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 Jana Grunwald & Michael Bohne
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
We are Jana (37) and Michael (49) from Germany. Last year we have decided to take a break from our office working routine and go traveling together. As we do not only want to be tourists in the countries that we visit we have searched for animal welfare organization in Malaysia that we can support and found that the BSBBC has very good reviews. The decision to come here was made quickly and even though we have never had anything to do with bears, we are big bear fans by now. This is not only thanks to the bears, but also thanks to the keepers and all the staff that are doing a fantastic job here at the sunbear center. We truly enjoy our time in such a friendly and cooperative atmosphere.
On the first day in the center we already learned that bears are big eaters. We spent hours washing, cutting and weighting fruits and vegetables for them. No wonder, it takes such a long time - there are 43 hungry mouths to be fed and they enjoy four feeding times a day. Watching them eating and enjoying their food makes our heart melt. If there is something especially yummy, all the bears will fall on their back and eat the treat with all four paws up. We can hardly take our eyes away from this cute moment and it happens that the keepers have to remind us to move on.
We soon realized what a strenuous job the bear keeper team does every day. All keepers are in very good physical conditions and we admire them for their strengths. Each day is packed with demanding work: whether it’s cleaning the cages, preparing the food, walking under the midday sun to feed the bears or going out into the wild with the machete to collect fresh leaves and plants for enrichment. Luckily everybody has a lunch hour that is indeed one and a half hours long - time to rest and eat. We could feel how our energy comes back. Also for us humans the food is important.
However not all the tasks that we do at the center are physically hard. On the third day we were invited to assist Dr. Boon with the health check of one of the female bears called Susie 2. We felt very privileged to be part of the team that afternoon and assist a medical check on a sun bear.
We also enjoyed being part of the re-integration of two bears called Wan Wan and Mamatai. These two ladies where once sharing a forest enclosure but ended up fighting with each other. After some time of separation the team has now started to re-introduce them. As the door was opened we carefully observed them and were happy that the first session went on without any fight or need to intervene. We hope, that the two ladies re-establish their friendship and can soon scroll the outside together.
Another activity that we enjoyed a lot was observing the fence training of a bear called Panda. She gets animated with sweet fruits to leave her well known enclosure and to learn in a different enclosure that the fence has electricity and that it is best to not touch it. On the first two days that we saw her she was too afraid to leave. Only the head and the two front paws went out to grab the treats that were within her close reach. The two back paws stayed firm in the old enclosure, no matter how seductive the fruits on the other side where. However with the time she gained confidence and got brave enough to step out of her enclosure with all four paws. What a big achievement. We were very excited for her. Now she is walking pretty confident in the fence training enclosure. Today she could finally get all the sweet fruits that we laid down for her. At the end it seems to be all about the food.
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!!