Category Archives: Fund raising

Helping Lawa be Wild Again

Text and Photos by Brad Josephs

The sun bear, with its 18 inch long tongue, 7 inch long claws, is the smallest and one of the most endangered bears on earth.

Sun bears are mostly arboreal, meaning they love to climb. They specialize in foraging for fruits and insects high in the canopy of tropical Asian rainforests.

This past April I had a two week gap between guiding trips in china and Borneo for natural habitat adventures this past April and I could think of no better to spend the time than support the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center (BSBCC.). The founder of the program, Wong Siew Te, is one of the great conservation champions of today. click here to read about Wong, The Sun Bear Hero of Sabah. http://www.alaskabearsandwolves.com/the-sun-bear-hero-of-sabah/

Wong was actually in my freshman class at the university of Montana wildlife biology program in the mid 90″s, and we remember each other, but i transferred to UAF before I really got to know him. He went on to become the first sun bear biologist and founder of the BSBCC, which focuses on public outreach and education, rescuing orphaned bears, or those confiscated by local authorities from the illegal pet trade, and rehabilitating them through introduction into semi wild enclosures. The final goal is to release rehabilitated bears that have regained wild instincts back into the wild to bolster numbers and genetic health of existing wild populations.

Wong took me as a volunteer and my duties were diverse. I cleaned the bear house daily, prepared and dispersed meals of rice, fruits, vegetables and eggs, collected treats such as fresh leaves and insects from the surrounding jungle, photographed the Bears for the center’s use, and set up an Instagram account to supplement their social media campaign. I learned so much and it felt so good to work up a sweat every day to help care for these orphaned sun bears, and take some pressure of the dedicated staff.

During dinner one night I asked Wong what I could do to help him the most and he said he needed funding for the release of a female bear named Lawa, a nine year old female bear who was rescued as a orphaned cub and rehabilitated at the BSBCC. Lawa is an excellent climber, builds nests in trees to sleep, forages for termites and other insects, and shows a healthy disassociation and avoidance of humans, which is a crucial behavior for released bears. She has been a candidate for release for a year, but the funding wasn’t there. It costs around 13000 U.S. Dollars to charter helicopters for Lawa and the staff to reach a safe wilderness zone, and pay for the radio collar equipment to track Lawa after her release. Monitoring and documenting the status of a released bear is crucial for biologists to learn how rehabilitated bears adjust to the wilderness.

Lawa is quite elusive, and this is the only photo I got of her as she was normally high in the canopy, or hidden in the jungle of her large (300 square meter) enclosure. You can see the wild in her eyes.

I decided to try a Gofundme campaign to see if I could help with the financial constraints. A few days later I received an email from Natural Habitat Adventures saying that they would like to sponsor the campaign with an impressive 5000 dollars! I was so proud of my company, but not surprised since we are the most conservation focused travel company in the world.

After 10 days around 40 generous donors put up 5000 dollars into the GoFundMe campaign, including one of my high school friends, Ben Bourne, who gave $1000. I guided my trip in early May, which includes a visit to the BSBCC. Tim Brown, one of the travelers in my group pulled me aside and told me that he wanted to donate as much as was needed to finish the campaign, and donated $3000 right there. It was done in three weeks! Lawa will be a wild bear again before this summer is over.

My time volunteering at BSBCC was the most rewarding things I have done in many years. I learned that sun bears are a species unknown to the world, and are in dire circumstances as a species due to poaching and habitat loss. Building a rapport with the bears, and with the dedicated workers specializing in sun bear conservation was an amazing experience. I would recommend this program to anyone who is passionate about wildlife conservation, and can withstand hard work in an oppressive tropical climate.. I hope to return again to support this program, as it needs lots and lots more help. Lets keep fighting!

Sun bears at the BSBCC’s semi-wild forest enclosures interact with each other. As Wong told us, the best enrichment for sun bears in captivity are other sun bears.

Sun bears are the smallest of the world’s 8 bear species, but they are as tough and intense as any animal I have ever encountered.

Damai napping on a branch, exhausted from exploring the forest enclosure, searching for food we hid for her, as well as termites and other natural food sources.

Every sun bear has a unique honey colored chest patch. This is the famous, charismatic Fulung.

Intimate moment with a curious sun bear at the BSBCC.

Wong spoke to our group about his work conserving sun bears during our visit to the Sun Bear Conservation Center in Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.

We watched this sun bear find a nice place to relax in the treetops from the observation platform at the Sun Bear Conservation Center. Sandakan, Borneo.

Big Dreams Little Bear fundraising event 2013

Text by Gloria Ganang

“BIG DREAMS LITTLE BEAR” a definitely big event initiated by businessman Mr. Anton Ngui had successfully raised RM433,000.  Mr. Anton who is also the organizing chairperson of the event runs several businesses in Sandakan including the Nak Hotel, Ba Lin Rooftop Bar & Restaurant & Paganakan Dii Tropical Retreat. Behind this event were also more amazing individuals involved: Mr.Johnny Lim (Sepilok Jungle Resort), Mr. Gert Van Opstal & Mr. Jason Tan (The Last Frontier Resort), Mr. Cede Prudente (North Borneo Safari), Mr. Lai King Hang, photographer Mr. Jonathan Tan, Mrs. Linn Yong, Ms. Michelle Lo, Mr. Keith Koh, Mrs. Jaswinder Kaur (LEAP), Mr. Wong Siew Te himself & BSBCC staff and many other individuals & organizations that had directly & indirectly supported the event.

The date was finally set on the 20th July 2013 after several postponement. More than 50 tables were sold which made more than 500 guests attended the event.

Thanks to the support from the local Sandakan community that made up most of the guests.

The arrival of guests was welcomed by a beautiful
performance from Amir Yussof Acoustic Project.
One of their songs “Calling On You” was
written especially for the sun bears.

A welcoming speech by organizing
chairperson Mr. Anton Ngui.

CEO & Founder of BSBCC, Wong Siew Te
delivering speech & introducing sun bears
to the audience.

The event was hosted by two outstanding
individual Vincent Huang & Lina Teoh.

Pink Tan, a talented singer born in
Sabah entertaining our little guest.

We are privileged to have Jaclyn Victor,
1st Malaysian Idol winner
perform during the event.

We are glad that people are enjoying themselves!
Thanks Jaclyn!

One of the contributors to the success of the event,
auction of Jonathan Tan’s photograph.

Gary Cao, local but internationally known.
Thank you for the amazing performance!

BSBCC staff & volunteers celebrating
the success of the event.

anton pop champaign

All the struggles had finally paid off! Everyone deserves
a glass of champagne!

Or perhaps 2 glasses of champagne.

Or perhaps 2 glasses of champagne!

Sun Bear Centre To Raise Funds, Calls For Public Support

http://www.bernama.com.my/bernama/v7/ge/newsgeneral.php?id=959333

 

Sun Bear Centre To Raise Funds, Calls For Public Support

SANDAKAN, June 27 (Bernama) — The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) will hold a fundraising dinner to raise RM500,000 to partially fund the construction of a second bear house before it is opened to the public early next year.Chief executive officer and founder Wong Siew Te said part of the money raised will also be used to construct a one hectare enclosure for the new bear house and to meet operational costs for the year.

The fundraising dinner to be held on July 20 at the Hakka Association Hall here comes almost five years after a similar event in Kota Kinabalu raised RM1.3 million that was partly used for the construction of the first bear house.

Wong said this year’s operational and construction costs run into RM2 million and despite the commitment of generous donors, it needs to meet shortfall in expenses.

“We appeal to Malaysians, especially the Sandakan business community to support this fundraiser. By attending the event, you will be able to better understand the significance of sun bears and the types of threats this species faces.”

The BSBCC which started operation in 2008 with seven rescued sun bears currently provides refuge to 28 sun bears.

“It is the first and the only facility of its kind in the world and the only one that conduct rescue, education, research and rehabilitation. We should be proud that it is located in Malaysia, specifically in Sandakan,” Wong said in a statement to announce the fund raising dinner, here today.

The BSBCC is located next to the world famous Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre and also close to the increasingly popular Rainforest Discovery Centre.

Habitat loss, poaching for parts used in traditional medicine and the pet trade are among key threats that have led to a 30 per cent decline of the sun bear population in the last three decades.

Sun bears, the smallest of the world’s eight bear species, are found throughout mainland Asia, Sumatra and Borneo.

The exact number of sun bears in the wild is unknown, making it even more pressing to protect the species classified as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List, and at risk of becoming endangered unless circumstances threatening their survival improve.

Sun bears are also classified as a ‘Totally Protected Species’ under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, providing it the same status as the Orang Utan and Sumatran Rhinoceros.

Prior to the establishement of BSBCC, sun bears were kept illegally as pets while confiscated bears were housed at a government facility.

The BSBCC provides care and the chance for sun bears to learn what it is like to live in the forest by accessing an attached natural forest within an enclosed area.

Wong said an observation platform and boardwalk were completed last year and that it was poised to become an important education and awareness facility, and could also serve as an ecotourism destination.

“However, we need a second bear house and enclosure to accommodate all the sun bears before we can officially open it. We also need to complete the visitor centre and educational exhibits.”

Sime Darby Foundation, the Sabah government, Sabah Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Ministry of Tourism Malaysia, and several foreign organisations and zoos in the United States are among agencies that had contributed towards the development of BSBCC.

The fund raising dinner with the theme “Big Dreams, Little Bears” will include photographic art auction by Jonathan Tan.

Performers lined up include Jaclyn Victor, Gary Chaw @ Cao Ge, Pink Tan and Amir Yussof and friends with Lina Teoh and Vincent Huang as masters of ceremony.

A free documentary screening is scheduled for July 21 at Sabah Hotel for 500 students, teachers and representatives of local associations.

The event is supported by the Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry with Sabah Hotel as the main sponsor.

The BSBCC was set up through collaboration of the Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP).

— BERNAMA

BSBCC to hold fundraiser to meet increasing cost of caring for Sun Bears

New Sabah Times, 2013-June-21, Page13

Newspaper 2013-06-21 New Sabah Times (13) 1
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 Newspaper 2013-06-21 New Sabah Times (13) 4

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/features/article/sun-bears-target-of-demand-in-traditional-medicine/

June 21, 2013

 

Hunted for generations in the jungles of Borneo for the bile from its gall bladder and for food, the Malayan Sun Bear (pic) continues to be a target for the ever present global demand in traditional medicine and exotic meat, threatening the world’s smallest bear which is said to have dwindled in numbers by 30 per cent in the last three decades.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) founder and chief executive officer Wong Siew Te said natives, particularly in Borneo, traditionally believe that the Sun Bear’s bile ejects itself out of the gall bladder and spreads inside a bear’s body, healing injuries in a fall.

Sun Bears can climb high up on trees and normally climb down slowly from the tree.

However when they encounter human encroachment in the forest when they are on a tree, they tend to slide down quickly or even drop themselves from the tree.

They then recover quickly and go about their day.

This has erroneously made people believe that the phenomenon is due to the power of the Sun Bear bile that spreads within the body and heals the bears, allowing them to recover instantly.

“This is why Sun Bears are traditionally hunted in the wild for their bile, apart from their meat,” Wong said.

He said in some parts of the world, Asiatic Black Bears are kept in unimaginably cruel conditions in small metal cages and their bile extracted for up to 20 years, and then killed once they are unable to produce the liquid.

While there are no bear bile farms in Malaysia, bear bile is consumed locally.

Bear gall bladder, bear bile capsules and other bile products are sold illegally in traditional medicine stores.

“With this demand, Sun Bears continue to be at risk of getting hunted in the wild,” he said in a statement here today, to create awareness on the plight of Sun Bears.

While the actual number of Sun Bears in the wild is unknown, its status as a ‘Totally Protected’ species under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment and its listing as “Vulnerable” on The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List is not keeping those after its bile away from the risk of prosecution.

Under the Enactment, those found in possession of a Sun Bear or its product could face a fine of up to RM50,000 or a jail term of five years, or both.

Wong said Sun Bears are still hunted in Borneo for their purported medicinal properties, and he cited a recent news report on bear meat and parts being sold at a market in Kapit, Sarawak.

Other threats that Sun Bears face include habitat loss and demand for the exotic pet trade.

Sun Bear cubs are cute and there is demand for such a pet.

To get a cub, the mother is killed to prevent hunters from getting harmed.

Once these cubs grow, they become aggressive and it becomes dangerous to keep them as pets.

“This is when they are surrendered to the authorities. They lose survival skills when kept as pets, as this is something they learn from their mothers,” he said.

Bears surrendered to or confiscated by the Sabah Wildlife Department are sent to the BSBCC adjacent to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre.

It is currently home to 28 Sun Bears.

Awareness activities will be stepped up once the BSBCC is officially opened to the public, tentatively by early next year.

The BSBCC held a fund raiser on July 20 in Sandakan to meet the ever increasing costs of caring for Sun Bears in captivity and for awareness work.

The fundraising dinner with the theme “Big Dreams, Little Bears” saw Wong sharing with guests updates on Sun Bears and an exclusive photographic art auction by Jonathan Tan as well as performances by Jaclyn Victor, Gary Chow, Pink Tan and Amir Yussof and friends.

A free documentary screening is scheduled today at the Sabah Hotel for 500 students, teachers and representatives of local associations.

The BSBCC is a non-governmental organisation set up in 2008 through collaboration of the Sabah Wildlife Department, Sabah Forestry Department and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP).

Major funders for BSBCC include Yayasan Sime Darby, the federal Tourism Ministry, Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry, the Sabah State Government and other foreign and local organisations. – Bernama, June 21, 2013.

RM2.1mil support for Bornean Sun Bear conservation

Saturday March 30, 2013

http://thestar.com.my/metro/story.asp?file=%2F2013%2F3%2F30%2Fsouthneast%2F12896396&sec=southneast#.UVaa_JPOw-I.facebook

 
BSBCC’s youngest resc ued sun bear: Damai, a seven-month-old cub, is seen chewing off decayed wood to look for termites to eat. She was found in a residential area in Damai in November 2012 by a businessman who found her wandering on his porch. Damai was then sent to the Lok Kawi Zoo before being sent to BSBCC.BSBCC’s youngest resc ued sun bear: Damai, a seven-month-old cub, is seen chewing off decayed wood to look for termites to eat. She was found in a residential area in Damai in November 2012 by a businessman who found her wandering on his porch. Damai was then sent to the Lok Kawi Zoo before being sent to BSBCC.

WITH a distinctive pale horseshoe-shaped imprint on their chests coupled with their cute and cuddly disposition, it is easy to understand why anyone would fall in love with the Malayan sun bears.

Despite the fact that sun bears are a protected species, some unscrupulous people hunt them down for their body parts which are consumed for medicinal purposes while the cubs end up as pets. Over the years, this practice has tragically depleted the sun bear population.

Sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) are the smallest and least known members of the bear family and their population is rapidly diminishing in South-East Asia.

With the support of Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD), the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) in Sepilok, Sabah, has been working hard to right the wrongdoings of mankind. BSBCC has been rescuing sun bears which have been kept as pets and caring for them with the hope of releasing them back into the wild in the future.

BSBCC is a non-profit organisation initiated by the Sabah Forestry Department (SFD), Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and a non-government organisation, Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP), in 2008 to look after the plight of captive and orphaned sun bears in Sabah and to promote conservation efforts.

In 2012, YSD allocated funding of RM2.1 million for the BSBCC. A major chunk of the funding is being used to renovate an existing bear house and to construct a second bear house where the rescued sun bears will be relocated.

YSD’s sponsorship also includes the construction of a visitor information centre and opening the BSBCC to the public, which would provide financial sustenance to the BSBCC.

YSD governing council member Caroline Christine Russell said the foundation’s sponsorship would help rescued sun bears to recuperate and be rehabilitated in a safe and protected environment.

“When sun bears are kept and treated as pets, they grow into adulthood without learning the necessary skills to survive in the wild. YSD is highly supportive of BSBCC’s mission to rescue captured sun bears and promote sun bear conservation in Borneo. This will halt cruelty to these animals including the killing of sun bears for their supposed medicinal value and keeping their offspring as pets,” she said.

BSBCC chief executive officer Wong Siew Te said the process of catching a sun bear cub involved killing its mother.

“If the law allows sun bears to be kept as pets, it will only fuel demand which would lead to more poaching of sun bears,” he said.

There have also been instances where poachers left cubs to die, after killing their mothers for body parts. The demand for the sun bear’s bile and other parts especially for traditional medicine and even for delicacies is said to be among the reasons for the poaching and illegal trade of the species.

The Malayan sun bear has been classified as “vulnerable” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red Book Listing of Endangered Species since 2007 due to its dwindling population over the past 30 years.

Sun bears do not breed well in captivity and due to their naturally slow reproductive rate, a female sun bear may only have up to three to four cubs in her lifetime. Thus, excessive hunting or capturing of cubs can easily wipe out the local population.

It is illegal to kill or hunt these bears under the 1997 Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment and those found guilty of rearing or possessing protected species such as the Malayan sun bear could face a mandatory jail term between one month and a year.

The BSBCC is currently home to 28 rescued sun bears.

The latest addition is a four-month old female cub that was found in a housing area in Kota Kinabalu in early November last year.

For more information on what BSBCC does and how the public can help with the sun bear’s conservation efforts, please visithttp://www.bsbcc.org.my.

Boost for sun bear conservation

http://www.selangortimes.com/index.php?section=news&permalink=20130328164457-boost-for-sun-bear-conservation

Published: Fri, 29 Mar 2013

KUALA LUMPUR:  Thanks to support from Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD), the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) in Sepilok, Sabah, has been able to continue rescuing sun bears which have been kept as pets and caring for them with the hope of releasing them back into the wild in the future.

Five-year-old Kuamut walking on a fallen tree in the forest enclosure of BSBCC. The female, named after the town she was found in, was rescued in January 2009. She was found kept as a pet in a small iron-cage with two heavy metal chains with a brass lock weighing more than 2kg holding her down.  

In 2012, YSD allocated RM2.1 million for the BSBCC.

A major chunk of the funding is being used to renovate an existing bear house and to construct a second bear house where the rescued sun bears will be relocated.

YSD’s sponsorship also includes the construction of a visitor information centre and opening the BSBCC to the public, which would provide financial sustenance to the BSBCC.

Sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) are the smallest and least known members of the bear family and their population is rapidly diminishing in Southeast Asia.

But despite being a protected species, sun bears are killed for their body parts which are consumed for medicinal purposes while the cubs end up as pets.

Over the years, this practice has tragically depleted the sun bear population.

BSBCC is a non-profit organisation initiated by the Sabah Forestry Department (SFD), Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and a non-government organisation, Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP), in 2008 to look into the plight of captive and orphaned sun bears in Sabah and to promote conservation efforts.

YSD governing council member Caroline Christine Russell said the foundation’s sponsorship would help rescued sun bears to recuperate and be rehabilitated in a safe and protected environment.

“When sun bears are kept and treated as pets, they grow into adulthood without learning the necessary skills to survive in the wild. YSD is highly supportive of BSBCC’s mission to rescue captured sun bears and promote sun bear conservation in Borneo. This will halt cruelty to these animals including the killing of sun bears for their supposed medicinal value and keeping their offspring as pets,” she said.

BSBCC chief executive officer Wong Siew Te said the process of catching a sun bear cub involved killing its mother.

“If the law allows sun bears to be kept as pets, it will only fuel demand which would lead to more poaching of sun bears,” he said.

The Malayan sun bear has been classified as “vulnerable” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red Book Listing of Endangered Species since 2007 due to its dwindling population over the past 30 years.

Sun bears do not breed well in captivity and due to their naturally slow reproductive rate, a female sun bear may only have up to three to four cubs in her lifetime.

Thus, excessive hunting or capturing of cubs can easily wipe out the local population.

It is illegal to kill or hunt these bears under the 1997 Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment and those found guilty of rearing or possessing protected species such as the Malayan sun bear could face a mandatory jail term of between one month and a year. For more information on what BSBCC does and how the public can help with the sun bear’s conservation efforts, visit http://www.bsbcc.org.my.

 

 

 

 

Connecting kindergarteners in Australia with sun bears in Borneo

By Wong Siew Te

Stuarts Point Pre School always has a special heart for sun bears ever since I was introduced to their director Erin Chapman last January by a close friend of Erin who visited BSBCC earlier and shared our stories. They would like to do more and to help sun bear. A Sun Bear Project has been initiated in the preschool. The project “hope to raise awareness of the tremendous efforts of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) and to make the little know Sun Bear famous in Stuarts Point and Scotts Head!!!” You can read more about Stuarts Point Pre School and their sun bear project here: http://enhancedlearningspps.blogspot.com.au/p/our-sun-bear-project.html

The very first sun bear project was to introduce the sun bears to the children:

Tuesday 29th January,

Today we introduced the little known Sun Bear to the children, we drew their attention to the Sun Bear’s special markings on their chest explaining how the markings look like a sun. We also told the children about the Sun Bear’s plight and of how the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Borneo helps rehabilitate rescued Sun Bear’s who were taken from their mummy’s and put in small cages. This part the children did not like so much and asked: “Why did they get taken?”

http://enhancedlearningspps.blogspot.com.au/p/our-sun-bear-project.html

 

Teaching the children to draw a sun bear is not as easy as its look!

Teaching the children to draw a sun bear is not as easy as its look!

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Few days later:

“Thursday 31st January,

Today we continued exploring sun bears… We have found it difficult to get some children to relate to the sun bear… so today we tried sparking their interest by viewing images of sun bear teddy bears and then inviting the children to participate in a guided drawing experience…”

http://enhancedlearningspps.blogspot.com.au/p/our-sun-bear-project.html

 

On Thursday 21st February, the preschool did a “Sun Bear Fundraiser” by selling “Grub cakes” and “Ant slice”

http://enhancedlearningspps.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/sun-bear-fundraiser.html

20130221_14343111

With all the hard works from the teachers and children, they sold all of their cakes for the day and had a success fundraiser experience!

 On Monday 4 March. 2013, the children had a “skyping the sun bears” experience with me. After the children built and painted a sun bear rainforest habitat in the school, they managed to have a skype with me at the observation platform of BSBCC. The children got to see the sun bear “live” from BSBCC forest enclosure (although the bears were far from my laptop and the images of the bear appeared to be small). The children were excited to see me and the sun bears on their computer. I am having a lot of fun answering the questions that the children asked:

Charlotte: “Do the babies have big yellow marks on their chest too?”
Aiken: “Do Sun Bears build tree houses?”
Matilda: “Do the Sun Bears bite?”
Malu: “Do they have spikey hair”
Asher: “Why do the Sun Bears get locked in cages?”

……

Using my laptop and my 3G connection for internet, I managed to skype the children from Australia!

Using my laptop and my 3G connection for internet, I managed to skype the children from Australia!

IMG_0571-001sa

Answering questions from kids is always fun 🙂

IMG_0576-001s

The images and voices from the sun bears were spread across the world through skype. Thanks to the technology, additional group of children know more about sun bear and their plights.  They will grow up knowing more about the sun bears and the conservation issues about the rainforest of SE Asia.

We hope we could do this skype call more often with each other.

I hope other school across the world can also “visit” us, “see” the sun bears “digitally” at BSBCC and learn more about the sun bear.  Even better, visit us “physically” next year when we officially open to the public!

Slowly but surely, sun bear the little known bear in the world will become a well known bear!

 

A dip for the bears

http://thestar.com.my/lifestyle/story.asp?file=/2013/2/25/lifeliving/12587245&sec=lifeliving

Monday February 25, 2013

By LIM CHIA YING
[email protected]

<b>Bear necessities:</b> Friends Katie McDonald (left) and Anna Marie Zarb in their sun bear costumes, shortly before they took the Loony Dook challenge along with other participants. Bear necessities: Friends Katie McDonald (left) and Anna Marie Zarb in their sun bear costumes, shortly before they took the Loony Dook challenge along with other participants.

Two English women brave freezing waters to raise funds for our Bornean sun bears.

ARMED with nothing more than a spunky heart and a genuine concern for animal welfare, two friends braved the icy waters at an annual dip event to raise funds for Bornean sun bears.

Katie McDonald and Anna Marie Zarb, who both hail from England, participated in the New Year’s Day Loony Dook challenge held at Scotland’s Firth of Forth, the estuary in which River Forth meets the North Sea.

The event drew participants, both young and old, who took a leap of faith by plunging into the icy depths of the firth as a novel way of celebrating the New Year.

A conversation between two pals over drinks during Christmas break in 1986 sparked off the idea after one of them suggested dipping in the firth to clear their hangovers! When more friends took to the idea, Loony Dook was thus born, and is now celebrated in a much more boisterous manner than in the past.

People come from around the world to join in or be a spectator, and over time, the participants have also made the dip a fundraiser for charities of their choice. Part of the fun lies in some of the bizzare costumes that participants don.

To reflect the charity they picked – the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sabah, Malaysia – McDonald and Zarb made online purchases of outfits which they later modified to look like that of a sun bear with its unique yellow chest patch.

So what motivated McDonald and Zarb to raise funds for an NGO that is nearly halfway around the globe from their home country?

“I was in Malaysia for a few years and saw that it is such a beautiful country. There’s such an amazing biodiversity, but the ecosystem is fragile and many of the animals are threatened,” said McDonald, 28, in an e-mail interview.

“During my stint in Malaysia, I worked closely with a number of wildlife and conservation-related organisations. It was tough having to single out one particular project to raise funds for. I felt that the work carried out at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre covered a lot of important areas which included animal welfare, wildlife rehabilitation, habitat preservation, public education and research. I also like the idea of bringing awareness of tropical animals and conservation to a different part of the world.”

For Zarb, 34, the plight of animals is a subject close to her heart, and she is happy to help any animal charity, regardless of its location.

Both women are currently pursuing a Masters of Science in Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare at the Edinburgh University, which was how they met.

“Loony Dook is a part of Hogmanay (a uniquely Scottish New Year celebration that dates back to olden times) and certainly seems like fun!” said Zarb.

On the day of the event, the weather was sunny. Despite that, they could still feel the chill while waiting for their turn to jump in.

“We had no idea what the water temperature would be like, only that it would be cold! The thought of a good cause helped us overcome the temperature anxiety!” said McDonald.

“Anna decided that the best strategy was to scream and run in, so that was what we did and after a few seconds, we kind of lost feeling anyway! All around, there were stewards from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution stopping people from going too deep as a safety measure,” said McDonald.

The duo stayed in the water for a couple of minutes, accompanied by a quick swim.

“At the end of the day, we know that it’s BSBCC and the sun bears that are benefiting, so it was worth braving the cold!” added McDonald.

In mid-December, she had put up a posting on a social networking site to share what she was doing, to raise a targeted sum of £200.

“We wanted to raise greater awareness about sun bears in the hope that more people would think about them and find out more about this little known but fascinating animal,” said McDonald.

“I have visited the centre several times as I used to work for a company which brought groups of school kids to Sabah.

“One of the projects we undertook was making enrichment toys for the bears; we learnt about their natural behaviour and the ecology of the species. All the centre’s personnel were so supportive of the students. They were happy to share their knowledge and passion for sun bears.

“The centre’s founder, Wong Siew Te, is a leading expert, yet he always has time to spend with visitors and share everything he knows about sun bears, the smallest among eight bear species. It’s a fantastic centre and a great place to learn about sun bears and conservation,” said McDonald, who recently helped to raise funds for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, as well as Save the Children, a global organisation working to help children get access to food, education, healthcare and human rights.

To learn more about the sun bears, visit the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre homepage at www.bsbcc.org.my/.

 

 

Sun Bear Sunset Serenade and Supper

Text and photo by Siew Te Wong

Alex Lamb, a 17 year old teenage from Kota Kinabalu, organized a fundraiser event “Sun Bear Sunset Serenade and Supper” at Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa on Friday August 10th. The event is a private informal fundraising event to help raise money specifically for food for the sun bears at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. The evening included an international buffet dinner and a varied musical program, with performances by local musicians Asif Pishori, Rene Barrow, Amir Yusof, as well as Alex himself and his band. Cynthia Ong, the CEO of LEAP was invited to give an opening speech and I also was invited to give a talk on sun bears and its conservation issues.

 The event was attended by about a hundred supporters of sun bear in the state capital Kota Kinabalu. A net total of RM11,070 was raised by the event from ticket sales and donations.

 On behalf of BSBCC, I would like thank Alex for his inspiring hard work to organize the fundraiser. Special thanks also go to Alex’s mom and dad, Anthea Phillipps and Tony Lamb, and buddy Nathan Wood to make this event successful and possible!

So, what can a 17 year old teenage do to help sun bears? The answer is A LOT!

A cartoon sun bear holding a signboard at the entrance of the event’s room at Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort.

Alex welcomes and thanks the audience for their kind support to make this event successful.

 

Welcoming speech by Cynthia Ong highlighted the history on Wong’s sun bear works and the initial ideas of Alex’s fundraiser efforts.

Music performances by Asif Pishori, and Rene Barrow captivated the audience before dinner was served.

 

Wong gave a presentation on sun bear conservation and Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.

Nathan Wood & Alex Lamb in pix handing over donation to Cynthia on 15th Aug 2012.