Sun Bear Dental Case Workshop


Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May

Each rescued sun bear that has arrived at BSBCC were previously kept locked in cages and would try to bite the bars to find their way out; this has caused them to suffer from severe dental disease. Inappropriate diet in the pet trade can also lead to long term dental damage. Dental disease is an often overlooked threat to the comfort and health of bears.

BSBCC organised a workshop about the “Sun Bear Dental Case” on 20-23 Aug 2019. It was a real honour and privilege to have amazing guests from Singapore Zoo, Dr. Ali Anwar and Dr. Serena Oh from Wildlife Asia Veterinary Services (WAVES) came to share their experiences with veterinarians and us about how to detect and treat dental problems in the bears. The workshop focused on animal dental anatomy, dental charts, dental radiography techniques, and periodontal diseases.
Three sun bears: Diana, Logan, and Kudat were chosen to receive treatment for dental radiography and dental extraction. Through receiving these dental care treatments, it will improve the wellbeing and health of the bear.

Sun bear's dental condition.

BSBCC organised a workshop about the “Sun Bear Dental Case”. The workshop focused on animal dental anatomy, dental charts, dental radiography techniques, and periodontal diseases.

It was a real honour and privilege to have amazing guests from Singapore Zoo, Dr. Ali Anwar and Dr. Serena Oh from Wildlife Asia Veterinary Services (WAVES) came to share their experiences with veterinarians and us about how to detect and treat dental problems in the bears.

Before the dental treatment start, each sun bear must be anesthetized.

Oral examination by Dr. Anwar and Dr.Serena.

Vets will monitor the sun bear's heart and respiratory rate throughout the anesthetic.

Dr.Boon was checking Logan's teeth condition.

Dental treatment on one year old Logan: Dental extraction of deciduous tooth.

Inappropriate diet in the pet trade can also lead to long term dental damage. An 11 years old male bear, Kudat was found to have numerous tooth caries. He needs to receive vital dental treatment.

A dental radiograph is vital to get a clearer picture of what is happening below the bear’s gumline.

Radiographs are vital to get a clearer picture of what is happening below the bear’s gumline.

Thank you Dr. Anwar and Dr. Serena, we will make sure their health continues to improve and they are able to enjoy their nutritious food. See you again!

Yummies for the bear tummies!


Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May

Million thanks to Anton Ngui for the support and kind fruits donation for the rescued bears. We would not be able to provide this without your help.

Sun bears love tasty fruits! This is where you can help them. Every gift gives these bears the love they really deserve.

You all make the difference!

Dodop & Noah Play Fight on Tree


Video by Chiew Lin May

 "Excited to be in forest where was surrounded by tall trees, green grass and everything wild!" - Noah & Dodop

Sun Bears Are Worth All The Bugs


Text by Megan Katie Noblett
Photos by Megan Katie Noblett & Chiew Lin May

There are three things you need to know about Borneo before you volunteer with BSBCC. It is hot. It is humid. There are a lot of bugs. As someone best suited to the cold and who can barely cope with a British summer and has a deep dislike bordering on phobia of things that have too many legs (aka anything more than six) I did actually get asked the question by my mother why on Earth I was going to a place so hot, so humid and full of creepy crawlies that literally set my skin crawling; the answer – the bears.

I am a zoology graduate and also earned a masters degree in Anthrozoology (the study of human-animal interaction) and was fortunate enough to conduct my research project on Moon bears in China. Even before this, bears have fascinated me and it is on my bucket list to work with each of the eight species or at the very least see them in their natural habitat. But I didn’t want to volunteer with BSBCC just to tick a species off my list but because I was deeply impressed with the vital work Dr. Wong and his team are doing. I have followed the organisation for a few years and finally had the time to take the 16 hour plane ride to Borneo to work with BSBCC and see the Sun bears.

Hosepipe honeycomb enrichment
Upon arrival I was met with the heat, the humidity and the bugs (so many bugs) but I quickly forgot them and even embraced them as I was set to work cleaning cages, preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner for 43 bears (they each eat 5kg of food a day so as you can imagine, there is A LOT of food), doing fence checks, helping with public education and making enrichment. 

Making ice pops for the bears
Enrichment was definitely the most enjoyable part of being in the bears houses. Making nest balls (peanut butter, bananas, apples and spices wrapped up in a nest of twigs and leaves), hosepipe honeycombs (fake beehives made from old fire-hoses stuffed with peanut butter, bananas, apples and spices) Sun bear burgers (two egg cartons strapped together around leaves with – you guessed it – peanut butter, bananas, apples and spices) and giant ice pops made from fruits and veg for the Sun bears to enjoy on a hot day. We spent hours carefully crafting these items to watch the bears rip them into pieces a matter of seconds. However, it was most certainly worth all the hard work to see the enjoyment the bears got from seeking out the sweet treats.

Making Sun bear burgers

The highlight of the trip was working with one particular bear, Sigalung. Being kept illegally as a pet since cubhood until his rescue in 2014, Sigalung was a little afraid to step out of his indoor den into the forest enclosure and I was tasked with trying to get him to go outside and observing him as he did. We laid food and yummy treats like peanut butter and honey to appease his sweet tooth and day by day we moved the treats further down the platform and the steps leading to the enclosure. The first day I observed him, I could clearly see how tense and even frightened he was. He would stretch out as far as he could whilst still keeping his back two paws in doors to reach his food. He would make a quick grab of the food and took it inside so he would have to exposed more than necessary. At one point a butterfly flew at him and he startled so badly he ran back inside. We persevered and each day Sigalung became braver and braver (I think the peanut butter helped a lot) until he was walking out onto the platforms as soon as the doors opened and even ate outside. It was wonderful to see how this bear was overcoming his fears and I hope he will progress further until he can enjoy the forest enclosure with his bear friends. 
Preparing for Sigalung’s training
Success – Sigalung is outside!
It was my first time in Borneo and stayed on my own there for a month, but never felt lonely. The keepers and all the staff at BSBCC and APE Malaysia along with my fellow volunteers are wonderful friendly people who are quick to welcome you to the Sun bear family. They have really looked after me, making me laugh and patiently answered all my questions (mainly, ‘which bear is that again?’).

Sabah is a truly gorgeous place. Not only did I get see one of my favourite animals up close but I was surrounded by the beauty of Borneo and all the magnificent creatures that call it home. Geckos, Sunbirds, Flying lemur, Monitor lizards, Giant flying squirrels, baby Macaques, Giant fruit bats, Pygmy squirrels, a whole host of butterflies and dragonflies were only some of the many animals I was able to see in the wild just by looking around the centre and my accommodation. The experience has been truly magical and something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I am a tutor of Animal Management at a FE college back in England, teaching 16 – 19 year olds all about animal biology, husbandry and conservation. It is the type of experience I have had at BSBCC that I can use to encourage my students and inspire them in their own careers in the wildlife and conservation sector. I would encourage anyone to volunteer with BSBCC; even with the heat, the humidity and, yes, the bugs – the bears are so worth it and I will miss them all a lot.


It was not an easy task - Helping Romolina to make friends again!


Text by Natalie Lian Qian Wei (Intern Student, University Science Malaysia)
Photos by Chiew Lin May

​Hello everyone! Today I am going to tell you a story about a little bear making friends. Her name is Romolina, she is one year old. She is tiny, but definitely mighty (Romolina is a grumpy bear! Roar!). Not forgetting to mention that she has two friends, Joe and Logan. They live together in forest enclosure.
But first, we must know that sun bears live solitary in nature, and we can only find sun bears together during the mating season or when a mama bear takes care of her baby. Here in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), helping sun bears to make friends (also known as integration) helps to encourage healthy bear behaviour as the bears can learn from each other of essential skills, conserve space (as we already have 43 bears!), and reduce stress. Before this, little Romolina was already integrated with the other sub-adult sun bears, which include Wawa, Mary, Dodop, Noah and Nano. The integration process was done in an indoor enclosure. However, when they were released to the forest (outdoor) enclosure, Romolina could not live with them harmoniously. This might be due to problems such as territoriality, difference in body size (Romolina has a relatively small body size, which is not good for play-fights), or Romolina’s independent personality. This left a scar in their relationships that needs to be healed.
Therefore, it gave us a mission: Help Romolina to be friends with the other bears again. Each integration session was to be carried out for 30 minutes, in the indoor enclosure of Bear House 1. 

(My name is Romolina!) It wasn’t an easy process. Besides her bestfriends Logan and Joe, Romolina would run around, growl, huff and bark whenever the other bears approached her.
​It wasn’t an easy process. Besides her bestfriends Logan and Joe, Romolina would run around, growl, huff and bark whenever the other bears approached her. 

“Um.. nope, I will prefer to run away!” Romolina ran away when the other bear approached.
Anyway, here is a brief summary of Romolina’s interaction with the other bears she was to be integrated with:
Noah is a friendly and playful bear. During integration, Noah would approach Romolina. He chased and wanted to play with her. Little Romolina avoided Noah but there was once, Romolina was “caught” by Noah. Noah bit her in a playful manner. We were pleased that Romolina did not fight with Noah!
As for Nano, during integration, Nano was not interested to approach Romolina and was just minding his own business. Moving on we will talk about her integration with Wawa. Although Romolina would react negatively when the other bears approached her, Wawa is a brave bear as she would still try to approach Romolina. She would go to Romolina slowly, with her head bowed down. Even though Wawa was not aggressive to her, Romolina would still avoid her. 

A photo taken during the integration session. Romolina was on the top left of the photo
Dodop rarely approached Romolina. However, something happened between Romolina and Dodop during an integration session - A fight! The cause of the fight was an accident, though. Noah was chasing Romolina around the enclosures to play with her, Romolina panicked, ran around and unintentionally, ran into Dodop. A fight then happened between them. We then had to stop the fight rapidly using a bucket of water and a fire extinguisher.
As for Mary, integration did not go well between them too. Romolina would barked and growled at Mary. There was once, Mary attempted to bite Romolina too.

Romolina on the hammock with Mary below.
During the sessions, we observed that Romolina avoided all of the bears. She would stay on top of the enclosure, away from the others. Our integration mission in the indoor enclosure thus came to an end. Anyway, let’s hope for the best for little Romolina! Perhaps, one day she will be able to be friends with the other bears again.

It’s All About The Food!


Text by Jana Grunwald & Michael Bohne
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah

We are Jana (37) and Michael (49) from Germany. Last year we have decided to take a break from our office working routine and go traveling together. As we do not only want to be tourists in the countries that we visit we have searched for animal welfare organization in Malaysia that we can support and found that the BSBBC has very good reviews. The decision to come here was made quickly and even though we have never had anything to do with bears, we are big bear fans by now. This is not only thanks to the bears, but also thanks to the keepers and all the staff that are doing a fantastic job here at the sunbear center. We truly enjoy our time in such a friendly and cooperative atmosphere.

On the first day in the center we already learned that bears are big eaters. We spent hours washing, cutting and weighting fruits and vegetables for them. No wonder, it takes such a long time - there are 43 hungry mouths to be fed and they enjoy four feeding times a day. Watching them eating and enjoying their food makes our heart melt. If there is something especially yummy, all the bears will fall on their back and eat the treat with all four paws up. We can hardly take our eyes away from this cute moment and it happens that the keepers have to remind us to move on.

We soon realized what a strenuous job the bear keeper team does every day. All keepers are in very good physical conditions and we admire them for their strengths. Each day is packed with demanding work: whether it’s cleaning the cages, preparing the food, walking under the midday sun to feed the bears or going out into the wild with the machete to collect fresh leaves and plants for enrichment. Luckily everybody has a lunch hour that is indeed one and a half hours long - time to rest and eat. We could feel how our energy comes back. Also for us humans the food is important.

However not all the tasks that we do at the center are physically hard. On the third day we were invited to assist Dr. Boon with the health check of one of the female bears called Susie 2. We felt very privileged to be part of the team that afternoon and assist a medical check on a sun bear.

We also enjoyed being part of the re-integration of two bears called Wan Wan and Mamatai. These two ladies where once sharing a forest enclosure but ended up fighting with each other. After some time of separation the team has now started to re-introduce them. As the door was opened we carefully observed them and were happy that the first session went on without any fight or need to intervene. We hope, that the two ladies re-establish their friendship and can soon scroll the outside together.

Another activity that we enjoyed a lot was observing the fence training of a bear called Panda. She gets animated with sweet fruits to leave her well known enclosure and to learn in a different enclosure that the fence has electricity and that it is best to not touch it. On the first two days that  we saw her she was too afraid to leave. Only the head and the two front paws went out to grab the treats that were within her close reach. The two back paws stayed firm in the old enclosure, no matter how seductive the fruits on the other side where. However with the time she gained confidence and got brave enough to step out of her enclosure with all four paws. What a big achievement. We were very excited for her. Now she is walking pretty confident in the fence training enclosure. Today she could finally get all the sweet fruits that we laid down for her. At the end it seems to be all about the food.


Noah Tearing Tree Bark


Video by Chiew Lin May

The long sharp claws and canines of the sun bear are handy for tearing apart tree bark.

Noah trying to find some yummy insects!


Freedom is The Goal!


Text By Manuel Baumgartner & Sophie Baumgartner
Photos By Chiew Lin May & Sumira Muis@APE Malaysia

We are Manuel and Sophie from Switzerland and are currently travelling for 6 months. We will be in Borneo for 7 weeks. We are mammal watchers in our free time and are out in nature whenever we can. We are especially looking for bears and cats, but we are enjoying every single surprise that nature gives us.

Since last year we do not only want to observe animals, but also try to be more and more active in conservation. We wanted to learn more about the reintroduction process, be physically active, and because we love bears, the BSBCC volunteer program was perfect for us.

We were impressed by the organization of the team and how well the processes work: It doesn't seem easy to us to look at all these unique bears with unique needs! We were very happy to work with the nice, interested and helpful team. It was especially important for us to learn more about the reintroduction process and its conditions. We also wanted to have the opportunity to ask critical questions. Dr. Wong, the founder of the BSBCC, took a lot of time for us to ask all our questions and we were very grateful for this exchange and for all the things we learned. 

​It was nice that we were soon able do a lot of work and work close to the bears. If you observe well, you can learn a lot about the behavior and the different characters. Unfortunately, we also saw what the consequences of a long captivity can be and how important the enrichments can be.

We wish all bears that have the opportunity to be released, to be free and to see, sniff and experience the wonderful wilderness of Borneo in peace.

Thanks a lot to the whole team for this good time full of laughter and a lot of sweating.

Romolina Explore Enrichment Hanging Spectacle Tyre


Video by Chiew Lin May

Orphaned and kept as an illegal pet- one-year-old, Little Romolina needs endless love and care. 
​Let's see what happens when she has a "Hanging Spectacle Tyre"!

Logan Growls when Encounter Stranger


Video by Chiew Lin May

Sun bears do vocalize with a different type of sound. 
​Watch how Little Logan react when he encounters danger.

Taking a Huge Leap: Striving Panda


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.