Damai, Sun Bear Cub Diary – Termite

Date: March 4th 2013

Text & Video by Chiew Lin May
Photo by Gloria Ganang and Chiew Lin May

Many people regard termite as pests as they are destroying wooden building and furniture. However, these small creatures are important as a food source for sun bears in the tropical rainforest of Southeast Asia.

Termite belong to the insect order Isoptera. Termites are great architects. There are different species of termites make mounds (termite hill) of different shapes of nest structure in the tropical forest.

A dicuspiditermites spp found at Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve
Termite are an asset in the jungle. They paly important roles in recycling the organic material and decomposers in tropical forest. Beside feeding on dead woody materials, several termite species also damage life trees in forest. For example, microceratermes spp is wood feeding termite that attack living tree. Wong Siew Te, our Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) CEO and Founder described sun bear act as “Forest Doctor”. This is because sun bears are keeping check and maintain the health of tropical forest in a good condition which makes sure the population of termites is under control. Sun bear create new “feeding site” when breaking the termite mound and feeding on these tiny invertebrates. After the feast, the termite mound is abandoned by the bears but other insect eating animals use it as a feeding site.

What will happen if sun bear is missing in the forest? The termite’s population sure will be out of control and upset the equilibrium of the forest ecosystem.
The little one, Damai become a forest doctor.

Damai was hugging a life tree which covers with a wood feeding termite nest.
Damai, a 7 month old female sun bear cub which was rescued by the Sabah Wildlife Department and was sent to BSBCC on last November learned how to dig when she was young. We walk Damai in the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve for few hours each day for the past few months. Damai like to roam in the forest like a wild bear. She is now mastering well in her digging, climbing, and foraging skills in the forest. We proud to see Damai improve and grow so fast.

Sun bear are opportunistic omnivores that feed on forest insects such as termites and beetles. Insects as are important source of protein and a major component of bear diet. Damai view her world largely though her nose. She uses her keen sense of smell to locate their food source from a distances. When walking her in the forest, she spends most of her time foraging. She lumbers though the forest smelling the forest floor. She find termites by sniffing a decayed wood/ decayed log/ termite nest for any sign of termites, and digging it with her powerful long, curved claws. After that she will bit into the log with her strong canines and lick up the insects, larvae or eggs by her long tongue in fast flicking motion !! She even eat the termite queen ! No matter how tiny the paw is, she is capable to break into the termite nest and eat them. Sometimes she was too excited and rolls her body around the termite nest. It was so awesome!!

Some pictures tell a stories better than words. Here are some picture of Damai digging and searching for termites in the Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, Sabah.
Damai breaking the termite mound searching for her favorite termites.
She licks up the larvae with her long tongue.
Look at the sharp claws, even this young Damai is capable to rip apart dead wood to get food.
Using her keen sense of smell, Damai is very focused on digging in search for termites.

The abandoned termite mound after breaking by Damai. This feeding site will benefit to other animals who feed on termites.
Watch this short video which show how Damai foraging, digging searching for termites at Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve, Sabah. It was an opportunity to study the behavior and ecology of sun bear. Hope you all enjoy this short video on what is going on in the world of Sun bear.

Please help us spread words, share this video and love for this little known bear- Sun bear.

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