Sunbears released after successful rehabilitation

By Wong Siew Te

The team at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) has recently released two rehabilitated sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) into the core area of Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Sabah, Malaysia on 7th March 2018.

One of the released bears, Debbie, was purchased by a guy from Tuaran, and subsequently surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department and sent to BSBCC in January 2012. I still remember the night she arrived at the Centre as a little cub. Although she weighed only a few kilograms at that time and estimated to be four months old, she was surely a feisty little black furry ball  nobody dared to approach including me. Over the years, Debbie has grown into a healthy sun bear. She is a keen explorer! After six years in rehabilitation, she has grown to be the perfect candidate for release.

Photo courtesy of BSBCC.

Another sun bear, Damai, arrived at BSBCC in November 2012, when she was found wandering in a car porch at a residential area called “Damai” at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. We believed that somebody in the neighbourhood must have been keeping her as a pet from here she had escaped. She was rescued and transported to BSBCC.Damai is independent in nature. She knows what she wants and tries to take care of her own needs by herself. Now at six years old, beautiful Damai, weighing 39.6 kg, is ready to be released into the wild.

Both Debbie and Damai are now in excellent condition and are progressing well in BSBCC. Together with 42 other rescued sun bears currently housed at the Centre, they have learned many survival skills to prepare themselves to live in the rainforest for the second time. Both have become very skilled, they climb tall trees and build nests on these tall trees by using branches, liana and green leaves. They love to spend time up in these treetops! They are also excellent in foraging for termites, grubs and invertebrates. They have quickly picked up forest skills. Sometime they do not come back to their bear house for dinner. They prefer to skip dinner that we serve and forage for their own food in the forest enclosure. In short, these two rescued sun bears have completely rehabilitated and are ready to live independently in the wild.

Photo courtesy of BSBCC.

I treated all the rescued sun bears at the Centre as my own children. The bears are my family members, together with 26 full-time staff and volunteers at the Centre. The bond between our bears and staff is strong. We know each of our bears by their faces and individual characters. I remember clearly the night when Debbie and Damai arrived at BSBCC. I have been caring for them in the past six years and now the time to say goodbye has arrived. There is a mix of emotions running through me—bitter, sweet, worried and happy.

I had been feeling uneasy from the moment we left the Centre at 3 am on 7th March 2018., from the 5-hour road trip to Tabin Wildlife Reserve, to the last passage in a helicopter to the release site. My emotional turmoil reached its climax when I bid them goodbye for the very last time, right before I opened their cages and let them roam free in the forest—a forest without fence. Slowly, these black bodied animals with ID collars disappeared into the forest. This is it! From then on, my relationship with these two bears had ended. I could no longer take care of them nor ensure that they live happily ever after. Both Damai and Debbie are now on their own – they are subject to all the threats and challenges that a wild bear may face in the forest.

Photo courtesy of BSBCC.

I really hope that both Debbie and Damai can live long in the forest. It would be even better if they could find and mate with resident males, reproduce, and ensure the survival of the species in this part of the world.

Sun bear populations across Southeast Asia have been threatened from habitat loss over the past several decades of deforestation for timber extraction and agriculture. Today, the biggest threat for sun bears is poaching activities. I hope that these two releases will not only boost local bear population but also raise awareness of sun bear conservation in this part of the world. Sun bears play an important ecological role to maintain a healthy forest ecosystem where clean air, clean water and a stable climate are being generated. The protection of sun bear is the first step to ensure a better future for all of us!

Debbie and Damai are our hopes to achieve this goal!

Full story here: Damai and Debbie gain freedom in Tabin Wildlife Reserve

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