Text by Joanna Buckingham (Volunteer BSBCC)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Given the space constraints and the growing population between bear house 1 and 2, integration of bears into groups is a large focus for BSBCC. Integration not only allows more of the curious bears to experience the limited outdoor forest enclosures but also lets the bears learn skills off each other that they would have normally been taught by their mother's in their natural wild habitat of the Bornean rainforest.
One of the bears currently in the integration program is the 7 year old Panda. Panda's journey with BSBCC began with a rescue mission from a mini zoo in 2010 along with Kudat. Both had been mislabelled as pandas in the Kudat region and thus their names bearing testament to their previous life.
Panda's time was finally up and it was decided that she would be integrated with an established group of bears around her age who currently enjoy pen D, Julaini the male of the group and the two females Ah Lun and Rungus. Integration into this group began in February 2015 introducing Panda to the most aggressive of the group first Ah Lun. This is to ensure a successful match as integration of bears who are normally solitary can take a long time. If the dominant bear doesn't accept the new bear then it would be wasted time to familiarise Panda with the other bears if ultimately she would always be rejected by the "leader". It is all a bit high school!
While the BSBCC team began the group integration from February 5th, the integration work is still continuing several months later demonstrating the patience and time needed to group the bears. As part of my volunteer program, I got to observe one of Panda´s integration sessions in July 2015. I noted quickly that while Panda is large for her size due to a previous diet of a daily chicken in the mini zoo, she doesn't use that to her advantage as she is much more interested in playing with the other bears. It was great to see Julaini and Panda played with each other with playful barks and bites on the back. Both take turns using their strength to pull the other down. Bear playfights reminded me of growing up with my three siblings while sometimes it looks too rough, the bears know their limits and know when to bark in a way to demonstrate that they have had enough or the playing has gone too far.
During my observation, Panda and Ah Lun played in their cage while Julaini alternated between watching from the hammock or resting between the cages. It is a good sign when bears are happy to rest while the other bears are in their cage as it shows that they are happy to be in each other´s presence. Also another good sign is if the bears are happy to share food.
It was also decided after an unsuccessful integration with another group that Chin would be introduced to this group. Chin perhaps learning from the previous experience always displays her dominance. Chin was introduced last during my observation as the team know that Chin will show these traits. When Chin was introduced into the third cage, giving the bears more space in case the dominance went too far, she was quick to growl and bark and pull back her nose to show her teeth when she approached the other two cages. Panda showed interest in playing but Chin was more interested in ensuring that no one came into the cage she was occupying and sat firmly in the doorway. Ah Lun showed some signs of fear as Chin ended up in the doorway holding the other three bears in one cage and not letting any of the bears play with her or enter the other cages. Chin was quite interesting to watch as the noises they are make are quite unusual and can grow from low growls to barks like a dog. Chin also shows her dominance by standing up.
Panda and Chin´s integration into the group continues at BSBCC and demonstrates the time, patience and expertise of the BSBCC team. Supporting BSBCC will ensure my bear friends like Panda will have the time dedicated to her to ensure that she integrates into an accepting bear group and get to experience the outdoor enclosures.