Kala is not a lonely bear

Date: April 10th 2016

Text by Seng Yen Wah (Intern Student from University Malaysia Sabah)

Photos by Chiew Lin May

Kala was bought by a person who with the intention of saving cub on Kalabakan-Sapulut Road near Maliau Basin and then the owner surrendered her to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit. When she arrived at the BSBCC, she was weak. This may cause by the early separation of Kala and her mother. A small cub usually will stay with her mother until 2 to 3 years old. What is the reason will cause a mother to separate with her own cub when they are still in a very young age? The answer is, they had been killed by poachers in order to poach the cute bear cubs. We will say that, the overload cuteness of bear cubs is a horrible curse for them. Kala may have a horrific early life, but now she is growing up and starting her new happy life in BSBCC.

” HELLO” – Kala and Ronnie

Kala used to stay with our other sun bear cubs Boboi, Tan-Tan and Kitud. However the way Kala played made her little to no friends and the other little bears did not like to play with her. After Kala moved from the quarantine to bear house, she had to stay alone. And in order to find some companions for Kala, bear keepers were trying to integrate Kala with our sub-adult group, the bears Sunbearo, Loki, Ronnie Girl, Montom, Susie2 and Damai.

” I see you” – Kala

“Let me get closer” – Kala

The integration between Kala and the sub-adult group was closely monitored to see whether Kala could be integrated with this group or not. If one of the bears in sub-adult group could not be integrated well with Kala, it usually means the integration within the entire group does not work. One has to bear in mind the integration is not simply putting bears together, it is also depended on their age, weight and sex. Their age and weight have to be similar, if not the worst case scenario would be the smaller bear could be injured or during the integration.

Moreover, if the condition of any bear is of lesser healthy, the integration may have to be halted to prevent the spread of disease etc. that may cause other bears illnesses eventually.

” Can I come and play with you?” -Kala

” I’m ready to play! ” – Ronnie

Starting any integration, 30 minutes of time spent together is seen as the limit. Later, if they play well with each other, the time of the integration periods can be extended. During the integration, bear keepers have to observe and if needed step in. Before any integration starts, at least 2 buckets of water and a fire extinguisher are ready and prepared in close proximity of the observing bear keepers. So, in case of any aggression, the bear keeper can step in and use the water or fire extinguisher to separate the aggressive bears or stop aggressive behavior. If the situation becomes worse a loud horn can also be used but we see this as a matter of last resort because the sound might cause other bears distress. The ultimate separation tool in any case of aggression is the use of a water jet to separate them. All actions during the integration sessions are carefully recorded by observers in an integration form.

” Why don’t you see my canine? ” – Sunbearo

” See my canine !” – Montom

The integration for Kala is having an additional purpose, which is let Kala learn and eventually know how to play with other bears. Most of the time, Kala is the one who first enters to other bears cage. She loves to play by moving backwards without looking who she is actually with. And Kala is a very playful bear, she likes to play fight, to chase and run after other bears. However to be honest, Kalas play is really rough, she often paws and snaps after other bears. And hence, Montom, Ronnie Girl, Sunbearo and Susie2 reacted aggressive when they played with Kala during the very first days. The good news is, they are getting to know Kala better after they met for few times, at lately no more aggressive behavior was shown.

Please do not disturb, we are playing well here. – Loki and Kala

Montom and Loki are the ones who always approach Kala. Both of them have showed much more interest in playing with Kala. Sunbearo plays with Kala too, but not as much as Montom and Loki do. On the other side, Kala always approaches Ronnie Girl and Susie2. But, the way she plays seems not acceptable to them. Susie2 always tries to avoid Kala. Damai on the other hand is a solitary bear. She shows the least interest in playing with Kala among the group. Most of the time, she was just stays in a hammock and looking at Kala from hammock.

” This platform is so comfort, see me. Do you want to try? ” -Kala

Don’t be afraid. I can be your good friend. – Loki

For now, Kala was integrated with 2 of 6 bears in one session. In the future we will try to integrate her with at least 4 of the 6 bears at one time. We are looking forward to the integration of Kala with the sub-adult group and hope she can be friends with them soon. After the little bears would not play with her, we want to find her some companion. Now she will get new friends, and is not a lonely bear anymore.

Fortnight in the Forest

Date: April 9th 2016

Text & Photos by Nicola Chin

My two weeks at the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre could be described in many ways: hard work, eventful, fun, enriching, etc. Ultimately, it was a wholesome experience I have absolutely no regrets about, and I’d like to tell you about what I did there, and why it was worth it.
Full days of work were the norm, with a large range of tasks that went towards maintaining the facilities both indoors and outdoors (cleaning and fence checks), keeping the bears well-fed and occupied (food preparation, feeding and enrichment, more on that later), as well as other projects that would go towards improving the lives of everyone at the centre. Tiring as they were, me and the other volunteers could go away each day knowing that our work there made a difference.

Among my favourite tasks as a volunteer was enrichment, which involves fashioning objects for the sun bears to interact with, be it a bamboo shoot filled with tasty fruit, or a bed of dried leaves to forage through. Enrichment gives the bears things to do, and teaches them to use their senses and bodies like they would in the wild, which was always fun to watch! My other favourite project was getting to decorate the bear house walls, upon the request of Lin May, one of the bear care staff. As someone who loves art, it was wonderful to be given the opportunity to contribute to the centre with my drawing skills. I painted a series of bears engaged in different enrichment activities, and sketched some more bears in the kitchen; these were then painted by Lester, another one of the BSBCC staff.

Making Bamboo Fence

Education was another important part of the programme. I learned loads about the sun bears, their troubles at the hands of poachers, and their role in the Malaysian forests, and through an educational booth set up in the centre, us volunteers were able to impart our knowledge to the visitors there. This was difficult, because many of the visitors were simply not interested, but it was rewarding whenever someone adopted a bear, or even just went away knowing one more fact about sun bears.

The bears themselves were an interesting bunch! A handful to take care of, they were a delight nevertheless, and the bears’ individual personalities revealed themselves with time and observation. I found that it was best when I appreciated the bears as animals with wild instincts, for both their benefit and mine. But it’s admittedly hard not to call them cute when you see one lying on its back, licking the piece of peanut butter filled fire hose it has cradled in its paws!
The BSBCC team members were helpful, friendly and dedicated; it was clear that they took their respective roles as sun bear carers seriously, as shown by their attention to detail, and how they made sure that us volunteers knew what we were doing every step of the way. Our programme facilitators from APE (Animal Projects and Environmental Education) were very much the same, and I appreciate the effort they put into taking care of me, and ensuring the programme was well organised.

I joined the volunteer programme as a gap year student looking for a project, and came away glad that as a local Malaysian, I was able to play a part in the BSBCC’s mission. The efforts of the team come from noble hearts, and I would highly encourage other Malaysians to try out this volunteer programme for themselves!


Sandakan Adventure start with BSBCC

Date: November 2nd 2014

Text by Wong Wai Ying

Welcome to Sandakan!!!

This is the first time for me to travel alone, step into Borneo for volunteer work in BSBCC. There are a lot of people curious about what is sun bear, what you going to do with these bear? Well, here is the reason for me to experience it and introduce these cute bear to everyone.

Back to nature always is my wish.

On 11 October 2014, a warm welcoming from my friends Thye Lim and Lin May who I didn’t meet up for last 3 years. They gave me a brief intro of BSBCC and we start up the day by preparing sun bear’s food for the whole days. Although sun bear is the smallest size in bear species, however they have a good appetite. We need to prepare porridge, fruits (Banana, Papaya, Langsat, and Salak), and vegetables (Sugar cane and sweet potato) with different portion for daily basis diet requirement of 35 bears. Coconut and honey drinks are their favourite foods.

Porridge with eggs

First eyes on sun bear, they are so special. Each of them has their own chest mark, behaviours and personalities. Why they are suckling, pasing, tapping and regurgitation all can be explained by experience staff. This is why BSBCC staffs, bear keepers and volunteer who stay long at centre be able to recognize the sun bear even from far distance. I’m no exception. Feeding time is the best way to get closer and recognize them. Until the last day of my duty, I’m able to recognize more than half of the sun bears’ name in the bear house.

Feeding time! Damai was suckling its own paw

David and Azzry (photographer) were the one scattered the fruit for sun bear with me.

BSBCC give the best effort in conserving sun bear. Most of the bear here were rescued from poacher where they kept in cage since young for display purpose, pets or even almost become a plate of dish. However, with the cares that provided by bear keeper, all the sun bear grow healthy and are trained to be survived in natural environment. Different designed of food enrichment (slot fruit inside the bamboo; put honey inside the Aussie Dog Ball) and cage enrichment trains the sun bear in food scratching and tree climbing. What amazes me is the way they peel off the coconut for drinking and taste on the fresh of coconut. Ronnie, one of the adult sun bear peel off the coconut just within 20 seconds. It really stunned me for a moment.

According to Azzry, making hammock is another way to train me becomes a strong women (=, =)!!!

In the bear house, we are not supposedly having a close distance with the sun bear as it might dangerous in an unknown condition. However, I’m so lucky that being able to witnessed Chin, a female sun bear moved from quarantine to bear house and joining with others in this big family. All the bear staff cooperate with each other, did a health check for Chin, before it really release and let it adapt to this new environment. For time being, Chin no longer feels aggressive with keeper and its new friends. She needs to pass through the test on electric fencing before release to outside world and interact with others sun bear.

During leisure time, I had the chance followed Mr. Wong and Fairo went to nearest waterfall to catch fish for aquarium project in the centre. Such a long time didn’t go for jungle trekking and this really makes me feel excited. Along the trails towards the destiny, we saw a lot of termites’ nests with different shape and a lot of stations to spot the Borneo bird species.

Termite’s nest

Sabah on the island of Borneo is well-known with the beauty of natural environment with relatively accessible wildlife animals. Others than sun bear, I had saw orang utan in Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre walk around, how the long-tail macaque grab the food from sun bear, chased by 9 months old pygmy elephant, saw a red giant flying squirrel gliding from one tree to another tree at Rainforest Discovery Centre, orchid praying mantis that caught by Nick, and a bundle of pill millipedes. During the Kinabatangan river cruise, more and more wildlife species can be found at here. In the late afternoon and early morning, we saw proboscis monkeys, basking monitor lizard, pig-tailed macaques, crocodile, mangrove snake, hornbills, and other birds’ species.

There are few Orang Utan free-roaming in the centre.

Found this grasshopper during banana leaves collection.

Long-tailed macaque

Ochid praying mantis

2 weeks passed and my volunteering work had come to the end. It’s hard for me to say goodbye. Staying at BSBCC really make me learn a lot. Working experience and knowledge that gained over here are can’t buy with money. Conservation work for animal is not an easy job and a lot of people do not understand how important it should be done for future generation. However, Wong and BSBCC team set up a fine example in sun bear conservation path to all of us. He is a father and also a life-guard for all sun bears. Therefore, no matter whom you are where you come from, if you have the wish to make a change for sun bear and your own, here is the place. All the hard work that you contribute is really paid off.

Thank you everyone!!!

I do appreciate everything from deep of my heart. Wish you guys all the best and keep moving on. Sun bear need you guys. So work with passion and dreams come not so far.

With my BUDDY at Kinabatangan River Cruise^^

Volunteer Period

Date: April 3rd 2016

Text and Photos by Julia Riverstal

Hi, my name is Julia Riverstål I am currently 18 years old and I am from Stockholm, Sweden.I am on my final year at an animal care program in Sweden at Spånga Gymnasium. It is thru my school that I have got this amazing chance to see and actually be a part of the amazing work that they do at the Bornean sun bear conservation centre for a total of 5 weeks.

In April 2015 I visited the centre for 4 days with a few others from my school and it is totally stunning to see the progress that some of the bears have been doing in less than 10 months! When I was here the first time some of the cubs were still in quarantine and to see them high up in the trees at the big bear house is just the best receipt to understand that the centre is really making a difference!

My Swedish immune system have unfortunately not handled the Bornean flora of bacteria so good so I have been sick a lot and sadly I had to stay at home for some time. But even if i were sick and had to stay at home I could still help the centre with translating a Swedish TV program about Sun bears, so at least I could do something. I have never felt so appreciated and welcomed at another place and all of the staff at the centre is just outstanding in their way of showing their appreciation and kindness to the volunteers.

Some of the things that you do is routines and are pretty much the same every day, you clean the cages, prepare the food and feed the bears. But even if you do this every day it is never the same, one day the cage is almost clean and the next day it is filled with enrichment or you just have to clean a cage where there has been a complete poop party, haha! With the feeding, both inside and outside you get a perfect chance to see that everything is good with the bear, not being interested of food is a big indicator that something is wrong. Of course it is just a blast to see the bears playing around trying to crack coconut or to see them lie on their back eating sugar pipes. In the afternoon you focus on doing enrichment and if you ask me this is the most fun thing to do, to build or make something that will keep the bear busy for a while. It is not as easy as it seems, there is a lot of things you have to keep in mind when doing this.  First of all it has to be safe for the bears to play with and then you have to adjust the enrichment to the bear that you are going to give it to and I can tell you that it is a lot of different personalities in those bear houses.  The last week we got to be a part of BSBCC´s educating program, I was able to talk to visitors and spread the word about the sun bears situation and what they do at the centre. Educating the people is just as important as talking care of the bears in the bearhouse and it felt really good and surprisingly I met a whole group of Swedish people!

My time at the centre has been amazing, it has been a roller coaster journey for me as a person but it has opened my eyes and given me perspective that has enriched me as a person! I have would not have changed it for anything and if someone is given the opportunity that I was given, take it, you will not regret it!

I want to thank my school, every staff member of the centre and the sun bears for this amazing journey!
A big Swedish brown bear hug from me!
// The pale, chubby and red faced volunteer 😉 <3 p="">

Doing bamboo feeders!

I the making of a table for the quarantine and also the result with a Thye lim o

Insects, huge insects!

Very sleepy sun bear!

Hungry sun bears!

Some of my new friends.

The weather that welcomed me back to Sweden…

Memorable 5 weeks at the BSBCC

Date: April 2nd 2016

Text and Photos by Emelie Siippainen

My name is Emelie and I am a student from Stockholm, Sweden. I study animals so that I can become an animal keeper one day. My school gave me the opportunity to travel to Borneo and volunteer at the BSBCC and off course I took that chance! Ever since I was a little kid I loved animals, actually the first job I ever wanted was being a farmer because I wanted to milk all the cows. That dream soon developed into a life of loving animals and being an environmentally conscience person.

The first day at the sun bear center I was super nervous but very excited. But after meeting the BSBCC team I felt much better and quickly realized I was finally there, for the amazing bears. I got used to the daily routine quickly and started to learn the names of all the bears. During the first days the work was a bit challenging and very physical, but after a couple of days things got easier and easier. I got to do everything from cleaning the indoor enclosures to giving the bears porridge, fruit and corn, like a real bear keeper.  In the afternoons we were working on enrichment projects. I loved the enrichment project time, I found it fun to come up with ideas and use my imagination to challenge the bears. After giving the bears the enrichment, I could have stayed and watch them for hours! It was so much fun being a volunteer in Borneo!

Also the climate was a huge change for me; Borneo is hot and very humid, whereas in Sweden it is cold and grey. And the food is so different. But just to be able to come to a country, live there and be a part of different culture is amazing! Everyone is so friendly and happy all the time, there is never a dull moment. I absolutely want to come back and met everybody again, and especially the bears. The work that is being done at the BSBCC is not easy and it is not cheap, the entire team has to deal with pessimists that are questioning them and the work that they are doing all the time. But their purpose is to preserve the sun bear and to educate the public about them.

Charlie, Me, Filippa and Julia preparing some enrichment.

Charlie, Me (Emelie) and Koo with our bamboo enrichment.

I spent 5 weeks in Borneo at the BSBCC working with these amazing animals. I have learned so much, not just about the sun bears but also about conservation work and what I can do to make a difference. It is a once in a lifetime life changing experience. I have met so many wonderful people and I had a blast working with the staff at BSBCC.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank BSBCC for having me as a volunteer and the staff that helped so much during my period of volunteering. I hope that Centre will create greater awareness and educate the public about the sun bear.

Filippa, Harith, Charlie and Me out for a ride to collect dry leaves for the bears.