Text by Gillian Gabriel (UMS Intern Student)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
This story is about Kina, BJ, Sika and Soo being released to the forest enclosure for the first time in their lives!
Attempt in releasing Kina
Among the four bears, Kina appears to be more curious about her surroundings because she is the first one that was brave enough to go out on the first day of the release. Although on the first day she spent most of the time staying on the ramp, she managed to pull herself out of her comfort zone. On the third day, Kina gracefully went out to grab some food and ate it. While enjoying all the fruits, there was the sounds of a chainsaw and blower. She continued to enjoy eating her food and went back inside the cage right after she finished eating. It seems that to Kina, food is way more important than anything else and nothing else can distract her while she is eating!
However, moments later, Kina decided to go out again and explore the surroundings. She continuously went back inside the cage every time she went out. Kina seemed so relaxed being in the outside world as she roamed around gracefully and used her incredible sense of smell to sniff around the area.
On the fourth day of release, Kina was now confident to go outside. She roamed around the forest enclosure, foraged, and at some point, she also dug the woods and the ground to find some termites to eat. Due to her high curiosity, she managed to explore almost the whole of the forest enclosure!
Apart from that, Kina is also an expert in climbing. She appears to be the most outgoing bear as she loves exploring the world by climbing up trees and enrichment. By doing so, she gets to see different parts of the forest enclosure from different views.
Kina is happy because she gets to enjoy the enrichment that was built by the bear keepers and the previous volunteer.
It was on a rainy day when Kina suddenly decided to climb up a tree. Kina is known to be the most active bear among her other friends and that is not just because she is the first one to go out into the forest enclosure, but it is because she normally prefers to live in solitary by isolating herself on top of a tree or an enrichment. Even before she was released to the forest enclosure, she loved spending her time alone, resting and climbing.
Attempt in releasing BJ
At first, BJ was afraid to go outside. He would normally stay on the ramp and watch from afar. However, his curiosity has built up as he saw his friend, Kina, gracefully walking alone at the forest enclosure. Determined enough to step out, he finally, most likely slowly, went out to the forest enclosure to experience the outside world himself. It was soon enough when BJ finally felt secure when he stepped outside. He began to love being outside.
BJ still in doubt whether or not he wanted to go outside.
Not feeling sure enough, he just spent the entire time resting on the ramp and looking at the forest enclosure from afar. Questioning whether or not he should give it a try.
Finally, he decided to go down.
Slowly but surely.
His natural instinct kicked in as he inhaled the smell of the earth.
Now that he finally has begun to trust the outside world, he has no problem enjoying his delicious food in the forest enclosure.
Attempt in releasing Sika
On the first day of releasing Sika to the forest enclosure, it was really a tough one as she refused to go out, even with many trials. Food was scattered all over the place so that she had the urge to go outside. She normally stayed on the ramp and instead of pulling herself out to experience the forest enclosure on her own, she remained still. She was not curious enough to explore the outside world and apparently, she loves staying in her comfort zone. She loves staying where she feels at ease.
Battling with her own thoughts, Sika finally made a decision to go out. But the only way she got distracted and was willing to go down was when honey was applied all over the stairs. With that, she got distracted by the delicious and sweet taste.
She climbed down step by step, licking the delicious honey that was in her way. What a great start she thought to herself.
Now that she was finally out, she got super curious with her surroundings. She was pretty amazed by the new place that she was introduced to. A new home with a lot more to explore.
Getting super curious, she sniffed around the forest enclosure, foraging and roaming around. Then she slowly started to like the outside world more than where she used to be. The taste of freedom was now in her bones.
Realizing how big the forest enclosure is, Sika then gets super comfortable staying outside. Bigger space for her to roam around. Even though she took a long time to finally decide to go out compared to her two other friends, BJ and Kina, she is the one who spends a long time in the forest enclosure. There are times when she does not go back to the cage at all. Sika also loves climbing as much as Kina does, she will spend most of the time on the tree and not want to go down.
Attempt in releasing Soo
Being kept as a pet at a very young age makes Soo less confident to interact with the outside world. Traumatized by her past, she is less active than the rest. Days of attempting to release Soo to the forest enclosure have been difficult as she only stays on the ramp or inside the cage. Not brave enough to go out.
However, she still tries to fight her trauma by taking baby steps and she still tries to build up all her courage. Even though she only stays on the ramp most of the time, she is still able to witness the outside world from the cage.
Instead of using the stairs as the trail to go down, she climbed down from the ramp. This shows that Soo is really attempting to go out. However, she still needs time to be fully ready.
I hope that in the future, all of the bears, Kina, BJ, Sika, and Soo are comfortable enough to stay outside in the forest enclosure. They were kept as pets before, and being kept inside a house has now built curiosity for some of them, such as Sika and Kina. This is why when introduced to the outside world, they got so excited and preferred to stay outside. The taste of freedom excites them. However, this does not apply to BJ and Soo. Instead of building curiosity, they are in fear. Fear of what the outside world is actually like. It takes time for them to build up their trust. With that, a release to the forest enclosure is a great opportunity to give them the life that they deserve and to promote their natural instincts.
Text by Ezi Nurayu binti Abd. Wahab (UMS Intern student)
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
The time to do fence training for BJ, Soo, Kina and Sika before they could be released into the forest enclosure had come. Fence training is very important for us to do as it helps to prevent the sun bears from escaping in the forest either to another pen or out of BSBCC’s area. Not to worry as the fence voltage will never be harmful to them because it is always controllable by our respective staff. The bears will proceed to enter the forest enclosure only if they pass the fence training. These fence training sessions are completed almost every day for roughly a month.
First and foremost, let me briefly explain the history of these four bears. Kina, is rescue bear (55), followed by Sika (56), Soo (57) and BJ (61). When referring to Kina’s name, we know that she was from Kinarut District, Sika was from the village of Sikalabaan in Pensiangan district, Soo’s name was given by her previous owner because she was bought from Sook Keningau Market, and lastly BJ was from Pitas before he was handed to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park when he just five months old. All of them were kept as pets by the villagers before being rescued.
Okay, let’s begin with Sika. She was the first candidate among the four of them which we did the fence training with. But, unfortunately she was the last one who passed the fence training. On her first day of training, she was very cautious to step on the ramp to get the food. She almost finished her food (only a few pieces were left). Unfortunately, she got zapped later by the hotwire and she responded by climbing the fence. You can see in the picture (Photo 1) below how she got zapped by the hotwire. But then, Sika improved day by day. The days before she successfully passed the fence training, she already knew about the hotwire, so she kept her distance from it. She also ate the food which was placed on the ramp. She was the last candidate declared as passed because she kept avoiding going close to the food near the hotwire on her last days before she was considered passed.
Let’s move to Kina, the brave girl. She is a very good explorer when it comes to food (a little bit of a big eater). The day we observed them as a group, she was the very dominant one by monopolising the food. She already knew from training each day how to grab the food without touching the electric fence, even though the food was located underneath the fence. Maybe, because she already got zapped on her first day of training and days after, she knew how to defend herself from getting zapped later. Kina together with BJ always finished the food in the training pen. By the way, she was the second one after Soo that successfully passed in this fence training session and on March 29th, 2020, she was released into the forest enclosure (Pen G).
Congratulations to our, Kina!
Next, our one and only male bear in this group, BJ. On BJ’s first day carrying out fence training, he was really scared to walk and get his food. You can see in the picture (Photo 6) below how he tried to grab his food. He always laid down to grab his food. A few times, his front legs touched the top ramp. He never touched the ramp with all four legs at once. He was very cautious with his new and unfamiliar surroundings. So as a result for his first day, he never got zapped due to his cautious behaviour. However, this originally cautious bear became braver each day, especially when the four of them were released into the training pen together. He knew how to get his food and never hesitated to walk on the ramp and below ground as well with his four legs.
Good job, BJ
And the last bear being observed was Soo. Pity for Soo, on her first time being trained, she got zapped on several occasions. Her response to the zap was barking a few times. Gradually she became more alert to the electric fence, even though most of the time she rarely got out from her cage. But, she still went out to the training pen sometimes to get her food. Guess what, surprisingly Soo became braver recently. Even with the guillotine door closed, Soo and Kina never cared about that. They still continued their beautiful journey in the training pen by only thinking about the food. Big applause to Soo, even though she was the very inactive one during several days in observation (spent most of the time in her cage), lately a plot twist has happened, and the upshot of that is she was the first one to successfully pass the fence training session.
Bravos to Sika, Kina, BJ and Soo! Welcome to your new world!
This is the time for them to explore the outside environment on their own and be independent. I am so sure that this is what every animal wants. They can move in a much larger area compared to their cage and see the bright world. Fence training is never as bad as some people think. This is a crucial step before giving the bears their ‘dream world’.
Text by Pradeep Gunasegaran
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) has been responsible for the care of 4 bears that were received between 2017 and 2018. These four bears are Soo (5 years old), BJ (4 years old), Kina (4 years old), and Sika (3 years old). All four of them were ‘raised’ by people as cubs before they were handed over to BSBCC through Sabah Wildlife Department or personally by the owner. Soo was bought at Sook Keningau Market, BJ was bought for RM 300 in Pitas and Sika was kept as in a pet in Pensiangan in a chicken mesh cage by her owner while Kina was claimed by her caretaker to have been abandoned by her mother by the roadside at Kota Marudu. They grew up without the care of their mothers as their mothers were probably killed by poachers but BSBCC do see potential in them to behave like wild bears due to their age and with the proper rehabilitation process in the next few years. In order to proceed with their rehabilitation process, they would need to be transferred to the Bear House. Due to the high stocking density at BSBCC, three older bears; Phin, Wan Wan and Mamatai would need to be brought to the quarantine while another two older bears; Om and Ronnie would need to be rotated in the Bear House.
The transfer process was done through three phases in order for the bears to not get too stress. During the first phase BJ and Kina were transferred into translocation boxes at Quarantine while Phin was darted. Once the 3 bears were ready for transfer, Phin was brought to Quarantine while BJ and Kina was brought to Bear House 2. The second phase was involving the darting of Mamatai and Wan Wan and then bringing them to Quarantine. By the end of Phase 2, Om and Ronnie were transferred to a different section of Bear House 2 using the sky bridge structure. The last phase was then completed with the darting and transfer of Soo and Sika from Quarantine to Bear House 2. The entire transfer process of all nine sun bears followed through really smoothly without any undesirable incidences.
In order to make the bear feel more comfortable in their new environment, each pen was prepared with a thick layer of dried leaves and also a couple of gunny sacks. The purpose of the dried leaves is to reduce any injuries that could be inflicted on their foot pad due to pacing in a new environment while the gunny sacks are for them to play with. BJ and Kina had no issues with their new environment. As soon as they were in the pens in Bear House 2, they were exploring the entire new space. Both were climbing the structures that were present such as hammock and the vertical log. BJ really seem to like the hammock while Kina liked using the vertical log. Whereas for Sika and Soo, after they woke up from anesthesia, Sika was also as curious as BJ and Kina in her own pen while Soo was alert with the new arrangement; just like how she was in Quarantine. At Quarantine, Phin, Wan Wan and Mamatai was calm after waking up. However, Phin was not used to having dried leaves underneath his feet. He was walking around the pen, taking food that was provided for him but his gait was a little peculiar. Wan Wan was preoccupied sniffing the scent of another bear named Diana at Quarantine. Mamatai on the other hand was enjoying herself with the gunny sacks that were given to her.
On the following day after the transfer process, Phin, Wan Wan and Mamatai were doing well at Quarantine. Our main priority was with the four that were at Bear House 2. BJ, Kina and Sika consumed all of the food given to them and they showed sign that they were doing well in Bear House 2. Kina clawed the log that was available to her; Sika was resting like any wild bear on the log structures while BJ was in the basket. Because of their calmness, they were all integrated together to ensure that they continue to benefit out of this social enrichment. Soo was on the only bear which was on high alert to her surroundings. She stayed at the highest point in the pen and only came down when the keepers left Bear House 2. In the evening, a few keepers were selected to sit in front of her and coax her with food. Then reason for this exercise was not to get her to be used to the keepers but to be calmer with the presence of the keepers as the keepers would need to provide her with supplementation, medication and application of topical medication in case of any injuries. By the end of the day, Soo came down and took the food that was given to her by the keepers and she also took her supplementation. She also was no longer at the highest point in the cage as she was exploring the ground and eating the ration of food provided for her. Over the following days, the four of them continue to behave positively. Environmental enrichments such as Aussie Dog balls, Fire Hose Pockets and coconuts were also provided to them and they did not hesitate interacting with the enrichments provided. With all these positive progresses, in the upcoming weeks or months, BJ, Kina, Soo, and Sika will undergo fence training in order for them to continue with the rehabilitation towards becoming like their wild counterparts. We at BSBCC hope that the rehabilitation process will go well and we would rejoice to their release into the natural habitat some day in the future.
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 by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Soo was rescued and arrived at BSBCC on 8th September 2017. She was sold and purchased at RM 350 when she was just a cub in Karamatoi village at the Sook Keningau market. She was kept as a house pet in Nambayan village in Tambunan, the interior division of Sabah, for two years. Soo is one of the lucky ones to have been rescued from captivity. But, like all the rescued sun bears in our centre, she has suffered trauma and been taken away from the chance to grow up with her mum in the forest home.
After Soo completed her 30 days in quarantine, she had bloomed into a healthy and beautiful bear. She has a healthy appetite.
Special care is vital for Soo as she requires love to recover from the physical and psychological trauma she endured. We spend more time encouraging her to get use to the sights and scents around her, and to introduce her to different types of enrichment before moving her to a larger den.
Soo loves every type of food, especially honey, dog biscuits and fruit! It is amazing to see the progress Soo has made in these three months.
Life is very different for Soo today! On 19th November 2017, Soo was released into the great exercise dens.
The exercise dens are enriched with natural habitat enrichment such as green leaves, dead wood, a climbing structure, fire hose bags, a sleeping hammock and different types of platforms to stimulate and prepare her for life back in the wild.
For most of the trauma bears, this is the challenging part they face in the transition from smaller cages to open spaced enclosures. Once the guillotine door was opened, she was peering out at us from her den then she took about 10 minutes to take her brave first steps out to the big exercise dens and made her way to find her favourite treats! She made it!!
She is now strolling around her new home and investigates her new finds.
She keeps sniffed out treats hidden around the enrichment structure.
She is eager to explore her new surroundings. She is becoming more energetic and active by the day. She learns to love everything about her new life, especially now that she knows she is protected and loved.
Day by day, life is getting better for these rescued sun bears that have lived with pain for so long. This allows her to demonstrate her natural behavior, for example foraging and climbing skills.
She finds absolute joy in little things. It is not always an easy journey but seeing Soo munching on termites and playing with enrichment toys assures us it is all worth it.
Over the past few months, Soo has amazed us all with her trauma recovery. Thanks to our dedicated bear team, Soo continues to grow stronger each day.
It was clear that something needed to change. We owe it to every single one of them to try and return the freedom that belongs to them. Soo has years of rehabilitation ahead of her. Please help us save sun bears and ensure Soo still has a home in the protected forest to return to when the time comes.
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Do you still remember the bear who has a sorrowful face, Soo? Good news, she had just recently finished her quarantine!
A little back story on Soo was that she was sold and purchased at RM350 when she was just a cub in Karamatoi village in Sook Keningau market. Soo was kept as a house pet in Nambayan village in Tambunan, the interior division of Sabah for two years. She was then rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department and sent to BSBCC on the 8th of September 2017.
Listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, the sun bear is a totally protected species in Sabah under the wildlife enactment 1997. Totally protected means that sun bears are illegal to hunt, be kept or be involved in any activity that could hurt the sun bear. Deforestation, poaching and pet trade are the major threats to sun bear population. There is no doubt that sun bear cubs are cute but the cuteness of a sun bear is not a reason to keep them as a pet. They are a wild animal that belongs to the wild.
The market demand is another reason for encouraging the selling and buying process of the sun bear. The intention of saving a sun bear by purchasing them is an indirect way to encourage the poachers to hunt for more sun bear in the wild. So, please stop buying any wild animal in either legal or illegal means and stop keeping them as a pet. Please take note this important message, if you see a sun bear being sold, you can give a call to Sabah Wildlife Department (+6 012 801 9289) or BSBCC. We could help rescue the bear. Just bear in mind, the purchasing of sun bear will encourage more selling of sun bears. When people keep sun bears as pet, they leave major implications to the bears and it starts with trauma. Trauma may then lead to the stress-related behaviour such as pacing.
During her time in quarantine, she spends more of her time by staying up high. But she does have her favourite enrichment, Aussie Dog Ball. The Aussie dog ball is filled with her favourite food, dog biscuits and honey. Besides that, keepers are trying to introduce her many kinds of enrichment such as live tree branches, happy sacks and much more. But, she seems to like to play at night time where no one is around her. This is the reason we called her The Nocturnal. She is preferably active at night. We saw her improvement within the 30 days quarantine. She appreciates all the foods that we offer and she can be eating so fast.
Soo lost her trust and confidence when she was kept as a pet. She may not leave her trauma behind at the moment, but soon we believe she will make it and back to the forest with her bear friends one day. So, what can we do now? We can give her more care and love to make sure she gains enough trust and confidence back. We hope she can be a real wild bear again in the forest. That is what she wants and what we want to.
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
The sad part of each rescued orphan sun bear that arrive at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) is that they come from having lived through a bitter past. As sun bears grow into fully grown adult, they become dangerous and difficult to handle which will end up their lives in a tiny cage or seeking out sun bear rehabilitation centre to take their sun bear pet in.
This is what happens to our recently rescued a three years old sub adult female bear, Soo (Rescued bear No.56). It was so shock when we received a video showing that the person was playing with this bear (who is fully grown bear). She was purchased from Karamatoi village in Sook Keningau market when she was still cub and kept as a pet by a family in Nambayan village in Tambunan, located in the interior Division of Sabah for almost three years. She was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department and she arrives at BSBCC on 8th September 2017. Soo was fed with rice, cucumber and milk. Undoubtedly her mother had been killed; she is sold illegally throughout Borneo and kept in private home. Sadly many of these orphaned sun bears will never fully learn their natural way of life and lose their ability to survive in the wild.
During the arrival, Soo shows a sorrow face and traumatized. This made her keep alert. She must have been going through traumatizing experience for her. You can feel how this disgusting the pet trade is! Often these rescued sun bears take a long recovery road from the trauma of losing their mom in such a horrific way. They often suffer from physically health issues, malnutrition and poor treatment during her pet trade time.
Luckily for Soo, the Sabah Wildlife Department rescued her and she has been given second chance to survive as a wild bear. She has to go through a quarantine process for 30 days to determine her health status. On 10th September 2017 she received a health check. Dr. Pakeeyaraj Nagalinggam from Wildlife Rescue Unit, Sabah Wildlife Department performed a general health check. These include an assessment of her overall health, function of the internal organs and physical condition and potential sickness. Her weighs was 25.70kg.The blood tests result has shown she is in good health and bright bear.
At the BSBCC, Soo will receive intensive care. The most important first step is to make sure Soo is settled in this new environment. Till now she still avoids to explore new surroundings. Soo was introducing to new correct diet and enrichment to ensure she is growing healthy. But Soo only will explore the enrichment and treats on night time where the surrounding area was quiet. She will quickly move away after detecting our presence. Soo spent the majority of her time and feel safe by staying high up on cage. She is now an orphan and needs much love and care to grow into a trust and confident beautiful sun bear.
We are delighted to welcome Soo to our sun bear family! Soo has a long journey ahead of her in going through rehabilitation until she returns to the wild again. It is illegal to keep sun bears as pets! Please remember the consequences of keeping one as a pet and give them promise of HOPE! We hope to see Soo can be thriving and adapting well to her new home. She has to find the life of a free bear. We will be monitoring to see how she progresses over the coming months at quarantine.