Recently I posted about the Orang Utan at the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre on Borneo island. However, I was privileged to have had a peek on he new conservation effort being carried out there – sun bears. Sun bears (Ursus malayanus), also known as honey bears, are found only in South-east Asia and are the smallest bear in the world. adult bears stand only at about 1.2 metres. Like the Orang Utan, many sun bears are displaced by forest clearing for development, orphaned by poachers or were kept as pet and later abandoned when they got too big.
I met Mr. X who was the assistant keeper who enthusiastically explained how they were trying to rehabilitate the bears so that they could be successfully returned to the wild. Before they can be released, the young bears must be re-accustomised to the forest environment, must learn how to dig for food, climb trees and make nests to sleep in. Mr. X also fondly explained the varied and fascinating character of his charges.
The bears are kept in cages either in small groups or singly. Those in the cages by themselves are basically too grumpy to share a cage with other bears – there would be fighting. I suppose it is no surprise that these loners were all male. There was one cage with 4 young girls who all got on well with each other but even here there was a range of personalities. There was one girl who could be called the femme fatale cause she will appear friendly but go too close and she finds delight in ripping your trouser leg with her claws (too bad if you don’t wear trousers). Mr. X had various scars to demonstrate that he learned all this the hard way. On the other hand, there is Miss-Happy-go-lucky who seems to have a dumb smile for you in any situation.
Then I was introduced to two males who shared a cage. These two get long together like best of pals but it is like the Odd Couple. There is Mas who is quite bold where as Ah Chong is very timid. Each cage has a door that opens outside into a fenced enclosure. The door is opened for a few hours each day to encourage the bears to re-acquaint with the outdoors and forest. Ah Chong was probably abused badly so he feels safe only in his cage. Mas however, happily goes out as soon as the door opens and digs around for bugs to eat. When Mas is gone, Ah Chong gets very anxious and hovers near the door to keep an eye out for his cage mate. Later when Mas returns, Ah Chong gives him a bear hug and pushes Mas away fro the door and tries to keep Mas from going out again. Interesting, no?
This work is in its infancy. Hopefully the work will succeed though. This squirrel would like to thank everyone who works hard to rehabilitate traumatized animals, including squirrels.