Text by Chiew Lin May
Photos by Tee Thye Lim & Chiew Lin May
BSBCC provides care and a second chance for the rescued sun bears to live in the forest by accessing the natural forest enclosure. In the past few months, one of the BSBCC forest enclosure (Pen D) has been temporarily closed for upgrading. We have built a new pool, and have planted new plants in the forest enclosure to keep the bears happy and stimulated. Besides that, there was one part of the area that had been damaged by our active young sun bears, causing exposure of tree roots which would eventually cause the tree to die. So we have built a concrete retaining wall in the forest enclosure to stop erosion and to prevent the large tree from collapsing.
Forest enclosure (Pen D) for rescued bears, showing a retaining wall and new pool.
Forest enclosure (Pen D) for rescued bears, showing a retaining wall and new pool.
On May 17th 2015, the construction of the forest enclosure was finally done. The six adult bears (one male and five females) group including Fulung, Bongkud, Ah Bui, Mary, Debbie and Damai explored their new surroundings. As expected, it took a while for the bears to venture, but after a few sniffs and a scan through the forest enclosure they became more curious and confident.
In the tropical climate of Borneo, the pool allows the rescued bears to cool down their body. They are free to swim, play, wrestle, and splash in their new pool! Thanks to the generous Buildtech for helping us construct the retaining wall and new pool for the rescued bears.
Look at them now, digging for grubs, climbing trees, playing together, explore the pool and learning how to be just like a wild bear!!
They happily settling into new encironment
Tapping and exploring the new pool
Fulung is make sure the new concrete retaining wall is safe to use
Ah Bui wondering where is the previous big hole gone?
They are adventurous and attempt to climb trees
They are adventurous and attempt to climb trees
They love digging dead wood in search of insects to keep them busy all the time.
Enjoy sunbathing too!
After the tummy is full, it is time for napping
The bears have much better care with to keep them happy and stimulated!
On the 3rd March, our CEO and Founder, Mr. Wong Siew Te got an interesting call. Paul Kemmett, a teacher from Overseas Family School, Singapore wanted to ‘skype’ Wong with his Fourth grade students (age 9-10 years old). The students wanted to learn about sun bears as their unit of inquiry that focuses on the sustainability of natural environments. Mr. Wong gladly took the call. He showed them the sun bears on the viewing platform and taught them about their plight. Thanks Paul and students for the effort to learn about our endangered sun bears!
Mr. Wong explaining about the vulnerable status and distribution of sun bears to the students.
Mr. Wong showing the students our bears at the forest enclosure by having a live session through Skype.
Mr. Wong showing the students our bears at the forest enclosure by having a live session through Skype.
On the other hand, the education team armed with our new BSBCC vests, educational displays like camera traps, paw prints and new banners, went on a long journey to the Kinabatangan district for an outreach programme. The first two schools visited were far inside palm oil estates, and the other two were in Kinabatangan town. This one week programme is organised by HUTAN-Kinabatangan Orang Utan Conservation Programme (KOCP) and accompanied by Sabah Wildlife Department – Kinabatangan district, Sabah Forestry Department – Kinabatangan district, and Sabah Environmental Protection Department (JPAS). It was a big success and the teachers and students were all enjoyed their time with us.
SK Ladang Sg. Bendera, Kinabatangan (24th March 2015)
Risnayati, BSBCC Environmental Education Officer interacting to the students at the BSBCC booth.
Tan Wei Cheng, BSBCC Centre Coordinator gave a talk about the bears.
The students enjoying wild animal soft toys.
SK Ladang Tomanggong, Kinabatangan (25th March 2015)
Keen students enjoying their time at our educational booth.
Students trying out bear enrichment!
Program was ended up with a group photo.
SK Kota Kinabatangan, Kinabatangan (26th March 2015)
Primary school kids swarming over the education booths.
Intern student under the Sabah Wildlife Department – Kinabatangan district helping us to explain about the background history of one of our bears named Kuamut.
Dressing up as a clouded leopard!
SK Paris 3, Kinabatangan (27th March 2015)
Animal mask making activity for the kindergarten kids.
Teachers with their kids wearing animal masks.
Mr. Markiss from HUTAN-KOCP explaining about the orangutan’s diet and eating habits.
In addition, on 11th April, BSBCC sent three staff members to SMK Muhibbah for an awareness program in conjunction to Jerayawara, Hari Q and student exhibition. Mr. Lam Tee Jye, who was the teacher in-charge for the Eco-school club welcomed us with open arms. We must admit, the Eco-school club has done a great job on the school environment. Many interested teachers and students came to our booths to ask about the sun bears or our Centre. We were also honored to be invited to give a talk (by Gloria Ganang, BSBCC Environmental Education Executive) to the science-stream students and also introduce our local volunteer programme (by Tan Wei Cheng) to the students. From the presentation, many of the students were interested in helping out in our Centre. Thank you again and hope to see some of you volunteering in our centre soon!
SMK Muhibbah, Sandakan (11th April 2015)
SMK Muhibbah Principal, Mdm Lim Li Li (second from left) and the teachers visiting our booth.
Curious students looking at the pictures taken from the camera trap.
Gloria gave a talk about the sun bears and our Centre.
Besides that, BSBCC also invited several NGOs and government agencies to join our outreach programme for Sandakan district. But, only HUTAN-KOCP that managed to join our programme due to the tight schedule by several agencies. Starting on 25th April, BSBCC team together with HUTAN-KOCP set up a booth at each school in the programme to raise awareness among students about our rich environmental heritage and wildlife. Throughout the programme, many teachers and students were involved in exhibitions, talks, environmental games and wildlife documentary video shows.
SMK Gum-Gum, Sandakan (25th April 2015)
Collage competition—to create and design orangutan, proboscis monkey or sun bear figure by using natural materials such as coconut husk, branches, dried leaves and soil.
First winner for the collage competition!
SMK Libaran, Sandakan (28th April 2015)
Let’s play a game!
This is a camera trap!
Second winner for the collage competition!
SK Sungai Manila students loved pretending to be wild animals for the day.
Lester explaining the strength of a bear claw.
Cute little boy wearing a clouded leopard costume.
From this awareness programme, we are thrilled to see that the students, who will be future leaders of our society, were keen to learn about the wildlife in Borneo.
Susie, a 4 years old adult female (Front) was introduce to Montom, 3 years old sub-adult male (Behind).
Finally the day for Montom, a 3 years old male sub-adult sun bear, to be introduced with Susie, a 4 year old female adult sun bear, was on the 4th of June, 2015. Montom and Susie were rescued from pet trade. BSBCC have taken an innovative approach of integrating rescued sun bears. These interactions between bears can help them to develop and learn skills that will be needed in the wild.
These two bears got to know each other by being placed in adjacent dens. Once the gate was opened, Montom immediately played with Susie. Susie was not too friendly towards Montom at the beginning. Susie is a short tempered and sensitive female bear compared to Montom who is a happy and outgoing juvenile male bear. Montom just watched Susie in a curious way and sniffed her. Susie greeted Montom with angry growls and paced. Montom showed an interest in play and sometimes would back off when he knew Susie was angry with him.
However, after two days Susie began to grow in confidence and played with Montom. Both showing canines and claws when they played.
Montom let Susie to settle down until he slowly approached her again
They were sniffing and playing together
Both bears tried to show that they have the strength !
For the rest of their first week together, they began to understand and trust each other better, eventually giving space and sharing food together. No aggression was noted and the two bears were observed playfully tumbling around the floor of the den. They learnt the smells and behavior of the others. Montom was seen to be enthusiastic and playful.
A couple more sniffs on Montom, she become ever more confident
Both play tumbling around the floor of the den
Both play tumbling around the floor of the den
Both play tumbling around the floor of the den
Susie would climb up high to avoid Montom biting on her neck
The integration went very well and they have settled into their new dens very quickly
Over the following weeks, Susie seemed just fine to have Montom as her playmate without any aggression
Enrichment items such as dried leaves, green leaves, dead wood, climbing structure, and various food based enrichment was provided in the dens to keep Montom and Susie busy and to learn the survival skills. They enjoyed all of the different enrichment items given to them. Montom would grab the food first and break the enrichments!
Sharing food together without any aggression
Explore enrichment time!
Susie curious with the branches smell
Susie is digging and excavating decayed wood.
Montom is digging for termites and sniffing out any hidden food
Montom was had a rest and gasping for breath
Seeing Montom and Susie explore the exercise pen together is an absolute pleasure. The integrations are continuing well. Especially Susie who is a sensitive bear and has a tendency to pace. Through this integration, she is learning to be a “bear” for the first time in her life and all the mistreatment, trauma she underwent is in the past. Both of them are developing into lovely young sun bears. Montom shows the most dominance.
In this entry I would like to share about my experience when I was at BSBCC. Enjoy your reading!
My name is Maryam Nashrah Binti Ahmad. I came all the way from the University Putra Malaysia Bintulu Campus, to do my internship at BSBCC. It was a fun and exciting journey despite all the hardships I have been through.
BSBCC has taught me a lot of things. In this place I have been taught and been exposed to the awareness and the importance of wild animals in their natural habitat. They are not supposed to be kept, hunted or killed.
I’m so thankful to meet Mr Wong, the great man that risked his life in rescuing wild animals.
Wong Siew Te founded the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in 2008 and is the drive behind the project.
“I am determined to help Bornean sun bears. The challenge is huge, and I cannot do this alone. I need help, support and allies. Every voice counts and together we can make a difference.” Wong Siew Te, CEO & Founder of BSBCC
I hope with the establishment of BSBCC, that people will become more aware about the importance of this animal on Earth. Now, I would like to share about the pleasure of working at BSBCC!
Every morning I prepared the porridge and fed the bears. Every bear has their own portion of food based on their specific requirements. So we needed to refer to the tabulated amounts of porridge that have to be distributed to the bears.
On our first week we were briefed about so many things. We were still curious about the sun bears and their own history which lead us to ask a lot of questions to the staffs of BSBCC, especially the Bear Keepers.
After we fed the bears we were divided into different places for different duty. Some of us would clean the cages in bear house 1 and bear house 2 and some of us worked in the kitchen.
For second feeding we prepared boiled eggs, vegetables and fruits. As an opportunistic omnivore, they eat food like watermelon, papaya, honey dew, banana, salak, pineapple, coconut, sugar cane, corn and sweet potato.
After we finished with our duty, we would follow the keepers to feed the indoor and outdoor bears.
After lunch break we would make enrichment for the bears, with the guidance of keepers. Enrichment acts as their toys and it helps to reduce their stereotypic behavior. Different enrichment was given every day to the bears.
This was our activity on the second day of internship. We collected decayed logs, dried leaves and banana leaves. We even constructed new hammocks for them!
That face we made when we were collecting decayed logs with Ronny and Mizuno.
The day we collected dried leaves with Thye Lim.
Making a bamboo feeder for the bears! Mizuno taught us a lot about handling dangerous tools. Look! We were all sweating and muscular.
This was the day that we went to collect termites in the forest together with Mizuno, Tommy and Ronny. Even though we look like we had no stamina, we successfully followed them. Just as Mizuno told us, “let’s do it for the bears”. Hahahahahaahaha.
I’m one of the sun bear crew! It was a wonderful experience for me when I got to share different knowledge with visitors. Although, there are still so many things that I need to learn.
This was the day that we worked on the platform with Nick. He taught us a lot about animals. Thanks Nick!
This is Fulung and Mary, which can be seen through the spotting scope prepared at the observation platform. Credit by: Lester Elis (staff BSBCC)
Twilight at Bjorn Hala
Here is the picture of my housemates. They were always patient with our jokes and loudness. Hahahaha! Thank you for taking care of us. We love you housemates! (Missing Kate Bond).
Million thanks to Thye Lim for his help and advice that he gave to us. He has been a good friend to us. InsyaAllah, we won’t forget that.
Selfie with David, the senior keeper, whom shared a lot of his experience with us
These are the staffs that always helped me when I was on the platform. (from left) Faironyntha Pius, Rebecca Kimlaw, Ernie Wahyuni, Lester Elis and Abdul Rahim.
Thank you to all, for giving me this opportunity and for the wonderful moments shared when working with you guys! I love you.
During the morning of 3rd March, Tom Stalf, President and CEO of Columbus Zoo and his staffs came to our Centre. Mr. Wong Siew Te gave them a tour around our Centre. Thus, we would like to use this opportunity to thank Tom and Columbus Zoo for helping sun bears and our Centre throughout these years.
Tom Shalf (right) receiving souvenir from Mr. Wong Siew Te.
Thank you for visiting us!
On the next month, 27th April, the new Director of Sabah Wildlife Department, Tn. William Baya came to our Centre for a visit. Together with the VIPs were the general manager of Rasa Ria Resort Mr. Jean-Michel, Mr. Sail Jamaludin, Dr. Sen Nathan, Dr. Toshinori Tsubouchi and many others. We are honoured to have him here as his first visit to BSBCC. Mr. Wong personally gave a presentation and guided him to the platform to see the bears in our natural forest enclosure. They were all really pleased to see our Centre doing well.
Tn. William Baya (left), Mr. Wong Siew Te (middle) and Mr. Jean-Marc Michel (right) walking towards our visitor centre.
Spreading the information through our information signboard.
Mr. Wong Siew Te proudly giving a presentation.
Tn. William Baya, spotting one of the sun bear resting on the forest floor!!!
Luckily, two sun bears spotted foraging for food near the observation platform.
The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience” – Eleanor Roosevelt
I never thought that I would be here, doing my internship. It happened too fast. 29th of April was the day that I nearly dropped my internship. But I knew, that would be the most stupid decision I would ever make in my life. I arrived late at the airport and I was alone. But thank God everything went well.
When we first came here, we were told not to touch the bears. Seriously, that broke my heart. I thought that I could hold them. But let’s not hate what we don’t understand. I refrained myself from touching them even if I wanted to. I eventually realised that love is not about possession. Love is about appreciation. They are meant to be in the wild and someday soon they will be released into their natural home.
I don’t know where I should I start. I wanted to tell every single thing that happened from the first day I stepped into this centre. But I know it will take forever and I want the future volunteers to feel the love themselves when they come here. I bet none of you could explain how it felt to be here. It honestly had never crossed my mind, being able to be close to the bears. Among the 35 bears, Fulung and Linggam have won my heart.
I always thought that 70 days are more than enough time to do the internship. But believe me, if I could stay here for another countless months, I would. Having you guys as a part of my life will always be the best thing that ever happened to me. I will surely miss each and every one of you.
“I’m going to make her well known” – Wong Siew Te
I can still vividly remember the first day that I walked into BSBCC. 500 metres from the entrance, there was a signboard on the history of BSBCC, picturing Mr Wong and his favourite bear, Mary. By only looking at the sign, I could feel the shivers running down my spine. I stuttered when I first talked to him. He has my full respect. His dedication and devotion on rehabilitating animals and bringing them back into their own habitat has opened my eyes and taught me that sometimes, happiness is not gained by spending a lot of money to go for an expensive vacation. Sometimes, happiness can be gained by just looking at these beloved animals going back into their natural habitat.
We were informed that they had never accepted diploma students before. Thanks a million to our supervisor, Mr Thye Lim. I learned a lot from him. He shared everything that he knew and he never said no to our opinion.
Undoubtedly, along with hardship there is ease. I was so thankful to have Nick as my housemate. He spent his time helping me with my termites breeding project and supported me whenever I felt like giving up. I don’t know how should I repay his kindness towards me. Arigato gozaimasu Nickelodeon Tan Wei Cheng!
Mizuno, David, Azzry and Tommy – these are the people that I will miss the most. They never failed to make me laugh. They gave me the best experience. Working with them never made me feel tired. Mizuno who always made funny whenever he spoke to me. David who never stopped talking about his army life and taught us a lot about bears. Azzry, the guy who was born to smile. Reckly, the guy that has funny laugh. Not to forget, Ong Kim who could always make me laugh just by looking at his face. Lastly, Salffazryean who could never be separated from Pepsi Cola. They treated me like their own sister. That’s what made me comfortable and thus love them even more.
A day without laughter is a day wasted” this signifies those visitor centre staffs. Fairo, Rahim, Becca, and Lester. Putting them at the reception counter was one of the best decisions. Their smile and warm greetings could make visitors pay double for the ticket. And those lovely office workers, Mr Rizan, Miss Ina, Miss Erni, Miss Gloria, Kate and Daniella who were never mad at me, thank you.
They are a bunch of happy people. They know how to deal with every situation.David told us that we need to be strong as those are the things that we need to deal with when working with these animals. You know, time moves so fast when you love some people. Thank you for those countless memories. I will keep them safely in the deepest dungeon of my heart. Thank you
This small tag meant a lot to me.
“I will tear your book if I saw you write or heard you call me Mr Thye Lim”
No good deed is a small deed.
Wore Nick’s vest at the platform and the kids called me “Kak Nick”.
My everyday stalking weapon
Azzry, Nick and Mizuno forced me to get into that big concrete
Sleepy head – silver leaf monkey
It was love at the first sight, last sight, forever and ever sight.
Walk into a Chinese medicine hall in Jalan Pudu, Kuala Lumpur, and tell the sinseh of your bad bout of flu, and you might be prescribed a bottle of Xiong Dan capsules which can supposedly work miracles for flu, fever, haemorrhoids and “heatiness”. But beware – you will inadvertently help push an endangered species closer to the brink.
The capsules are derived from bear bile, which makes them illegal under wildlife laws. But that has not stopped the capsules, and other folk cures made from bear organs, from being sold in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) shops nationwide, according to wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic.
For three months in 2012, Traffic researchers posed as interested buyers of potions and pills made from bear bile. They went shopping at 365 TCM outlets throughout the country and were offered the illicit products at 175 shops. The actual numbers are likely to be higher as some retailers only sell the products to known buyers.
In their report Hard To Bear: An Assessment Of Trade In Bear Bile And Gall Bladder In Malaysia released on May 29, researchers Lee Siow Ling, Elizabeth A. Burgess and Serene C.L. Chng wrote that banned items such as whole bear gall bladders, bear bile in the form of pills, extract, powder or flakes and dried gall bladder skins can be bought in TCM shops, especially those in Batu Pahat, Johor Baru, Kota Baru, Kuala Lumpur, Kuantan and Ipoh.
Some shops also sold other illegal or protected wildlife products, such as porcupine bezoar (stomach stone), rhino horn and saiga horn.
Most of the processed products were smuggled in from China but unprocessed items such as bear gall bladders were sourced locally. In Sabah and Sarawak, at least 118 Bornean sun bears (classified as a subspecies, Helarctos malayanus euryspilus) would have been killed to supply the gall bladders seen for sale in the shops.
“What is clear is that the trade persists and is continually carried out openly and is widespread throughout Malaysia, despite laws in place prohibiting the trade in bear parts and derivatives,” said Traffic South-East Asia regional director Dr Chris R. Shepherd.
Trapped and killed: At least 300 bears would have been killed to supply the bear gall bladders seen for sale in a 2012 survey of traditional Chinese medicine shops. Photo: BSBCC/Wong Siew Te
The use of bear parts in TCM can be traced back some 3,000 years. Bear bile is rich in ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA, also known as ursodiol), an active compound effective in treating a variety of ailments. It is a valuable ingredient in TCM and used to treat eye, liver and kidney diseases. The TCM community has identified some 54 herbal alternatives to bear bile and pharmaceutical companies have developed synthetic UDCA using bile from cows or pigs. However, many TCM practitioners reject these synthetic substitutes.
The Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus) and the sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) are the species most threatened by the demand for bear bile. They are among the eight bear species listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which means all international trade, including their parts and products, is illegal. Both species are listed as vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Red List.
The latest survey echoes the finds of similar studies done in 1991, 2001 and 2010, which hadalready found bear products for sale. Clearly, the illegal trade has not abated. Of the 131 shops re-visited in the latest survey, 58 were still selling the illicit products.
Some had even been raided by the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan). The poor record in prosecution could be a reason for this: from 2000 to 2011, 44 bear gall bladders and two bile products were seized from shops but only one case resulted in a fine of RM1,000.
Under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, anyone dealing with products claiming to contain sun bear parts or derivatives faces a fine of up to RM20,000 and a year in prison. Importers and exporters face fines of RM30,000 to RM100,000 and a jail term of up to three years.
Under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, hunting or possession of the totally protected sun bear carries a fine of up to RM50,000 and a jail term of up to five years. Sun bears are only “protected” under the Sarawak Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998.
Bile is extracted from a bear at a bear farm in Huian, Fujian province. Animal activists oppose such farms as the bears are trapped from the wild and are kept in unhygienic conditions. Photo: Xinhua
Despite adequate wildlife legislation, there is a long way to go to stamp out the illegal trade in bear parts and products. The researchers said insufficient scrutiny has led to the Health Ministry unwittingly approving imported TCM products containing bear derivatives and a factory that produces pills containing bear bile – all in violation of wildlife laws.
The local companies making Xiong Dan pills must have imported bear bile for the production process. Although this contravenes CITES and the International Trade in Endangered Species Act 2008, these businesses were still granted licences to operate by the Malaysian Investment Development Authority.
The traders knowingly violated the laws. They knew they were handling illegal products, but they also knew how to get round the law. Bear gall bladders were not displayed but stored elsewhere, and only brought out when requested by customers. They kept their stocks small, to minimise fines if caught.
Products were unlabelled or have unclear labelling. Only a few listed Fel Ursi (the pharmaceutical name for bear bile) as an ingredient. Of the 135 shops which claimed not to sell bear products, many still offered Xiong Dan pills supposedly made from herbs but retaining the name (Xiong Dan is Chinese for bear bile). Claiming that a product contains bear bile, regardless of the actual content, is an offence under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010.
Retailers said the products can be easily obtained from Chinese manufacturers and bear bile can be concealed in personal luggage. One retailer goes on tours to China and Russia to buy bear gall bladder and bile. Many offered to pack bear gall bladders to evade detection at airports and advised that x-ray scanners will not detect bear gall bladders in personal luggage. The researchers were told that the gall bladders, if detected, would only be confiscated, with no further repercussions such as fines or jail term.
The retailers said there was little risk from enforcement efforts and made allegations of corruption. One shop owner hid his stocks of bear bile in vials to avoid paying enforcement officers who “come when they need money.” They also argued that bears were not killed when bile is extracted, and that health cures took precedence over the survival of bears.
Role of health agencies
The Traffic report points to the Health Ministry playing a critical role in stopping wildlife-based medicines from making it to market, as it oversees the TCM business. But it first has to tighten its laws and step up enforcement.
The ministry needs a more thorough screening process to weed out products containing protected wildlife and their derivatives, and ensure that they do not pass registration. As many of the TCM products are improperly labelled, the ministry can also take action under the Medicines (Advertisement and Sale) Act 1956.
Now, only processed products in pharmaceutical dosage forms (such as bear bile pills) are considered to be medicine and can be regulated by the Control of Drugs and Cosmetics Regulation 1984. It does not cover wildlife products in raw form (such as gall bladder).
Also, the screening process by the National Pharmaceutical Control Bureau (NPCB) does not test for animal derivatives. Perhilitan and NPCB have to determine ways to deal with unregistered medicines that claim to contain bear parts and derivatives. Health and wildlife department officers can also carry out joint raids at TCM premises.
The researchers urged for consistency in legislations. As trade in bear parts and derivatives is banned under wildlife laws, this has to be complemented by similar provisions in the Control of Drugs and Cosmetics Regulation 1984.
The Health Ministry should ensure that traditional medicines adhere to wildlife regulations before it issues permits to the importers, wholesalers and manufacturers. It must determine that no wildlife-based raw materials are imported for making medicinal products, before granting Good Manufacturing Practice certification, which is mandatory to obtain a manufacturing licence and product registration.
If its scope is widened, the Traditional and Complementary Medicine Act 2013 can stop the exploitation of wildlife in medicine. Now, it only covers traditional and complementary medicine practitioners, not retailers of TCM products. It is also silent on instances where practitioners prescribe protected animal parts or derivatives. The dispensing activities of TCM retailers are also not legislated now as they are handling over-the-counter products. This is an oversight which needs attention.
Bear gall bladder from China. Photo: Traffic/Lee Siow Ling
The sheer number of TCM shops, the wide range of products, and the difficulty of confirming the presence of bear in processed products make it daunting for wildlife officers to carry out enforcement. Which is why the researchers concluded that combatting the illegal trade requires collaboration between wildlife and health agencies issues as well as local councils.
“The trade is driven by purported health reasons, so we cannot reduce it without the commitment and close collaboration of the Health Ministry. Key to this is to ensure more scrutiny on the registration of products being sold legally in the country, as well as the import and export of these products.
“Equally important is the role of local councils that govern business registration. If shops are openly and knowingly selling bear parts or products, or any other wildlife parts or products for that matter, their business licences should be revoked. Local councils should pay close attention to this problem and be part of the solution to addressing illegal wildlife trade in the country,” said Shepherd.
Support from the TCM community is needed to reduce the trade in bear products. At the launch of the Traffic report on Friday, the Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine Dealers Association of Malaysia says the group does not condone the use of bear bile. “We will inform our members that they should not use bear bile and that continued use will result in severe penalties,” says secretary-general Kerk Ee Chan. “It is not compulsory for use since there are alternatives.”
The federation has 44 member associations representing 80% of the country’s 5,000-plus TCM practitioners and retailers. Committee member Steven Kow says any members found to be selling the illicit products will have to face the disciplinary committee, but he did not elaborate on the action to be taken against them.
Several committee members believe that the processed products on sale do not contain bear bile and the gall bladders, to be from other animals such as snakes. Regardless of whether the products actually contain bear bile, Shepherd says promoting them creates demand that leads to poaching of wild bears.
“Even if the bile is extracted from live bears, the trade is still illegal because of CITES. It is important to point out that there are numerous legal, herbal alternatives and synthetic alternatives to bear bile, and that it is key that TCM practitioners promote these, and discourage people from using bear bile,” said Shepherd.
The public certainly plays a key role; they need to understand that their choices of folk cures can kill endangered species.
Report illegal wildlife trade to Wildlife Crime Hotline: 019-356 4194
Sun bear Natalie at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sepilok, Sabah. Photo: BSBCC/Chiew Lin May
The wide availability of traditional Chinese medicines shows that Malaysians continue to trust the efficacy of folk remedies; never mind that endangered wildlife are slaughtered to make some of these cures.
Xiong Dan pills, clear gelatine capsules filled with bear bile extract or powder, were the most common items for sale in traditional Chinese medicine shops. Most were said to be manufactured in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Johor, using imported ingredients. They were typically sold in bottles with no labels or listed ingredients. Many retailers claimed that selling bear bile in capsule form allowed them to evade detection of illegal sales. Prices ranged from 40 sen to RM96 per pill.
Whole bear gall bladders were predominantly sold in Sarawak, Kuala Lumpur, Perak and Sabah. The survey found 293 gall bladders and five gall bladder skins for sale – that’s almost 300 bears slaughtered!
Small, longish and black gall bladders were said to be from local bears while the larger, roundish, black or dark brown ones were imported, mostly from China, with small amounts from Indonesia, India, Thailand, Russia, Vietnam and Nepal.
The bladders were sold whole or in portions. Most were supposedly from decades-old stockpiles. Shops offering freshly acquired gall bladders are mostly found in Sabah and Sarawak.
Nearly 60% of the gall bladders was sourced locally, mostly from indigenous people. This means at least 178 sun bears were hunted. In fact, shops in Kelantan, Sabah and Sarawak had only gall bladders from local bears. Prices ranged from RM30 to RM240 each, but can go up to over RM3,000.
Vials of bear bile flakes originating from Jilin, China.
Bear bile flakes sold in vials were found only in Peninsular Malaysia. The researcher counted some 104 vials, amounting to 726g of bear bile flakes during the survey. Prices ranged from RM4.80 to RM48 per gram. The information leaflet in each box was in multiple languages, including Chinese, English, Japanese and Korean, hinting at the wide Asian market for the product.
Shops in Peninsular Malaysia also offered raw liquid bile (RM57 per gram) and powdered bile (between RM3 and RM256 per gram). Other processed products containing bear bile are Tieh Ta Wan (a ball-shaped pill used for sports-related injuries), ointments, medicinal plasters and vials of powder used to treat mouth ulcers or sore throat.
Made in China
China is the main source of most bear bile products. These would either be extracted from a killed bear or from bear bile extraction facilities located in China. Product labels showed that bear farms in the city of Yanji in Jilin province, were the main suppliers of bile in vials. Another less common source was bear farms in Sichuan province.
Nevertheless, these products are still illegal as there are no captive breeding facilities registered with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, from which legal products can be imported.
Some retailers suggested herbal options in place of bear bile but many recommended other animal parts or animal-derived products. The most widely recommended was Pian Tze Huang, with ingredients of musk, ox gallstone, snake gall and ginseng.
Another popular alternative was porcupine bezoar, an undigested mass of food in the gastrointestinal system of the animal. The substance is believed to treat diabetes, dengue fever, typhoid, epilepsy and hepatitis. However, it is feared that the growing demand for porcupine bezoar (also known as porcupine date) will put another protected species at risk.
Hi! My name is Ain Adlina. I am studying in Animal Health and Production. How did I start my internship at BSCC? By randomly searching on the internet…I searched any centre that managed wild animals in Sabah because I don’t have any experience on wild animals. So this is my journey at BSBCC for 3 months with my course mates, Garnette, Husna and Maryam.
I’m one of the volunteer here!
First time at this centre, there was an introduction about the centre, sun bears, rules at the bear house and what we were going to do here. This was given by the Centre Operation Executive, Thye Lim. The first week I worked in the kitchen, preparing food for bears with the help from Rica and Tom (volunteers) and the following week I started to clean cages in bear house 1 & 2. I imagined that I’d clean cages with smelly bear feces but actually it didn’t smell as bad as I’d imagined. We had a routine change every day, a few days were cleaning cages and some days were preparing food for the bears in the kitchen. These two routines were in the morning session, while in the evening we would make enrichment for the bears, either food based, a hammock or a wood bridge. Duty in the morning session was quite busy, especially when preparing food as you need to be punctual and efficient. After duty in the bear house was completed, it was feeding time for indoor and outdoor bears. I enjoyed the outdoor feeding, as we got to scatter food at each forest enclosure and saw the bears during outdoor feeding, especially when they ate coconut.
Preparing food based on portion specified
Prepare porridge for bears
Fruits and vegetable for the bears
Mamatai’s porridge inside aussie dog ball as her enrichment. And she is my favourite bear :)
Outdoor feeding at Pen C
Selfie with Cerah & Jelita at Pen B
Collecting dried leaves. And we were always sweating hahah
A city girl also can do men’s work :D
Apart from working in the bear house, we had to go to the platform to talk to visitors about the centre and the sun bears here. And THIS was the only thing I didn’t want to do because I’m bad at public speaking, my confidence level is zero. When I saw my name during the first and second trials at the platform, I was so nervous but eventually after two weeks duty at the platform, I got used to it and was excited when I had to go there. I overcame my nervousness and public speaking fear very well with the help of other staff here. As Thye Lim said, educating people is quite challenging and I accept that challenge. I met a lot of visitors that came from all over the world, shared thoughts and experiences with them, especially about this centre and the rescued sun bears here.
Bongkud, the attention seeker
Fulung enjoy sunbathing
Not only that, I had the chance to go for the outreach programme at SK Sungai Padas with Gloria, Ina, Reckly and Daniela as well as with HUTAN- Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Programme (KOCP). Here we educated people about sun bears and other wild animals to increase their awareness. BSBCC receives volunteers from across the world and I had the opportunity to work with volunteers from Sweden which were Julia and Kim, Simon from Belgium, Tom and Rica from UK, Kate from England as well as a group from PERHILITAN Peninsular Malaysia. I also had the opportunity to learn Swedish from Julia and Kim.
Outreach programme at SK Sungai Padas
Kim (left) and Julia (middle) from Sweden volunteering at BSBCC for 5 days
Dr. Kamil came to supervise us
On the 16th of May 2015 I got to see the beginning process to the release of an adult female sun bear, Natalie, which was a health check before she was taken to Tabin Wildlife Reserve. BSBCC staff and veterinarian was there throughout the health check. And to see the vet doing their job, was inspiring and made me feel more excited to become a vet someday. The saddest part was the last goodbye to Natalie
Have a wonderful journey in Tabin :)
During my internship here, I learnt a lot about punctuality, efficiency during working, building and improving my soft skills, confidence when talking to people and most important was to learn about sun bears which are currently endangered. Last but not least, special thanks to Mr.Wong, Thye Lim and Lin May for your approval for my internship here. Thanks for all your guidance and advice during my internship here and for helping in my mini project. Thank you to Thye Lim, Mizuno and David (the bear keepers), Nick who assisted and gave me guidance during my time at the bear house and to other BSBCC staff, thank you for your kindness and professionalism during my internship here. I have no regrets choosing this centre to complete the 3 months industrial training and I would love to come back again!
Housemate at Bjorn Hala
Behind : Kate, Daniela, Rebecca, Fairo, Ronny, Lester, Tommy, Ongkim, Mizuno, Rahim, Erni, Me, Garnette & Husna In front : Reckly, Ina, Gloria, Mr Wong (Founder BSBCC), Rizan, Nick, Azzry, Lin May, David, Maryam & Thye Lim
KUALA LUMPUR: Bear parts are no longer welcome in Malaysia’s traditional medicine shops.
A leading Chinese medicine group is warning its 4,000-plus members not to stock the illegal items after a survey showed that dozens of shops were still stocking them.
“We do not condone the use of bear bile, gall bladders or derivative products,” said Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine Dealers Associations of Malaysia secretary-general Kerk Ee Chan.
“The continued usage of bear bile, parts and products will result in severe criminal penalties,” he told reporters here.
Kerk said this after a 2012 survey by wildlife trade watchdog Traffic Southeast Asia showed that 175 of 365 shops in Malaysia were still selling the stuff.
In its May 2015 “Hard to Bear” report, it said 51% of the shops were in peninsular Malaysia. Many sold whole bear gall bladders, bile pills and more.
These are believed to have been taken from Asiatic black bears found in East Asia and sun bears from South-East Asia, including Malaysia.
The sun bear is Malaysia’s only bear. Their numbers are not known, but experts say they are threatened by poachers, logging and development.
Some 13,000 black bears are said to be in East Asian bear farms, where they are caged from youth and later killed for their parts.
Malaysians are one of the region’s highest users of bear parts for medicine, despite being a signatory to a global treaty outlawing black and sun bear organ trade.
Several laws here ban the sale and illegal hunting of bears, many with hefty fines of up to hundreds of thousands of ringgit.
Kerk said he did not know how the shops here got bear part supplies but pledged to find out if any were the group’s members.
“If any of them are (our) members, we will act on them,” he said, adding that they would be reminded of the law.
It is not known how much bears are part of the estimated US$19bil (RM69bil) global illegal wildlife trade each year, though it is believed that they are a large part of the international traditional Chinese medicine trade.
Traffic Southeast Asia regional director Dr Chris Shepherd said it was possible that thousands of bears were killed each year, though little information was available.
He said the survey was also handed over to the Government.
Dr Shepherd added that “there’s room for improvement” in terms of law enforcement.
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