Sun Bear Project

We support fund raising for Samboja Lestari Sun Bear Sanctuary, which provides housing, food, rehabilitation and safety for rescued bears from various appalling circumstances.


Authorities rescue many sun bears that are kept as pets or have fallen victim to the illegal animal trade business. Unfortunately due to deforestation the Borneo Sun Bear is left vulnerable to opportunistic hunters or captors. Often times the mother is killed and the baby is taken and sold as a temporary pet. Being the smallest bear in the world they are incredibly cute as a baby. It’s not until the animal gets older that it becomes unmanageable and is no longer wanted. Many of these bears have endured severe physical and psychological trauma and are unable to be released into the wild. A sun bear has a life expectancy of 40 years and will require care for the rest of their lives.

Some of these bears have been rescued from “Bear bile farms”. Bear bile has been used in traditional Asian medicine for thousands of years to treat liver, gall bladder and various other ailments. Now there are many herbal and synthetic medicines that treat these ailments with much more effectiveness, hence there is no longer a need for these farms.  

Until the 1980s bears were killed and their gall bladder was removed to obtain the bile. In the 1980s Bear Farming began and the animals were and are still today, kept in tiny cages alive and their gall bladders drained of bile for the entirety of the animals life. The treatment of these animals is very cruel for the entirety of the animal’s lives. Not only is the extraction process painful but also they are forced to endure improper nutrition, starvation, dehydration, disease, infection, and psychological disorders. In a proper environment these bears can live up to 40 years but in these horrific conditions most don’t live past 20 years. Today there are still 12,000 bears kept in farms throughout China and Vietnam. Bears are kept in tiny cages and the extraction of bile is very painful for them. Often the bears claws and teeth are removed as well their entire paws.

Bear bile farming is still legal in China and is illegal in Vietnam as of 1992, unfortunately captive animal laws are not enforced in these countries nor are cruelty regulations.

For those interested in getting hands on experience and up-close and personal with these animals please see our Eco-Tours section and enquire about Tour 3

Samboja Lestari Sun Bear Sanctuary

Protecting the lives and habitat of Borneos sun bears


The Samboja Lestari sun bear sanctuary aims to rescue, protect and enrich the lives of all displaced and illegally kept sun bears in Kalimantan, giving them the best environment possible in which to live.


As local awareness of the sun bear grew, confiscations of illegally held bears increased and Samboja Lestari very soon became home to 52 sun bears.

At first, the centre lacked adequate facilities to properly care for these bears and had no alternative but to stop accepting them. Three 1 ha outdoor enclosures were created for them and 58 hectares of forested land was set aside to create an even larger sanctuary for the bears. Unfortunately, a lack of funds held back the developments that were necessary to make this area useable. This meant that many of the male bears who fought were confined to enclosures that were too small and lacked stimulation.

In September 2008, however, the lives of these sun bears were transformed. Animal behaviourist Darek Figa and his team developed an innovative new enrichment program and successfully housed uncastrated male bears for the first time in large groups, enabling them to access the 1 ha enclosures in groups peacefully.


Male sun bears are territorial and, in captivity, will fight when put together unless either castrated or drugged. In many cases, male sun bears are simply kept in isolation.

It became apparent at the sanctuary that the male bears were not happy in isolation. Experiments in putting them together resulted in fights, as predicted. Aggression is a normal behaviour in the wild that is often associated with valuable yet scarce resources such as food. If this competition for resources in their environment were reduced or eliminated, then the need to fight should also be reduced.

With this in mind, the enrichment program was introduced. 


The purpose of enrichment is to provide opportunities for an animals natural behaviors to be expressed within the captive environment. Enrichment improves the sun bears physical and psychological well-being by providing them with interest, exercise, and enjoyment.

Sun Bears present cages/housing (MOST RECENT UPDATES TO BE POSTED SOON)

Behavioural Enrichment

The enrichment program encourages sun bears to work for their food in the same way they would in the wild “ foraging in leaf litter, climbing trees for fruit, tearing rotten logs apart in search of termites, and licking food out of natural crevices.

At the sanctuary bamboo climbing frames, bridges, tyre swings, dens and ponds have been constructed. Food is hidden in food puzzles, bamboo food tubes, up trees, and under logs. It is scattered in leaf litter, smeared onto surfaces, or buried in sand. Hiding places are varied so that the bears must find it by using their excellent sense of smell rather than relying on their memory.

The male sun bears were so occupied foraging for an ongoing supply of food, rather than waiting for it to be delivered once a day in a bowl, that they did not fight. Even when they werent foraging, the bears preferred swinging on the tyres and cooling down in the ponds rather than fighting over what they now perceive to be an abundant supply of food.

More than six months later, the male bears are still living together peacefully without castration or hormone suppressing drugs.

The improvements continue and it is the aim of the Samboja Lestari Sun Bear Sanctuary to provide these sun bears with the best care possible in an environment that so closely  mimics their natural habitat that the bears can behave much as they would in the wild. Should the day come for release, many of these bears will be ready and suitable.

501 (c)(3) Public Charity