Text by Pradeep Aggi Gunasegaran
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
Rescued Bear Number 56 which goes by the name Soo maybe be well known among the loyal supporters of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) but for those of you who are new to our cause, here is a little flashback to the beginning of Soo’s life. The details that were provided to us spoke briefly about Soo being traded in a market at Sook, Keningau in the year of 2015. She was purchased by her owner for RM 350 and then lived as pet for two years in the interior division of Sabah. In 2017, Sabah Wildlife Department rescued Soo and handed her over to BSBCC when she was already at the age of three years old. There is no doubt that Soo’s mother would have been killed for her to be sold in a market. A mother bear would always try her best to protect her cub just as like it was potrait in a recent trending news (June 2021) which mentioned that a young American woman pushes off a brown bear to save her dogs. If you would have seen the entire CCTV footage, you would notice that the brown bear had two cubs and the mother bear became defensive when the dogs started barking frantically.
Like any other sun bears that end in BSBCC, Soo also underwent a health check upon arrival. However, unlike many sun bears which arrive in poor health conditions, Soo’s blood work indicated that she was healthy. While her general health was in order, Soo was not adjusting well to the surrounding. She was always in heightened alert state as keeper were around in the day. She would only eat her food and play with environmental enrichment after the keepers leave at the end of the day. The changes to her behaviour were subtle as she would aggressively start pacing if there is the slightest form of stressor such a single loud noise. As her behaviour slowly improved, it was decided that Soo’s rehabilitation process would take a positive turn by integrating her with Sika, Kina, BJ; three young sun bears and Diana; our adult female sun bear. At the beginning of the integration, Soo was apprehensive and confused at time when it came to interacting with the other bears. Although, it was difficult for her in the beginning, she eventually got along with all the other sun bears and she was able to eat, play and sleep together with them. Soo remained vigilant to the presence of keepers but having other sun bears around her did allow her to be more relaxed in comparison to her early life as a solitary bear since arriving at BSBCC.
After staying at BSBCC’s quarantine section for few years, Soo was transferred to bear house with her friends Sika, Kina and BJ in 2020. It was another stressful yet a necessary process that had to be endured by Soo in her rehabilitation program. This time around, there were more sun bears around where she could either see them or catch their smell and of course, there were also more keepers and volunteers around as well. Soo spent her first week clinging to the top of the den, refusing to shift dens for cleaning to be done or even coming down to take her food as long as she knew that keepers were still in the bear house even if they were not standing in front of her. Once she settled down in bear house, the next step in her rehabilitation process was undergoing fence training. Surprisingly, Soo was first to pass fence training among her friend. As soon as Sika, Kina and BJ passed their fence training, all of them were released into Pen G, a small forest enclosure. This time around the transition from a small enclosed space; which was very familiar to her to a large open space was tremendously difficult for Soo.
After a few of month, Soo did not touch the soil in Pen G and it was decided that her entire group would be shifted to Pen K as an effort to get Soo living her life as a wild sun bear. When Soo, Sika, Kina, and BJ were released into Pen K, the initial results were similar as Soo refused to step down to venture into the forest while the others were quick the enjoy the much bigger forest enclosure. It also took Soo few month before she gathered the courage to step on the concrete flooring of Pen K, a flooring that is much familiar to a sun bear like Soo. After a combine of seven months, the bear care unit spotted Soo venturing into the forest enclosure. Although she was brave enough to indulge herself with nature, by afternoon, Soo would be back to bear house, on the all too familiar concrete flooring, waiting for the keepers to bring her back into the bear house later in the evening. In March 2021, Soo and her friends were once again shifted to Pen G as per the rotational practice under BSBCC. Unfortunately, the cycle repeats itself for Soo as she has yet to set her paw onto the ground of Pen G at this point of writing.
The rehabilitation process undergone by Soo with BSBCC has been a long and slow process. The reaction that Soo has been giving throughout the process clearly indicates that she is a traumatised Bornean Sun Bear. The actions of us, the human-beings have robbed her the essence of living her life as a sun bear; especially when she was a mere cub which could have lived peacefully with her mother for at least two years, learning the way of a sun bear.
Sun bears are a totally protected species, protected by the law in Sabah. It is illegal to hunt, to be kept as a possession or to be involved in any activity that could cause harm to a sun bear. Sun bear cubs are cute but it is also a reason for the depleting population of sun bears in the wild and the growing cubs end up having a traumatising lives just like Soo’s. Please say no to illegal wildlife trade and if you happen to see any sun bears being sold, you can alert the Sabah Wildlife Department or BSBCC.
As for Soo, BSBCC would continuously put in the effort to aid her with the rehabilitation program. We would also like to convey our appreciation to Perbadanan Insurans Deposit Malaysia (PIDM) who is adopting Soo under the My Bear Adoption Programme which further aids in our cause to give a second chance to the rescued Bornean Sun Bears in Sabah.