The BOS Sun Bear Sanctuary

The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation is best known for its efforts in orangutan rescue and rehabilitation. But BOS is also involved in the rescue and confiscation of a number of other species, including the Malayan sun bear.

At the request of the Government, Samboja Lestari is home to 46 sun bears, confiscated from the illegal pet trade or rescued from deforested areas.

The sanctuary includes a 58 hectare area put aside for the bears including a 55 hectare patch of fenced secondary forest complete with maturing fruit trees and a flowing river and a second area of approximately 3 hectares. It is this second area that has been utilised to date.

With sun bears primarily a solitary animal and known to be aggressive in captivity, there have been concerns as to how the males in particular would interact.  This has resulted in many of the male bears having been limited to life in a cage – a less than perfect situation.

However, since September 2008, a remarkable environmental and behavioural transformation has been occurring. Initiated by one, and developed by a fellowship of three, namely Heri Estaman (Samboja Lestari Bear Sanctuary (SLBS) Head Keeper), Meike Kunkel (SLBS Volunteer Co-ordinator) and Darek Figa (Volunteer – Animal Behaviourist), a new animal management program was established and novel environmental enrichment ideas developed.

Seven student zoo keepers from Australia began the project along with their teacher (Darek Figa) and since then many other volunteers have contributed to the on-going program.

A paddock was transformed into a bear playground with items such as tyres, ropes, bamboo and barrels. Food including fruit, smears and pastes, nuts and dog food was placed throughout the paddock and then the bears were gradually introduced into the yard.

The results have been dramatic:

* Increased yard access for the majority of the bears, replacing the previous life in a cage;

* Enrichment programs implemented across all holding yards, cages and the quarantine facility;

* Hammocks and timber shelving introduced into all feeding dens and quarantine cages;

* Improved diet resulting in better body weight and full and shiny coats;

* Motivated staff trained in best practice animal husbandry and enrichment techniques. 

Concerns that the males would fight have been overcome by ensuring that competition for resources is reduced or eliminated and by careful design of the enrichment program whereby the bears are too busy foraging for food to fight.

There is still much to do with the next step being to develop the first rainforest yard which will be approximately 5 hectares. In October 2009 a team of  specialist volunteers travelled to Samboja Lestari to complete this work, in particular finishing a new fence line and enriching the yard.

Importantly, the improvements in animal husbandry now in place must be continued to ensure these bears enjoy the quality of life they deserve.


Sun Bear Facts

Threats to the Sun Bear

Photos: Karen Stenner