A second chance for Borneo's sunbear

In November 2010, the Orangutan Foundation and the Indonesian Government’s local Agency of Conservation of Natural Resources rescued a very young Malaysian sunbear.  Sunbears are the world’s smallest bear and their survival in the wild is threatened by habitat loss and commercial hunting. Sunbear, Gemini, when first found at the end of November 2010

The sunbear, named Gemini, was taken to the Lamandau River Wildlife Reserve, a protected area of forest located on the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo. When the Orangutan Foundation’s vet, first weighed Gemini he was only 3kg and with him being so young there was some doubt as to how successful efforts would be to return him to the wild.

Vet, Dr Fikri and Reintroduction Manager, Pak Tigor check Gemini

So far these concerns have not materialised and Gemini is thriving.  In early June, his weight reached 11 kg - a significant increase since he was first rescued.

The least studied of all the bear species, there are many myths about sunbears. They are notoriously aggressive, with large sharp claws and so one of the Foundation’s main concerns was the potential for future human/bear conflicts.  To minimise this risk Gemini only interacts with one member of the charity’s staff and it is hoped that if Gemini was to encounter humans later on he will shy away .

The Orangutan Foundation has established a daily routine for Gemini to increase his chance of survival in the wild. Each morning after his breakfast Gemini is led into the forest to play. The staff joke that he is naughty as he regularly ignores his carer’s calls and runs off with his carer struggling to follow.

Gemini in April 2011

This incredible bear is well-adapted to climbing trees but even the staff were surprised, and anxious, to see how high Gemini climbs.  Initially staff tried to encourage him down but their efforts were in vain and Gemini came down in his own time.

To encourage Gemini’s foraging skills honey is sprayed into holes in tree trunks and onto fallen and rotten branches. This is to encourage Gemini to get the taste and look for honey in the forest.  Sunbears have the longest tongues of all bear species which is especially useful for getting to honey and insects.

Gemini the sunbear licking honey which is being spread onto trees

Once tired of playing in the forest, Gemini is brought back to camp where he is given food and milk.  After that he is taken to the river for swimming lessons.

Sunbear swimming in the Lamandau River Wildlife Reserve

At the end of the day Gemini is put back into his holding cage to rest – according to the field assistant who looks after him Gemini’s tired eyes seem to say "I want to rest - sweet dreams. I'll see you tomorrow morning and we can play together again in the forest".

Since 2000, more than 160 orangutans and other threatened wildlife species including clouded leopards and sunbears have been released into the Lamandau River Wildlife Reserve.

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