By Philip Stubley

Rescued sun bears Cantik (pronounced Chan-tik) and Romeo have been at a government facility in Banda Aceh, North Sumatra for the last seven years. Sumatran Sun Bear Team (SSBT) has visited them over the years to check in with them but our recent visit was much different. This visit was seven years in the making. Along with our partners, Orangutan Information Centre (OIC), working with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (BKSDA), we visited to escort them to their new home at the SSBT facility in Bukit Mas. It was a day full of emotions and a sense of relief.

For those unfamiliar with Cantik and Romeo, we first met Cantik in 2018. She is an adult female caught in a snare in 2017 and rescued after almost chewing her own paw off, requiring a complete amputation. Also in 2018, Romeo, a young male cub was rescued from the illegal wildlife trade.

SSBT founder and director Lesley Small and team member Rebecca Roskilley flew to Sumatra on the 17th June 2024. They are both experienced sun bears keepers and have worked closely with the keepers at OIC to ensure that the emotional and physical needs of sun bears in our care are met. They headed to the Sumatran Rescue Alliance (SRA) facility, run by OIC and where the SSBT sun bear rescue centre is located. SSBT checked over the newly finished quarantine and holding facility. The quarantine facility is made up of six inner dens and three outdoor areas. We ensured it was well prepared for the imminent arrival of its new occupants. Following this transport cages were inspected and loaded onto trucks. Thanks to the Winton Foundation for Welfare of Bears who funded the construction of one of the transport cages.

The team from OIC and SSBT headed north to Banda Aceh and upon arrival it was all systems go. Both bears were tranquilised, had a check by the BKSDA Veterinarian, and placed into the transport cages. Once the bears were fully conscious, the journey began. Thank you to SSBT supporter, Kath Spence, who provided specially made covers for the cages. These helped give the bears a feeling of security and lower light levels for them. The bears were calm and travelled fine. This was just as well, as it was a 12-hour drive overnight from Banda Aceh to the SRA centre. Arriving onsite presented its own set of challenges. Trucks had to come over a river by ferry, driven as far as they could and then the transport cages were lastly carried the final stretch to the quarantine and holding dens.

By this point, Cantik and Romeo were awake and both entered their own dens. They both responded positively and expressed their delight immediately. Within no time they were playing with the leaves and branches that had been placed for them. Treats such as watermelons and coconuts were devoured with gusto. Romeo discovered his hammock and climbed into it to get comfortable. was a whole new world of discovery! In Cantik’s den the water barrel in the dens has now become her own personal jacuzzi.

Alternately, they were let out into their respective outer enclosures. Even though she is missing paw, Cantik is climbing her mini trees and loves stretching out in her hammock too. Romeo took a while to venture out at first but once he did, he immediately began digging away at the natural substrate, discovering grubs and lots of foliage, as his natural instincts kicked in. Remember, this is the first time in many years he has been able to do this! His confidence is already growing, as he realises what he is now able to do. He is full of energy and engages with every bit of enrichment provided – be it branches, scatter feed, logs – you name it, he is ready for it.

Next the pair were let out into their separate outer enclosures at the same time but have both showed a keen interest in the other. They have interacted through the adjoining mesh, sniffing each other and have displayed no aggressive behaviours. This is very positive but, for now at least, the two cannot be introduced together to prevent any potential breeding activity. As a rescue facility we are not set up to manage this.

We look forward to getting to know Cantik and Romeo better. They are already thriving in their new home and we can’t wait to provide them with a permanent bigger enclosure. We pledge to continue providing them with the freedom, security and opportunity to express themselves. We are eternally grateful to OIC and the Indonesian Forestry Department for facilitating this. Thank you to our supporters for your continuing patience, generosity and donations. This has been made possible in no small part because of you. Terima kasih!

Cantik in her hammock                                

Romeo enjoying his outdoor enclosure

Bears in transit                                               

OIC, Indonesian Forestry Department & SSBT