Text by Khairunnisa binti Mohd Faisal (Intern Student, University Science Malaysia)
Photos by Chiew Lin May
Every sun bear should be given an opportunity to be released into the forest. They deserve to live a free life in their natural habitat. There is this one sun bear named Panda. She is 11 years old and originated from Tawau District. Panda is in good terms with a male bear, Kudat. She was named “Panda” because both of the bears were mistakenly displayed as “Panda Bears” at a private mini zoo located in Kudat District.
Fence training is conducted because the forest enclosure is surrounded with an electric fence which is to make sure the bears do not escape from the forest enclosure. A few years ago, Panda had her first fence training. However, Panda failed the test as she was zapped and refused to go out to the training pen.
There is always a second chance for Panda as we believe that she can do better. This year, we gave Panda a second chance and conducted another fence training for her. To sum the experience up, Panda did very well and so much improvement was recorded during the sessions.
On the first day of fence training, Panda did not want to go out from the cage. She spent most of her time sniffing the sliding door and tapping the ground. She likes to tap a lot. Two of her front limbs were out and she managed to only use her tongue to eat the food in the training pen. She ended up pacing in the cage after she was no longer able to grab any more food in the training pen.
On the fifth day of training, Panda made a huge improvement in which her whole body was out to the training pen. She started by observing the environment in the training pen and began to eat the prepared food in the middle of the pen. However, she was a little bit insecure whenever she heard noise made by another bear. Whenever there was a strange sound, Panda would run into the cage and pace. It took a while for Panda to go out to the training pen again.
Panda got her first zap on the 7th day of training. Amazingly, she did not panic. She stayed in the training pen and continued searching for food. Panda approached the electrical fence area and grabbed the food underneath it using her claws. It looked like Panda was aware of the fence and kept some distance whenever she tried to grab the food.
Over 4 consecutive fence training sessions, Panda made herself comfortable in the training pen. She started to remove the log to find food, often got herself near the fence to grab food underneath it and spent a longer amount of time observing the environment in the training pen instead of pacing in the cage. It was so overwhelming to see such improvement in her. However, she was still startled by the noise made by other bears. When there was a noise, Panda took the food in the training pen and brought it into the cage and continued eating there. Panda is very sensitive to loud noise as she feels unsafe whenever she hears it.
Starting Day 11 until Day 17 of the fence training session, Panda felt safer in the training pen and she already knew the right technique to grab the food underneath the electrical fence. The prepared food for the session is almost finished being eaten by her. Panda spent most of her time eating in the training pen and exploring the environment in the pen.
Now, the fence training progress has been upgraded and Panda will be released into the training pen for around 3 hours every day to make her feel comfortable in the pen. Once she passes the fence training, she will become an eligible candidate to be released to the forest enclosure in BSBCC.