Text by Jacquelyn Jill Jepiuh
We are pleased to share that we have released our 12th bear into the wild! Our candidate was Sika, first rescued by the Sabah Wildlife Department on the 9th February 2017 and set free exactly 6 years later on the 10th February 2023.
Sika was spotted by a foreigner who was travelling through a rural area called Kampung Sikalabaan in Pensiagan district, Sabah. She was found as a 4-month-old bear cub that was kept as a pet in a chicken mesh cage and was fed condensed milk, fruits and cereal. He then decided to call BSBCC and asked for help rescuing this bear cub. Sika first arrived BSBCC on March 1st, 2017. As a cub, she had strikingly beautiful blue eyes and eventually with extra love and patience she managed to overcome her traumatic past and developed into a lovely and playful bear cub. Her keepers at the time helped to teach her as much forest skills they could such as climbing, digging and foraging. She was off to a good start! She slowly gained the confidence as a young cub to develop the skills needed to survive outside in the forest.
As she grew older, she made new friends – BJ, Soo and Kina. These four were integrated while they were in the quarantine area together forming a close bond with each other. Eventually in 2020, the group was moved to the bear house where they could start their fence training before going out to the forest enclosure! Sika was the last to pass fence training but when she was finally out in the forest enclosure, she showed her amazing climbing skills. Always spending the longest in the forest enclosure usually up high in the trees and sometimes not wanting to come back to her cage! Spotting her from the perimeters of the fence was very hard as she mostly spent her time deep inside the forest not wanting our attention. A shy bear at nature and a master of disguise with her dark snout always hiding in the bushes. Occasionally we would be able to spot her resting in the hollows of a dead tree.
9th February 2023
It is finally the day to get Sika ready for her release! At 3pm, Dr Yeoh Boon Nie and the bear care team prepared all things necessary to relocate Sika into her translocation cage. After a last health assessment and a collar change, she was placed into the cage and was closely monitored by her keeper. By 12am, the team loaded her up onto the car and started their long journey to Tabin Wildlife Reserve. Few stops were made to check on Sika’s condition, feeding her some banana and honey water to keep her hydrated for the journey.
10th February 2023
The team arrived Tabin Forest Reserve at 6am but unfortunately the weather was not on our side which caused some delays with the helicopter coming to relocate Sika. She was a little restless in the cage, but calmed down after the team put her by the river to cool down. Once the skies cleared up, the helicopter arrived at 10.15am. It’s go time!
After touchdown, the team made the last preparations and inspected the release site. When everything was set in place, it was finally time to let Sika free! We opened her translocation cage door at 12.11pm and Sika immediately ran out. Still in sight, she slowly and calmly explored her new environment until she went deeper into the forest. In a blink of an eye she was gone.
Words cannot describe the joy we felt seeing Sika back in the wild, where she truly belongs. Run free beautiful Sika, may you never encounter another human again!
BSBCC would like to give a huge thank you Yayasan Sime Darby and Hasanah Foundation for their continuous support towards our rehabilitation program. Other than our rehabilitation program, their contribution towards our efforts in promoting sun bear conservation, animal welfare, education and research have greatly helped support our cause. Thank you for giving captive bears like Sika a better life and also a fighting chance to be returned to the wild.