so that she can seek shelter and hide when she encounter strange condition.
Aside from playing in her new environment, she also enjoys her nap time and snoozing on her sleeping platform.
The chest mark of Ronnie similar to sun shaped with sprinkled with light black dots.
Susie, a 3 year old sub-adult female sun bear came to the centre on July 15, 2014. She was kept illegally as a pet by an individual who bought her from the Pensiangan Village in the Keningau District while she was still cub. He paid RM 200 for Susie. The owner's son then surrenders Susie to the Sabah Wildlife Department on June 2014. The previous owner fed her primarily rice, meat, honey and fruits. Susie now weights 23 kg.
Susie can be short tempered and rather sensitive, and is quite aware when strangers are around. When food is present, especially her favourite varieties of fruits, she eats extremely fast.
Susie has a large and broad chest mark with a “meteor” at the middle of her body.
Chin, an adult female sun bear, arrived to BSBCC from Lok Kawi Wildlife Zoo on July 22, 2014. Chin is named after the primary school that she was rescued from in Tawau, a town in the southeast region of Sabah. Chin was kept at the primary school’s mini zoo for a very long time and was displayed illegally in a small metal cage. She was previously fed fruits, bread, and milk while she was kept at the school.
Upon arrival we discovered that Chin is missing her left hind claw, which for a human would be the ring finger on the left hand.
Chin may look like a heavy and grumpy bear but she is actually a gentle and friendly bear.
We believe that Chin was never given any enrichment when she was kept at the mini zoo, which explains her curious behaviour towards enrichment activities. Here at the centre she is finding more and more activities to enjoy! Chin loves to tear things into pieces, such as dead logs and coconuts, and is a big fan of ginger leaves! She also loves playing in the water and enjoys splashing water out of the water basin onto her chest.
Chin's chest mark
Well, these three new bears are doing well at BSBCC now! The bears slowly put their past behind them and are learning to live like wild bears again! Next step for the rescued sun bears will be integrating them with other bears, and slowly giving them access to the natural forest enclosure. The bears are in good hands with our caring staffs, and have been nurtured back to health. Throughout the day we provide different types of enrichment for the bears, and allow them the ability to freely explore, play, and forage. These activities stimulate their natural behaviour and help to prepare them for life back in the wild. Currently the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is taking care of 35 rescued sun bears, and is delighted to care for these bears!