Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Kala, is the youngest female cub of the many sun bears being cared for at the BSBCC. She was originally bought by someone in Kalabakan, near the Maliau Basin. The owner had intended to save the cub, but soon thereafter Kala was surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit. When she arrived at the BSBCC on January 21st 2015 very little was known about her circumstances other than she has been separated from her mother at a very young age. The poachers usually kill the mothers in the forest in order to poach the bear cubs, which are then kept as pets or sold to illegal wildlife traders in South East Asia.
She was emaciated and malnourished upon arrival but the BSBCC staff has been caring for her around the clock to make her feel secure and confident. Kala has gained weight over the past few months and now weighs 10.35 kg. She has made much progress in the last three months, and we are very happy for her. Kala has a good appetite and eats and drinks all of the milk and fruit given to her. We have also noticed that she is starting to get her permanent teeth.
Kala is everything a cub should be – playful, inquisitive and sweet natured. It is a great joy to report that Kala finished her quarantine time on February 21st, 2015. We began regularly taking her out for walks in the forest on February 26th, 2015. This forest walk helps the sun bear cubs become wild bears again.
She adjusted quickly to her new surroundings and demonstrated her ability to find forest foods and travel in the canopy. Kala enjoys searching for termites and earthworms in the soil, which are some of the most important food sources for sun bears.
She has a unique behavior of eating soil, which is something another sub-adult bear named Mary does. When she comes across something unexpected like a millipede or giant ant she is very cautious, shows little interest, and then runs away.
Kala loves spending her time lying on forest floor and grabbing dry leaves or branches to bite and play with. She has become more active and energetic, and her favorite activities include digging, eating soil, and playing.
Sun bear cubs often play fight to help develop skills they will need in the wild. When Kala wants to play with the BSBCC staff, she grabs at their boots to initiate a play fight. She also likes to show off her small canines and claws while she is playing.
Sun bears are arboreal animals; however Kala was not quite so confident when it came to her climbing skills. She can be a bit fussy when we put her up in the trees for a climbing lesson.
In order for her to learn how to climb trees, our bear keeper and volunteer, Rica and Thomas, built a new climbing structure for little Kala. This type of enrichment was specially made to help prepare her for the life back to the wild. Kala has taken great delight in learning how to climb the structure, and will soon be enjoying all of the enrichment structures provided in the den.
On March 28th, 2015 it was great to observe the confidence Kala demonstrated when using her claws and canine strength to climb the liana. Now, she is keeping rather busy with her own activities and likes digging dead wood, resting, and playing.
Sun bear cubs depend on and stay with their mothers for about two to three years. Kala lost her mother at a very young age and now has to learn by herself how to survive in the wild. She has a long way to go through rehabilitation, but we are happy that her forest skills are improving day by day. We are absolutely delighted that Kala will have the second chance to live in the wild again once she is ready for life in the real forest.
Sun bears are the smallest bear species in the world. Please help spread the word that this animal belongs in the wild and should not be kept as a pet, no matter what the circumstance may be. Together we make the difference!