Text by Alex O’Keefe (Oregon State University Student)
Photos by Sumira Muis & Chiew Lin May
Completing an internship at the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Center (BSBCC) under Ape Malaysia has been a phenomenal and breathtaking journey. As I progressed through my internship I was able to complete and partake in a number of activities that have benefited sun bears and their conservation. Some of these activities include creating enrichments, structure for maintenance and the bears, partaking in feeding, helping educate the public about sun bears and their conservation needs and conducting observations of sun bears. My specific observations were done every day for two weeks to evaluate the readiness of a male bear named Sigalung to be released into first a training pen (an outside pen connected to the inside doors of the bear house) and eventually an outside enclosure based in the forest. Having the honor to observe this bear’s progression from training pen to outside enclosure was for me exciting and something new. By the end of my observations, I would come to be attached and intrigued by the sun bear known as Sigalung.
First before describing the progress of Sigalung, here’s a little background on his journey to and time at the BSBCC. Sigalung along with a bear named Phin were rescued from a logging camp in Sipitang district, Southwest of Sabah. Likely orphaned by poachers, Sigalung with Phin were alone and would likely have been subjected to a cruel and painful life in inadequate captive conditions. Luckily Dr.Wong and the Sun Bear Conservation team found out about the bears and rescued them when they were (9 years old). Two years ago (2015) Sigalung started training pen integration. It took him more than a year to actually come out of his inside pen and explore the training pen due to fear. Often bears rescued are scared and hesitant to explore anything outside of an inside enclosure as that’s the only environment they’ve ever been exposed to pre-rescue. After more than a year of trying every single day,Sigalung climbed down the ladder connecting to the floor of the training pen and explored around. Following this moment, his confidence grew and his visits to the training pen became more consistent. Nearly a year after his landmark stride I started my internship at the BSBCC.
Two weeks in I began to observe him and his actions in the training pen. By the end of a week I had noticed a very predictable pattern for Sigalung. Immediately when his pen doors would open, he would climb down to the training pen walk in a clockwise circle and eat the food placed in the pen; all the while sniffing and exploring. By the end of two weeks I had concluded that he had comfortably and fully integrated himself into the training pen. It was now time to test our luck with the outside pen.
Before our first attempt at getting Sigalung to commit to entering the outside enclosure, I put fruit and honey outside to entice Siglung into the forest.
Once everything was set up we left the area and opened Sigalung’s inside and training pen doors connecting him to the outside enclosure.
Sigalung conducted his normal routine of climbing down and exploring the training pen. He would look at the open door leading to the forest then quickly move past it with haste signaling anxiety. This pattern of circling past the open door continued until we gave up and decided to try again the next day. The second day offered the same results as Sigalung displayed repetitive behavior comparable to the first day.The third day however, provided different and unexpected results.
The third day stared out similar to the first two days. The doors opened, Sigalung approached the doors but never went outside. He would occasionally army crawl up to the doors stick his head out and grab the food then come back inside to eat. Little progress was being made until a female adult bear named Mamatai in the neighboring outside pen appeared. She came directly face to face with Sigalung then eventually walked away into the forest. Sigalung, be it enticed or aggressive, tried to follow her until he reached the door. He like before stared out but didn’t budge. Then all of a sudden he bolted out of the door and into the forest enclosure! Continuing to sprint, he for the first time stepped on the natural forest floor.
His outside reconnoitering lasted for only five minutes as by that time he quickly ran back into the training pen then into his inside enclosure. Though only for five minutes, Sigalung had taken his first steps in becoming a real sun bear and thriving in the forest. The next two days Sigalung went into the outside pen but only for a similar duration of time. Day six would prove different. Sigalung decided on the sixth day he would not only stay out longer in the forest but also explore farther than he previously had done. Sigalung ended up walking around the entire outside enclosure area!
He had finally conquered his fear of the unknown and is now enjoying the freedom of the outside enclosure based in the rainforests of Borneo! Sigalung has truly come a long way from where he began. From capture to freedom, Sigalung can finally live out his days living as a sun bear should…in the forest.
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by BSBCC
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre provided me a really good opportunity for my internship in order to complete my study in Universiti Malaysia Sabah. When people asked me, what are you doing in BSBCC? Why are you helps to clean the cages in everyday? Cleaning cages is the basic but important animal husbandry for the sun bear. Because a clean cage can helps to decrease the chances for them to get sick. In the early morning, the man power of bear care team will divide into three which are bear house 1, bear house 2 and kitchen. If you assign in the kitchen, prepare the food for all the bears in the day will be your task.
Afternoon is the time for us to make enrichment for the bears. Enrichment, actually is a toy for the bears but these toy is helps to encourage the bears to utilize their own strength. You can have a million of creative way to build an enrichment for the bears but bare in mind, animal safety always comes first.
BSBCC is using the terms of conservation which covers with animal welfare, rehabilitation, education and research. Integration, fence training and release back to the forest enclosure are included in rehabilitation. One of the rehabilitation purpose is provides to the bears have a second chance to back to the forest along with learning and practicing natural survival skills. Within these six months, I got the chance to take part on helping in fence training and release Kala, Boboi, Kitud and TanTan to the forest enclosure, Pen D and Pen C. Besides that, they were integrated with sub-adult group, Sunbearo, Loki, Ronnie Girl, Momtom, Susie2 and Damai. And now, Mary joined them as well. There are 40 bears in BSBCC with different history. But, most of them were kept as pet before. They were kept in a small cage without experienced the real forest. How could their home become a strange place for them? So, rehabilitation takes time for them to adapt the new environment and confront their traumatic early life.
I had learnt a lot in BSBCC. And here, I would like to thank you, all the bear care team member, Thye Lim, Lin May, Azzry, Lester, Roger, David, Ronny, Tommy, Andy and my bear keeper buddy, Mizuno to guide me, share their knowledge and experience with me along my internship at BSBCC. They always make my day and lots of joy and laughter in every moment I spent in BSBCC. Thanks for all the help and taking care of me.
Text by Jocelyn Stokes
Photos by BSBCC Staffs
Late Monday night, the BSBCC staff waited patiently in the moonlight as a large truck full of bears slowly pulled into the conservation centre’s docking area. It was 10pm on the 10th of March, when five rescued sun bears arrived at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre from Lok Kawi Zoo, Kota Kinabalu. The BSBCC is grateful to receive the assistance of the Wildlife Rescue Unit from Sabah Wildlife Department in their efforts to bring these bears to their new home
As the bears barked and rattled their cages, the staff managed to safely unload and transfer the four adult bears and one cub into the centre’s new rehabilitation facilities, all within the course of only 3 hours! Only one bear required sedation for the transfer, which occurred the following day in addition to a health check, revealing that this big, blue-eyed male is in good physical condition.
While observing the freshly-relocated baby sun bear explore its new home, Wong Siew Te, CEO & Founder of the BSBCC, announced that this beautiful young male will be named 'Sunbearo' in recognition of all the enabling support that the company Neways has given to the centre. “Without the generous support of companies like Neways, these bears could not have been given a home here,” Wong said with deep appreciation.
Wong and Sunbearo's first feeding. Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre mission is to conserve sun bear through improving animal welfare, raising conservation awareness with education, conducting research, and rehabilitating the sun bear cubs like Sunbearo who have the second chance to return his life in the forest!
In Sabah it is completely illegal to hunt or keep sun bears captive because the Bornean sun bear is a Class I protected species. Although it is illegal to keep sun bears, it is sadly not uncommon and wild sun bear populations continue to be at risk. Sigalung, Phin, Diana, Ronney and Sunbearo are the names of our well-received new bears. They are all victims of this crime. The BSBCC is grateful for the opportunity to assist them in their plight, however it is necessary to remember why they need our help.
In the midst of all the inherent excitement of receiving 5 new bears, a surprise guest visited the centre as well. Sir David Attenborough, famed naturalist and narrator, was graciously welcomed to the BSBCC with a personal tour from Wong as they observed and discussed the sun bears together. Although the bears being observed in the forest enclosure may not have been especially aware of his presence, Wong the BSBCC staff, were quite pleased to welcome such an honorary guest.
More news on the progress of our new arrivals will be coming soon, so stay connected as we embrace our new count of 32 sun bears!