Text and photos by Ng Wai Pak
It was two weeks ago when someone informed me that her friend had a sun bear that needed rescuing. Concerned of the whole situation, I got to my feet and instantly reported to the Sabah Wildlife Department. Very soon a rescue operation plan was well on its way. Boy was I glad that the department allowed our keeper, Daniel, and me to follow up with the whole operation from the beginning until the end.
On the morning of the 23rd July 2011, Dr Diana (Sabah Wildlife Rescue Unit), En. Azari (Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre), Daniel, and I (BSBCC) did the final check for the essentials before we started our journey to Lahad Datu. It’s sad that how most of the time we only get limited info about the bears that we are going to rescue, and most probably the information obtained might be inaccurate. Hence, to get ready for any unforeseen circumstances is a must!
I had my check list with me, and I made sure everything was on board for the journey. Translocation cage: Check. Medical box and sedation kits: Check. Camera and evaluation forms: Check. Okay team, all set and ready to go!
After a 2 hour drive and miles and miles and miles (yes, I mean MILES!) of monoculture plantation scenery, we then stopped in front of an oil palm mill and waited for Mr. Tew who was the person in charge of the local oil palm plantation. He then brought us into his plantation and showed us where the sun bear was kept.
And there he was, an adult male sun bear kept in a metal enclosure which was definitely bigger compared to the common local “dog kennel” cage. It was a hot and sunny afternoon, and the scorching sun was shining right above our heads.
He wasn’t really making things easier when the bear started to pace on the cement floor as well as on the rusted metal bed and later continued to bark at all of us. It was obvious that the bear was under stress, and probably sensing that something was going to happen, tried to get away from the cage he called home, a place where he has lived in for the past 18 years.
Everything was ready and Dr. Diana, looking like a female military officer in her all blacks attire and gumboots, aimed carefully and sedated the bear with her dart gun. An almost silent ‘whoosh’ and before you know it, within 10 minutes after the aim, the 47 kilogram male sun bear became slow in his pace and finally dropped unconscious on the floor. We then entered the enclosure and immediately started checking on the sun bear’s health. We found that his oral health condition was in quite a serious state. He has a lot of tooth decays and loose teeth as well as gingivitis. Despite that though, the bear was in good condition. Right before we placed him into the translocation cage, Dr. Diana gave him the multivitamin and antibiotic injection.
Later on, I interviewed the worker who took care of the bear. I was shocked to find out that the cause of the bear’s oral problem was due to his unhealthy diet. Well, try imagining this: two kilogram of empty porridge and 4 cans of condensed milk EVERYDAY. I don’t think I would be a very happy sun bear if I was fed that way for the past 18 years of my life. In fact, such unbalance and unnatural food is very commonly provided by the illegal owners to their pets, doesn’t matter if it is a bear or an orang utan.
Mr Tew admitted that he has no idea what a bear’s natural food would be. He didn’t know and assumed that condensed milk and rice porridge would be good enough to keep the bear alive and kicking. Well, I guess it did just that but the effect on the bear now is too much to bear.
I guess at this point you might be wondering how Amaco ended up living in the middle of an oil palm plantation. It was just back in 1993 when a group of workers were clearing the forest for the preparation of the new plantation when they found a cute little bear cub in the middle of the forest. They took him and named him as Amaco. Since then, Amaco has been kept in the metal enclosure, until recently, someone informed them about our centre.
After all the health check, we straight away sent Amaco back to BSBCC. By the time we arrived (which was already half past five), Amaco has already recovered from his sedation. It took us sometime to move him into the quarantine cage, for he was starting to growl and bark at us. For now, our plan is to monitor Amaco’s health condition and will start soon enough on a 30 days quarantine period for him. Definitely for sure, no condensed milk for him anymore!