A sanctuary and refuge for rescued orphans to grow up wild, the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre has big hopes for the world’s smallest bear.
ONE SUNNY DAY
In a tropical rainforest in Borneo, bear keeper Jeniur “Boboy” Justin is standing on a watching platform 20m above the dense forest floor. He is observing Logan, a young male sun bear who’s busy trying to crack open a coconut. Logan’s claws and powerful jaw make short work of the tough shell, and after a refreshing drink, Logan lays on his back for an afternoon siesta.
“Logan loves to eat, he will steal other bears’ food. He has become chubby, ” says Boboy with a laugh.
Logan and his keeper, Boboy are in the forested area of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) in Sandakan, a district in Sabah, East Malaysia. The only centre in the world solely dedicated to the conservation of the sun bear. This has been a refuge for Logan since he was rescued in 2018 as a young cub.
“When Logan first arrived, I could see that he was scared. We found that his left paw had a problem. It got injured in a poacher’s snare,” says Boboy.
Being a young cub without his mother, and with an injured paw, Logan was in need of critical care, and it was Boboy who took on the responsibility of looking after him.
“It’s not easy being a surrogate to Logan,” Boboy reflects. “There are a lot of things we need to know, like how bears, especially babies, can survive in the jungle, how we should teach them to be wild.”
It took months of dedicated care from Boboy for Logan to become confident and capable of fending for himself.
A DARK CLOUD
Logan’s plight is far from an isolated incident. Since BSBCC was set up in 2008, the centre has worked with the state wildlife department, to rescue over 60 bears.
“On average, we have five to six bears being sent to our centre every year; half of them are adults and half of them are cubs. All of these animals are all orphaned, because their mums were killed by poachers,” laments Dr Wong Siew Te (who goes by Wong), founder of the BSBCC.
Sun bears, which are the world’s smallest bear and found all across Southeast Asia, are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Though the exact numbers of sun bears remains unverified, studies have shown that their population has fallen by over 30 per cent in the last three decades.
Habitat loss has been a major factor in this, but the biggest threat that the bears currently face is from poaching for industries like the pet trade and food. Despite being a legally protected species in Malaysia, poaching activities still persist.
One of the biggest current threats, comes from their use in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). For centuries, bear bile and gall bladders have been sought after for treating a variety of ailments. A recent report by TRAFFIC, stated that almost 70 per cent of all TCM shops in Malaysia were found with some form of bear products. Up from 2012, when it was at 48 per cent.
But while the use of bear products in TCM has increased, so has knowledge of TCM over the years. There is now a realisation that there are viable and healthy alternatives to using wildlife products. The Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine Dealers Association of Malaysia, is advocating for the use of medical herbs instead.
“We can completely use medicinal herbs to replace animals” states Ng Kean Hwa, a second-generation TCM practitioner. “With a clear diagnosis, and when used appropriately, it can directly help achieve the curative effect and is a good form of protection towards the natural environment.”
The value of looking after sun bears and not exploiting them isn’t just for the benefit of the bears. Sun bears provide a very tangible benefit to the welfare of people as well.
Sun bears help maintain a healthy diversity of trees by keeping termite populations in check, and dispersing seeds. These trees are essential resources that people use for medicine, building infrastructure, and other needs that are important to the well-being of society.
“For us as humans, we need a healthy forest ecosystem to provide us with clean air, clean water, stable climate, genetic resources like medicine. All of these matter to us,” says Wong.
To help educate the public on the need to conserve sun bears, Wong has opened the centre for the public to view the bears in a forested enclosure, and to raise public awareness about their plight through education and eco-tourism.
Here, the bears are fed their natural diet and have regular medical and dental check-ups. Rehabilitation is a critical component of BSBCC’s work, and when the bears are suitable for release, they are returned to the wild. To date, BSBCC has successfully released seven sun bears into protected forests.
“My hope for all sun bears is that they can survive for a long, long time in Southeast Asia,” declares Wong. “I really hope that the sun bears can live forever in this world.”
RAYS OF HOPE
Back at the platform, Logan has woken from his nap and is climbing a tree in search of something else to eat. Boboy smiles as any proud parent would, and shares a story of when he had to teach Logan the art of tree-climbing.
“There was one time I climbed a small tree, and the tree wasn’t able to support me, and the branch almost broke. What I was most afraid of was that Logan was just below me, and I feared I would be crushed along with Logan,” he shares with a laugh.
“Logan’s hand was weak when it came to climbing trees, but he still challenged himself and refused to give up. That’s why I like Logan. I have spent all this time working with him and our relationship is so close.”
Today, Logan is a master tree climber, despite having a deformed paw. But Boboy has bigger hopes for his "adopted" bear. “In time, we will try our best to fix Logan’s paw… so he can be like other bears, and be released into the wild.”
The desire for the sun bears to see a new dawn, is one that Boboy wishes all Malaysians will come to embrace. “I hope that everyone can work together to protect and care for the wild animals we have. I hope that one day, my children will have the opportunity to see the sun bear in the wild.”
Before he returns to look after the rest of the bears under his care, Boboy has one last story to share. “We gave him the name Logan because of his left paw. It looks like the comic superhero Wolverine’s claw,” says Boboy with a smile.
High up in the trees, Logan has found a comfortable spot, and like a true hero, has fallen asleep once again.
LET’S TALK ABOUT IT:
How can we get more involved in sun bear conservation and spread awareness?
ABOUT BORNEAN SUN BEAR CONSERVATION CENTREEstablished in 2008 by wildlife biologist Dr Wong Siew Te, the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) is the world’s only conservation and research centre solely dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of the Malayan sun bear. A sanctuary for bears to recuperate and relearn natural behaviour for release back into the wild, the centre also aims to spread public awareness through eco-tourism and education.
CONTRIBUTORSDirector & Editor
Producer & Writer
Logan and Giant Forest Ants
Happy Monday everyone!
"Only one of the reasons I love forest home so much!"-Logan
Video by Chiew Lin May
Do you remember Logan?
Since his arrival at the BSBCC one year ago, he has captured our heart through his brave spirit nature! He was found abandoned near the river and this little Logan has been separated from her mother at a very young age. Little Logan took his own time to adapt his new life to learning essential survival skills as a free sun bear- trusting his new forest home, first bear friends and surrogate mother. Even though his left paw was malformed, he never gives up trying to climb trees.
Logan, 2 years old now, has grown up to inquisitive, happy and playful bear who enjoys his life basking in the sun, foraging lots of yummy food, rolling on the forest floor and absolutely loves climbing trees play fight with friends in lush forest!
We are so grateful for all the love and care you have given him.
Catch a glimpse of Logan's beautiful journey of freedom here.
Video by Chiew Lin May
What was the highlight of your weekend?
"I think mine was foraging the bird's nest fern!" - Little Romolina
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
On the 10th of August 2018, it was a beautiful morning, Romolina’s surrogate mother took her out to the forest to experience the sounds and smells of forest environment for the first time.
After she had lost her mother and spent much of her time living as an illegal house pet, Romolina was given a second chance of freedom. Upon arrival, Romolina’s bodyweight was appropriate and she showed signs of stunted growth, but these have never caused her to fail at learning to be a wild bear like the other rescued bear cubs did!
In the wild, Romolina’s mother would have taught her everything she needs to know to survive in the wild, but now she has to learn these skills by herself.
On the 18th of August 2018, we brought Romolina out to the forest together with her best peer, Logan. Every time their surrogate mother has taken them out to have a walk, Romolina and Logan have been ready to explore and made their way over to the deep forest.
They straight away started to venture, displaying wild bear behaviour!
Romolina loves to forage. She will stay in one area for a long time and becomes busy digging out all the termites, beetles and ants. The termites and ants better watch out for her! She will survey and explore the forest around her. She shows enthusiasm for her delicious food, while Logan will check on her and keep trying to distract Romolina from doing other things so that she can play with him.
Sometimes, Romolina will avoid playing with Logan by climbing high up into the trees. She is an arboreal little bear!
Up in the canopy, she will hang around and tear into the tree bark searching for tasty treats. She does not care about Logan’s appearance.
On their daily walk, Logan will initiate play wrestling, chasing, rolling and climbing trees with Romolina, just like loving friends do!
These have been some of the BEST days of their lives - FUN!
Romolina becomes more nervous when it comes to crossing the stream. The first time she discovered the stream she was unsure what to do with it and sometimes she would step back from crossing it if the water level was too high for her compared to Logan who just loves to dip in the stream.
It is a delight to see how courageous they are.
They are developing into strong sun bears and are doing amazingly well in the forest!
Please provide them a better future and let the rescued bears live the life of freedom that was stolen by us.
Text & Photos by Chiew Lin May
Found abandoned near Lokan River, Kulu-Kulu Village in Sabah and kept in a cage for three months as a house pet. He was then surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department and sent to BSBCC on the 19th of May, 2018. Every year, orphaned sun bears are rescued by the Sabah Wildlife Department or are surrendered by local people. Sun bear cubs are targeted for the illegal pet trade, hunted for food or used in traditional medicine. It is believed that their mother will be killed so that the poacher can snatch the bear cub. In the wild, sun bear cubs will spend the first two to three years of their lives with their mom. Without his mother to teach him the skills he needs, the sun bear becomes incapable of being released back into the wild and they must rely on our rehabilitation support.
The rehabilitation process after his arrival starts with strong bonding with his surrogate mother (bear care taker), where he slowly gains trust, strength and can be a wild bear again. The surrogate mother then will be assisting in daily walks in the forest with the bear cub to give them a second chance to learn all of the skills needed to survive in the forest.
The youngest male sun bear cub, Logan has settled happily into his new life. You can see how much little Logan has grown in that time and how chubby he is now with a weight of 15.10 kg.
This brave bear that has lost his mother endured a lifetime of suffering in captivity and has never known the wild freedom he was born to have. On the 7th of June 2018, Logan finally felt the sunshine and grass under his little paws again!
Logan will get to play in the forest, learn to forage, climb trees and explore the forest. He learns to trust every day. The surrogate mother is helping little Logan to learn just how to be a wild bear!
Day by day it is such a blissful time in the morning, he knows when we are going to start walking him in the forest. He will quickly climb down from his basket and without hesitation he will run into the dense forest. He is developing very well and showing great progress with his forest skills.
No surprise – he is always busy foraging and filling his tummy! Sun bears are opportunistic omnivores. For Logan, he loves to dig by using his sharp curved claws and strong teeth in search his favourite wild food - termites, ants, insects, pill millipedes and bird carcasses. When he finds something for his own, he is very happy about it! Sometimes Logan will stand up on his hind legs to get a better smell or view of something that attracted his attention.
Logan was missing his left thumb and his left front paw has developed abnormally, but these have never made give him up and he is always full of enthusiasm climbing trees. He loves to learn new skills and develops his small muscles every day! He is an agile climber where he uses his powerful legs, feet with hairless soles and sharp claws to climb the tree. Right after foraging he will choose a tree he loves and climb it. He learns the way to climb trees or liana and just enjoys the beautiful sun view! He is so brave! He always wants to make the most of what he has got! Only sometimes he will easily get tired after he tries to climb too many trees.
When he gets excited roaming the forest he will start to play fight and wrestle with his surrogate mother. He loves to play with anything and everything.
He is a very active little bear! He knows the way to the stream and enjoys dipping, chilling in the stream or laying his snout deep in the water to beat the hot weather! Logan takes great pleasure enjoying his freedom each day in the forest.
For little Logan, his newfound freedom has meant to him: tearing decayed wood, finding his favourite food such as termites, sun bathing, and soaking in the stream. We cannot wait to see the next challenge he has to learn to grow every day.
Looking at these pictures, it is hard believe he is a huge part of the forest life now and is also catching his daily experience in life. Watching him is like watching any bear cubs in the wild!
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Kala is an 8 month old female sun bear cub who was rescued by the Sabah Wildlife Department on January 2015. At the time of her rescue, Kala showed signs of being emaciated, dehydrated and malnourished.
Thanks to the Sabah Wildlife Department, Kala was saved and brought to a new home at BSBCC. Six months later, she has progressed well and developed new skills during her rehabilitation. Kala’s appetite has come roaring back as well. Her balanced diet consists of a combination of dog milk replacer, fruits, vegetables and porridge. She now weighs 15.95 kg. She is growing bigger and stronger. Kala has a full set of adult teeth. “Sun bear cubs have a period where they grow very fast, typically when they are 5 to 10 months where they can gain 3 to 4 kg each month” - Wong Siew Te
Chart below shows the growth curve of Kala cub (Updated 17th July 2015). Showing she is healthy and keeps growing gracefully!
The sun bear cub will be offered different types of enrichment to stimulate and prepare her for life back in the wild. Inside Kala’s den, we provide enrichment such as Kong, Aussie Dog Ball, natural habitat enrichment (logs, dead wood, branches, dry leaves, fresh plant and etc.) and manipulation based treats. She’s making full use of the structural enrichments in the den. The big basket with the hammock is her favourite!
On February 26th, 2015 Kala caught her first glimpse of the world outside the forest. She has been exploring every patch of the forest and she is already picking out some favourite spots. Sun bears are opportunistic omnivores. Kala enjoys searching for termites, earthworms, beetle larvae and eating soil. Sun bear’s jaws provide a powerful bite and tear force. Kala will use her teeth to tear into trees to get insects beneath the bark. She is a pro at all speeds and directions of sun bear locomotion! She explores by herself and loves to run or roll about on the forest floor.
Sun bears are very adapt climbers, and cubs especially spend time climbing trees. She shows tremendous improvement in climbing skills, using her well-muscled little body with sharp claws that help her to grip trees during climbing. She can be cheeky when climbing trees. She will try to show us how great it is – a true home for her! Little Kala explores the tree canopy, and then finds a comfy liana or log to rest. Though all the challenges with skills, she keeps up her adventurous and playful behavior.
Here are the photos show Kala in different age and grow. Let look what Kala doing and spending at rainforest.
- 3 months old - (First arrival at BSBCC)
- 4 months old -
- 5 months old -
- 6 months old -
- 7 months old -
- 8 months old -
As a sun bear cub Kala is learning the skills and strength she needs to survive in the wild. Her forest skills continue to improve. Sun bears are magnificent and beautiful creatures in their natural habitat but because of habitat destruction, pet trade and poaching they have been led to decline by at least 30 per cent in the last three decades, they need our help! Please show your support and help the smallest bear species by adopting Kala and her friends! Your support enables us to care for these orphaned sun bears.