Text by Seng Yen Wah
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah
After Sunbearo and Loki were reintroduced into the wild in January of last year, we are happy to announce that we have successfully released Wawa, a six-year-old adult female sun bear, back into the wild on February 26, 2022. She is the 11th bear to be reintroduced into the wild by the BSBCC.
Wawa arrived at the BSBCC on the 18th of March, 2016. When she arrived at the BSBCC she was just four months old. She was spotted by the Forest Management Unit (FMU) 16, Pinangah, Telupid District. At that time, when the officer brought her to the FMU, she appeared weak. The next day, they surrendered Wawa to the Sabah Wildlife Department. After that, she was sent to the Lok Kawi Wildlife Zoo and then to the BSBCC.
Ideally, the bear cub will stay with their mother until two to three years old. However, Wawa was found alone, without her mother by her side. She suffered from the loss of her mother. Due to emotional trauma, Wawa was afraid of her new environment. She would become grumpy and start growling. She felt safer and prefered to stay in the den rather than out in the forest.
For Wawa to gain confidence, her keepers provided her with different natural structural enrichments, in a larger exercise den, to enrich her daily life and encourage her natural bear behaviour. Every day she practised her “wild bear skills” such as digging, foraging and climbing. These skills are essential for survival in the wild. Wawa slowly adapted to her new surroundings.
On 17th November 2016, Wawa took her first and brave step out onto the ground in the forest enclosure. Once she touched the ground, she could not wait to explore everything inside the forest enclosure. She has since proven that she is an explorer! She has excellent climbing skills and is one of the most adventurous and outgoing bears in the BSBCC. She is superb at exploring and investigating both the enrichment and the environment. She explores, plays, climbs and rests in the forest. Wawa is vigilant. She is aware of her surroundings. When a stranger is gradually approaching her, she will give a warning bark or even chase them away. She gains strength, confidence and develops her independence. After six years of rehabilitation in BSBCC, she now has the opportunity to live in the wild again!
On 25th February 2022, our resident veterinarian, Dr Yeoh Boon Nie, assisted by the bear care team, conducted a final check-up on Wawa. After that, we transferred Wawa to a translocation cage, and her keeper cared for her wellbeing by closely monitoring from sedation to recovery. At 11.55pm in the midnight, the night sky was clear. The team loaded the cage onto a vehicle. Everything was ready! The bear release team and Wawa were set off for the forest reserves.
After few hours drive, we finally arrived. The sky was still dark. Wawa looked alert in the cage. The team wait for the sky to turn bright. The team then inspected the release site and made final preparations. When everything was ready, the moment finally came. Once the door opened at 6.29 am, Wawa ran out from the cage and soon she disappeared into the deep forest. It was an emotional moment to see her being released into the wild. The real freedom now belongs to Wawa. We hope she enjoys her new adventure in the wild. Her movement will be monitored via satellite collar by the BSBCC team. Stay wild, Wawa!
Last but not least, the BSBCC wants to thank the Sabah Forestry Department, the Sabah Wildlife Department, Yayasan Hasanah, Yayasan Sime Darby and everyone who has been following and supporting us. We can't do it without you. The pandemic covid-19 has affected our centre and caused a huge impact on our income from ecotourism and this is expected to last much longer. Your help will allow us to sustain our cause to promote sun bear conservation in Borneo through animal welfare, conservation, rehabilitation, education and research, giving captured sun bears a better home and restoring their right to live in the wild. Your support will make a difference in the life of the sun bear! Every little bit counts! For more information, please visit our website at: https://www.bsbcc.org.my/index.html.