Text & Photos by Chiew Lin May
Simone and Sigalung were victims of the illegal pet trade. Simone was kept in a Mini Zoo Hot Spring in Tawau and Sigalung was rescued from a logging camp in Sipitang. We know what really happened to their mothers to get the baby - despite it being illegal to keep a sun bear as a pet in Malaysia. Rescued sun bears take a long brave step to overcome the psychological trauma they endure during their captive life. Through integration it will help to change these bears lives and provide them with more physical and mental stimulation, reduce stress and allow them to learn vital survival skills. It has been four years, Sigalung did not have the best company because of his aggressive behaviour. We hoped that one day he would be able to find a new bear friend for life.
On 6th June 2020, we shifted Sigalung to the other Bear House. He tends to acclimatise quickly to new environments. The next move was integration with another bear. Due to Sigalung’s rough play behaviour, the integration between the two bears was handled with care. When the sliding door between the bears was opened, Sigalung immediately tried to approach Simone – vocalizing, sniffing, and grabbing her. Sigalung amazed us all with his courage. He was excited and full of energy. Simone was cautiously curious with Sigalung and quite accepted him. Both started gentle-play fighting for more than 30 minutes. It was love at first sight!
Thankfully, it was a positive social interaction, they were play wrestling after the initial introductions. They seem well matched and no aggression was observed. At the end of the wrestling, Sigalung went to the basket and had a rest. They both share their bear stories, food, and enrichment. They have logs and toys to explore to keep them entertained. Sigalung loves his treats. He is always the first to grab enrichment. Nobody is going to stop him from enjoying this.
We are looking forward to watching Sigalung and Simone explore the forest enclosure and learn the skills essential to surviving in the wild together.
Text by Gillian Gabriel
Photos by Gillian Gabriel, Jerlyn Joan Jenius (APE Malaysia) & Chiew Lin May
For the first and foremost, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself. Hi! My name is Gillian Gabriel or you can call me Gee. I am currently in the final semester of my degree. Each final year student of University Malaysia Sabah (UMS) was required to finish their final semester by completing an internship program. My major course is Conservation Biology. With the three and a half years of studying Conservation Biology, I decided to do my internship at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). I discovered BSBCC from the website and you can tell that it was love at first sight. I got really curious about how they handle the sun bears and I was quite fascinated with the positive feedback given by the previous volunteers. I also thought to myself that this is a great opportunity to expose myself into the real life world as a conservationist. So, I decided to experience it on my own and lucky me, I was accepted!
Professional and friendly, yes that’s my first impression on BSBCC management. All the staff are really friendly, playful and they would never make you feel left out. They are also quite professional. Although I was assigned with my own buddy keeper, Bithrenley, the other staff were willing to teach, guide, and educate me as well.
I thank my buddy keeper for teaching and guiding me during my internship. Never once did he get angry at me for not catching up real quick. In fact, he taught me one by one and he never put me under pressure. I had a great time working with him. He has a great way of explaining things easier for me to understand. He is also funny and is really caring. They told me that the buddy keeper is in charge of our safety and our work progress. And I personally think that my buddy keeper did a pretty great job, he took his responsibility really well.
Sun bears? Honestly, they are ten times more adorable in real life than what you have seen posted on any social media or website. One of my favourite things to do is to feed them. The way they hold the food and chew it, is so adorable! I consider myself lucky because I got to see them face to face. My favourite sun bear is Simone, a female bear who loves climbing, observing, and relaxing. I consider her as the most obedient bear in BSBCC. My buddy keeper and I decided to make enrichment for her; we called it ‘The Flying Boat’.
I am so amazed with the final product and truly thankful to my buddy keeper for assisting, guiding and helping me. From the above picture, the word ‘boat’ is used because the structural shape of the product resembles a boat. The product was installed at the top of the cage to which the term ‘flying’ is used because this provides the bear to view things from a higher place.
The kitchen. For the first few weeks, I admit that I was quite slow. There are a lot of things going on in the kitchen. And it is really important to note down every single thing because you would not want to ruin a single menu. However, as the weeks passed by, I kind of got used to it. I almost memorized half of the schedule, although I often made a simple mistake, I still congratulate myself for doing a great job.
Another thing that made my internship ten times better was the other volunteers and intern students. I got to meet and live with them (at Paganakan Dii) and I got to share experiences with them too. Although I got to only spend a few weeks getting to know them, I had a great time. Besides, they are really down when it comes to seeking a new adventure.
I was also assigned to do behavioural research on one of the female bears, named Panda. I would spend two hours of my working day, observing Panda. And I tell you, she is really adorable! I think I might have gotten crazy because at some point I hoped she could talk. At least I would have someone to talk to during the observation.
Working was fun up until a virus outbreak happened; it was on the 18th of March in 2020 when a Movement Control Order (MCO) took place. People were restricted from going out of their houses and were advised to practice social distancing. This was the time when less staff were required to come to work and intern students were advised to stay at home, following the rules given by the higher authorities from UMS. At that point, staying at home was the best choice to flatten the curve and to minimize the risk of getting the virus.
However, the adventure did not just stop there. The other intern students and I moved to Bjorn Hala. Every evening, the intern students, Vincent and Ezi, the rest of the staff and I spent the time by making enrichment. And we always prepared different types of enrichment. We also shot videos as part of the assessment for the donation campaign and we included Sunny, BSBCC’s mascot, in the video.
Apart from making enrichment every evening, our supervisors, Wawa and Pradeep, also gave me a task to do at home. I prepared a report about the bear I was observing, Panda. I found a lot of interesting reviews and studies that I could relate to. One of the things I discovered was that the enclosure complexity and natural environment is really important. Now I understand why we prepared different types of enrichment every day. It’s like a toy and entertainer to them to keep them from getting stressed out!
Bjorn Hala has a special place in my heart. I agree 100% to the phrase “It is not about the places, it’s the people”. Despite the virus outbreak and staying miles away from my hometown and family, Bjorn Hala made me feel like I was home and I never felt alone. Boboy, Mizuno, Danny, Becca, and Wawa were like my family in Bjorn Hala. They are really funny, caring, crazy and they are pretty good at cooking as well. Thank you for feeding me, sharing with me your funny, creepy, and sad stories. I will forever cherish you guys!
To conclude my 12 weeks of internship program, I came to the realisation that there is a lot of exciting and interesting things going on while working at BSBCC. I cannot explain it with words and I bet you cannot even imagine it. From going to the forest to find termites, to staying 24/7 working at home, I learnt a lot of things and that is all coming from the people around me. It was an honor to be a part of the team and to witness and experience a lot of things. I hope that one day our paths will cross again and I get to experience another adventure working with wild animals!
I thank you BSBCC for being a hero to sun bears!
Text by Ezi Nurayu binti Abd Wahab (UMS Intern Student)
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Along, the beautiful name given by his previous owner. Yes! He is a male sun bear. He is rescue bear 49. Before he came to BSBCC, he was placed at Mini Zoo Hot Spring in Tawau and was displayed with Simone, a female sun bear, in the same enclosure. Both of them were surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department in early January 2016. After that, they were quarantined at Lok Kawi Wildlife Park.
Along showed his aggressiveness once the transportation cage was being moved and he was continually barking. He was pacing fast inside the cage and kept barking at people passing through. Maybe he felt threatened due to the new environment. But, no worries, Along! You will be safe here. Big hug!
At the time they were integrated, Along became hyperactive once he met Simone.
During my observation of Along, he kept climbing on his cage and looking in Simone’s cage to see Simone. I am so confident that he wanted to play with Simone at that time.
Along did his fence training in August 2016 and he successfully passed in that session. Finally, Along knew how to prevent himself from getting zapped by the electric fence. He was one step closer to the forest enclosure. Bravo Along!
Along’s first time stepping out to the forest was on March 19th, 2017. He improvised to adapt in the new environment. He knew not to go close to the electric fence. He was very alert with his surroundings. He kept looking into the next enclosure to see them and what they did.
As you can see in photo,, Along is frequently climbing up his cage to get himself into the basket. Then, he will take a nap in there. He is easily woken up by noise made by the other bears. So, that is why he only sleeps for a little while.
Along was enjoying himself finding the hidden dog biscuits inside the dry leaves. He is actually a very good food explorer. He is enrichments number 1 lover. No doubt! He wants to be the first to receive the enrichment from the bear keeper. Or else he will bark at you and make some noise! You can see his hot temper in this situation for sure!
By looking at Photo 7 above, don’t you feel scared? He has strong canines! But, do not worry, no harm on you! Because……he is in his cage!
He was readying himself to play with the enrichment in a standing position. He was struggling to take out the food inside the enrichment by using his long tongue. When he could not take it out, he then lost his temper. Either he tried to break the enrichment or paced in his cage.
Along was enjoying himself by playing with his swing honeycomb enrichment. He successfully pulled out the ginger leaves (on the floor already) from the honeycomb. Later then, he used the power of his strong sensory skills to explore the honey inside and licked it out by using his tongue.
As you can see in photo, he used his maximum energy to destroy the rotten wood. He was digging up the wood by using his strong claws and long tongue. He maximized the enrichment usage. No waste to the playful things is Along’s motto! Not to forget, he is a very good enrichment breaker too!
You know what? Along’s enjoyment of the enrichment can be clearly shown when he plays with the Aussie dog ball and the fire hose pocket. He played with them until his body rolled him up like a swiss roll. But, a black swiss roll version of course! Unfortunately, I cannot video him to show you. I only have words and for sure you can imagine how funny he is in that time, can’t you?
Based on my observations of Along, I have found out he paces back and forth, especially in the morning and while not in feeding time yet. He is a very good eater and his food is always finished. He can only sleep for a little while because he is easily woken due to noise which mostly he stays and sleeps on the basket in his cage.
Whatever your personality is, we still forever love you.
Enjoy your time in your current place.
Because one day, you will leave this centre and us as well!
Let’s fight together to achieve your dream to go to your original habitat soon!
Stay healthy, always……
A group of six staff members from Tradewinds Plantation Berhad visited BSBCC on November 3rd, 2017. Dr. Wong Siew Te brought them for a tour around the observation platforms to see the bears in the forest enclosure. This company has also adopted three of our sun bears under the My Bear Adoption Programme, named Jelita, Linggam and Simone. Adopting a bear is a great way to learn about sun bears while helping BSBCC meet the costs of rehabilitation. Funds raised by the adoption program are used to better the lives of all bears. Thank you for your visit and the support!
Text by Fetysella Olyndra Juli
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Everyone of these three bears has their own history, especially Simone and Along, both of them were kept in a Mini Zoo Hot Springs in Tawau while Kudat was kept on display in a private mini zoo with another female sun bear named Panda. Kudat was formerly named after the district of Kudat even though he originally is from Tawau. Along is a 6 year old male bear, Simone is a 8 year old female bear, and Kudat is 7 years old adult male sun bear. Kudat, Simone and Along were then surrendered by the Sabah Wildlife Department to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC).
Upon arrival at the BSBCC, the three bears showed their different personalities, where Along is considered to be more energetic and hyperactive, Simone is calm while, Kudat on the other side can sometimes be aggressive towards other bears, as has happened in the past when integrated with another female sun bear Panda. But Kudat is also playful even though he plays rough. Since all three bears are kept in the same row of cages, at first, we integrated Along and Simone. Along becomes somewhat hyperactive when meeting with Simone and at times he will start to pace back and forth at a fast rate when Simone is in the same room.
During the integration process interactions between Along and Simone became more and more aggressive, so the decision was made, to slow down the integration intervals. After possible times of no aggression Simone tries to play with Along, which will result in likelihood of Along developing aggressiveness towards Simone due to her manor of play. Sometimes Simone will be the aggressor and we realized that, as Along pacing can not be interrupted as long as Simone is in the same cage. The occurrence of any kind of aggression therefore is unpredictable.
Then, we decided to integrate Simone with Kudat. The first results of the integration process were positive, both bears played together, even though Kudat play very known to be rough. The first time Kudat met Simone, he started to sniff Simone first especially her sex organs. Realizing that Simone is a female sun bear, Kudat became excited and begin to play with her. We have been having integration sessions for a few days and so far no aggression occurred.
Then, we proceeded on to our next mission, which was the integration of Kudat and Along. First we were quite concerned, because both are male sun bears, and aggressive behavior is more likely to happen. Surprisingly, both Along and Kudat got along well, Kudat approached Along and sniffed him out first. Then, Kudat try to play with Along. Along struggled at first a bit, because of Kudat rough play. However, after some time, Along got used to it. After a few days of integration sessions between Along and Kudat, no aggression occurred.
Now, our final task is to introduce Simone into the group. First, we placed Along and Kudat in the same cage. Then, we opened Simones cage to get access to the males. At first, when Simone entered the cage (where Along and Kudat were playing), she did not pay attention, she just passed by. But we realized that even with Simone present, Along did not start to pace and continued to play with Kudat. Once he stop playing with Kudat, Along showed positive results towards both Simone and Kudat. This process continued for quite some time and there was aggression noticed. It seems that the presence of Kudat affects the situation between Along and Simone, but when we fed the bears coconuts during their integration session, Simone showed to be the dominant in the group. This may be due to Simone being the oldest in the group. In the end, we hope that, these three bears can continue to integrate well and can go out to forest enclosure together in the future.
Text by Seng Yen Wah