Text by Eva Jane Muir
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Although born wild, freedom does not come naturally to many of the rescued sun bears here at the BSBCC. This is unsurprising however, for these bears have suffered traumatic pasts. Stolen from their mothers when they were young, the feel of the earth beneath their paws is a feeling forgotten for a bear raised in a small, dirty metal cage.
When a rescued sun bear first comes to the BSBCC they are freighted and distrustful, for they are unaware that the people here mean them no harm. However, with time and patience, the bears slowly start to rediscover their freedom. This process has no time limit as each individual bear is unique and pushing too hard may result in more harm than good. Imagine, just how tantalizing yet overwhelming the smell of fresh air must be, to a bear with no recollection of what it is like to live free in the forest. But slowly, each rescued bear will take their first steps into the outside world and begin their journey back to freedom.
A sun bear cub learns many vital survival skills from its mother; however the rescued bears here at the BSBCC have been denied this precious knowledge. Because of this, the BSBCC staff must instead teach these bears everything they need to know in order to survive on their own. This is where enrichment comes in, perhaps the most important stage in the sun bear rehabilitation process.
Enrichment is any object or activity designed to stimulate the sun bears and encourage natural behavior. It comes in many forms and the BSBCC staff must always think of new, creative ideas to keep the bears active and busy. There are four main types of enrichment used here at the BSBCC, these are:
1. Environmental Enrichment: Sun bears are the most arboreal of all bear species, and in the wild they will spend the majority of the day resting and foraging in the tree tops. Although they have spent much of their lives confined in atrocious conditions, many of the rescued sun bears here at the BSBCC still poses that natural desire to climb, a behavior we try to encourage. In addition to providing a large, natural forest enclosure full of perfect climbing trees, all bears are provided with hammocks and climbing frames to allow them to rest off the ground. Although sun bears are very active, the bears can often be spotted snoozing in their hammocks on warm afternoons.
2. Foraging Enrichment: Sun bears are omnivorous; their diets consisting of seasonal fruits and nuts, invertebrates, small animals and their favourite treat of all – honey! Here at the BSBCC we try to think of imaginative ways of providing the bears with their food in order to encourage the natural foraging behaviours they would use in the wild. Commonly used techniques include scattering fruits in the forest enclosure, hiding treats under piles of dry leaves and drilling holes in logs to conceal the food inside. Unless they learn to forage themselves the bears cannot be considered as release candidates, so foraging enrichment is incredibly important for the rescued sun bears.
3. Sensory Enrichment:Sun bears have an extremely sensitive nose and their sense of smell is vital for both finding food and detecting danger in the wild. Sensory enrichment encourages the bears to use their sense of smell by concealing strong smelling treats such as honey or peanut butter in a puzzle or toy. Often, these enrichments are constructed using recycled fire hose or strong plastic as these materials are tough even against the bear’s powerful claws. Alternatively, treats can be hidden in bundles of vegetation held together with vive, creating a very natural enrichment which encourages both sensory and foraging behaviours. All the rescued sun bears at the BSBCC have completely individual personalities, including their own food preferences, so these enrichments can be trailered to specific bears or social groups to get the best bahavioural results.
4. Social Enrichment:Although sun bears are solitary in the wild, we encourage the rescued bears to interact with each other at the BSBCC as we believe the best enrichment of all is another bear. Many of the sun bear form close bonds with one another, and can often be seen playing together or snoozing together in a shared hammock. However, this type of enrichment offers more than simply comfort - it is an important part of the rehabilitation process as it enables the bears to learn survival skills from each other. Additionally, social enrichment is an excellent way of reducing stereotypic behaviors such as pacing and swaying.
Unfortunately, it is simply not possible for all of the rescued sun bears to return to the freedom of the wild. For some, the physical or emotional damage inflicted by humans is just too great. For these bears, enrichment serves a different purpose. It provides comfort, stimulation, interest and a means of displaying all the behaviours which come naturally to them. Although they may never be truly free, the care and enrichment provided to these sun bears by the BSBCC staff allow the bears to live their lives free from pain, fear and suffering, just as they deserve.
Text by Woo Chee Yoong
Photos by Woo Chee Yoong, Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Everyone is familiar with the phrase, “time flies”, especially in the happy moments which make us wish we could stay a bit longer. However, reality always stands in the way. It is time for me to bid farewell to The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC).
I am an undergraduate student, studying the Animal Resource Science and Management Programme, at the University Malaysia Sarawak, UNIMAS. I came to the BSBCC for industry training for a period of 10 weeks. I found out about the BSBCC when I searched for an institution or research centre that focuses on large mammals in Malaysia. When I found out about the existence of sun bears, my interest in such charismatic mammal grew stronger. Moreover, the sun bear is the smallest bear species in the world, and Malaysia provides these bears with an important home. So, I decided to apply for my industry training placement with the BSBCC. I first flew to Sandakan to meet Dr(Hon) Wong Siew Te, the founder of the BSBCC, to seek advice and guidance about my wish to continue my career as a biologist working closely with animals. I was truly impressed with Dr(Hon) Wong’s achievements, but it was his commitment and dedication, despite all the hardship he has encountered in saving sun bears, that inspired me to continue with what I was pursuing.
When I first arrived, I was introduced to my home in Sandakan where the intern students and volunteers are placed, Bjorn Hala. A simple home, but filled with warmth and laughter, with five other members of the BSBCC staff. Furthermore, other colleagues sometimes joined us in the house for special occasions, “Bjorn Hala is a family”. I started my first working day by being introduced to my buddy, Azzry. Here, I must express my gratitude to my buddy. He guided me a lot through the husbandry jobs of a sun bear keeper. He is fun to work with and always tried to entertain us all with his jokes.
Basically, every day, we washed the cages every morning to ensure the bears have a comfortable space to sleep. We prepared porridge with green bean and pumpkin, fruits like banana, papaya, watermelon, honeydew and snakefruit, and vegetables like sweet potato, corn, sugar cane and coconut. We fed the bears inside the cages and outside in forest enclosure, in order to encourage their forest instincts. We created many different kinds of enrichment for the bears, such as collecting banana leaves, dry leaves and termite nests. Examples of food enrichments include the Stick Paradox, Hamburger, Firehose Pocket, Aussie Ball and others. The Olivier Tower, which we built for Chin, was very hard work for me, Azzry, and a bunch of our other teammates. However, the best enrichment of all is another bear. This is why we try to integrate the bears with each other, and so they can learn survival skills from each other. Also, I am glad that the BSBCC gave me the opportunity to be involved with the medical check-up for the bears.
I not only had the chance to work in Bear House, but to also experience the outreach programme. The programme aims to educate communities about sun bears, especially younger communities. Thus, both programmes that I participated in were held at primary schools. We hope the conservation efforts to help the sun bear will inspire the younger generation.
At the BSBCC, the most important thing I learnt was that every bear has its own attitude, just like a human. Some are easy to deal with, but some are not. In fact, this became the most amazing thing I experienced in these 10 weeks. The emotion shared between me and the bear’s was priceless, and words cannot describe this feeling and the relationship. You have to come and experience it yourselves.
Sadly, a lot of people abuse this special relationship and exploit Sun Bear in a horrible way. Hereby, I urge you all, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE - Sun bears deserve a better life and should be treated just like a human. They belong to the forest, not inside a small cage where they are forced to follow their owner’s instruction. They need freedom, just like we do. Spread the word, spread the love. Return the sun bear to the wild and stop poaching.
Nonetheless, I wish to say a huge thank you to the BSBCC for this unforgettable journey. I have wished that the spirit of Bear Care Team will always remain. You have all done a big favour to the sun bears. Stay strong to all the bears. Au revoir.
Text by Woo Chee Yoong
Photos by Woo Chee Yoong and Tee Thye Lim
The Island of Borneo is famous as the largest island in Asia and third largest island in the world. A vast and astonishing green area, covered with mysterious tropical rainforest, and so many amazing creatures that have not yet been discovered. Inside the island lies a very important habitat for the wildlife of Sabah. The Tabin Wildlife Reserve was once home to the Sumatran Rhinoceros, but sadly, the Sumatran Rhinoceros was declared extinct in the wild in Sabah, leaving the only two in captivity with Borneo Rhino Alliance, BORA, at Tabin.
During my internship period, I was given the chance to assist Tee Thye Lim, the BSBCC’s Operation Executive, who is currently conducting his Master’s research in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, with sun bears as his focus. His team assisted with his final sampling in the core area of the Tabin Wildlife Reserve for one month. First of all, I am very thankful for this opportunity given by Dr(Hon) Wong Siew Te, the founder of Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), as well as Thye Lim. Besides myself, the other team members were Jeniur, Mizuno and Logan, who made the team complete, fit and tough. Each of them has their own strengths, and combined performed excellent teamwork. Hence, the sampling was smoothly completed. I feel thankful for the presence of these three warriors because they took good care of me as I was inexperienced living in a forest environment, and they always unselfishly taught and guided me with their own survival skills.
The methods we used for studying the sun bears at Tabin Wildlife Reserve were baited camera trapping and hair trapping. At each camera station, two trees were chosen as the targets and wrapped with duct tape to get the sun bear hair samples, and one of the trees was tied with bait made of shrimp paste and salted fish. The bait was wrapped inside a black net, and was hung above the tree within view of camera, in order to lure the sun bear to climb so its hairs would stick on the tape. Each camera was set up with photo and video mode. We stayed in the forest for two weeks in order to change the bait after one week.
Each day living in the forest posed a challenge for us, especially when the climate was not on our side. During the first two weeks, rainy days caused panic among us when the river water almost flooded to our camp site. Even huge trees were flushed away, known as “Water Head”. Then, in the next two weeks, we were hit by huge winds, known as “Wind Head”, and we could hear the sound of large trees falling to the ground. Even the calls of elephant or fresh footprints served to make us more alert to our surroundings.
However, it was not all hard work. We shared funny moment’s everyday which cheered us up and helped us forget our tiredness. We designed our own camp with comfortable hand-made furniture, and built tables, chairs and a kitchen area to induce more homely feeling. We bathed together in the super cold river (with underwear on of course), and watched movies in the forest using a phone and a speaker. We also played a poker card game called Bridge, where the losers were punished by washing the dishes, lighting the candles and making tea and coffee. The fried rice cooked by Mizuno was better than most of the dishes served by restaurant in the city. We did some crazy stuff, which will always be kept a secret by our team.
The best part of the experience was being able to witness the wildlife freely roaming in the forest. We heard the calls of gibbons and helmeted hornbills in the morning, and saw great argus’s right in front of us. Spotted hornbills flew round us, and bearded pigs, mouse deer, muntjac and sambar deer ran past us. A Malay civet even broke into our kitchen area! Lastly, we found sun bear claw marks and heard the loud barks of a sun bear when Jeniur and I were on our way to service a camera. Frightened and shocked were my reactions at the time, because the barks clearly showed that our presence was unwelcome. But it was a wonderful experience that I will always remember.
The forest is the sun bear’s home. We arrived uninvited, which is something that none of us in this world would like. Loggers and poachers are becoming more daring, and are exploiting every piece of this green land and the wildlife living inside it without mercy. More attention and funding are given to captive animals for education and research purposes, but wild animals need to be given the same attention and protection. I hope the public from all over the world will give more support to conservationists, like us at the BSBCC and other organisations which work to protect important species, such as Sun Bear. Preserving their main habitats is important to assure future of these species so they can continue to survive.
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Two kilograms of heavy metal chain with a brass lock tied on Kuamut’s neck may look amusing but the story behind it is heartbreakingly sad. Kuamut was a sub adult when she was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department from illegal pet ownership and being kept in a small iron cage at a village on the Kinabatangan River on 13th January, 2009.
When she arrived, she was in a bad condition from where her neck was tied with an enormously heavy metal chain since she was a cub. Her neck was found thin and worn.
She was extremely stressed during the arrival and had a fearful expression in her eyes. It was heartbreaking to see such a young sun bear without her mother to comfort and protect her.
We are absolutely delighted to have rescued her and will give her the best chance of surviving and returning one day to her forest home where she belongs. She has settled into her new environment very well. BSBCC provides different types of enrichment – such as toys and food based ones to encourage natural behaviors and stimulation. She explores all the enrichment but sometimes will struggle to figure them out. Kuamut is very fond of eating and loves all her meals. She really enjoys her fruits, especially tropical fruits and honey! She will slowly gain strength, confidence and develop her independence to survive in the forest.
After she finished quarantine, she was moved to the bear house and was introduced to the adult females in April 2010. She is a beautiful bear. Kuamut developed good relationships with adult female, Tokob. They loved to spend time sharing bear stories and play wrestling a lot.
But sadly, Kuamut has lost her best friend, Tokob. She passed away on 25th April 2015 due to respiratory and circulatory failure. Tokob with her beautiful yellow “batman” shaped crescent and the most slender, will be missed by Kuamut. Then after a year of Tokob passing away, Kuamut slowly displayed trust towards her other bear pals. She now is closer with an eleven year old, adult female sun bear, Susie. The only one she will play wrestle with. Susie loving the attention, has helped Kuamut grow in confidence.
Kuamut is now ten years old, her sleek, dark coat and muzzle make her adorable. During rehabilitation at BSBCC where the rescued sun bears can learn to climb trees, forage for food, make a nest to sleep in at night in the forest enclosure and develop all the wild behavior they need to survive in the wild.
Kuamut finally took her brave first step out into the forest enclosure in June 2010. She walked out into the sunshine with the confidence of knowing her life was now safe and displayed wonderful bear behavior! She was able to adapt in the forest just like a wild sun bear and equipped with the survival skills.
She loves to play, climb trees and occasionally loves to borrow and stay at other sun bear friends’ tree nest!
She loves to borrow and stay at other sun bear friends’ tree nests!
Her enthusiasm can be seen where she loves breaking branches, climbing trees, foraging in termites nests and digging deep into the soil. These seem to be her favourite activities throughout the day. She likes keeping herself busy at all possible times. This is not a problem for her as she is very skillful in foraging for natural foods like termites, beehives and invertebrates. She has proved to us that she is an exceptional tree climber and is eager to explore.
She will find her favourite trees to climb. Slowly she recovers from a life of hardship and embarks on a new way of life. She grows up peacefully in the forest. She never gets along with Cerah and Jelita. Whenever Cerah and Jelita try to climb a tree that is her favourite, she will make a noise and give warning to chase them away. Be warned not to alarm her with sudden movements or noises! She will immediately climb up into the trees where she feels safe.
Kuamut is a quiet and gentle bear. We are pleased to report that she is doing really well in the forest. Every day she goes on her independent adventures in the forest. She has found a new big log and will spend time there together with Susie.
Kuamut can be easily spotted and never misses an afternoon nap on the platform near the bear house.
Sometimes she will just sit and sniff around, perhaps enjoying the smell of freedom!
Commercial hunting and poaching remain the biggest threat to sun bear survival. Sun bears have declined by at least 30% over the past 30 years and will continue to decline at this rate if NO action is taken. Sun bears are protected by law in Sabah under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997. Please help us protect sun bears from extinction before it is too late. You can make the difference!
Text by Yvonne Chong Yee Wen
Photos by Yvonne Chong Yee Wen, Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
The Bornean Sun Bear is scientifically known as Helarctos Malayanus. It is the smallest species of bear found in the tropical forest habitats of Southeast Asia. Characteristics of sun bears include its long tongue (which is used to extract honey and insects) and a chest marking, unique to every sun bear.
Sun bears are opportunistic omnivores that feed mainly on termites, insects, larvae and a large variety of fruit species. Sun bears have several different roles within the forest, which provide many benefits to tropical ecosystems.
Sun bears are now facing the threats of commercial hunting and poaching, habitat loss, and being illegally kept as a pet. They belong in the wild. Please spread the word and protect the sun bear!
< 婆羅洲之子 —— 馬來熊 >
婆羅洲馬來熊（Bornean Sun Bear），又名太陽熊，也叫狗熊，學名為Helarctos Malayanus，屬哺乳熊科，它是全世界8種熊科動物中體型最小的熊類。馬來熊是依賴森林生存的物種，它們棲息和活動於東南亞地區的熱帶雨林，主要分佈於馬來西亞、越南、印尼、柬埔寨、泰國、緬甸、遼國、中國南部與印度東部等。
在1997年沙巴野生動物保護憲法之下，馬來熊已屬「完全受保護」品種（Totally Protected Species），凡觸法者，即盜獵、獵殺、販賣、飼養以及擁有有關馬來熊產製品的人將會面臨10萬馬幣罰款或被判10年徒刑，或兩者兼施。
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Tee Thye Lim & Chiew Lin May
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) is glad they attended the 9th East and Southeast Asian Wild Animal Rescue Network Conference (WARN Conference) from 7th to 11th November 2017 in Cuc Phuong, Vietnam. This year, the WARN Conference was hosted by the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre (Cuc Phuong, Vietnam). A total of 70 participants from 18 organizations attended the conference and shared their experiences related to animal rescue, rehabilitation and release through presentations, practical workshops and site visits to their rescued centres. The theme of this year was “Wildlife Rescuing,Rehabilitation and Release”.
The purpose of WARN is to enhance the capabilities of East and South East Asian wildlife rescue centers to rescue and conserve wildlife, provide conservation awareness education for the public and advocate minimum standards for wildlife rescue centers.
One of the highlights of the conference was the post conference tour to
i. Endangered Primate Rescue Center
ii. Save Vietnam’s Wildlife (Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program)
iii. The Turtle Conservation Centre
iv. FOUR PAWS Bear Sanctuary Ninh Binh
v. Van Long Nature Reserve
The conference was a great opportunity to tackle the ongoing wildlife crisis and develop better rescue, rehabilitation and release animal care. Huge thanks to WARN Members and Endangered Primate Rescue Center for hosting this successful 9th WARN Conference. It was great sharing experience!!
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Seng Yen Wah and Chiew Lin May
Seven years ago, a two month old sun bear cub was found by a villager’s hunting dog in a remote forest area of Long Pasia, in the Sipitang district of Sabah.
He was found injured and Nooh, the owner, decided to take care of him until he recovered. Nooh named the sun bear cub as “Fulung” which means forest in native Lundayeh language.
Nooh had decided to return Fulung back to the forest but due to the poaching concern happening in the forest he decided to keep Fulung as a pet for the time being.
Until August 2011, where Nooh found out he could give him a better life. He decided to surrender Fulung to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) when Fulung was nine months old.
Fulung arrived at BSBCC on 15th of August, 2011.
During his arrival, it was found that Fulung was malnourished and had a scratch mark on his forehead, which is believed to be caused by rubbing it on a cage bar. The initial health checks showed him in good health and body condition, weighing 9.4kg. During Fulung's placement in quarantine, he started to show signs of self-trauma due to finding it difficult adjusting to new experiences. This result was from being kept as a pet which caused him to scratch his abdomen until the wound was infected. This made him leave a dry scar wound on his abdomen area. Besides the wound, you could hear Fulung would growl and bawl loudly. Sun bear cubs will growl long and loud when they are separated from their mom. That was the problem with Fulung who had been kept in captivity with close human contact for long periods, which resulted in him requiring a great need of comfort.
To avoid this happening, we provided the best care for Fulung, different enrichment activities were given in order to stimulate and encourage his natural behavior.
A proper diet comprises of protein and fruit, medical treatment and great treats which have brought an improvement on Fulung. We could see that he was happily munching, destroying and exploring everything. He started to adapt and would smell, taste, play and paw things.
Fulung is a very cleaver, young male sun bear and checks out his enrichment.
Luckily, Fulung continues to improve day by day. He is settling in well in the new environment.
Moreover, other orphaned sun bears may help Fulung to learn the vital survival skills that he will need in the wild. So, BSBCC made a decision that Fulung needed to have a sun bear companion. On October 27th, 2011 he was introduced to the first ever bear friend, Mary.
For the last seven years, Fulung has known how to charm his way around the females in his group. He has grown up with other orphaned bears.
During the bear integration, they were incredibly playful in friendly greeting ways and no aggression happened beforehand. Bongkud, Mary, Debbie, Ah Bui, Ah Lun, Rungus, Julaini, Montom and Natalie are Fulung’s play bear friends.
He loves to make new friends where he becomes the loved and admired mischievous bear!
Magical! On June 11th, 2013 he took his biggest step and got to enjoy the sunshine with tall trees where he should belong!
Once the door opened, he quickly went out to explore! He was checking every meter of his new forest environment.
Fulung first dug up the dead log to get his favourite termites.
Over the years, Fulung proved to us that he will be one of the most confident and lovely bears in the centre.
Fulung is best known for loving to stand on his hind legs to get a better smell or look.
He will keep busy.
He spends his day roaming around the free range enclosure,
foraging up invertebrates and favourite food
basking in the sun,
taking a nap and loves climbing up high above the trees.
Fulung is an expert climber and will show how well he can climb to the top with rediscovering his natural behaviour!
He is anything and has become a much loved member of the sun bear family.
They are full of enthusiasm and energy!
They will keep learning to be wild bears and have fun everyday!
He always captures the hearts of people with his enthusiasm in loving nature.
This is very impressive when observing him slowly grow use to his new environment and learning as a wild bear. He slowly realizes the special bear he is and there is nothing to fear out there.
Fulung is doing exactly what they should do in the forest!!
Remember that we are not their mother. This is a very pathetic story for keeping a sun bear as a pet only will make the sun bear not know the world beyond the cage bars and they will lose the survival skills that they need to learn in the wild.
But thanks to the ongoing care and support we can give Fulung a second chance to live the happy, safe and healthy life he deserves. One of the things we LOVE about the smallest bears is simply that they make you smile.
Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Do you still remember the bear who has a sorrowful face, Soo? Good news, she had just recently finished her quarantine!
A little back story on Soo was that she was sold and purchased at RM350 when she was just a cub in Karamatoi village in Sook Keningau market. Soo was kept as a house pet in Nambayan village in Tambunan, the interior division of Sabah for two years. She was then rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department and sent to BSBCC on the 8th of September 2017.
Listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, the sun bear is a totally protected species in Sabah under the wildlife enactment 1997. Totally protected means that sun bears are illegal to hunt, be kept or be involved in any activity that could hurt the sun bear. Deforestation, poaching and pet trade are the major threats to sun bear population. There is no doubt that sun bear cubs are cute but the cuteness of a sun bear is not a reason to keep them as a pet. They are a wild animal that belongs to the wild.
The market demand is another reason for encouraging the selling and buying process of the sun bear. The intention of saving a sun bear by purchasing them is an indirect way to encourage the poachers to hunt for more sun bear in the wild. So, please stop buying any wild animal in either legal or illegal means and stop keeping them as a pet. Please take note this important message, if you see a sun bear being sold, you can give a call to Sabah Wildlife Department (+6 012 801 9289) or BSBCC. We could help rescue the bear. Just bear in mind, the purchasing of sun bear will encourage more selling of sun bears. When people keep sun bears as pet, they leave major implications to the bears and it starts with trauma. Trauma may then lead to the stress-related behaviour such as pacing.
During her time in quarantine, she spends more of her time by staying up high. But she does have her favourite enrichment, Aussie Dog Ball. The Aussie dog ball is filled with her favourite food, dog biscuits and honey. Besides that, keepers are trying to introduce her many kinds of enrichment such as live tree branches, happy sacks and much more. But, she seems to like to play at night time where no one is around her. This is the reason we called her The Nocturnal. She is preferably active at night. We saw her improvement within the 30 days quarantine. She appreciates all the foods that we offer and she can be eating so fast.
Soo lost her trust and confidence when she was kept as a pet. She may not leave her trauma behind at the moment, but soon we believe she will make it and back to the forest with her bear friends one day. So, what can we do now? We can give her more care and love to make sure she gains enough trust and confidence back. We hope she can be a real wild bear again in the forest. That is what she wants and what we want to.
Text by Nur Athirah Binti Asrif
Photos by Nur Athirah Binti Asrif, Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Hi my name is Nur Athirah. I am 21 years old and am currently a final year undergraduate Zoology student from the University Malaysia Sarawak. I was born and raised in the nature city of Sandakan. I have known BSBCC since they started but never had the chance to pay a visit. In the past I have always aspired to be a volunteer to work with the bears but here I am finally, sharing you my own story!
A little heads up; there will be tons of pictures of my days in BSBCC here. Well as the saying goes, A picture is worth a thousand words, so bear with it! :)
As a requirement for my studies, we have to undergo an industrial training for a period of 10 weeks. I have zero hesitation upon applying BSBCC as my internship placement and am totally grateful to be accepted. I admit that I was one of the luckiest to have done my industrial training in this centre. For all the 69 working days, there was not a single day that I didn’t gain a new experience. It was truly a life changing journey which I believe I would not get from any other places. Each day in the centre has always been interesting and I will always look forward to what will come on the upcoming days. It is a place that brings a more positive side of me as I was able to venture myself into more extraordinary and more challenging tasks and that is what makes my journey a memorable one. In a way, it acts like a rehab not only for the sunbears, but also for me.
Sunbears are the smallest bears in the world and are one of the least known. It was devastating for me as a local to see how little do our own people know about these beautiful creatures. As I have the opportunity to get engaged with the public during educational outreach and also at the visitors centre, I realized that most of the locals have very little knowledge about the sunbears let alone the wildlife. But a huge thanks to our papa bear, Dr Wong Siew Te for all his hard work in which more of the sunbears that in danger are saved and more people are educated.
Formerly, BSBCC has four main pillars which include welfare, rehabilitation, education and research. During my days in this centre, I have the opportunity to work with various departments which covers almost all the four pillars.
First off is welfare, which are mainly all the work in the bear house. Our daily routine in the bear house is well organized as we follow the schedule provided. From feeding to husbandry, everything is neatly organized and is well timed. During my first few weeks working, it was a tough ride as it was a whole new experience. I have never cleaned (bear) cages before but during my first day I managed to clean five and I feel rather proud of myself. As days passed, I feel accustomed to the routine and felt less lethargic during work. It was a tough ride but trust me, even with a small, unfit physical state like me, you be able to do things you have never imagined before as you try you’re very best.
As a volunteer, you will be assigned to a bear keeper whom will be guiding you throughout your volunteer period. Here is a picture of me and my buddy keeper, Mr Brandon Khoo Lee Ming cutting fire hoses for our project, the Noah’s Ark. Every volunteer are also encourage making a new form of enrichment for the bears regardless of the materials. For me, I made a small bunk bed which kind of resembles a hammock for the bears to simply relax and play.
During my internship period, I was lucky enough to experience the whole procedure when a bear deceased and when a bear is rescued. I was able to do taxidermy on the deceased bear, Gutuk and also joined the team when the new rescued bear arrived, Soo.
Other than that, in the process of rehabilitation, I was given the opportunity to observe Noah and Nano from their fence training until the moment they are released into the forest enclosure. Observing this lovable duo had been a bittersweet memory. It was a touching moment for me as I was lucky enough to witness the joy of the bears when they are released into the forest enclosure for the first time. Plus, I also wrote two story blogs about Nano and Noah which entitled “Cannot have the sweet without the bitter” and “A castle of wood, A playground for bears”.
This centre enables you to work with every task available. Your tasks vary from sawing bamboos, collecting termite mounts to hand drilling ironwoods. Regardless that you are a small girl, you will get the chance to do all the tough duty. The bear care team will always be there for you and guide you with all the work. I never waste my chance and always ready to learn something new because; where else will you have a chance to improve your craftsmanship?
Also, cheers to my sidekicks, Chee Yong and Batrisyia which are also interns from Zoology,UNIMAS. We are the first intern students from UNIMAS to have done our industrial training in BSBCC and are said to be the best, haha (just kidding)! It was an amazing journey working with these people and I would never have all the fun things without them.
This centre had taught me a lot not only about the sunbears but about passion, determination, hardwork, teamwork, skills and so forth. Huge thanks to Dr Wong Siew Te for all the knowledge and the time he spends just to have a meeting session with his volunteers. A round of applause to the bear care team who make my days in BSBCC as one of the best moment of my life. Every day at work is filled with laughter and fun. The bear care team had taught me a lot and have gave me so many insight especially in teamwork. Every day the team do noble jobs wholeheartedly and it is what I aspire to do in the near future. It took a one whole amazing team to make a globally known conservation centre.
Not to forget the educational team, for giving me a chance to visit three various schools around Sandakan. It was a wonderful opportunity to be able to educate our own people about the sunbears and the wildlife.
Thank you so much for everything. I promise I’ll come back in the near future. Till then,
Love, Barks and Big Bear Hugs!
Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
The sad part of each rescued orphan sun bear that arrive at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) is that they come from having lived through a bitter past. As sun bears grow into fully grown adult, they become dangerous and difficult to handle which will end up their lives in a tiny cage or seeking out sun bear rehabilitation centre to take their sun bear pet in.
This is what happens to our recently rescued a three years old sub adult female bear, Soo (Rescued bear No.56). It was so shock when we received a video showing that the person was playing with this bear (who is fully grown bear). She was purchased from Karamatoi village in Sook Keningau market when she was still cub and kept as a pet by a family in Nambayan village in Tambunan, located in the interior Division of Sabah for almost three years. She was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department and she arrives at BSBCC on 8th September 2017. Soo was fed with rice, cucumber and milk. Undoubtedly her mother had been killed; she is sold illegally throughout Borneo and kept in private home. Sadly many of these orphaned sun bears will never fully learn their natural way of life and lose their ability to survive in the wild.
During the arrival, Soo shows a sorrow face and traumatized. This made her keep alert. She must have been going through traumatizing experience for her. You can feel how this disgusting the pet trade is! Often these rescued sun bears take a long recovery road from the trauma of losing their mom in such a horrific way. They often suffer from physically health issues, malnutrition and poor treatment during her pet trade time.
Luckily for Soo, the Sabah Wildlife Department rescued her and she has been given second chance to survive as a wild bear. She has to go through a quarantine process for 30 days to determine her health status. On 10th September 2017 she received a health check. Dr. Pakeeyaraj Nagalinggam from Wildlife Rescue Unit, Sabah Wildlife Department performed a general health check. These include an assessment of her overall health, function of the internal organs and physical condition and potential sickness. Her weighs was 25.70kg.The blood tests result has shown she is in good health and bright bear.
At the BSBCC, Soo will receive intensive care. The most important first step is to make sure Soo is settled in this new environment. Till now she still avoids to explore new surroundings. Soo was introducing to new correct diet and enrichment to ensure she is growing healthy. But Soo only will explore the enrichment and treats on night time where the surrounding area was quiet. She will quickly move away after detecting our presence. Soo spent the majority of her time and feel safe by staying high up on cage. She is now an orphan and needs much love and care to grow into a trust and confident beautiful sun bear.
We are delighted to welcome Soo to our sun bear family! Soo has a long journey ahead of her in going through rehabilitation until she returns to the wild again. It is illegal to keep sun bears as pets! Please remember the consequences of keeping one as a pet and give them promise of HOPE! We hope to see Soo can be thriving and adapting well to her new home. She has to find the life of a free bear. We will be monitoring to see how she progresses over the coming months at quarantine.