BSBCC recently received a mail from Alyona Philippova, organizer of Happy Bear eco charity project, Russia sharing their experience in raising awareness on bears through exhibition of arts. A drawing of one of our sun bears Wan Wan by 15 year old Marina Ignatko from Ukraine was also presented in a card, wishing the best for Wan Wan. We are glad to be in touch with the organization and look forward to work with them further in future!
Text by Maria Nikas (Volunteer)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Integration is utilized to accustom bears to other bears in preparation for release into enclosures on site at BSBCC. The integration process is vital as Sun Bears are usually solitary animals and each step is very important to ensure the bears are compatible and don’t potentially pose a risk to each other.
The bears must be of a similar size, age and weight to assist in a successful integration, it also helps as bears learn different skills from each other. Having all arrived at BSBCC from different circumstances and backgrounds they will have differing strengths and weaknesses, this can be used to help other bears develop.
Integration is a long process, with the bears health and safety one of the most important aspects of the overall process. It takes many months to have a successful integration. The process starts with the most dominant bear in the group and then works down to each bear on a one on one level. Then the bears are put in small groups to see how the group dynamics work. Each integration session is closely monitored and recorded and every variable is tested to ensure the potential new group of bears are all a good match for each other. Depending on the situation and the group they may be released as a group into the wild.
Integration of Phin and Wan Wan on July, 1st 2015
This was a segregated integration. Phin and Wan Wan were in cages next to each other. I observed them for half an hour. There was no physical interaction beyond between the cage. Phin showed considerable interest as soon as Wan Wan entered the cage next door. He sat and sniffed at the door between the cages, also standing at the door sniffing the air. Wan Wan paced the perimeter opposite the door and indicated no interest in Phin.
Phin climbed the cage and was focusing on Wan Wan, watching her constantly as she moved about. Wan Wan sniffed the dry leaf enrichment and the logs that were in the cage as enrichment. When Wan Wan climbed the cage so she was directly opposite Phin she clawed at Phin through the cage, mouthed a lot and then chewed and pulled at the enrichment hammock, shaking it vigorously. It was like an indication of frustration. Phin remained quite calm thoroughout, not reacting adversely to Wan Wan. Phin clawed and mouthed a little.
They both climbed down and paced – Wan Wan the whole cage, Phin just the front. Phin climbed the cage again and once again looking at Wan Wan, this time vocalizing. Wan Wan continued to pace and showed little interest in Phin. Eventually Wan Wan climbed the cage – repeating the behavior from before – mouthing, clawing, shaking and chewing the hammock and some saliva was present as well. This time Phin turned his back on Wan Wan whilst still opposite each other on the mesh.
Overall, from this integration observation I felt Phin displayed an interest in Wan Wan, like a curiousity, wanting to meet Wan Wan. Wan Wan appeared more aggressive and agitated by Phins’ presence. Wan Wan paced a lot more than Phin, spent a considerable amount of time on the opposite side of the cage and less interest overall. This integration will be continue until both of the bears get along.
New Straits Times, 22nd February 2014
By Evangeline Majawat
he Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre recently opened its doors to the public. Evangeline Majawat was thereON the last tracts of remaining forest at the edge of Sandakan, some of Sabah’s best conservationists gathered to celebrate six years of hard work and congratulate each other on a job well done.
The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), the fruit of their labour, is finally open to the public. Located next to the famed Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, it serves as a sanctuary and rehabilitation centre for the world’s smallest bears or beruang madu (Helarctos malayanus).
“Getting the centre up and running is a big achievement. But the real work starts now,” said BSBCC founder Wong Siew Te at the soft launch recently. “Now, we have to work even harder.”
The not-for-profit centre is significant, not only because it is the first and only such facility in the country but it is also the first institution which was borne out of the successful collaboration between two State government departments — Sabah Wildlife Department and Sabah Forestry Department — and non-governmental organisation Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP). Before this, conservation projects in Sabah were undertaken by the respective departments.
LITTLE KNOWN BEARS
The hulking figure paced uneasily before it stopped to sniff the air. Its nose twitched furiously as it sauntered to the nearest tree. With surprising speed and dexterity Wan Wan, an 8-year-old sun bear, scaled the tree. Below it, Wan Wan’s loyal companion Mamatai inspected a pile of leaves.
Wan Wan and Mamatai are among the 28 rescued bears that live in BSBCC. Their stories are similar: They were either rescued from poachers or people who kept them as pets. The bears are usually found in dire conditions — malnourished and imprisoned in small cages.
Like the orang utan, sun bears are listed as totally protected species under Sabah’s wildlife laws. Despite a blanket ban on hunting or owning the animal, or any of its parts or products, illegal hunting and poaching are rampant.
Bear bile is popular in traditional medicine and its parts, the paws, especially, are considered a delicacy. Due to its relatively small size, people have attempted to keep these mammals as pets. One bear was found straying in the affluent suburb of Damai, about half an hour’s drive from Kota Kinabalu. The bear named Damai was believed to have escaped from her cage, and was discovered when a resident got up to check on his pet dog that had been barking incessantly. At the centre, the sun bears get a taste of life in the wild in one hectare of tropical rainforests, an area slightly bigger than a football field. The sun bears roam the forest and learn skills that their mothers would have taught them in the wild. There are many trees to climb and dead logs to explore.
BSBCC IS SPECIAL
When Sabah Forestry Department director Datuk Sam Mannan said in his speech that he was “really, really most impressed” by the centre, he echoed the thoughts of those present at the soft launch.
Unlike the standard government building designs that feature tinted windows, endless tiles and air-conditioned rooms, BSBCC’s visitor centre is spacious, naturally lit and well ventilated. Arkitrek, the architecture firm behind the plans, applied passive design theory to keep the building naturally cool at all times. The BSBCC office is the only air-conditioned space.
Arkitrek also recycled timber from the old rhinoceros enclosure which is now the site for the bear houses. The timber posts and planks were turned into counter tops and furnishings in the visitor centre. One particular timber post is a poignant memorial for Gelugob, one of the last 10 Sumatran rhinos in captivity, which died on Jan 11. The post, polished smooth by Gelugob and the other rhinos’ constant rubbing, stands tall by the entrance boardwalk.
Award-winning Singaporean landscape architecture firm Salad Dressing was roped in to beautify and create a welcoming atmosphere.
There are four key pillars to sun bear conservation according to Wong. The first is to get the centre up and running.
“The second is education. Then there is research and rehabilitation of the sun bears.”
He says the BSBCC team will engage schools, corporations and traditional medicine practitioners as well as shop owners this year. “We will reach out to these medicine men one by one, and via their associations. We must convince
them not to sell bear parts or products. We must tell them how bad the situation is,” says Wong. “We want to educate them and the public about sun bears and their role in the jungle. It’s about giving people the big picture about protecting our environment.”
“My bid is to protect the (wildlife) habitat so we don’t need another sun bear conservation centre. It serves a great purpose but it is because somewhere along the lines, we didn’t do better,” says Mannan.
LEAP executive director Cynthia Ong struck a chord when she emphasised that sincerity about conservation efforts is of utmost importance.
“Some of us get lured by being heroes and martyrs and getting funds and fame from the purpose. This is a reminder to myself and to all of us that that is losing the plot,” she says.
“(When) you see the bears in the forest, (you will see) that it is about them, how we’re coexisting together and what has happened to their habitat so that we need this centre. We didn’t need it in the past.”
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
On August 14, 2013 Wan-Wan, a seven year old female sun bear and Mamatai, an eleven year old female sun bear were released into the forest enclosure. The two bears are very different in appearance; Wan-Wan has a light pinkish nose and Mamatai has short legs and a stocky build. The two bears arrived at the BSBCC together from the Lok Kawi Wildlife Zoo, and have become quite the pair.
For the first time in their lives, Mamatai and Wan-Wan have a safe place where they can live a peaceful life in a natural habitat. In the forest enclosure they can roam around, dig in the soil, rest in the tall trees, and truly enjoy the natural forest.
Once the door was opened, they were very eager to get out into the forest enclosure, but are carefully observing their new home; studying unknown scents, sounds, and movements around them.
Over the next few months both bears will be learning, growing, and enjoying life within the forest enclosure.
Sun bears are a very important part of the ecosystem and more people need to know why they are so important while there is still time to save them. Please lend a helping hand and spread the word. The sun bears need you!!