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 by Eileen Nyeow @ Yau Yee Ling
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hello… my name is Eileen Nyeow. I am 42 years old and currently residing in Peninsular Malaysia. Participating in Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) Volunteer Programme was part of my mission, during my sabbatical, towards doing my little bit to help save animals. The main reason I chose BSBCC was because of the Founder, Dr. Wong Siew Te. I have read about his passion and relentless effort towards helping and preserving the Sun Bears; and was inspired to come see and experience for myself what BSBCC is all about.
This was the first volunteer programme where I had to be interviewed (before being accepted) & to obtain a full health check before flying over. Upon arriving, I went through an induction session where I was briefed with more rules of conduct. I realized and understood the need for that measure after. BSBCC is situated right smack in the middle of the rain forest in Sepilok; surrounded by other wild animals (i.e. orang utans, elephants, snakes, squirrels). Health check was necessary so that we do not pass on any diseases to the animals. Volunteering here involves much physical work so one has to be somewhat prepared. Lastly, the bears within the Centre are all waiting for a second chance in the wild and it is of grave importance that the bears do not get overly habituated with people.
My buddy keeper during my Programme was Bithrenly (a.k.a Bit). Although fairly new with the Centre, he managed to share many of his experiences and stories about the bears with me. Among the many tasks with him, my daily routine usually revolves around preparing food for the bears (4 feedings in a day), cleaning poop and scrubbing enclosures, checking the perimeters of the enclosure fence, making enrichment projects for the bears to play and sharpen their skills. I also had many valuable instances, such as group Q&A session with the “Bear Man” himself, Dr. Wong, assisting the vet (Dr. Boon) during a routine medical check for Julaini. I mean there are not many non-field related people who can say they have use a thermometer on a bear. Hahaha! I even learnt and got to inspect bear poop for parasites! ><
In summary, I am thankful for this valuable experience and I feel privileged to be there, with everyone.
Being amazed with efforts of BSBCC in preserving the Sun Bears is one thing, learning hands-on about the smallest bear in the world is another. On top of it, I was also truly amazed with the dedicated members of BSBCC (office staff and bear keepers). One can feel their enthusiasm and love for the bears emanating from them.
There are many people to thank for making my journey an unforgettable one. Instead of naming and possibly missing out names, I would like to just extend a huge shout out of appreciation to the BSBCC FAMILY! I hope to see all of you very soon.
Video by Chiew Lin May
The smallest bear, the longest tongue!
Text by Grace Cheong Wei Yen
Photos by Grace Cheong Wei Yen & Chiew Lin May
Personally, I feel that this experience has opened my eyes to how much work it actually requires to take care of human beings, and how much more these bears need! Coming from an Asian background, the concept of filial piety is constantly reinforced, and now I truly realize how much effort my parents have put into raising me. Besides that, I have been privileged to have a first-hand experience of taking care of the sun bears which are endemic to Borneo only, a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Furthermore, there is no such satisfaction as witnessing a bear finally succeed in doing something that you had a part in!
So if you are seeking to escape the busy city life or to explore your interest in wildlife, or even carry out an internship as part of your program, then this is the place to be! Never mind all the bugs, this is a rare chance to catch a glimpse of other animal species endemic to Borneo like the sacred kingfisher and rhinoceros hornbill, or even Asian pygmy elephants! If I had the chance or time to come back a second time, I definitely would not hesitate.
Text by Angeline Ngu Hong Huong
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hey everyone! This is Angeline Ngu from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. I am a primary school teacher and also a hardcore bear fan. I am really astonished by the adorable sun bears in the forest enclosure during my first visit to BSBCC. Watching the bear sunbathing on top of the tree through the telescope almost melted my heart. No doubt it was love at first sight. Coincidently, I met Dr. Boon who is a bear doctor in BSBCC and she explains all the stories about the sun bears and the details about the volunteer programme. That’s when I made up my mind to spend my Christmas holiday volunteering in BSBCC.
Despite knowing it would be tough working with wild animals, some more need to trek in the jungle, I actually hestitated a little just before departing. But since I am really looking forward to seeing the sun bears, here I am, about to end my two weeks volunteering with a really heavy heart, especially to say goodbyes to all the sun bears when I have just started to recognize them by their characteristics =( And not forgetting the friendly staffs in BSBCC whom I call the bear family.
For me, it is a bittersweet experience working in BSBCC. Let’s first talk about the sw-eeeeett part. It’s a big bear family here in BSBCC where the keepers are like the parents to all the sun bears. You must witness how worried the keepers are when the bears are not feeling well. They would try everything to make sure the bears take their medication. Throughout the volunteering days I had so much laughters with the keepers and all the friendly staffs in BSBCC as we share everything from our family to the bear stories. Not forgetting the Christmas party in Bjorn Hala, the keepers are capable of doing everything from fixing electric fence to cooking. The food they prepared is finger-lickin good! The sweetest part, the keepers constantly checking us volunteers out to make sure that we can handle our tasks and are always there to help whenever we need. We had so much laughters inside and outside BSBCC. Here comes the bitter part. I would say it is really tough taking care of wild animals as it requires a lot of heavy work. It is a great challenge for me to trek through the muddy and slippery ground in the forest especially during rainy season to check the electric fence. A big thank you to my buddy keeper, Mr. Pradeep who always tolerated me and my snail pace when hiking up and down the hill. Carrying heavy objects like food and wood is inevitable in the bear house but the keepers are always ready to help. Overall, all the hard work is worthwhile as long as the bears are happy and healthy.
Volunteering in BSBCC is truly an eye opener. I am privileged to having been able to join medical checkup session on the oldest bear in BSBCC, Amaco who is currently 27 years old with Dr. Boon and Dr. Reza. I was tremendously nervous before that as everyone is worried that he might not be able to pull through the process due to his age. Fortunately, he did and he was recovering well! During the process, I have learnt how to measure a bear’s heartbeat, respiration and body temperature. All this sounds pretty easy until I was inside the clinic and was really panicing because I could not hear the heartbeat even with a stethoscope. Meanwhile, Dr. Reza patiently taught me to first feel the heartbeat then hearing it would be easier. It works like magic! I was also given the opportunity to help Dr. Boon in recording dental details of Amaco and to trim its nails with a mini saw! That is something new! I enjoyed everything throughout the process as I know I would never have the opportunity to experience all these in my life. Not a single day passed by that I did not learn something new while working with the sun bears. Yeap! That is me trying to complete the entire “mission impossible” and I am proud to say MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!
Video by Chiew Lin May
"A good friend listens to your adventures!" - Little Romolina & Logan
Text by Pradeep Gunasegaran
Photos by Chiew Lin May
There is more exciting news about Linggam this month! After a successful integration session with Susie, Kuamut, Manis, Cerah and Jelita, the next steps to releasing Linggam with the five females into the forest enclosure were taken. Linggam and the female sun bears were rotated into Bear House 2 in order for Linggam to undergo his fence training once again after eight years.
On Christmas Eve of 2019, Linggam was introduced into the training pen to recognize the hotwire. On the first day, Linggam only looked outside into the training pen and refused to step into it. He only took the baits that were placed closest to him and consumed the bait in the bear house. He continued to behave the same way for the next two days of his release into the training pen. However, he was a little bit braver each day as he would venture slightly further from the bear house BUT his back legs would still be touching the door of Bear House 2 while he stretched out to take his baits and looked into the training pen. At times he looked into the training pen, he also looked at the food that was ‘out of his reach’.
On Day 4, Linggam completely went into the training pen without having his back legs in Bear House 2. The few days of looking at the other bait that was left far from his reach probably pushed him to venture into the training pen. By being in the training pen, he was also able to see Manis, Cerah and Jelita who were around and that probably calmed him down as he slowly explored the area in the training pen that was closest to the bear house.
The following day, Linggam was showing more of his bravery and he slowly moved further into the training pen. However, his training process on this day was tougher as there were much other stimulation around the training pen. The sound of the chain saw being used by the staff and the wild pig tailed macaque troop definitely startled him a few times as he kept running back into the bear house. Although he appeared scared multiple times, Linggam showed resilience by sniffing the air in the training pen and slowly making his way out again. At the end of the day, Linggam stayed overnight in the training pen and did not come back into the bear house.
Seeing that he has familiarized with training, the next phase of this training exercise was to get Linggam to touch the electric wire. This activity is important as Linggam would need to recognize the electric wire that would be present in the forest enclosure. By recognizing the electric wire, this would ensure that Linggam would not attempt to escape from the forest enclosure. Thus, in order to make him touch the electric fence, food was placed closer to the wire. Linggam approached the food but he did not touch the wire. The following day, the food was then placed directly under the electric wire. Shockingly, Linggam showed that he actually remembered the electric fence. Linggam would sniff the food that was placed underneath the electric wire, move a few steps behind, lower his body to the ground and then reach out for the food with one of his legs. AFTER EIGHT YEARS, he still recognized the electric fence. ASTONISHING!! Majority of us would believe that animals, especially the wild ones, would not have a good memory to remember something like this. There and then, Linggam passed his fence training and was given free access from the bear house into the training pen for him to become comfortable and confident with moving around the two types of pens. By being in the training pen, he was also able to see the forest that he would soon enter to join the five female sun bears.
After twelve days since releasing Linggam into the training pen, on the 4th of January 2020, it was time for Linggam to be released into the forest enclosure. The guillotine door from the training pen to the forest enclosure was initially opened to observe Linggam’s reaction. He was immediately curious as he left the bear house into the training pen. Even though he was curious, he was still unsure about stepping into the forest enclosure. All he did was sniff the air at the door and walk along the fence. Seeing that he was really curious, banana coated with honey was thrown at the front of the guillotine door to motivate Linggam to enter the forest enclosure. He was most definitely aware of the treat that was just within his grasp, but due to his fear he was not able to enjoy it. The frustration built up and Linggam began pushing the furniture in the training pen. After a few minutes of throwing a tantrum, Linggam quickly dashed out into the forest enclosure and quickly gobbled up his reward.
The first bear that noticed his success was Cerah. From a distance, she had a good look at Linggam and she slowly tried to approach him. However, she was unsure about approaching this new individual in the forest enclosure; she moved away and vocalized towards Jelita. As soon as Cerah vocalized, Jelita came and both of them approached Linggam together. As they met, Linggam, Cerah and Jelita clucked at each other. Immediately after interacting, Linggam started moving along the fence of the forest enclosure to explore the environment. Cerah and Jelita just followed his back as Linggam showed that he was not afraid of the forest enclosure. UNBELIEVABLE! Eight years ago when he entered the forest enclosure, it took him a long time to start exploring the environment. There Linggam was entering the pool of water, sniffing the plants, sniffing the trees, and even sniffing the electric wire. As he was exploring, he then met Susie and they started interacting the same way as they did in the bear house. After interacting a while, he continued exploring and foraging for food as well. Soon enough, it was Kuamat who came searching for him and they interacted together for a long time. Once he was done, he continued with his exploration of the forest enclosure. Day 1 of being released into the forest enclosure and Linggam behaved liked he truly belonged there, being all confident. Could it be due to the female sun bears that made him relax and enjoy the natural surrounding? Is it possible that an animal that lives in solitary in the wild could be taught to live like a wild bear in captivity by joining a social group? The outcome was astonishing and today, Linggam is enjoying his days being in the elements of nature and being a sun bear with Susie, Kuamut, Manis, Cerah, and Jelita.
Logan and Giant Forest Ants
Happy Monday everyone!
"Only one of the reasons I love forest home so much!"-Logan
Text by Dr. Yeoh Boon Nie
Photos by BSBCC
2019 was a challenging year to initiate a new line of health care for our bears. Dental health in captive wildlife is a common but easily overlooked health issue. Last year we equipped ourselves with the basic equipment required for dental work.
In the past year, we have conducted a detailed dental examination, scaling and polishing for all resident sun bears. We noticed some positive behavioural changes in bears that received dental treatment. The bears are now confidently eating, smiling and playing with a healthier set of teeth.
You must be wondering why they have such terrible oral health.
Before and after dental scaling:
Sun bear dental check-up. We found one of the female bear had chronic gingivitis and dental tartar with numerous loose teeth.
It is ridiculous to assume that human food is suitable to feed wildlife.
“If Bruno could talk, it would surely say the food I gave was delicious. He ate chocolate,”
What would you do if you were locked in an extremely small and barren cage? Bar biting is one of the stereotypical behaviours developed in some of our bear’s prior to being rescued. This behaviour has weakened the tooth, and eventually has resulted in a tooth fracture. The damage caused on teeth is permanent with the treatment likely to be extraction. Without a functional canine tooth, eating a normal diet is greatly affected.
We are glad that last year we started looking into these issues; pin pointed the problems and scheduled the treatments. The work is ongoing and many dental treatments still require expertise from our vet dentist.
Please support our work. Your donation will be channelled towards purchasing more suitable dental equipment, treatment costs for the bears, and funds to seek expertise assistance.
Text by Nursyahidah Binti Hassim
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Hola! My name is Nursyahidah Hassim. I am 25 years old and I am from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. I graduated in Conservation Biology from the University Malaysia Sabah back in 2016. Before volunteering here in BSBCC, I have been working on insects (especially on butterflies) while in university and when I was working at the Poring Butterfly Farm in Ranau. The reason why I came here to volunteer is that I really want to gain new experiences working with mammals. Since I already have experiences working with insects, I also want to experience and learn how to manage mammals. So, I thought that BSBCC is the perfect place for me to go!
On the 5th of Dec 2019, me and my friend, Yen Chi arrived at the BSBCC for our safety induction. We met Lin May (one of BSBCC officer that who is in charge with the volunteer programme) and had our safety induction in the staff room. After we had our safety induction, she showed us around the BSBCC area. We went to the bear house and met all the staff there. All the staff are very friendly and funny. Throughout the volunteer programme, I have gained tons of new experiences. My volunteer session lasted for 2 weeks. Every volunteer was assigned with their own respective buddy (Senior/Junior Keeper). The purpose of having a buddy is that our buddy is the one that will assist us in our work throughout the programme. I was assigned with a junior keeper named Roger. He was helpful, nice, funny and it was really fun working with him. He assisted me with all the works that had been given to me. During the volunteer programme, I have helped cleaning the bear cages, preparing food for the bears in the kitchen, feeding the bears outside (forest enclosure) and inside the bear house, assisted Roger in fence checking, doing integration between bears (between Linggam and Suzie, Kuamut, Jelita and Manis), helping Dr Boon counting bear respiratory rate and making bear enrichments. I also assisted Dr Boon with the bear health check. During the health check, I helped counting the respiratory rate and the heart beat of the bear. It was really fun participating in the bear health check session because I got to observe and feel the sun bear more closely. Moreover, I also got to see Dr Boon performed dental scaling on the bear’s teeth. Making enrichment is also one of the most fun activity to do. It was satisfying to see the bears playing with their enrichment so that they do not get bored inside their den. It was really interesting to see the bears using their long tongue to angle for the food (peanut butter/honey/dog biscuits/leaves) that had been stuffed inside the Aussie ball.
Being involved in this volunteer programme has opened my eyes for the importance of sun bears in our ecosystem. Sun bears search for honey in the forest by tearing up tree trunks that create nesting sites for birds, thus becoming the engineers of the woods. They also help to maintain the fertility of the soil implicitly while digging for invertebrate for snacks. I’m sad that poachers failed to see the value of sun bears in our ecosystem just for the sake of money. I want the world to see the importance of our little engineers in the wood as I did, and I highly recommend people to join this programme.
So, I would like to say thank you to BSBCC for giving me this amazing opportunity to be a part of the Centre as a volunteer. Good luck for the future and see you guys again soon. I miss you guys and the bears!
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