Text by Pradeep Gunasegaran
Photos by BSBCC & Chiew Lin May
Linggam, a male Bornean Sun Bear, has been a long residence at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). 2020 will be exactly 10 years since he arrived at BSBCC. Linggam is about to turn 16 years of age but unfortunately he has lived a majority of his life in captivity. He was handed over to Sabah Wildlife Department back in 2004 when he was a just a little cub. He was found at a logging camp at Kampung Pinangah and was brought over to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in the beginning. As he was growing older into a matured bear, he was then relocated to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park before returning back to Sepilok to be cared under BSBCC.
Under BSBCC’s care, Linggam was released into the forest enclosure in 2011 after he went through his fence training. His release into the forest enclosure wasn’t a straight forward process as majority would expect it to be. Initially, he was afraid and wary of the naturalistic world ahead of him and required plenty of ‘baiting’ done to coax him into venturing into the forest enclosure and staying further away from the Bear House. This clearly shows that he was probably habituated to captive surroundings; within bars and on concrete floor and never really knowing that he belongs in the forest.
With the addition of Forest Enclosure 2 in 2015, the sun bears in BSBCC were shifted around between Bear House 1; which connects to Forest Enclosure 1 and Bear House 2; which connects to Forest Enclosure 2. Since Linggam was always released into Forest Enclosure 1 in solitary, he was shifted to Bear House 2 to give opportunity to other sun bears which could get along living a social grouping to be released into the Forest Enclosure 1. Since his relocation, he has not been into the forest enclosure. The situation for Linggam became such because of the amount of sun bears that fell onto BSBCC’s shoulders and being a matured male, he couldn’t go out with the other males and Linggam was known to be combative by his fore ‘owners’. Therefore, more sociable individuals were being released into forest enclosures while the unsociable males had to take turn going out.
Fast forwarding to 2019, an initiative was started to introduce Linggam into the forest enclosure once again. Linggam has been sitting in Bear House 2 adjacent to 5 female bears; Susie, Kuamut, Manis, Cerah, and Jelita, a stable social group of female sun bears that occupies a section of Forest Enclosure 2. It was decided that Linggam would be integrated into this social group because Linggam never showed aggression towards this group of females through the bars that separated them and if all goes well, Linggam would be able to enter the forest enclosure again but this time it would be in a social group setting.
This new adventure of Linggam’s started off with a physical interaction with only Susie in the Bear House. At the first, the slightest and sudden glimpse of Linggam, Susie barked but after getting a good amount a sniffing through a little gap, they had an approving social interaction. After a couple of days, a good friend of Susie’s, Kuamut, was introduced to Linggam. This integration was more exciting as Kuamut was equally enthusiastic about meeting Linggam. Then, Manis, the oldest female in the group was chosen to meet Linggam. Linggam appeared to be most interested with playing around with Manis compared to the other two individuals and Manis was pretty submissive to Linggam’s advances. With such approving integration results with Susie, Kuamut and Manis, another progressive step to releasing Linggam into the forest enclosure was taken. All three of the female bears were incorporated with Linggam in the Bear House, a risky step as the amount of bears have increased in a much more smaller space compared to an actual forest space. HOWEVER, Linggam was not overwhelmed with the amount of bears that appeared in front of him and the three females were not ‘battling’ out for Linggam’s attention.
After a number of integrations between Linggam and the three females, Jelita was decided to be his new social engagement. On the day that Jelita was supposed to meet Linggam, Cerah, her good friend decided to not leave Jelita alone in the Bear House. Cerah refused to enter into the forest enclosure to accompany Jelita, who was segregated into an adjacent pen. When both Linggam and Jelita were integrated, the process went on smoothly. However, Cerah on the other hand was not too happy with the setup as she could no longer see Jelita beside her. Cerah started vocalizing and crying out for Jelita. This behavior of Cerah’s then made us decide to bring Linggam and Jelita to the pen adjacent to Cerah for her to see that integration between Linggam and Jelita. Cerah did not move away from viewing her good friend and she kept calling out for Jelita. When Jelita climbed up to the hammock, Linggam pursued Jelita as well by climbing the bars. At that moment, while the bars were separating Linggam and Cerah, both of the sun bears got to sniff each other and there was no aggression exhibited. It was then, on Linggam’s supposedly first interaction with only Jelita, turned into integration with Cerah as well. ON THE FIRST DAY! During the integration, Jelita was observed trying to protect the other as Linggam would play fight with Cerah but ultimately, the integration had no aggression between the sun bears and was successful.
Then, Linggam’s integration with the female sun bears was continued with days where Linggam would be integrating either with just two or three female sun bears. After sometime, another big step was taken by getting Linggam to interact with all five female sun bears concurrently in the Bear House. The female bears had no issues being put together in the forest enclosure but they would get feisty when placed together in the Bear House. We feared that any form of aggression between the female individuals would trigger the aggression within Linggam causing the entire initiative to go south. Thankfully, the 1st integration of all six individuals worked out perfectly. Linggam was able to play fight with any individual while the other individuals who were not actively interacting with Linggam could just continue with any activity in the Bear House. It was such a heartwarming process to see Linggam’s social skills with the groups of female sun bears. His behaviour was NOTHING LIKE mentioned before. No aggression just pure playfulness from him and he was good a reading their body language.
Today, Linggam is being sent out to the training pen for him to familiarised with a miniature enclosure with electric fence. Upon the completion of this training, he will finally be released back into the forest enclosure with Susie, Kuamut, Manis, Cerah, and Jelita. Hopefully with the help the female sun bears, he would not be scared of venturing into the forest enclosure like before. Besides that, Linggam is also afraid to climb into the high structures in the Bear House. Maybe being in a social group, he will slowly be encouraged by the other sun bears to climb up a tree someday. The thought of seeing Linggam finally behaving like his wild counterparts is what BSBCC is all about, REHABILITATING OUR BORNEAN SUN BEARS!