Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
On the 2nd of March 2017, a sun bear cub was handed over to the Sabah Wildlife Department named BJ. He was found after being purchased in Sonsogon village, Pitas, and was sold for the price of RM 300 and then was kept as a pet. He arrived at BSBCC on the 22nd of November, 2018. He is a two year old, sub adult male bear weighing 32.20kg.
After living alone in a cage, BJ was finally free from trauma and now has made some friends for the first time in his life. On the 14th of December 2018, BJ was integrated into a larger social group of female bears – Kina, Sika, Soo and Diana, who would help him adjust to his new life and learn how to be a bear again!
Here we can see how the introduction went:
As soon as BJ saw his new friends, he stood up on his hind legs, began sniffing and pawing them to start play fighting! They showed their strong canines and sharp claws!
He was such a handsome and kind bear towards the group. It is good to know that he is welcomed by them and they also rely on each other for comfort, protection and love. Although sun bears are by nature solitary animals in the wild, the bond between a mother and her cub is strong during the time they are together. During the integration, sun bears can learn from each other as they communicate and play together.
BJ has proven himself to be a friendly bear. He also smiles which shows a few wrinkles on his face.
It is great that BJ has accepted this wonderful new friendship. Kina and Sika are BJ’s bear play friends.
Sometimes, BJ wants to play with Soo and Diana, but both of the female bears seem to ignore him. Once BJ started sharing the large dens with the other female bears, he immediately began exploring. He has found the simple pleasure of good friends. He is a happy go lucky bear who loves running around the dens and convinces the others to play with him by sniffing or pulling them. He is always filled with curiosity and enjoys exploring the enrichment around the dens.
They spend their days wandering around the dens, digging up the dead wood, climbing on the structural enrichment and sharing their toys. They are doing things together and seem to enjoy each other’s company.
For the rest of their first week together, there was no aggression found and they were accepting of each other as it did not take too long for them to become social. Now he has four lovely female bears to keep him company. It was a delight to see him grow into a healthy and loving bear where he could truly be himself.
Text & Photos by Seng Yen Wah
Soo is a four year old female, sub adult bear. She was purchased with the price of RM350 when she was still a cub in Karamatoi Village in Sook Keningau market. After that, she was kept as a house pet in Nambayan village in Tambunan for two years. She was rescued by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and transferred to BSBCC on the 8th of September, 2017. Soo is very alert with her surroundings. She easily gets stressed and starts to pace aggressively when she hears loud, machine noises. This stereotypic behaviour is the consequence of her past life of living as a caged pet. She took a long time to adapt herself. There must be a way to help her more. Maybe it is time for her to have bear friends!
Let’s introduce you Soo’s friends, Diana (12 years old female adult bear), Kina (three years old female sub adult bear), and Sika (two years old female sub adult bear). Kina and Sika integrated on the 19th of November 2017. After that, Diana joined Kina and Sika on 13th of April 2018. And on the 2nd of September 2018, Soo meet them all for the first time.
Soo is curious about the appearance of a new bear beside her cage. She sniffed on the sliding door. The sliding door opens slowly and Sika is waiting for her at another side. This is the first time Soo met a bear. Soo is anxious. She vocalized with Sika when Sika came close. She would like to play with Sika but she doesn’t know how to do it. She shows defensive behaviour which Sika does not like. Therefore the first time is not pleasant.
The second day of integration is Kina’s turn. Kina shows more curiosity about Soo. She tried to initiate play fight with Soo, who is still nervous about her first friendship. Soo demonstrates a big response to Kina’s approach, but this did not stop Kina and still tried getting close to her. If Soo is being stressed at the moment, Kina will not disturb her.
Soo took her time and she tried her best to become friends with Diana, Kina and Sika. They are getting along well now! Only sometimes, Diana is on her temper and shows her aggression to Sika and Soo by vocalizing. But, there would never be a problem for them to stay together. They play fight with whoever they want. They share their food and also rest together. It is so good to see Soo’s improvement since her first arrival. We really hope Soo can live in a better life with her bear friends and we hope to see her grow into a strong and brave bear!
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Diana was kept in a concrete floor cage and was displayed to the public at View Top Resort, Tawau, on the South East coast of Sabah, for about ten years. She was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department on the 31st of July 2013, and was then brought to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) on the 10th of March, 2014. Upon arrival, she was in a bad condition with existing open wounds on the right maxillary area and had unhealthy gums due to fighting with another male, adult sun bear as they were both kept together in a cage. We will never know what happened to her mother, but this can illustrate how vulnerable wild sun bears are to threats from poachers. Stolen from life in the forest, Diana will never be taught by her mother how to survive in the wild.
This year we still continue to fight the battle to rescue illegal pet trade victims in Sabah. Due to the dens in our bear houses and quarantine being full, our team has decided to let Diana meet with two lovely young female bears, Sika and Kina, in quarantine.
They immediately enjoyed their new dens which were full of natural habitat enrichments such as dead wood, green leaves, climbing structures, a sleeping platform, and a hammock. These enrichment activities are all designed to stimulate natural behaviour and keep them active.
They all have their own spot for napping.
Our sun bears are rescued and undergo rehabilitation at our centre. They have suffered some physical disabilities or psychological trauma from their time kept in captivity. Through this integration, life is getting better for these bears that have lived with pain and trauma for so long. For Diana, single enrichment and the company of new friends can make her day.
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Kina is a two year-old female sub-adult bear. She was originally named “Kalong” by the previous owner, but her name has been changed to “Kina”, after the place where she was kept at Kinarut, Sabah. Kinarut is a town in Sabah state, located about 20 kilometres south of the state capital, Kota Kinabalu. Kina had been kept as a pet illegally for a year. Her owner claimed that Kina was abandoned by her mother. The story starts with a mother and her cub crossing a road and getting frightened, and then she ran away without bringing her cub with her. The cub is Kina, who had not even opened her eyes yet. Then, her owner took her and kept her for more than a year. After a year keeping Kina in their house, the owner decided to surrender Kina to the Sabah Wildlife Department on the 22nd of February, 2017. Kina arrived at BSBCC on the 1st of March, 2017.
Sikas’ original name was “Sikala”, but we changed her name to the town she was rescued from, the village of Sikalabaan in the Pensiangan district. The Pensiangan district is considered as one of the most rural areas in Sabah. Sika was found by a foreigner who travelled to the village of Sikalabaan, who had visited BSBCC before. After he found Sika was being kept in a chicken mesh cage as a house pet, he decided to call BSBCC and asked for help rescuing this bear cub. Sika was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department on the 9th of February, 2017 and sent to BSBCC on the same day as Kina, 1st of March 2017.
On the 19th of November, 2017 they meet for the very first time. The sliding door is opened slowly by their keeper. Sika and Kina start sniffing at each other through the small gap. Then the door opens wider and they see each other! They are curious so they get closer and sniff each other politely. Kina and Sika are off to a good start and start to play-fight with gentle pawing and soft biting. This is how a bear friendship begins! They seem to get along very well, and spend more time playing together on the hammock platform. It’s non-stop playing for both of them even when they are panting with tiredness. Nothing will stop them playing! Neither of them are aggressive towards each other, hopefully the sign of a beautiful friendship forming between Sika and Kina.
Sika is clearly the dominant bear. She will grab what she wants first. Kina will try but she always fails, but fear not! This does not affect their friendship! Kina learns to be more tolerant. Sika will dig out some porridge for Kina and they share it. When Sika comes to take Kina’s enrichment, Kina will walk away and go to get the others. Kina is showing how to treat a younger sister – with patience! Sometimes they fight, but they still love each other. When Kina gets tired, Sika is always waiting for Kina to have one more round of playing. Peace and harmony!
Integration is one of the rehabilitation processes for the bears, as they can learn from each other. Sika and Kina were both kept as pets before, so they lost their chance to learn from their mother. Integration is a good chance to learn from each other about all the pertinent survival skills. Under the care and love of BSBCC, we hope Sika and Kina will grow up and return to the forest together, to become a pair of happy and lovely bears!
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Sika is growing up and now she is a nine months old bear cub. Currently, she is in the stage of curiosity where she is often playful and energetic in everything she gets her claws and nose in.
Recently, she went into two exercise pens and now she got the biggest exercise pen in the quarantine area. There are lots of TOYS filled in the bear den such as dry leaves, decayed wood, fire hose enrichment, wooden enrichment and a blue barrel. All the enrichment was prepared by the keepers and volunteers with their love and care.
Once the door is open, Sika is very alert with her surroundings. She took her steps slowly and carefully to enter the bear den. She explored everything and every corner of the bear den. Upon realising that her new environment is safe, she immediately found that this new pen is the biggest playground that she has ever seen! She started to pick her favourite decayed wood and began digging her merry way. There are lots of yummy snacks in the decayed wood such as the red ants and the termites thus encouraging a more natural digging behaviour and a more natural diet that will keep her belly rounder.
After exploring all the decayed wood, it’s time for Sika to explore what type of enrichment lies in this pen! With lots of sniffing, exploring, and rolling around, I wonder what could make me, a baby cub happy?! The answer is toys! From the day Sika arrived at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, we took note of her progress and development and took note of her enthusiasm and love towards the enrichment tools we give her.
What is enrichment, you may ask? Enrichment is a toy/tool for a bear that can help to encourage a natural bear behaviour. When a bear is playing with the enrichment, they are learning how to use their sharp claw, strong canine, long tongue and their natural bear skills. Playing with these toys also help fill Sika’s time with positive reinforcements. Sika’s favourite enrichments are The Proposal, Stick Paradox, Happy Sack and much more. She cannot pick her most favourite enrichment but she loves all the enrichments that she has received.
Other than enrichment, she likes to spend time with her care taker. Sika came to BSBCC when she is just a four month old cub. She had been kept as a house pet in a chicken mesh cage. She lost her mother and was taken away from her natural environment due to the selfishness of human beings. The bear cub is adorable but keeping them as a pet is illegal! Every child needs a mother even animals. Sika has no maternal care thus disrupting the natural cycle of learning survival skills that are important for them in the wild. Therefore, her caretaker in BSBCC becomes her surrogate mother and teaches her some of the skills so she can learn to survive and defend herself in the forest in the future.
Sika is still growing under the care of us. Our hope is that she can one day have courage, gain her strength and head back to the forest once she is ready to be a real bear. BSBCC will always have her back. We believe she can do it!!
“ It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” – E.E. Cummings
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Since being rescued from a village in Sikalabaan, Sabah on February 9th 2017, Sika, a five month old, female sun bear cub, has completed her time in quarantine.
She has shown tremendous growth in the last month. She is an active, healthy and beautiful female bear cub. She now weighs 7.25kg.
The next rehabilitation phase for Sika is taking her out for walks in the forest. The problem with Sika is that she is still nervous to step out from her dens and the bonding between her surrogate mother is still weak. She was caged alone as a pet in a chicken mesh cage after losing her mother. All little Sika knew was pain and fear. She has needed to gain back confidence and trust towards her new surroundings.
To prepare her in gaining back strength, confidence and trust, we have moved Sika into a larger exercise den with an environment which is as close as possible to life in the wild. This exercise dens is full of natural habitat enrichment such as dead wood, green leaves, leafy browse, climbing structures, a platform, and treats to stimulate and prepare her for life back in the wild.
We gave Sika the opportunity to venture out for the very first time. Once Sika was brought to the larger exercise den, she was easily stressed by noise and paced with alert at the new larger exercise den. She kept vocalizing and was uncomfortable with it. We tried to comfort and help her adapt to the new environment by showing her new enrichment toys. Sika needed plenty of time.
Thankfully, she did it! She calmed down and adapted to it. She decided it was time to explore the whole exercise den. Sun bear cubs require a lot of exercise to practice their physical skills and grow stronger! Her courage has grown with each day and she has started exploring.
She will gaze up at the nearby forest surrounding her exercise dens.
She always goes straight to the big log and pulls off its branches. After one week, we are pleased with her progress in finding the strength to venture without any hesitation.
Sika is learning to trust her surrogate mother without fear. She will be growing and learning under the guidance of her surrogate mother.
She loves rolling and wrestling, and she is just so happy. Sika has excellent climbing skills. She uses her small curved claws to create a cavity in the climbing log to get the ants. Sometimes she will climb high to get a better look and avoid strange sounds! We envy her tree-climbing skills!!
She is learning and experiencing that life as a wild bear can be great. She knows her tragic past is now behind her and is discovering her natural behavior. She has proven herself to be a sweet natured sun bear! We hope the next move will be taking little Sika on walks in the forest to let her experience the true Bornean environment.
Text by Monika Lapka
Photos by Chiew Lin May and Seng Yen Wah
My name is Monika and I'm 24 years old from Australia. I worked as a zoo keeper with mainly giant pandas for 3 years before I decided to quit my job to travel around Asia volunteering at a number of different animal conservation organisations.
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is the third organisation I have volunteered at since starting my travels. I found out about BSBCC during an Advancing Bear Care conference in Vietnam a few years ago, where I met Dr. Wong the founder and CEO of BSBCC. I spent 1 month volunteering at BSBCC and loved every second! I have learnt so much about Bornean Sun Bears, their husbandry requirements and the steps needed to successfully rehabilitate and release them into the wild. I am very grateful to have worked and helped such a beautiful centre who's main priority is definitely the welfare and survival of the species. Dr. Wong and his amazing team are doing an outstanding job for the sun bears.
I felt apart of the keeping team straight away, feeling very appreciated and respected.The keepers and staff that I worked with were extremely friendly and incredibly funny, always making me laugh. The amount of care and passion that the keeping staff have for the bears is very inspirational.
Manual labour and cleaning makes up most of the daily tasks. Cleaning the dens every morning can be quite challenging especially when the weather is very hot and humid. But it doesn't matter that you get all sweaty and smelly because what really is important is giving these beautiful rescued bears a lovely and clean space to spend their time.
One of my favourite parts of the day is making enrichment. A definite highlight was actually the first day when all the keeping staff, interns and volunteers gathered together in the afternoon to make enrichment for the bears. Everyone was sitting around making nest balls out of vines we collected earlier and egg carton sandwiches filled with ginger leaf and bananas. It honestly felt like a big happy family all talking and joking. It was a very heart warming moment for me, I felt apart of something special and a family away from home.
Another highlight was making one of my enrichment ideas come to life for one of my favourite bears, Bermuda. I got the idea from a picture I saw of a similar type of enrichment but for elephants! I thought a mobile, like what hangs over a baby's cot, could potentially be fun and mentally stimulating with the items attached rotating 360 degrees around above the bear. One of the staff, Tommy, helped me put it together and I had an absolute ball making it with him. We called it Bermuda's Lullaby and it turned out exactly as I imagined it in my head. It also looked very neat and pretty, very important I know, especially when a bear is potentially going to destroy it in seconds. We installed it in his den with a few peanut butter and honey smears in the PVC pipes and Bermuda loved it! Swinging it around and grabbing for the PVC pipe. It was wonderful to see that he enjoyed Tommy and my creation so much.
In my final week volunteering I was fortunate to see 2 new arrivals Kina and Sika. 2 tiny little bears that had been rescued and brought to BSBCC for a new start and potentially be released back into the wild in the future. Sika is only 6 months and Kina a year old. I had made firehose cubes before and one of the staff members, Lin May, asked me to make one for the new arrivals. I ended up making a loose cube which turned out to look like a ball. It wasn't until the day after the arrival of the 2 bears that Lin May showed me a video of Kina playing with the ball I'd made! Kina was rolling it around, lying on her back biting it, scratching at it and throwing it with her mouth. It brought tears to my eyes seeing this tiny little bear who had been stolen away from her mother and kept as a pet, in an environment far from her natural habitat being able to feel joy and start feeling more comfortable to settle into her new home. This was the most rewarding experience for me.
The biggest thank you to Dr. Wong Siew Te and the staff at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre for having me volunteer at their beautiful centre!
Volunteering at BSBCC has been an amazing experience that I will remember forever. I have absolutely fallen in love with Sabah, it is such a magical place that I plan to return as soon as possible. I have met some of the kindest, generous and absolutely hilarious people here in Borneo, making life long friends. I was truly sad to leave and say goodbye to what felt like home. The work, passion and determination that the BSBCC team have for sun bears and their conservation is truly inspirational! Keep up the amazing work and I will return soon to finish my Sabahan training!
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Azzry Dusain & Chiew Lin May
Today they saw their rescuers. Each rescued orphan sun bear needs to cope with the traumatic loss of their mother and generally ends up in the illegal pet trade. They all have a terrible start to their young lives. Surely their memories with the forest are all gone. They have never been given the chance to experience and exhibit their natural behavior.
Kina (rescued bear-54), a one year old female, was found around the village of Malak Palak, at Kota Marudu, in the northern region of Sabah. Now named Kina after the place where she was kept (originally nicknamed “Kalong” which was given by the previous owner). Her owner claimed that Kina’s mother was crossing a road and got frightened then just ran away and left Kina behind. Kina was just a bear cub and had not even opened her eyes yet. Hence, her owner took her and kept her for more than a year. We will never know exactly what happened to Kina before she was found alone in the forest. The owner then decided to surrender her to the Sabah Wildlife Department on February 2nd, 2017. Kina arrived at BSBCC on March 1st, 2017.
Kina had been kept as an illegal pet for a year. She had a relatively small head compared to her body and her canines appeared small. During the arrival she weighed 12.85kg. She showed signs of malnutrition and had been poorly cared for since she was a cub. She lacked sufficient nutrients for her growth and development due to being fed inappropriate food. She was fed rice, coconut, sugar cane and Nespray (full cream milk powder). Kina has a slender and pointy muzzle.
Upon rescue, Kina showed no fear of humans which has resulted from the habituation from the effect of being kept as an illegal pet. We are trying to wean her off close contact with humans and will introduce her to new bear friends. It was sad to see the trauma she had with the loss of her mother. She is a young energetic and playful bear full of enthusiasm. She is quickly settling into the quarantine. She is braver and accepts everything on offer. She enjoys the fun enrichment we come up with which can be seen through her love to explore around the den. Kina tries her best at demolishing dead logs to get every delicious treat out of the enrichment. However, feeding time is what she looks forward to the most. Her favourite is milk, banana, papaya, honey dew and HONEY! She will rub it over her head and body! She enjoys playing for hours with the bear ball. She tries different ways to tear, paw and roll to reach enrichment. Kina also is an expert in climbing logs by using her long and curved claws! This allows her to be happy and simply enjoy chilling as a bear!
The youngest female sun bear at our centre, Sika (Rescued bear-55), weighed 4.8kg when she arrived at BSBCC on March 1st, 2017. She was a tiny four month old, female sun bear cub. The Sabah Wildlife Department rescued Sika on February 9th, 2017 from Kampung Sikalabaan in Pensiagan district, one of the most rural areas in Sabah. Sika is named after the place that she was rescued from. Thankfully, Sika was found by a foreigner who travelled to the village. He had visited BSBCC before. He decided to call BSBCC and asked us to rescue this bear cub. He saw that the bear cub was being kept in a chicken mesh cage as a pet and had a diet mostly of condense milk, fruits and cereal.
Little Sika has stolen our hearts with her beautiful blue eyes. She is developing into a lovely and playful bear cub. Sika has a good appetite. She is currently in our intensive care where she will be given a balanced diet that comprises of milk and fruit. She shows more confidence in new surroundings. Sika has an amazing ability to climb high and hang on the platform. She is developing her muscles every day. Since Sika was just rescued and is still recovering from trauma, she prefers to spend most of her time staying high up on the platform or in the hammock to seek shelter and take a siesta. Our bear care staff also teach Sika to develop her defense skills through play fighting. She will show her small, sharp claws and small, curved canines during the play fights! Sika gets her first taste of a sweet life at BSBCC. Slowly, she will develop her forest skills.
These young bears are quickly settling into the new environment. They are in safe hands now and will settle in well at BSBCC quarantine for approximately 30 days. Bear care staff will focus more on enrichment and diet changes which will keep these rescued sun bears busy, active and stimulated. We will give them the care and nourishment they need and teach them all the skills necessary to fend for themselves in the wild. Both bears are building up their strength and are learning to trust their bear care takers.
That was the beginning of Kina and Sika’s new lives! This life of freedom and to put their traumatic pasts behind them is perfect for these beautiful bears. After they finish the quarantine, they will know only becoming WILD bears, sunshine, tall trees, nest building, bear-friends, treats, love and peace. Kina and Sika have many challenges ahead of them and much progress to make in order to succeed on their own in the wild. Sun bears are endangered and in risk of extinction. Please do NOT let sun bears suffer from psychological trauma and give them back the forest and mother bears they belong. Please help make a difference to help secure a future for sun bears like little Kina and Sika.
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Kina (Rescue- 54), an one year old female sun bear cub and Sika (Rescue-55), a four months old female sun bear cub were sent to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) today (1st March 2017). These two rescued sun bears arrived at BSBCC from the Lok Kawi Wildlife Zoo in Kota Kinabalu.
Kina was found around the village of Malak Palak, at Kota Marudu, in the northern region of Sabah. We named her “Kina”, after the place where she was kept. Her owner claimed that Kina’s mother was crossing a road and got frightened then just ran away and left Kina behind. Kina was just a bear cub and had not even opened her eyes yet. Hence, her owner took her and kept her for more than a year. He then decided to surrender her to SWD.
Sika is named after the place that she was rescued from. She was found by a foreigner who travelled to the village of Sikalabaan, in Pensiangan district, located in the interior division of Sabah. Pensiangan is one of the most rural areas in Sabah which is located deep in Borneo’s jungle. He had visited BSBCC before. He decided to call BSBCC and asked for the centre to rescue this bear cub once he saw that a villager was keeping her in a chicken mesh cage as a pet. She was previously fed condense milk, fruits and cereal.
A Veterinarian from the SWD, Dr. Nabila Sarkawi performed a full medical checkup for Kina and Sika before they were sent to BSBCC. Kina weighed 12.85kg and Sika weighed 4.8kg. Both rescued bears are healthy, active, bright and alert bear.
Sun Bears are a “Totally Protected” Species under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment in 1997. Based on this enactment, any activities that could hurt the sun bear is totally prohibited which includes keeping a sun bear as a pet. Any offenders could face either 10 years in jail, fined up to RM100,000 or both. There is no reason for keeping a sun bear as a pet. They are wild animals and they should stay in the wild. In fact, the bear cub will be attached to their mother until they are two to three years old. A mother will never abandon her children. The only reason that could make this happen is the mother was killed and the children were brought away from their mother by poachers. Keeping them as a pet and illegal poaching is an unforgivable act to the sun bear.
Thankfully, Kina and Sika were rescued and gets a second chance for her life.From now, Kina and Sika will go through quarantine and will receive good care from the BSBCC bear care unit.We hope they will gain strength and be able to be released back into the wild one day.
We will keep you updated on their progress. Lastly, please spread the word to keep sun bears WILD and NOT as Pets! Be their voice!!