Securing a shared future for wildlife and people

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Destination: Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC)

I arrived at Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia, Borneo Airport on Saturday morning September 24th.

In Kuala Lumpa I had to pay for excess baggage as I had brought extra enrichment puzzles for the bears over there, and then at Sandakan airport I got my credit card swallowed up by the ATM! I wasn’t going to leave it there as I had no money to even catch a taxi to get to a bank. They called a technician in as they didn’t want a cranky Aussie in their sleepy little airport!

I arrived at the conservation centre and met Wong who founded the sanctuary. He has been helping me with Sun Bear information for the past six years. Taronga Zoo is home to a Sun Bear called Mr Hobbs. He was rescued many years ago with a female from the restaurant trade in Cambodia.

To my surprise Wong was in the middle of filming with movie star Jason Scott Lee, aka the actor who played Bruce Lee,  Lilo and stitch, and Jungle Book to name a few. We all walked into the jungle with a really young Sun Bear cub, “Mary”, as they are doing a National Geographic story on her. She was a family pet, and the reality is that her mother was probably shot.

Mary busy digging and eating
Things are looking up for Mary - she is a good candidate for rehabilitation and release as she is at the age where she’s still learning to be a bear and she’s displaying lots of natural behaviours such as digging, foraging, climbing and loves finding her own supply of bugs. There is a long way to go, but it’s great to see the optimism with this bear and that she may have a second chance at being a wild Sun Bear.

The bears really took to the enrichment puzzles I brought them. The Aussie dog balls are not new to the conservation centre, but it means they have more to play with. I also brought PVC pipe toys that my husband specially made for the bears. These toys have gone down well too, and have been used for a very young cub named “Fulong” and for an elderly male called “Amarko”.  Amarko was a pet held in the middle of a palm oil plantation and fed a diet of condensed milk every day – his teeth are awful!

I have really enjoyed getting to know these bears.

The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is currently caring for 23 bears. Some go out into the HUGE jungle enclosure where it is primary forest and even though some of these bears can never be released due to their age or disability, they are able to behave like wild bears and return at the end of the day.

Investigating a log
I started working with BSBCC’s project manager Wia Pak on some basic bear training and have managed to get some photos of some bears’ eyes that have issues due to the previous circumstances, conditioning for skin scrapings on a couple of skin issue bears, antibiotic spray for an injury and calming behaviours for a bear that doesn’t like it when his adjacent den is hosed. He didn’t have another holding section of his previous owner’s cage, so the owners would have had to clean it somehow with him being in it.

It is a beautiful part of the world – but now I’ve started my 45 hour leg from Sabah to Kodiak Island to go see some of Bethyl the Brown Bear’s wild cousins!! J

Will stay in touch.

Lesley, Sun Bear Keeper