Text By BSBCC
Photos By BSBCC & Scuba Zoo
Finally able to breathe true freedom in the wild…
Just before Christmas 2010 baby cub Natalie was rescued from illegal pet trade and sent to Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) on December 23rd. It was claimed that she was found alone and abandoned by her mother. However, we suspected that her mother was killed by poachers and she was captured and illegally kept as a pet.
A 5 year old adult female beautiful Natalie built up her survival skills, independence and learned to behave like a wild sun bear. Her improvement in her survival skills in the forest enclosure has been excellent. She became an exceptional climber and tree nest maker. After learning in BSBCC for five years Natalie is ready to be released back to where she belongs – the forest. The ultimate goal of BSBCC is to return rehabilitated sun bears back to the wild and on Sunday May 17th, 2015 it was time to follow this goal; BSBCC started the journey to release Natalie back to the protected forest. Previous to her journey she was fitted with a satellite collar to keep track of her even after her release. In order to transport the sun bear to the forest as far as possible we choose to use a helicopter. After a long discussion, Wong decided that the helicopter model Layang-Layang Aerospace Sdn Bhd (BO105) was the suitable for our purposes because it could fit transportation cage.
This is the FIRST time that a captive sun bear got reintroduced to its natural habitat in Sabah using a helicopter and is monitored post release with the help of a satellite collar. Natalie is ready to live a new life as a truly wild sun bear in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve. The experience she has gathered throughout her 5 years at the rehabilitation centre will help her explore her true home in the core area of Tabin Wildlife Reserve. The core area encompasses 120500 hectares and is a pristine rainforest with no human disturbances but lots of big trees, fig trees and a variety of wildlife.
It was a challenging day. All hopes and prayers were solely for this release activity to go as smoothly as planned. The release team’s preparations already started at 3pm on May 16th, 2015 at the bear house of BSBCC when Sabah Wildlife Department vet, Dr. Laura Benedict started the sedation process. A full physical health examination showed that Natalie was completely healthy at 45kg of weight. Dr. Laura Benedict inserted a microchip into Natalie’s body.
Natalie was then moved to her translocation cage. Natalie’s journey started on a WRU truck to Wildlife Department Quarter Lahad Datu in the east of Sabah, two hours from BSBCC. Natalie was kept in the translocation cage overnight close to the veterinarians, the WRU team and the team of BSBCC. She was under constant observation and fed with water, honey and banana. Natalie seemed to be stressed in the translocation cage, but freedom was just around the corner.
The team woke up early in the morning on May 17th 2015, and got ready at Tabin Headquarter at 6.30 am. After a full assessment, the weather was considered safe for the helicopter to land at Tabin Headquarter. Once the helicopter arrived, the operation was split into three different trips. With the first two trips the team entered the mud volcano of Tabin to evaluate and identify the most suitable release site.
At 10.17 am, it was Natalie’s turn to be flown to Tabin mud volcano
Once Natalie arrived, the team set up the translocation cage in the correct direction for release. Dr. Laura Benedict conducted a final check, to ensure that Natalie was ready to enter her new home!
A 20 m rope was tied to the sliding gate of the cage. The team stood 15 m away from the translocation cage.
As soon as the door of her cage was opened, Natalie straight headed into the forest. She explored everything, sniffed the air of Tabin and assessed her new environment before disappearing into the tall tree canopy of the forest. Tabin Wildlife Reserve has welcomed her into a new protected home. The emotions running through the forest while watching Natalie enjoying her newfound freedom are un-describable. A heart-warming moment filled with tears of joy.
Wildlife Rescue Unit team, Tabin Rangers, BSBCC team and Scuba Zoo Filming Crews in Tabin Headquarter. Thanks for all your support in helping sun bear and release work.
Natalie! Stay healthy, happy and keep growing gracefully!
You will always be in our hearts!