Sun bears remain one of the most threatened bear species in the world. Sumatran Sun Bear Teams (SSBT) goal is to establish the first dedicated, specialist sun bear rescue and rehabilitation facility in Sumatra. When two orphaned cubs came to our attention, we knew we had to act to fundraise and build our first enclosure for these innocent creatures. SSBT founder Lesley Small was visiting Sumatra in early 2020 she met Uca, a young cub, who at the time was just a few months old. She was in government care after being poached illegally from the wild. Sun bears are prey to many threats including deforestation, habitat loss and poaching which is still rife in Sumatra. Poachers will flush out mothers who are killed for their body parts and bile, whilst taking defenceless cubs and selling them on the illegal wildlife trade. This is an all too familiar story. Luckily Uca was found and brought into government care.
SSBT saw right away that Uca required immediate attention and TLC so worked with local authorities to ensure this. Uca was initially being kept in a small cage so alongside the Indonesian Species Conservation Program (ISCP) we arranged a larger enclosure, which also contained behavioural enrichment to engage her. We also worked closely with Uca’s keeper to tailor an appropriate diet for her. Sun bear cubs require round the clock attention. Cubs normally receive nutrient rich fatty milk from their mothers and typically need about 20% of their bodyweight in food per day. The next best thing is milk by the bottle which Uca gladly guzzled down.
Meanwhile thoughts turned to devising a more permanent situation for Uca. As plans were made – unfortunately slowed down by the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic – another cub came to SSBT’s attention.
Little Jessy came under the auspices of Orangutan Information Centre (OIC) located In Medan, Northern Sumatra. Jessy was clearly traumatised by the separation from her mother clinging to her teddy bear and suckling on it for comfort. SSBT were able to ensure she had proper care with funds for a dedicated caregiver. Furthermore, SSBT formed a partnership with OIC to build a permanent enclosure for Jessy, and Uca, to live in. SSBT’s goals and Lesley’s dreams were finally becoming reality.
Like SSBT, Uca was not idle in this year as she was taken out to the forest to act like her wild counterparts. Cubs normally learn everything from their mothers, spending the first two years of their lives from them. We strive to be a suitable substitute. Wild sun bears spend the majority of their time either looking for food or climbing up into the tree canopies. Uca shows signs of foraging and displays natural instincts. She inspects logs for hidden delights and uses her long-curved claws to tear into them.
Uca even found time to become star of the children’s book by Martin Hill “A Sun Bear in Trouble,” available via Amazon or directly from the publisher at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is growing into quite the character and we continue to work with local authorities to see her transferred to our first facility.
An appropriate sun bear enclosure was designed and rendered by Philip Stubley and Asha Kaur. This incorporated two connecting dens with a tunnel adjoining to a third “quarantine” den. These dens all lead onto an outdoor area that include a climbing structure and pond feature. Electric hot wire will be installed around the tops of the outdoor fence to ensure the bears (and humans) security.
After a site was selected, costing and logistics were worked out and designs were updated accordingly. SSBT had enough money to get construction started but more will be needed to finish it. Since the site is in a relatively remote area, work began quickly to transfer materials as early in the year as possible to avoid the rainy season slowing this process down.
Ground was finally broken mid-2021 with foundations laid and a water tower installed. Building the dens and the outer perimeter fence followed swiftly afterwards. One small detail we were pleasantly surprised by was the green “forest” colour scheme OIC went for on the dens. When Jessy came for an inspection, she seemed to approve of the colour (and everything else) which made all the efforts worthwhile.
Construction continues and Jessy continues to blossom under the care of her keeper, Willis. Jessy has become very comfortable with her surroundings and now slides up and down trees with no problem. One of her favourite fruits is papaya. Sun bears enjoy a varied diet of fruits, honey, bee larvae and insects and so does Jessy!
The enclosure is almost completed but still requires some finishing touches to ensure it is up to the standards we have set ourselves. We continue to raise funds to ensure Jessy and Uca get nothing but the best. Through cooperation, generous donations and determination we can alleviate the suffering of sun bears in Sumatra. Much work remains to be done. This is only the beginning.