Text by Shelly Smith
Photos by Chiew Lin May
As the BSBCC presently only has 3 outdoor pens large enough to accommodate several bears at the same time, some seriously strategic ‘bear shuffling’ has to occur in the bearhouse in order to get the right bears into the right cages for the outdoor exit ramps.
There are 2 existing groups that need to be integrated so they can occupy one outdoor pen instead of two, freeing up the second outdoor pen for Bermuda, a large mature male who is eagerly awaiting his outdoor sessions.
The two groups are ‘matriarchal’. The’’ Mary’’ group consists of 6 sub adult bears – little Mary, Ah Bui, Debbie, Koko, Bongkud and young male Fulung. 2nd group is Natalie’s group of four, with Natalie, Ah Lun, Runggus and young male Julaini.
Bear etiquette dictates that a polite introduction is by way of curiously sniffing through an interconnecting gateway - if no sign of aggression is seen, then the gateway is opened cautiously by the bear keeper, and one bear may proceed into the adjoining cage where the sniffing procedure progresses to a stage of playful paw inductions. Hereafter it is quite permissible to raucously cavort around the cage and wrestle in the hammock (or other enrichment provided) until one or both bears are completely exhausted. Suckling on a bear’s ears is a privilege for best friends only.
Integration started on the 9th September by daily introducing one bear from Mary’s group to the Natalie group bears, one bear at a time over an hour or so. These introductions over the week went amazingly well with no hint of aggression as each bear learnt the smells, stature and behaviour of the others, in spite of two females being on heat during the process.
However, there came a turning point when the two young males were introduced. All went smoothly at the beginning of the session with 7 of the bears occupying 3 interlinking cages, playing and rough-housing with great abandon. Fulung, the young male from Mary’s group, has a wound that he continuously scratches at and thus it cannot heal. Julaini, the young male from Natalie’s group, curious to see if this could be meat, took a bite, with the ensuing fracas becoming quite violent, and intervention needed.
Lesson learnt! - since then Fulung’s would is treated with medication so he no longer smells like a meal, and all bears taking part in integration sessions are fed copious amounts of fruity treats, so tummies are full and everyone’s content beforehand.
All 10 bears will continue to mingle for a period every day under the watchful eyes of the bear team until they are deemed ‘’suitably merged’’ to enter the outdoor pen together. Bermuda can then finally be moved up the chain of linked cages to the outdoor exit of forest enclosure, and experience the freedom of the natural forest again!