A Castle of Wood. A Playground for Bears.


Text by Nur Athirah Binti Asrif ​(UNIMAS student)
Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May


Sunbears belong to the wild, in a vast forest and not in a cramped cage or behind iron bars. All the sunbears in the centre have their own despairing stories from before they were rescued. There might be more bears out there that need our help, faint voices that long to be rescued. Sunbears belong in the forest where trees become their shade and bushes comfort them as their pillows. However, not all of them have the opportunity to be able to enjoy the life they deserve. The canopies that are supposed to give them shelter are replaced with a human house, the tree branches for them to sleep and relax on are substituted with iron bars. The state of the 'homes' that are provided by humans are devastating enough, let alone the food they consume. Some of the bears are given only condensed milk by their previous owner, when their true diets range from fruits, insects and small mammals. As a conservation centre, this place provides all the essential things for the bears to experience the life they are supposed to. In the process of rehabilitation, the bears will be released into the forest enclosure after passing their fence training and integration with the other bears. For most of us at the centre, the small steps that the bears take to enter the forest enclosure is a big leap for everyone, especially the sunbears themselves.

This time around is our favorite duo, Noah and Nano. Both Noah and Nano have never been into a forest enclosure before let alone the vast jungle. On the 13th of August 2017, both Noah and Nano were given their first attempt to be released inside the forest enclosure of Pen D. As the guillotine door was opened, both Noah and Nano were full of anxiety. Both of them had never smelt the scent of the trees, nor had they seen the vibrancy of the greeneries. For them, it was like a new world that may or may not be secure for the both of them. Noah and Nano took their turns to take a glimpse outside of the cage. The rays of sunshine gave them a warmer impression of the forest. For their first attempt to be released in the forest enclosure, both Noah and Nano showed a positive response by letting their heads outside the G-door, although they had zero intention to go out in that moment.

Luckily, a great troop from the same pen which consists of Mary, Wawa, and Dodop, came down the forest enclosure of Pen D and had a visit to their new pen-mates, Noah and Nano. As Noah saw Wawa, Dodop and Mary playing under the sun and smothering their bodies with mud, Noah finally tried to walk down the ramp. Noah took a very little and cautious step down the ramp. It took him several attempts to finally touch the ground for the very first time. Noah's paw touched the wet mud but he was quick to retrieve himself and climbed back into the cage. It may have been humorous to us, but it was a bizarre experience for Noah as it was his first time experiencing the feel of the muddy texture. The weird greetings of the forest ground did not stop Noah from trying.

Wawa and Dodop, the other bears who also stay in the forest enclosure of Pen D, have helped Noah a lot in encouraging him to go down. As various foods were thrown into the pen, Noah finally went down and followed the other bears which were Wawa and Dodop. Noah enjoyed himself by playing with the water in the drainage and scraping most of the dead logs in the enclosure. Even the great amount of honey on the ground did not bother him as he was too immersed in his new surroundings. As days passed, Noah became more adventurous like he used to be.



Noah, “I have never smelled such things!”


Noah, “Don’t worry! I am just getting myself some watermelons!”

He even climbed the trees which were guarded by Wawa and Dodop. The moment when Noah climbed the tree for the first time was such an enchanting and touching scene, showing how great it is for them to be able to enjoy the forest again. There was nothing in the world that could stop Noah in that moment as he ventured the whole forest enclosure himself. He digs every possible pit, scrapes every stray log and sniffs every inch of the greeneries.


Noah is being guarded by his new pen-mates, Wawa!


Busy digging for termites!


Noah decided to climb on the tree to have a better view!

Nano, on the other hand, is still cautious and chooses to stay in the cage by himself. Nevertheless, he always appears to be calm and has his own ways of enjoying the forest. Unlike Noah, Nano has his front legs crossed on the ramp while having his head resting on it. Nano chooses to enjoy the forest in a more calmer way and is more interested in the view of the forest rather than the touch of it.


As for now, Noah has become a part of Mary’s group and has the best time of his life everyday in the forest. Every morning when the guillotine door is opened, Noah is always there getting ready to enter the forest enclosure again to begin his new journey. On the ramp, Nano is always there relaxing and enjoying the forest with his own ways and will join Noah in the forest soon!


Nano sniffing on the ramp because it is still unusual to him.


Noah and Nano are discovering their new surroundings.


After several attempts, Noah has finally set his body outside the cage and is ready to venture the forest.


Noah, “I can climb the tree, are not you guys proud of me?”


Noah, “I am having so much fun! Wish Nano could join me along soon!”

Our Newest Arrival – Soo (Rescue Bear- 56)


Text by Chiew Lin May
​Photos by Azzry Dusain

At 7.10 pm yesterday (8th September 2017), a two years and four month old, sub adult female bear who had been kept as a pet by a family in Tambunan village, located in the interior Division of Sabah, was rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department and transferred to BSBCC. Orphaned sun bear Soo (Rescued Bear No.56) was purchased from Sook Keningau market and kept as a pet for almost two years. She was fed with rice, milk and cucumber.

Huge thanks to Sabah Wildlife Department for rescuing Soo. She has now settled into her new home with close monitoring at BSBCC quarantine. We will ensure she has a safe and secure home at BSBCC. Sun bear population is at the risk of extinction in the wild. Please do NOT keep or support having sun bears as pets!


Unloading Soo from the truck and she was placed into quarantine new home.


Our first glimpse of the new arrival, Soo !


As the door opened, she step into her new home with eager to explore her new surroundings.


Hope that Soo can put her terrible pasts behind her and rediscover her natural behaviour!

My Time in Borneo


Text and Photos by ​Shannon Samuel

​My name is Shannon Samuel and I am in my final year of my Zoology degree at Western Sydney University in Australia. 


​What do you call a once in a life time chance that happens more than once in your life? I call it magical. In July 2017, I had to opportunity to volunteer at the BSBCC for two weeks. This is the second year in a row that I have had the opportunity to volunteer at this amazing centre and the fourth year in a row that I have been able to travel to Malaysia and visit the centre.

The volunteer opportunity is one of the most life changing experiences I have had in my life. I have had made lifelong friends at the centre and call the bear family at the BSBCC my second family, my home away from home. When I go home to Australia I spend most of my time dreaming about what I would be doing if I were in Malaysia at the Sun Bear Centre. 

​Each year I visit the centre things change, more bears more staff members and new opportunities to explore. Each day of the program when we did the morning or afternoon feeds I loved looking over the forest enclosures and seeing the different bears and the fun and games that they would have. Whether that was Sunbearo and Loki having fun together or Fulung up a tree, each day was different and the more time I spent in the forest the more I was learning.

One of my favourite parts of the working day was enrichment time, some days.


we would go and collect materials in nest balls and end up covered in dirt because I would fall as I was having too much fun and I have no balance, other days it would be watching the boys trying to get bamboo down off the tree realising the bamboo that was cut was in fact from the middle of the tree. Each day was different and every enrichment was received differently by the bears at the centre. Some bears enjoyed a challenge while others liked to sit back and relax in the hammocks, it was so much fun learning what each bear preferred.
I have been blessed to be able to have the change to come and volunteer at the centre, my dream since I was a little girl was to make a difference in this world and I hope that with the work at the centre even if I help for a short period of time I hope that I can help the bears and others to make a positive change in this world for the better of all of us. 


1Utama Shopping Centre donation to BSBCC


We would like to thank 1Utama Shopping Centre for supporting BSBCC again this year with a donation of RM10,000 collected through their "Feed the Fish" programme at the Rainforest section in the shopping mall.

Several signs about sun bears were also installed since 3 years ago at the Rainforest section to raise awareness on sun bears among shoppers.
Thanks for helping us make a difference in the lives of sun bears at BSBCC!


BSBCC receiving mock cheque from 1Utama shopping centre


Receiving mock cheque from 1Utama shopping centre near the fish pond where people can feed the fishes with the fish food bought from the vending machine


Signboard about sun bears at the shopping centre


Vending machine at the shopping centre; fish food were packed inside balls where it cost for MYR1.00 per ball. All profits from this vending machine goes to donation for our endangered sun bears.


Signs about sun bears at the shopping centre


Signs about sun bears at the shopping centre

World’s first sun bear symposium gets underway in Malaysia


Changing Times, 05th September 2017



© Save the Bears/Peter Yuen.

The world’s first symposium about the sun bear got underway in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, yesterday (Monday). Attendees shared information about the plight of the animal, which has been listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and began developing a conservation action plan.

The sun bear (Helarctos malayanus), which is also known as the honey bear, dog bear, or small bear, and the ours des cocotiers (coconut bear) in French, is present in 11 countries: mainly in Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, India, and Laos, but also in China.

David Garshelis from the IUCN’s bear specialist group told symposium attendees that there are possibly two sun bear species.

The sun bears on Borneo (Helarctos malayanus euryspilus) are different to those on the Asian mainland and Sumatra.

Sun bears can be distinguished by the white or yellowish patch on their chest. They feed on sweet fruits, small rodents, birds, termites, and other insects.

Populations are decreasing, mainly because of habitat destruction and fragmentation, commercial hunting, and human-bear conflict.

There is widespread snaring throughout the sun bear’s range.

In Malaysia and Indonesia, most of the forest clearing is for palm oil plantations and pulpwood.

With most public attention being paid to the keynote species such as the orangutan, the tiger, the elephant, and the rhino, the plight of the sun bear is rarely front-page news. The attendees at this week’s three-day symposium aim to raise the animal’s profile and spread awareness of the need to conserve the species.

Matt Hunt from the organisation Free the Bears, which was set up in Perth, Australia, and runs sun bear sanctuaries in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, said of the sun bear: “Compared to the other bears, it doesn’t really appear to have inspired anything like the level of cultural relevance or reverence that other bear species have across the globe.

“Even today the vast majority of visitors to Southeast Asia, and probably the vast majority of residents of Southeast Asia, don’t seem to realise that they are living in bear country.”

Gabriella Fredricksson, who founded a sun bear education centre in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, said: “The sun bear is not a high-profile species. There are a lot of other species that are considered more important.”

It is not widely known, for instance, that sun bears are excellent climbers and spend a considerable amount of time in trees.

One big problem, Garshelis says, is that there are not enough people researching in the field. “For other bears, there are more.”

For Hunt, a main challenge is how to increase awareness, but not end up encouraging illegal trade. Sun bears are sold on markets and via Facebook, Hunt says, and such trafficking is a growing threat.

Hunt cites one survey carried out in the Laotian capital Vientiane. A total 12 percent of those questioned said they had purchased wildlife in the previous 12 months and 28 percent said they wanted to purchase wildlife.

Heidi Quine from Animals Asia – which has offices in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Hong Kong, Vietnam and several countries in Europe –  talked to symposium attendees about bear bile farming, which is now illegal in Vietnam.

“Animals Asia has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding that means that the government will be in a position where they need to follow up and make sure that all bears that are in private residences are removed from farms by 2023 and they’ve committed to working with Animals Asia to make sure that that happens,” Quine told Changing Times.

In Vietnam, since 2005, all bears kept by farmers have had to be registered and microchipped, under the agreement that they wouldn’t be harvested for their bile.

“However, because of a lack of law enforcement by the authorities, and a lack of resources, there has been a loophole and we know that the bears are still being farmed; they are still being kept in these private residences,” Quine said.
“The MoU means that they are going to remove all of those bears from private residences, thereby collapsing that loophole.”

Bile farming is still going on in Vietnam, China, Korea, and Laos. There are thought to be about 1,000 bears, including Asiatic black bears, on farms in Vietnam. In China there are many more: an estimated 10,000 black and brown bears. Sun bears are much rarer.

The founder and CEO of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, Wong Siew Te (pictured below), also points to the need for more action to implement laws.
“Sun bears are protected across their range, but there is very little interest in law enforcement.”


Fredriksson told symposium attendees that, in 2008, percentages of the sun bear’s overall distribution range were 46.3 in Indonesia, 18.5 in Myanmar, and 15.4 in Malaysia. In Thailand, it used to be 13 percent, but now is 3.3 percent.
She said that four of the sun bear range countries were among those most responsible for deforestation: Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Laos. The land clearing was mostly for palm oil, she said. There was then trading in sun bears after the clearing.

Sun bear populations are decreasing in almost all range countries, Fredricksson told symposium attendees.

She said that, according to sun bear experts in each range country, the biggest future decrease will be in Vietnam (between 50 and 80 percent in the next thirty years).

The overall prediction is a decrease of 39 percent in the future as compared with 42 percent in thirty years overlapping with the present and 30 percent for the past. If there is a 30 percent decline in any time window, a species is considered to be vulnerable.


Fredriksson (pictured left) says there are hundreds of sun bears in captivity in Indonesia.
She says close to one hundred of the animals are in orangutan rescue centres; a “byproduct” of orangutan confiscation.

“All of the centres are full. Nobody wants any sun bears anymore. The government is looking at solutions to deal with this without wanting to invest money into it as there is little public pressure on the government within Indonesia to start dealing properly with displaced wildlife.”

Since 2012, Fredriksson says, it has been legal for private organisations like those running petting zoos, to keep protected species like sun bears in captivity. This, she says, is a way of using sun bears that many would consider to be exploitation; and the conditions in which the bears are kept are often substandard.

Nearly eighty licences have been given out to private “conservation organisations”, Fredriksson says.


© Save the Bears/Peter Yuen.

Heidi Quine told symposium attendees about work being done in the Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre in the Tam Dao National Park, which covers eleven hectares and has a capacity for two hundred bears, including black bears. Eleven sun bears are currently being cared for at the centre. The bears arrive with a “suite of psychological and physical trauma”, which takes significant investment and time and patience to sort out, Quine says.

Quine also says there needs to be much more rescue centre capacity for sun bears.

Robert Steinmetz talked about the sun bear’s possible resilience in the face of poaching pressures. He said that black bears tended to be poached more than sun bears. They had a more predictable behavior than sun bears and hunters could target them more easily.


Garshelis (pictured left) says the sun bear is the bear most commonly raised as a pet.

The longest running Free the Bears programme is in Cambodia, where there are 125 sun bears in the sanctuary. All the Free the Bears sanctuaries are government owned.

Wong Siew Te says a major challenge is getting sun bears back to the forest. This is important, Wong says, not least because of the roles they play in the ecosystem. “Forest doctor and “forest farmer” are just two of the terms used to describe the bears.

One bear was released from the Bornean centre in 2006. Another was released in 2015, and another in 2016. The process is not easy, Wong says, and involves gaining knowledge about sun bears’ biology and life history.

“The bears that we release have to be able to find wild food, and one of the threats for the bears that live in the forest is other bears, so we have to wait until they are big enough to defend themselves before we release them.”

In rehabilitation, Wong says, bears need to be trained to climb trees.
“Finding a big chunk of forest that is free from hunting and poaching, and is not going to be cleared in the near future, is very difficult. All of this is extremely challenging.”

Wong says that two sun bears were literally helicoptered in to the Tabin wildlife reserve in Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo, so that they could be released in the middle of the forest.


© Save the Bears/Peter Yuen.

Shahriar Caesar Rahman from the Creative Conservation Alliance (CCA) in Bangladesh says studies have indicated that there is no viable sun bear population in the country, but the CCA has been working with local tribal people to collect data and there are photos showing that the animals are still there.

Rahman says that, too often, wildlife conservative projects are implemented by outside organisations. “People who don’t know the area come and take a snapshot of the situation. They do not really see the whole picture.

“They often come up with one-size-fits-all projects that don’t work. There needs to be more of an exchange with local people. You learn from them, and you teach them something.”

In Bangladesh, Rahman says, habitat destruction is a bigger threat to the sun bears than hunting and, over the past 12 years, there has been a big increase in slash-and-burn clearance for rice cultivation. “We are trying to work on protecting habitat and reducing hunting pressure.”

The CCA has helped build schools in rural areas and is assisting local people so that they can develop alternative livelihoods that do not endanger wildlife or the environment.

“The sun bear doesn’t need management; people do. Ultimately, if we want to save the sun bears of Bangladesh, it’s very simple; we just need to save the forest,” Rahman said.


© Save the Bears/Peter Yuen.

Roshan Guharajan from the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology at the University of Minnesota says that, in Sabah, sun bears are living in a landscape dominated by oil palm plantations.

“It is a remarkable species,” he said. “There is high hunting pressure, but, despite this, they have learned how to survive and have even managed to breed.”

The future survival of sun bears, Guharajan says, depends on how successful anti-poaching methods prove to be.

In Sarawak, the other state in Malaysian Borneo, sun bears are not fully protected.

Hunt says a main aim of the symposium is to produce a range-wide guide for sun bear conservation interventions over the next ten years. “Probably the next step will be to create national action plans.”

Free the Bears will take the range-wide guide to the Cambodian government to show the authorities what is being recommended for the species and hopes it will then be able to work with those authorities to create a national action plan.
“Realistically, our hope is that, within the next five years, we will be able to get national action plans drawn up in three range countries.”

Hunt (pictured below) says sun bears are the Jack Russell terriers of the bear world. “What they lack in stature they certainly make up for in personality.”