The first time I even heard about sun bears was while I was volunteering at Elephant Nature Park. Other than panda bears, I had no idea there was another species in Asia, but this year I finally came face to face with a sun bear.
What are sun bears?
Sun bears are found near southern China all the way to Indonesia and Malaysia.
They get their name from the golden bib shape on their chest, and are about half the size of the American black bear.
Sun bear numbers are declining for multiple reasons. They are poached from the wild for medical testing. Mothers are killed and the cubs are taken to become personal pets. Deforestation is destroying their habitat, and the most grim of all they are killed so their body parts can be sold as souvenirs.
ENP rescued their resident sun bear from a medical testing facility near the southern border of China where they use the bile from the bears to test different medications.
Finally coming face to face with a sun bear
Tasikoki has 3 resident sun bears. 2 bears, Bin Bin and Bon Bon, were rescued from a wildlife trader. He was found with a boat full of exotic animals. They aren’t sure where the final destination was exactly, but I can tell you no matter where they were headed it wasn’t going to be good.
The other bear is fairly new to the center. His name is Jelly, and he was saved from very poor living conditions. Jelly was found living in a cage barely big enough for him to turn around. He is still living in a cage at Tasikoki, but it’s only temporary while they build him a new enclosure.
Jelly is quite aggressive because of all the abuse he has endured. If he was put in the same cage as Bin Bin and Bon Bon, it would be a blood bath. Tasikoki hopes one day to be able to introduce the 3 bears and keep them in a large enclosure together, but that will take a lot of time.
Tasikoki tries to release all of their rescued animals back into the wild, but for these 3 bears, release is not possible.
For Tasikoki to be able to reintroduce the animals back in to the wild, they have to go back exactly where they came from, so if a sun bear was taken from Southern China, it cannot be released in Indonesia.
Because of deforestation, these 3 bears have no home to go back to. Their natural habitat is gone, so they will live out the rest of their lives at the rescue center. Don’t get me wrong they have a great life at Tasikoki, but it breaks my heart thinking about them never living the way nature had intended……wild.
Volunteering with Sun Bears
Out of all the jobs at the rescue center, I think bear patrol was one of my favorites.
Mainly because I would get to see their cute faces, but I also liked making their enrichments.
In the wild, the bears would have to forage for food which would take up a lot of their time. Tasikoki wants to try and make their living conditions as close to natural as possible, so rather than just throwing food into their enclosure, we would make puzzles out of it to challenge them. This also helps keep them from becoming bored which can cause aggression.
We would find different items to stuff or wrap the food in from the surrounding jungle. Once that was done, we would then go into their enclosure and hide the food puzzles in various places to make it even more of a challenge, of course it never really took them long to find everything. They’ve got quite a nose on them!
Since Jelly was in a smaller cage, we couldn’t really hide his enrichments, but we still made puzzles for him to work on. I really enjoyed taking the enrichments to Jelly. The first time I went near his cage he was not happy, but after a few days he seemed to lighten up and actually enjoy his treats.
Now to the less enjoyable part of bear patrol…..cleaning their enclosure.
I’ve dealt with plenty of live stock in my life, but these bears produce a lot of poo! Everyday we would have a large bucket filled!!!! We would also have to find all the fruit and veggie peels from past feedings.
While we were cleaning up, the Greenery team would work on the rest of the enclosure moving logs and rocks and adding palm leaves to make the atmosphere a little different. Switching up the enclosure is just another way too add enrichment for the bears.
Once we had hidden all the food and rearranged the bears’s enclosure, we would then stand up on the viewing platform and watch them hunt for all their goodies. I know I’ve said it before, but it’s very fulfilling getting to see first hand the positive benefits of your hard work.
Tasikoki is always looking for more volunteers and donors to help with the upkeep of the rescue center. If you would like to find out more info on how to sign up to volunteer or make a donation, click here for their website.