TAKE ACTION: Help Ajib – a traumatised sun bear mother so damaged she behaves like a cub

07 November 2017

Sun bear Ajib shows overt signs of psychological damage, but unsuspecting Western tourists think she’s healthy and pay to pose with her.

By Animals Asia’s Animal Welfare Director Dave Neale

Those who hold animals in captivity have a huge responsibility to meet the individual animal’s physical and psychological needs. If we meet these needs, the animal will be able to behave naturally as they would do in the wild.

At True Bali Experience elephant camp, the needs of sun bear Ajib and her cub Marsha are not being met and the psychological damage is clear for animal experts to see.

Footage captured by Animals Asia’s Indonesian partner Scorpion Foundation shows Ajib compulsively sucking her paw throughout the photo shoot in which she and her seven-month-old cub Marsha are forced to star.

This compulsive behaviour is well-documented in sun bear cubs rescued from traffickers and is believed to be a coping mechanism. Unable to suckle her mother, the bear sucks on her own paw instead.

Rescued from traffickers a decade ago, Ajib is now 12 years old and a mother herself. Yet still, she remains psychologically damaged - undoubtedly the poachers would have killed her mother to capture her – and behaves quite literally like an infant.

Her rescue should have been the start of a better life, but Ajib has never received the professional care or benefits of a purpose-built sanctuary to enable her to overcome her psychological scarring.

Instead she was taken to True Bali Experience which offered to look after her - by exploiting her as a tourist attraction. To this day she and her cub Marsha are merely props for tourists’ holiday selfies.

If it doesn’t stop, young Marsha could end up with the same long-term psychological problems which continue to plague her mother.

There is a third bear at the True Bali Experience elephant camp, but this male bear is so rarely seen  we could not even be certain of his gender until it was confirmed by park staff in media interviews.

This bear is kept separate from mother and cub for safety reasons. As a result he spends the vast majority of his time locked in a tiny concrete cell at the back of the grassy enclosure with a tiny hole in the wall providing the only light.

Bears subjected to such extreme captivity and isolation are commonly found on bile farms and the psychological damage they suffer can be catastrophic.

Many suffer from a behaviour known as “stereotyping”, which is when a bear repeats a small, repetitive action in a desperate attempt to deal with their stress. Some bears rescued from bile farms have even been known to rub away much of the skin on their face as they struggle in vain to deal with their trauma.

We cannot see inside the male bear’s small, dark cell, but it is highly likely this bear – held in solitary confinement – is exhibiting seriously damaging stereotypic behaviour.

It doesn’t have to be this way

Sun bears need stimulation. In the wild they spend most of their time foraging, hunting, playing and nesting. Mothers with cubs as young as Marsha would be teaching them the vital life skills they will need for the rest of their lives.

Facilities caring for captive animals must ensure they are able to exhibit these natural behaviours.

At Animals Asia’s two bear rescue centres in Vietnam and China, hundreds of rescued bears have learned to overcome – or drastically reduce – their stereotyping through long-term, constantly evolving enrichment programmes designed by sanctuary staff to maximise quality of life for the bears in their care. 

The animal lovers visiting True Bali Experience to see the bears and pose with them in photos mostly have no idea about how this is affecting the animals. The idea that it is normal for an adult sun bear to compulsively suckle herself or lie on her back drinking milk from a bottle like a human baby is a complete lie.

If tourists knew the true picture, they would stop visiting the facility because very few people would knowingly pay to be complicit in animal cruelty.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to treat animals like they’re only good for entertaining us humans.

With Animals Asia’s help, True Bali Experience could vastly improve the lives of all three bears at the facility, which would greatly enhance the experience of the tourists. They could set an example for other facilities around the country and show them that compassion is more profitable than exploitation.

YOU can help end the suffering for Ajib and Marsha. Sign the petition and tell True Bali Experience animal exploitation is never acceptable.