A Story that Every Malaysian Should Tell

Text & Photos by Lee Min Yi

Living in a biodiversity hotspot named Malaysia, do we really know how many things we have taken for granted all this while? Let’s have a quick test: When you come across the word “bear”, what is the first image that appears in your mind? Most probably it is a polar bear, a grizzly bear or teddy bear. Before I  heard about this internship experience from my senior, I was not aware that the Bornean sun bear exists in Malaysia, the bear who knows how to climb trees and build nests. 
My journey starts with 4 extremely active puppies in Björn Hala, who welcomed me with their utmost excitement and  wagging tails. I still remember my first impression of the wooden house,standing  alone under a dark sky, looking  a tiny bit scary for a newcomer. It turned out to be the place that I missed the most after my internship ended, a room where I can sleep soundly, surrounded by the sound of nature. You will never get bored living in the house, even just walking around the house or looking through the window while washing the dishes, you can meet plenty of new friends :- puppies, cats, chickens and trees! As a person who has lived her whole life in the Peninsular of Malaysia, I have come across lots of new things here, from sunrise to sunset, from food to people, from animals to plants. I still see the same level of authenticity flourish in every single one of them. 

“So hey, how was your first day of work?” Well, the routine of work in the bear house is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and definitely requires a high amount of energy to accomplish the tasks and a clear coordination within the team is essential to get all the tasks done on time. My key takeaway from this routine  is to make sure you complete what you have started that day so that you can start the next day smoothly. Although only here for a month, I have tried not to take things in an autopilot mode, but to improve bit by bit on a daily basis, familiarising myself with each process and the purpose of it = for the welfare of the bears. When you focus more on things bigger than yourself, you will find joy and satisfaction from the smallest task you do everyday. 

I have also gained the knowledge and understanding towards wildlife conservation, especially the Bornean sun bears in Malaysia, from the job opportunities I can explore, to the challenges of making progress one step at a time. Some of the rescued sun bears in the centre have their own trauma, which in a way has  disabled their natural instinct for foraging for food and mating. Despite the bears’ fitness to return to the wild, we are still not confident  how long they could survive while poaching is still happening in Malaysia. However, when we take a closer look into what is behind poaching, more social issues such as poverty and quality education are revealed. When everything seems interconnected, people tend to close their eyes and ears as it seems too big to be solved in one day. It is undeniably a long and tough marathon which will not come to an end. That’s what makes all the baby steps matter :- start sharing knowledge with your immediate circle about sun bears. Only when more people have the common awareness of the importance to protect their wildlife can more action be initiated. 
Thank you to every single person I have met on this journey:-
Pradeep who has welcomed me on my first day of arrival after a long day of work and your openness in sharing your experience.
Wahwah who has been guiding us the whole time, explaining everything you know about sunbears to us patiently & passionately.
My buddy David who guided me whole-heartedly and shared all the moments you have had throughout your working life.
Lin May & Thye Lim who are always approachable, willing to listen to all my thoughts & to discuss them openly. 
Roger & Adneen who care about your learnings and well-being throughout the journey & who never tired of creating annoying moments!!
Dr. Wong who spared his precious time to answer all our questions and to show us around.
Dr. Boon for sharing her knowledge & experience in treating wild animals.
All the housemates in Björn Hala, Mizuno, Becca & Danny who make the house lively with conversations, food, humours and melodies.
My roomie, Jenny who makes my whole journey filled with laughter, adventures and fun. 
To anyone who loves nature and animals, come to BSBCC as a volunteer to create your own story. 
To all Malaysians, come and visit the BSBCC whenever you can and appreciate what we have in our land.

Video Link: https://youtu.be/9t5OLBKvao


Sun Bear Rehabilitation | Kipaku Climbing Strangler Fig Tree | BSBCC

Video by Chiew Lin May

Day 93: Being able to be an Arboreal bear!

Sun bear is the smallest and most arboreal bear. They have unique adaptions for their arboreal lifestyle: large paws, naked soles and long, curved claws that aid them in climbing trees. They spend most of their time in trees.

Little Kipaku is a very active sun bear who enjoys climbing trees. The first time he was taken to a strangler fig tree he climbed as high as he can- there is nothing like it! Just look at the cheeky look in his eyes!

You can read his full story on our blog https://www.bsbcc.org.my/bear-talk-blog/category/kipaku.html

Show some love by ADOPT Little Kipaku today and help us give him the life deserve here https://www.bsbcc.org.my/share-bear-adoption.html Every action helps enrich their lives.

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What Can You Do in 30 days?

Text by Jenny Wong Jenn Ney
Photos by Chiew Lin May & Seng Yen Wah

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Min Yi and I from the Universiti Sains Malaysia were some of the first volunteers at the BSBCC. Our volunteer programme was cut short from 8 weeks to just a little over 5 weeks (30 days). It might be a brief amount of time to achieve anything. 

What can you do in 30 days? 

You could be a bear housekeeper who cleans the bear house, sweeping up enormous bear scats so that every cute little bear can have a pleasant place to sleep for the night.

You could be an engineer or architect who designs and builds some hammocks, treats or your own project, as enrichment so that every bear can have a little fun and would not feel left out in their own dens.

You could be a chef who helps cutting pumpkins, sweet potatoes, watermelons and papayas into suitable shapes so that every bear can gorge themselves on their kind of Michelin-star food.

You could be an expert in Bear Etiquette who knows their behaviours and biology including what to do and what not to do for their well-being.

You could be a nurse who helps with the medical examination of a bear, checking their wounds, pulse, teeth, X-ray and even taking “pawprints” to monitor the general health of bears. 

You could be an Animal Behaviourist (which is actually my favourite!) who closely observes and monitors every single movement of bears in a controlled environment, so that the data can be used to determine if the bears can get along with one another.

You could be a bookworm who immerses herself in the story of a man’s quest to save Bornean sun bears, Dr. Wong Siew Te the founder of BSBCC from the book “Saving Sun Bears” written by award-winning author Sarah Pye.

Most importantly, you could be an advocate to benefit and help wildlife conservationists for Bornean sun bears, the world’s smallest bears, whose lives may be on the brink of extinction in the next decades due to poaching, illegal pet trade and deforestation. 

A Big World for A Little Bear

Text & Photos by Seng Yen Wah

Do you still remember the little Betung? 

She arrived at the BSBCC on the 26th of August, 2020. Betung was wandering alone and found by a dog in an orchard at Kampung Betung, Ranau. After that, she was kept for five months. Then, her owner surrendered her to the Sabah Wildlife Department. On her arrival, she only weighed 1.4kg. She was tiny and weak. She looked much smaller than she should be. Other than that, she is also suffering pruritus and multiple alopecias on her body. She is the smallest, weakest sun bear that we had ever received. 
Now, Betung has settled well in the quarantine. The bear keepers, Adrian and Danny, are taking care of her around the clock. The keepers are her surrogate mothers. They spend their time bonding with her. Betung likes to sit on their laps, resting and of course she loves to play with them too. She is little, but she never gives up during their play fights! She will show her small but sharp canines and paw with her tiny front paws to let you know how she strong she can be!

To improve her health condition, we decided to give Betung a walk in the sun. Having some sun can help her obtain Vitamin D and boost her immune system. During the first walk, she showed curiosity about her surroundings. 

Betung tried to climb during the walk. However, she is too weak and unable to climb to any great height. Her muscles and strength need time to build up. To encourage her to climb the keepers will show her a tree and go with her. It took some time, but It’s working! Now she spends more time on a tree, especially when the keeper is on there too. Now, she is more active outdoors. 

Every time she goes out, we will get her ready in a box. She loves to stay in the box. She feels safe and finds this fun! After she arrives in the forest, she walks out of the box and begins the day’s adventure. Digging is one of her favourite activities in the woods. Tearing, digging and biting will never make her bored. After exploring, she often keeps her mouth open because the wood debris is in her mouth, and she does not like it. She will keep using her front paw to remove the debris or sometimes she will need help from the keepers.

In the forest, everything for her is huge! But she keeps walking without any fear. She is courageous. When there is a breeze, she enjoys it! It is delightful to see how much she enjoys the forest! 

The rehabilitation of Betung may be long. However, the team at the BSBCC will do their best to give Betung a better life! Please share your love with her; she needs your help. You can help to make her life different!


Wawa, Orphaned Sun Bear

Video by Chiew Lin May

Wawa was found alone in the forest reserve and appearing weak. We believe her mother was likely killed by the poacher. She was only four months old and had not been properly cared for. The little cub was taken to BSBCC on 18th March 2016.

​Over time, we noted the amazing changes in her behaviour. Wawa is a sun bear who is here to get the most out of life – freedom + honey + trees! She extremely smart and wild who loves to stay high up on trees! Please share her story!

A Milestone for Betung

Text By Dr.Yeoh Boon Nie

Photos By Seng Yen Wah

“Yay, Betung is 2.0kg today!” the joyous shout from the cub care team at the BSBCC. 
Betung is a malnourished sun bear cub rescued by Sabah Wildlife Department on 21st August 2020 . Her background story was similar to many other rescued cubs at the BSBCC. They claimed she was found walking alone in the forest and then raised by a villager since April 2020. 

Betung, however, is different. 
Inappropriate care and chronic malnutrition resulted in possible irreversible damage to her health. Betung was terribly stunted and estimated as being 6 months old. A healthy sun bear cub at this age can easily achieve 10kg. Unbelievably,when Betung arrived at the BSBCC on 26th August 2020 she was a mere 1.4kg.

At day 33 in BSBCC, Betung weighed 2.0kg. A 600g weight gain may seem insignificant to most cubs. But for Betung, this gain indicates a promising health healing process. The cub care team cheered at this moment.
Raising her is by far the most challenging task in BSBCC. Not just because she is tiny but also her health status is severely compromised. Her blood test showed reduced red blood cells, white blood cells and total protein, which are consistent with malnourishment. Her immune system is also severely impaired. She is weak,easily succumbs to infection and is bald due to mites and fungal skin infection. In addition it was discovered she suffered from hypocalcemia,shown from the thin bone cortices in the radiography result. This finding also implied that a minor traumatic impact such as a fall, can break a bone. Betung is very delicate and fragile. 

Another challenge we faced in raising Betung was she did not respond well to the milk substitute we have used in the past 8 years. Her gastrointestinal absoption disorder was worrying us. Her appetite and weight gain was inconsistent at the beginning. We had to source special milk formula for Betung. Fortunately with the introduction of a new formula, she appetite has greatly improved the team is relieved that her weight is now steadily increasing day by day. She has even started to pick up solid food and has transformed into a bright and playful sun bear. 

Betung’s case emphasises the importance of nutrition in one’s growth. 

We pray both that her stunt growth and impaired health condition are reversible and that she will grow into a normal adult sized sun bear.  
Time will prove it. A 25kg grown up Betung will be a beautiful sun bear. 
P/s: Please adopt Betung to make a difference.

The Buddy Bears - Noah & Nano

 Text & Photos by Seng Yen Wah

There are two bear stories that began in the year of 2016 at BSBCC.

The story began at a place named Nabawan, an area in the southern part of Sabah. One day in 2016, a villager saw a dog in her orchard. When she tried to look closer, she noticed the dog has round ears and sharp claws.  She then realized the dog was actually a sun bear! The sun bear had been kept as a pet ever since. On the 19th of August 2016, the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) rescued him and sent him to Lok Kawi Zoo. The bear came to BSBCC when he was five months old and weighed 8.6kg on the 10th of October 2016. When he was just brought here, his four baby teeth were supposed to be more curved and sharper but were found being reduced to a squarish and smoothen condition which affected his teething structure and arrangement. Despite this condition, he has healthily grown into a four-year-old sub adult male bear and is named Noah.

Another story happened in Kota Marudu, an area in the north of Sabah. This story belongs a six years old adult male bear named Nano. Back in 2016, Nano was kept in a small chicken mesh cage. A lady saw him and wanted to end his unfortunate life. She knew the bear was going to suffer in that small cage and she then decided to purchase Nano for a price of RM1,500 to save his life. After that, she surrendered Nano to the SWD and that sent him to BSBCC on the 20th of November 2016. When he first arrived at BSBCC, he just weighed 9.7kg at the age of two years old.  

Noah and Nano were each other’s first bear friend! They always stay together. They look different and have quite different personalities.  For instance, Noah is a happy bear and an explorer. He seems like having nothing to worry about in his life and is always curious about everything! Noah has a brighter colour snout and a longer body shape. On the contrary, Nano is shy. He is very alert to the surroundings and gets stressed easily.  Nano has a shinier coat and a smaller body size. Noah’s friendly efforts had changed Nano’s life day by day. Nano has changed from being aggressive and inactive to peaceful and active. Due to their friendship and interactions, Nano has become braver and brighter! 

After a year of rehabilitation, Noah and Nano explored the forest for the very first time in 2017. Noah was excited about the adventure outside. He was confident and enjoyed freedom. However, Nano showed more distress to explore a new environment. Nano timidly took his time to go out, but Noah never gave up on him. After a few months, Nano finally put his trauma behind him and enjoyed the forest activities with Noah.  Even though they are “beary” good friends, they still fight sometimes. However, if Nano is in trouble, Noah will run towards Nano and get him out of the trouble. No bears in BSBCC can bully Nano! Nano feels more secure whenever Noah is around. They just can’t leave each other alone!

Noah and Nano really enjoy their daily forest activities such as digging, foraging, and climbing. Noah is like Nano’s big brother. Noah starts the adventure of the day and Nano is happy to be his follower. They both are foodies. Before and during the food giving, Nano always guards food and Noah will respond as if they are communicating in Bear Language. It is a joy to see them always together like a Best Bear Friends! Hope they gain more courage and sharpen their forest survival skills to ready themselves for their release together in the wild one day!