Text by Koo Wei Chee (BSBCC Intern Student)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
There was a project that I assigned for to upgrade myself to do something more advance besides the regular routine of what volunteers and interns can do and I got myself one, Thye Lim and Lin May gave me a big project to do, the objective is rehabilitate young sun bears Sunbearo, Ronnie, and Loki back to the wild.
Sunbearo, a 1 year old a male juvenile, was kept in a Mini Zoo Hot Spring, Tawau, South Eastern of Sabah before he was handed over to the Sabah Wildlife Department and BSBCC.
Loki, a 1 year old female juvenile, was discovered in the backyard of an inn, where she had been illegally kept as a pet for about five months. It was confiscated by the Sabah Wildlife Department and sent to BSBCC on 24th March 2014.
Ronnie, a 1 year old female juvenile, has an unknown history but we believe that she was kept as an ex-pet and was sent to the BSBCC on July 15, 2014.
They had already been integrated and became very good friends, rolling and playing around every day.
Fence training is a session for the bears to be aware of electric fences. The place where they are trained is in a moderate size indoor enclose den called training pen with 6 lines of electric wires from top to bottom in the inside perimeter. It is a nightmare for them but a very crucial and important stage to let the bears know that they should not touch those wires or else will be zapped in an electricity. One bear is only allowed in the training in one time if the bear was the first time training in the training pen because if there were two or more newly introduced bears in the training pen and one got zapped, it will immediately thought that it was the other bear which made the torture where will result a bear fight. The fence training period depend on the bears’ progress and it may take up to three months for the bears to get used to the training pen or never. Fruits were scattered near the sliding gate to encourage the bears to go into the training pen, fruits were then scattered near the electric fence once they feel confident to enter to the training pen. Each session of fence training is 30 minutes, the keepers and volunteers in charge have to observe carefully and write down in a table quickly of any moments and behaviours of the bears during the fence training session, this is the most tiring part when keeper in charge sometimes have to recall back what has not been written after the training session. A bear is considered pass the fence training is when it can be able to move freely between cage and training pen in normal behaviour without zap be able to avoid the fence. The bears will then be able to proceed to the next training, the forest enclosure training.
It was hard to watched when we saw them got zapped the first time and they barked, becoming very stressful and will start to pace in the furthest dens they can be from the training pen. Sunbearo was the one the which got the most zap, he did not know what to do at one time but to climb up and got even worse to be zapped in the second electric wire, Lester quickly run to switch off the electricity of the training pen, Sunbearo then climbed down and run to the furthest den and started to bark and moaning, he knew the pain, looking at us and keep moaning for doing this to him.
Integration sun bear is one of the rehabilitation process in BSBCC. Integration between rescue sun bears is one of the rehabilitation process in BSBCC through which the bears can learn pertinent skills for survival in the wild. There are some facts which needs to evaluate before targeting any two or more sun bears for the integration training to prevent or decrease bear fight possibility: (1) age, size, and weight have to be similar, if they have big difference, a bear would definitely be killed if they fought; (2) the bears have to be healthy. Younger bears and group bears seem to have a high possibility in successful integration because they have less thought, more curious, and have social group experience for the group bears. Before integration process, few pails of water and a fire extinguisher have to be prepared near the integration cage in case of emergency. Integration lasts for one hour, a paper with a list of table, behaviour codes, and remarks was used to write down the behaviours of the bears in any movement during the integration, this is the detail or data which will be the appendix of the research on how those bears react with each other.
Integration Pros and Cons
Sun bears appears to be solitary because their food are scattered all around the forest and they need their own territory to maintain their own food supply, thus for those integrated captive sun bears in the forest enclosure, we need to scatter enough foods all over the area to prevent them for fighting for food supply. Bears and others animal are solitary mainly due to the food shortage issue, in captive condition, foods are always been provided, so we encourage them to stay in a group to promote positive behavior development. Although there is a conflict between the bears natural characteristics and integration, it is used to assist the bears to get along well with each other so that they can be in a single forest enclosure because the main issue is about the centre’s limited number of forest enclosures and dens. Newly rescued captive sun bears need their own space, thus the integration stays an important role for the bear care unit.
On 22 November 2015, we integrate Sunbearo, Loki and Ronnie with Montom (a 3 years old sub adult male bear) and Susie (a 4 years old adult female bear).
We were surprised that Sunbearo, Ronnie, and Loki had a very fast progress in the integration and fence training with Montom and Susie where they played, foraged, and eat together without aggression. Three weeks after the training, the management team decided to let Sunbearo, Loki, and Ronnie to enter the last stage of training, the enclosure training in forest enclosure.
Forest enclosure training is the practice of the applications given to the sun bears in the previous stages of all training and enrichment such as giving them the second chance to climb, toys to improve their senses of smell, sight, touch and taste, integration training and electric fence training. Before the bears went out to the forest, prepared fruit pieces are placed near the cage or guillotine door to encourage the bears to go out and eat, time by time when the bears are confident with the area, the fruit will then be placed further from the cage to encourage them to go further to the forest. At least two keepers have to take a broom and keep an eye of the bears around the forest enclosure outside perimeter to prevent the bears to climb out from the enclosure because the bears may still not get use to the electric fence and may climb up if they got zapped. The training duration for keepers to watch over is the same as training pen, it may take months to have a success for the bears to touch the ground or even not, but the training is not over as it lasts until the bear can really be able to take care of itself for example searching foods in nature, climbing trees and make nest. This is the last stage for the bears before they can be the candidates to be released back to the wild, thus this training is crucial, giving the bears a second chance to go back to their natural wild habitat in a very large area of natural forest.
Within two weeks the three bears got their first zap from the electric fence near the dens. They still got zapped because they were introduced to a new environment although they already knew there is electric fence which results an environment shock to them. In the first week, I put their prepared cut fruits near their dens to encourage them to go out and explore the enrichment and environment. When they got used to the area, I then started to put further from the den and deeper to the forest enclosure time by time to encourage them to explore more.
The training on forest enclosure E has some issues not only the bears character and behaviour but also the location itself as it is located near the bear house entrance. Keepers who are not in charge of the training will sometimes do their work outside the bear house which made those sound-sensitive bears to be extra alert, thus whenever there’s a sound, even footsteps of us, the bears which are still not used to it will rush back to their dens.
At 24th December 2015, it was a very special day because guillotine door was ordered to close after the bears had gone outside forest. When the guillotine door was shut down, the bears were in alert and stayed very closed to the door, but after a few minutes, Loki and Ronnie started to do what they did as usual, foraging, eating bugs, ants, and termites. Sunbearo then followed them and went even further, he went to all the areas of the surrounding fence and unluckily got zapped again, and he pulled back but not long and went deep in the forest in search for ants and termites. It was a special day indeed that all the bears start confident explore the environment.
On day (28th December 2015), my supervisor, Thye Lim, had a plan to make some food enrichment to be hanged on trees to encourage them to climb. It is a huge success because Loki finally climbed a tree for the first time in her life and successfully climbed her way to get the fruits as her reward. We were then felt extremely happy that Sunbearo and Ronnie also made their first time climbing a tree on the following day (29th December 2015), not only climbed a tree but several trees in the enclosure.
It was a nice pleasure and glad to see the bears given the second chance to touch the earth for the first time in their whole life. I like to see them exploring the environment, foraging, digging, climbing trees and sometimes stand up to watch further in alert to the surrounding area, these are what bears should do, and I really hope they can have a good progress to become candidates to be released back to the wild.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Like most mammals, bear cubs require intense maternal care during their first few months of life. As cubs grow and gain mobility, they romp and play, but they never stay far from their protective mothers, who keep them safe from predators and other mishaps. The mothers also teach cubs the secrets of survival— where to find food, and what to eat. – Siew Te Wong
The rescued sun bear cubs have to learn to live together. The interactions between bear cubs can help them to develop and learn some skills that are needed in the wild. On August 25, 2014, we introduced Ronnie to other sun bear cubs, Sunbearo and Loki. However, when Ronnie was moved to quarantine area during her first arrival at BSBCC, she was not very welcomed by Sunbearo where Sunbearo kept growling at Ronnie. Therefore during the first integration, our team monitored them with extra cautions and were prepared for a sudden fight between them.
Luckily, after opening the sliding gate between their dens, Sunbearo was the first to initiate the play and it was Ronnie first contact with other bears. Both of them spent the most of the time playing at the small platform and basket. On the next day, Ronnie was integrated with another bear cub, Loki. Loki was very curious towards Ronnie and barked on her during their first meeting. When the two bears met, both of them played and wrestled immediately.
On August 29, 2014, we integrated Ronnie with Sunbearo and Loki. Ronnie body size is small as compared to Sunbearo and Loki. They are now learning to enjoy their life again after suffering the pain from the loss of their mothers and being kept as pets by illegal poachers.
Sometimes, Ronnie continues to play even though she is already tired and exhausted. They like to climb, chase, and bite with each other. These three bears are getting along very well and showing no signs of aggression.
However, Ronnie seems to be the dominant one if there is food. She becomes slightly aggressive by growling and barking to whom trying to approach her. She also makes it clear that she is no longer interested in playing but to continue eating. Nevertheless, the three of them still mingle well as Sunbearo and Loki perceived the message from Ronnie clearly!
Over the past few weeks, they explored, played, wrestled, climbed, foraged and rested together in the big exercise pen. Ronnie is now able to live in community and loves her new companions. She seems to become more playful and active in the presence Sunbearo and Loki. All of us are very excited to see her begins her new life with other bears.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Loki, a female cub, was about one year old when she arrived at the BSBCC on March 24, 2014. She had been illegally kept as a pet in Ranau, a city just along the west coast of Sabah.
Sunbearo, one year old male cub, came to the BSBCC on March 10, 2014. He was confiscated from the Mini Zoo Hot Spring, in Tawau, a city in the southeast region of Sabah.
Sunbearo and Loki recently completed their individual quarantine periods, and finally the day has come for us to integrate two sun bear cubs for the first time! Fire extinguishers and buckets of water were prepared to separate them if they became aggressive with one another. Azzry, our bear keeper, helped with the observation and assessment of the introduction.
Sunbearo and Loki lived quietly side by side in the quarantine area, and after one month of solitude the sliding gate between them was opened on April 21st. Loki was curious and neared the gate to sniff Sunbearo. Sunbearo, being the naughty little boy that he is, was sure to be the first one to run into the cage where Loki belongs. Both of them instantly sniffed and explored all over the cages, tapping everything around and checking out the new climbing structures. After about ten minutes of sniffing, and no aggressive growls, it was PLAYTIME! Sunbearo initiated play with Loki, and from that point on they wrestled nonstop for an hour straight inside the big basket. The two bears took a short break, and then went right back to more playing!
These are the pictures that show how Sunbearo and Loki play fight.
The following day was more fun! The playing continued and the bears chased, rolled, and climbed around the exercise pen together. Sun bears have uniquely loose skin around their necks, so that if they are bitten by another bear they can escape from it. They also come equipped with strong sharp claws that they can use to protect themselves from harm. The integration of the bears went extremely well! Sunbearo also began to suckle on Loki’s ear to seek comfort. The first time he tried to do this she refused to let him, but after about twenty minutes she finally trusted him and allowed him to suckle on her ear.
We are so glad that they socialised well together; especially Loki due to the high stress levels she had when she first arrived at the Centre. She is now a happy bear and enjoys wrestling with her new companion. Compared to Loki, Sunbearo demonstrates a more dominant personality. He is definitely the boss! It seems they are beginning to understand and comfort each other more and more every day.
This has been such a wonderful experience seeing such a successful integration of two bears without any aggression whatsoever. We have honestly never seen such active, curious, and happy bears! We are hopeful that these cubs will grow, learn, develop, and explore their new environment together so that one day they will be rehabilitated and released back into the rainforest of Borneo.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
In the beginning of March, five new sun bears have arrived at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) , which include Diana, Ronnie, Phin, Sigalung and Sunbearo. A lot of hard work and preparations went into that day. It has been a busy couple of weeks for the team in taking care of, in total, 32 rescued sun bears.
There is a very attractive bear with blue eyes called Ronnie. He is a determined, smart and relaxed 8 years old adult male sun bear with strong personalities. Ronnie was kept with another female adult sun bear called “Diana”. Both of them were rescued from View Top Resort, Tawau, South-East coast of Sabah in July of 2013. Their owners said that they had been keeping the two bears together in a small concrete floor cage, and displaying them to the public at View Top Resort, Tawau. They were fed with rice and fruits. We conducted Ronnie’s physical check-up on 11st March 2014 and it went on very smoothly with the help of the Sabah Wildlife Department staffs. Ronnie's current weight is recorded as 61.6 kg, he is such a muscular bear! Ronnie always looks for food, he rest near the feeding tray even when there is no food. He also loves to stare at people who walk pass in front of him. He watches them with curiosity and is interested in things that happen around him.
Diana, on the other hand, is an adult female sun bear. Upon her arrival at the BSBCC, Diana was in a bad condition. She had an old injury hole on her right snout, bald patches on the back of her head and unhealthy gums due to fighting with bear in her previous captivity. Diana is a sensitive bear, she made warning sound to show her displeasure at the presence of human on her first day at BSBCC. Nevertheless, Diana is doing brilliantly and likes to explore the new enrichment tools that are prepared by the keepers. She also loves playing with water by splashing water out of the water container.
Phin and Sigalung arrived at BSBCC as adult male sun bears for about 6 years old. They were found by villagers near the logging camp in Sipitang district, Southwest of Sabah. Expected, their mother was probably killed before they were kept as illegal pets. Both of them were rescued and kept together at the Lok Kawi Zoo on 1st March 2014. On the first day of their arrival at BSBCC, Sigalung and Diana barked and appeared to be aggressive when the transportation cage was moved. They took a little while before stepping into their new cage.
The male adult sun bear, Sigalung is named after the name of the logging camp where he was rescued. Although he appeared to be fierce when he first arrived, he adapted quickly to his new cage. He climbed to the top of his new cage and surveyed the surroundings in the new big basket. He is healthy, adventurous, energetic and sometimes cheeky. Sigalung is very playful especially with coconuts! He can spend hours playing with and trying to open them. Besides, he also loves climbing and practices his climbing skills often. He is believed to be an amazing climber when he is out to the forest enclosure in the future!
Phin was calm on the night he arrived at BSBCC. His name, 'Phin' was given by his previous owner. He is healthy and incredibly gentle as he moves much slower as compared to Sigalung. He enjoys climbing, resting in the big basket as well as splashing water out of the water container onto his chest by using his paws. Phin also finds a great joy in foraging decayed wood and exploring the new enrichment tools.
Sunbearo was kept in a Mini Zoo Hot Spring, Tawau, South Eastern of Sabah before he was handed over to the Sabah Wildlife Department and BSBCC. Sunbearo was thin and weights only 11.6 kg. He was most likely to be around 6 months old but his size is much smaller than the other bears of his age. Sunbearo’s hair was in poor condition which could be due to malnourishment. Therefore, a more complete and nutritious diet is specially prepared for him. Now, Sunbearo physical condition has improved and is gaining back his appetite and weight slowly. Moreover, his canine teeth are developing too!
Originally known as Tan Sri, which is the name of his owner from the Mini Zoo Hot Spring Tawau, he was then re-named as “Sunbearo” in recognition of all the enabling support that the company, Neways has given to the centre. He is now in quarantine and seemed very fragile as his muscles are not as strong due to his tiny size. Sunbearo was nervous about climbing at first, whereby he used his canine teeth to support his body during most of the climbing. Sunbearo climbed and explored his new cage often and is able to reach a higher height on his own now. In addition, Sunbearo enjoys his daily playtime at the exercise pen that is supplied with new climbing structure and dead woods. He never stops being curious and always wants to explore and touch on anything that he can. Sunbearo's hesitant, curiosity and expressive face made him stand out from the start.
Sunbearo is adorable and sweet, he can melt your heart in an instant. He learns to climb and forage as well as develop the skills necessary to be a wild sun bear on his own! Like all the sun bears that are housed at BSBCC, Sunbearo arrived as an orphan. No information was given about what had happened to his mother. We may never know Sunbearo’s true story, but we are glad that he is now under our care.
It is happy to see that the bears finally receive the care and kindness they deserved in BSBCC after their rescue. They seem to be adapting to their current home well and enjoying the new experience exploring the new cages. They love playing with the enrichment tools that could encourage them to develop natural and positive sun bear's behaviours. It is also grateful to bring these orphaned sun bears back into good health. They deserve to get a second chance and lead a happy and successful life in the wild!
It is important to spread the message for sun bear.
“Please stop hunting, buying and keeping sun bears as a pet!”
Text by Jocelyn Stokes
Photos by BSBCC Staffs
Late Monday night, the BSBCC staff waited patiently in the moonlight as a large truck full of bears slowly pulled into the conservation centre’s docking area. It was 10pm on the 10th of March, when five rescued sun bears arrived at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre from Lok Kawi Zoo, Kota Kinabalu. The BSBCC is grateful to receive the assistance of the Wildlife Rescue Unit from Sabah Wildlife Department in their efforts to bring these bears to their new home
As the bears barked and rattled their cages, the staff managed to safely unload and transfer the four adult bears and one cub into the centre’s new rehabilitation facilities, all within the course of only 3 hours! Only one bear required sedation for the transfer, which occurred the following day in addition to a health check, revealing that this big, blue-eyed male is in good physical condition.
While observing the freshly-relocated baby sun bear explore its new home, Wong Siew Te, CEO & Founder of the BSBCC, announced that this beautiful young male will be named 'Sunbearo' in recognition of all the enabling support that the company Neways has given to the centre. “Without the generous support of companies like Neways, these bears could not have been given a home here,” Wong said with deep appreciation.
Wong and Sunbearo's first feeding. Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre mission is to conserve sun bear through improving animal welfare, raising conservation awareness with education, conducting research, and rehabilitating the sun bear cubs like Sunbearo who have the second chance to return his life in the forest!
In Sabah it is completely illegal to hunt or keep sun bears captive because the Bornean sun bear is a Class I protected species. Although it is illegal to keep sun bears, it is sadly not uncommon and wild sun bear populations continue to be at risk. Sigalung, Phin, Diana, Ronney and Sunbearo are the names of our well-received new bears. They are all victims of this crime. The BSBCC is grateful for the opportunity to assist them in their plight, however it is necessary to remember why they need our help.
In the midst of all the inherent excitement of receiving 5 new bears, a surprise guest visited the centre as well. Sir David Attenborough, famed naturalist and narrator, was graciously welcomed to the BSBCC with a personal tour from Wong as they observed and discussed the sun bears together. Although the bears being observed in the forest enclosure may not have been especially aware of his presence, Wong the BSBCC staff, were quite pleased to welcome such an honorary guest.
More news on the progress of our new arrivals will be coming soon, so stay connected as we embrace our new count of 32 sun bears!