Text by Charina Pria
Photos by Sumira Muis, Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Do you ever feel like getting an ice cream when the weather is scorching hot outside? Or continuously shake your legs or walk up and down when you’ve got nothing to do?
Here at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), where the weather sometimes hits a summery 31°C, we take in extra care to treat our sun bears with our very own version of ice cream called, “Ice Blocks”, which are various fruits in a block of frozen honey-water, then on other days, we trek into the jungle in search of bamboos, sticks, dead logs, termite mounds or anything that is plausible to be creatively created as a “toy” for the sun bears to stimulate naturalistic behavior. This is important because a sun bear in captivity will tend to pace, and what we call this a stereotypic behavior – A behavior that is equivalent to a human’s shaking of legs or walking up and down for a long period of time, hence why these “toys” are an important management tool in ensuring that these bears are stimulated physiological and psychologically.
These “toys”, also known as Enrichment, serves more than just a cure for boredom, but with careful and a thoughtful goal-oriented plan, these enrichment tools can serve a higher purpose in stimulating a sun bear’s cognitive, sensory, locomotion, and social skills and so much more! Since most of the sun bears – young and old – at the centre are rescued from illegal pet trade, these enrichment tools are very crucial to encourage their naturalistic behavior such a wild sun bear would be and have. From using their claws to dig out, their exceptionally long tongue to retrieve honey or fruits, their keen sense of smell and even to their skillful tree-climbing bustle.
Here’s a look at some of the enriching toys we give to our sun bears!
Sika, Kina and Gutuk are playing with Aussie Dog Ball, an enrichment tool designed to encourage the usage of their claws, their tongue and overall to stimulate their cognitive skills in order to retrieve the fruits that are being trapped inside, replicating a like-fruit that may be found in the dense rainforest.
Fun fact: Did you know that sun bears can also build nests way up high on the trees just as how an Orang Utan would?
Fun fact: When wild sun bears feast upon termites in the rain forest, this ensures the population level of termites to be controlled, thus ensuring a healthy ecosystem of trees from being completely devoured! Thank you sun bears!
And many more! We thank our keepers and volunteers for the endless commitment for their hard work in creating existing and even new enrichment ideas for the sun bears!
We always strive to maintain and ensure that the sun bears in our centre are well care not only through their diet but an overall welfare and rehabilitation through encouragement with these enrichment tools that is crucial to strengthen the foundation of sun bear skills and hopefully, this progress will eventually lead up to their release back into the wild, where they truly belong.