Text and Photos by Seng Yen Wah
Every bear carries different baggage arriving to BSBCC. But they learn everything necessary from the beginning in the forest enclosure with their friends.
In nature, sun bear cubs stay with their mothers until they two to three years old. When people take cubs away from their mothers, they also take away their chance of learning the survival skills from their mothers as well. If people only keep them as a pet in a small cage, they can never learn what they need to survive in the wild. This is the reason why our integration program becomes so important for the bears.
The best enrichment for a bear is another bear. When they spend their time with their friends, they can learn relevant skills from them. Besides that, socialization can help to reduce bears stereotypical behavior. The forest enclosure provides them with a natural environment and enough space where they can explore with lots of activities, such as foraging, digging, climbing and play fight with each other.
Sun bears are the smallest bears among the bear species. But, they have the longest tongue amongst their peers. Their tongue is about 25cm to 30cm long. They not only use their long tongue to lick the honey out of bee nests, but also eat small insects found in decayed wood, such as ants and termites. By using their long tongue, they can reach the deep inside of bee nests or decayed wood to get themselves lots of yummy treats.
Sun bears have a keen olfactory sense. In order to encourage them to utilize their sense of smell, food is scattered around in the forest enclosures by bear keepers. This will encourage them to do more foraging. In the forest enclosure, they can also forage for the small insects.
Sun bears have very strong canines and sharp claws. They are the excellent climbers. With the help of their curved shape claws, the can climb up trees reaching to 60m heights. Sun bears are the arboreal animals. They climb up on trees for sunbathing and resting. Besides that, there are using their claws for tearing apart the dead wood to get their important source of protein, the small insects as well.
Sun bears are a forest dependent species. The expertise of sun bears in their habitat makes them survive in the wild. However, poaching issues are still threatening their survival even though sun bears are a totally protected species under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment of 1997. Poachers are continuously hunting them illegally for consumption, medicine or decorative purposes. Please save the sun bears. They deserve to stay in the wild free and happy. Thank you!
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Tan-Tan was bought by a person with the purpose of rescuing her from being sold in the remote region of Paitan. After the person bought Tan-Tan, he informed the Sabah Wildlife Department and the Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit sent her to BSBCC on August 5th, 2015. On the other hand, Boboi and Kitud were kept together in a cage before they were handed over to the Sabah Wildlife Department in Singgaron Village, Ranau district. They were originally from Pitas, Sabah and only arrived at BSBCC on October 30th, 2015.
Boboi, Kitud and Tan-Tan stayed together in quarantine. Boboi is like a big brother that always backs up Kitud and Tan-Tan. Tan-Tan is the little one. She likes to follow behind Kitud so that she can get more comfort. If Boboi and Kitud are not around her, she will seek for them. Kitud is dominant, even though her size is not as big as Boboi. But, she always leads them to take an adventure with her. After the health check, they were moved from quarantine to the bear house. This was the time for them to meet the sub-adult group.
The sub-adult group and also the big group was very welcoming for them to join as new members. The sub-adult group members included Sunbearo, Loki, Ronnie Girl, Momtom, Damai, Susie2, Mary and Kala. They were playing well together, even though Kitud and Tan-Tan have a smaller body size than them. Here we have a little warm story about Tan-Tan and Susie2. Susie2 had trauma with her early life. This made Susie2 avoid herself from others. But, little sweet Tan-Tan would approach her and follow her when she met Susie2. She would accompany her silently from behind. Momtom and Sunbearo, the big brothers and Mary, Loki and Ronnie Girl, the big sisters, have shown more interest to play with them. Damai has no interest to play with them. She prefers to stay in the hammock and when they try to disturb her, she will give them warning. Also, the way that Kala played was too rough for them. But they did not have serious aggression with each other. And now, they can share a cage and stay with the sub-adult group.
Before they went back to the forest, they had to go through fence training. Fence training is a training to let the bears know that the hot wire may zap them if they get too close to it.This is because all the forest enclosures are surrounded by hot wire. These three little bears are full of courage. From the first day they got zapped, they climbed on the electric fence and began barking. Now, they can move freely between the buffer cage and training pen. They even can play fight in the training pen. Most of the bears do not like the training pen. This is because every bear has been zapped in here before. But, not for Boboi, Kitud and Tan Tan. From the first week, the three of them almost had been zapped everyday. But, they never gave up learning. After that, Tan-Tan knew to use her claws to get the food that was near the hot wire without getting zapped. Once one of them knew how, the rest of them would learn from her. After 20 days of training, they finally passed.
The day came! Once the guillotine door opened, their first actions were sniffing the surroundings and looking outside at the forest. They tapped on the ramp just like they were testing whether the ramp was safe for them or not. There was lots of tasty treats, fruits and honey on the ramp. They slowly stepped out and saw the outside world. Kitud was the bravest bear among them. She was the first who touched the ground. Tan-Tan followed Kitud back. When Kitud and Tan-Tan took their first steps outside, Boboi was looking at them through the guillotine door. He went in between the buffer cage and training pen, and tried to find a way out with different styles. After 20 minutes he struggled and he finally joined them in the forest. They explored the forest together. When they met with others, they’d play fight with them as well. Now they enjoy to stay in the forest. Once the guillotine door opens, they just go out and take their adventures all day long in either pen C or pen D with their big brothers and sisters. Let’s see how they enjoy life in the forest.
Watching Boboi, Kitud and Tan-Tan growing healthy and adapting well in the forest is undoubtedly one of our greatest pleasure. They will never again live in fear and well entitled to do anything they love!
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Kala is a one year old, female bear. She is at BSBCC because her previous owner surrendered her to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit with the intention to save her after they found her on Kalabakan-Sapulut Road near Meliau Basin. Kala got to walk in the forest with a bear keeper when she was still a cub. However, it had been a while since Kala had experienced the forest. Walking a cub is not an easy task. The task becomes harder while the cub is growing up because they can be very hard to control. Now, Kala is growing well. Hence, there is no more need for her to walk with a bear keeper. But this does not mean that she will not go back into the forest anymore.
Fence training is a very important step before the bears can go out to the forest enclosure. This is because the forest enclosure is surrounded with high voltage hot wire. The hot wire is to prevent the bears escaping from the forest enclosure.
In the beginning, we made a food trail for Kala and encouraged her out to the training pen. The training pen was a strange place for her and hence why we prepared lots of food and her favourite, honey, to encourage her. She was doing well. After that we scattered food near the fence and observed how she responded with the hot wire. Unsurprisingly, she was zapped by the hot wire. After she had been zapped, she ran back to her cage and did not going to the training pen anymore. After a few tries, she became alert when she went inside the training pen. She knew that once she was too close and accidently touched the hot wire she would get a zap. Hence, she kept a distance with the hot wire. Besides that, she knows how to avoid being zapped by the hot wire. She was using her claws to grab the food near the fence. When she was able to walk in between the buffer cage and training pen with confidence, this meant that she had passed her fence training.
After fence training, it was time for her to go back to the forest. In order to encourage Kala out to the forest enclosure, we prepared an attractive food trail on a ramp. Once the guillotine door opened, Kala showed her curiosity with the new environment. She sniffed the guillotine door and the ramp first. Then she took a look at the outside and sniffed the forest.
When she was trying to grab the food on the ramp, she placed a front leg out and then both front legs touched the ramp. But, her two hind legs were still inside the cage. She was trying so hard to get the food on the ramp. Once she grabbed the food, she brought it inside and ate it in the cage.
After days passed, there was a sunny day on the 6thof June. When Kala tried to grab the food on the ramp, the ramp was too slippery and she slipped on to the ground.
After she touched the ground, the very first thing she did was explore the environment. She walked and sniffed around the forest enclosure. There were lots of things that attracted her attention, soils, trees that she had not seen for a while. When she saw the trees, she climbed up them. When she saw soil, she started digging it. There are lots of activities that she can do in the forest enclosure. She spends her days in there.
Soil is her favourite enrichment since she was small. She’s smelt, touched and tasted the soil. Even when she feels tired, she lays on the soil and continues to play with it.
Friends are so important for humans and also for bears. Kala joined a big family with Sunbearo, Loki, Ronnie Girl, Momtom, Susie2 and Damai. They encouraged her when she went to the training pen and also back to the forest as well. And now, Kala can learn survival skills from her friends such as foraging and digging in the forest. They love playing and enjoying the natural environment together. Sometimes they play fight with each other and sometimes they forage together. In the forest Kala learns and plays with her friends and the most important thing is that she is happy.
Text by Seng Yen Wah (Intern Student from University Malaysia Sabah)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Kala was bought by a person who with the intention of saving cub on Kalabakan-Sapulut Road near Maliau Basin and then the owner surrendered her to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit. When she arrived at the BSBCC, she was weak. This may cause by the early separation of Kala and her mother. A small cub usually will stay with her mother until 2 to 3 years old. What is the reason will cause a mother to separate with her own cub when they are still in a very young age? The answer is, they had been killed by poachers in order to poach the cute bear cubs. We will say that, the overload cuteness of bear cubs is a horrible curse for them. Kala may have a horrific early life, but now she is growing up and starting her new happy life in BSBCC.
Kala used to stay with our other sun bear cubs Boboi, Tan-Tan and Kitud. However the way Kala played made her little to no friends and the other little bears did not like to play with her. After Kala moved from the quarantine to bear house, she had to stay alone. And in order to find some companions for Kala, bear keepers were trying to integrate Kala with our sub-adult group, the bears Sunbearo, Loki, Ronnie Girl, Montom, Susie2 and Damai.
The integration between Kala and the sub-adult group was closely monitored to see whether Kala could be integrated with this group or not. If one of the bears in sub-adult group could not be integrated well with Kala, it usually means the integration within the entire group does not work. One has to bear in mind the integration is not simply putting bears together, it is also depended on their age, weight and sex. Their age and weight have to be similar, if not the worst case scenario would be the smaller bear could be injured or during the integration.
Moreover, if the condition of any bear is of lesser healthy, the integration may have to be halted to prevent the spread of disease etc. that may cause other bears illnesses eventually.
Starting any integration, 30 minutes of time spent together is seen as the limit. Later, if they play well with each other, the time of the integration periods can be extended. During the integration, bear keepers have to observe and if needed step in. Before any integration starts, at least 2 buckets of water and a fire extinguisher are ready and prepared in close proximity of the observing bear keepers. So, in case of any aggression, the bear keeper can step in and use the water or fire extinguisher to separate the aggressive bears or stop aggressive behavior. If the situation becomes worse a loud horn can also be used but we see this as a matter of last resort because the sound might cause other bears distress. The ultimate separation tool in any case of aggression is the use of a water jet to separate them. All actions during the integration sessions are carefully recorded by observers in an integration form.
The integration for Kala is having an additional purpose, which is let Kala learn and eventually know how to play with other bears. Most of the time, Kala is the one who first enters to other bears cage. She loves to play by moving backwards without looking who she is actually with. And Kala is a very playful bear, she likes to play fight, to chase and run after other bears. However to be honest, Kalas play is really rough, she often paws and snaps after other bears. And hence, Montom, Ronnie Girl, Sunbearo and Susie2 reacted aggressive when they played with Kala during the very first days. The good news is, they are getting to know Kala better after they met for few times, at lately no more aggressive behavior was shown.
Montom and Loki are the ones who always approach Kala. Both of them have showed much more interest in playing with Kala. Sunbearo plays with Kala too, but not as much as Montom and Loki do. On the other side, Kala always approaches Ronnie Girl and Susie2. But, the way she plays seems not acceptable to them. Susie2 always tries to avoid Kala. Damai on the other hand is a solitary bear. She shows the least interest in playing with Kala among the group. Most of the time, she was just stays in a hammock and looking at Kala from hammock.
For now, Kala was integrated with 2 of 6 bears in one session. In the future we will try to integrate her with at least 4 of the 6 bears at one time. We are looking forward to the integration of Kala with the sub-adult group and hope she can be friends with them soon. After the little bears would not play with her, we want to find her some companion. Now she will get new friends, and is not a lonely bear anymore.
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
In August BSBCC integrated Montom (a three year old, sub-adult male bear) and Susie (a four year old, adult female bear) into a new group with one adult, male sun bear (Fulung) and four adult, female sun bears (Mary, Debbie, Damai and Ah Bui). Montom showed positive interaction and easily adapted with his new friends. Montom and Fulung enjoyed epic wrestles together. They have spent a great deal of time sniffing, chasing, and rolling on their backs in a very friendly way. Damai is the exception and has shown less interest in play. Montom is a very sociable bear, whereas Susie is an aggressive bear and has displayed stress due to emotional trauma which resulted from her being kept as a pet. For the rest of their weeks, they integrated well and began to understand each other better. Debbie is the dominant female bear in this large social group.
Interaction between Montom, Susie with Ah Bui
Interaction between Montom, Susie with Debbie
Interaction between Montom, Susie with Fulung
Interaction between Montom, Susie with Mary
Finally the day came for Montom and Susie to feel the forest floor under their paws again. Although at the beginning it was a new environment for Montom and Susie with having to share the new enclosure with other bears, they are still adjusting themselves and getting along with their new mates. The whole group will be sharing one forest enclosure! It is hard to imagine that both of the bears ever thought their life could change. Susie is still aware surroundings and is having the time of her life. It has been a delight to watch Montom and Susie grow into happy and healthy bears.
Thankfully Montom and Susie are growing stronger and are progressing well. Their natural ability gives hope to our team that in the future they will learn all the skills they need to return to their natural habitat. From being rescued to their time in quarantine to forming relationships with other bears to stepping out into the forest enclosure, giving Montom and Susie a new journey in life. Sun bear rehabilitation is a long process. It changes many sun bears’ lives. Thank you for supporting our work to help Montom, Susie and many orphaned sun bears. Let’s make second chances for them to be free sun bears in the wild.
Finally the day for Montom, a 3 years old male sub-adult sun bear, to be introduced with Susie, a 4 year old female adult sun bear, was on the 4th of June, 2015. Montom and Susie were rescued from pet trade. BSBCC have taken an innovative approach of integrating rescued sun bears. These interactions between bears can help them to develop and learn skills that will be needed in the wild.
These two bears got to know each other by being placed in adjacent dens. Once the gate was opened, Montom immediately played with Susie. Susie was not too friendly towards Montom at the beginning. Susie is a short tempered and sensitive female bear compared to Montom who is a happy and outgoing juvenile male bear. Montom just watched Susie in a curious way and sniffed her. Susie greeted Montom with angry growls and paced. Montom showed an interest in play and sometimes would back off when he knew Susie was angry with him.
However, after two days Susie began to grow in confidence and played with Montom. Both showing canines and claws when they played.
For the rest of their first week together, they began to understand and trust each other better, eventually giving space and sharing food together. No aggression was noted and the two bears were observed playfully tumbling around the floor of the den. They learnt the smells and behavior of the others. Montom was seen to be enthusiastic and playful.
Enrichment items such as dried leaves, green leaves, dead wood, climbing structure, and various food based enrichment was provided in the dens to keep Montom and Susie busy and to learn the survival skills. They enjoyed all of the different enrichment items given to them. Montom would grab the food first and break the enrichments!
Seeing Montom and Susie explore the exercise pen together is an absolute pleasure. The integrations are continuing well. Especially Susie who is a sensitive bear and has a tendency to pace. Through this integration, she is learning to be a “bear” for the first time in her life and all the mistreatment, trauma she underwent is in the past. Both of them are developing into lovely young sun bears. Montom shows the most dominance.