a cute bornean sun bear poses perfectly to see the iconic sun mark on its chest

Stories from the Field – Wawa the Sun Bear

Wildlife adventures tend to move the soul.  For those of us that are borderline obsessive with nature, trips to view and photograph animals always result in unexpected surprises.

Having just returned from guiding an extraordinary photo adventure throughout the wilds of Borneo, I had one of those moments where everything just clicks into place and you connect with an animal in such an unexpected way.  This was how it happened with Wawa the Bornean sun bear.

a cute bornean sun bear rests on a tree in sepilok borneo

A couple years back, I helped facilitate a sponsorship of a sun bear at the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre via Nat Hab Philanthropy, a program I oversee at Natural Habitat Adventures.  This is the kind of deal where you pay for the care of an animal for an entire year—feeding, vet care, staff time, etc. So, I had to pick a bear, and I picked Wawa based on some materials I had read and info given to me by this center.

Wawa was a small orphaned cub, found all alone in the jungles of Sabah in 2016.  She was swiftly rescued and transported to the Sun Bear Centre where she began getting the care she needed.  After an initial quarantine and acclimatization process, she was released into the outdoor enclosures of BSBCC.  The first-hand accounts describe her passion for the world and vigor with which she explored her new home.  They said she was one of the most natural explorers they had seen in a sun bear.  I couldn’t resist!  As an emblem of our company, Natural Habitat Adventures, (and perhaps maybe a little bit of myself), I couldn’t resist.

Fast forward three years now, and I had returned to the Sun Bear Centre in Sepilok, Borneo once more. Toward the end of our visit here we got the show of a lifetime when an extra playful sun bear climbed a tree right in front of us…playing and scampering all about.

It was one of the best photo ops I’ve had to date of sun bears here, and I couldn’t stop photographing.  What an amazing connection with this bear, and how dang photogenic…in the right light, eye level, just putting on a show.

a cute bornean sun bear gives us a profile view

a cute bornean sun bear looks at the camera as it plays

a cute bornean sun bear poses perfectly to see the iconic sun mark on its chest

a cute bornean sun bear enjoys the afternoon high in a tree

a cute bornean sun bear balances on a branch

So you can imagine my surprise when we asked one of the caretakers which sun bear this might be (they have over 44 at the center), when he responded—“oh, that’s Wawa.”

Of course it was. Have you ever seen a happier bear?

a cute bornean sun bear gets close to the camera and puts on a smile

She was saying a little thank you to us and giving us something precious to return home with.  Now it’s our turn to continue the story with our photographs of this special little bear.


Court Whelan Signature