Category Archives: habitat loss

Just the Way It Should be For a Sun Bear Cub

Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May

“Growling, and bawling loudly” every day from one of the female sun bear cub, Dodop. Sun bear cubs will begin bawling long, and loud when frightened or separated from their mothers. Cubs also scream in distress like human babies. This has happened to Dodop because she was treated like a pet, kept in a house and lost her four permanent canines. She has absolutely no fear of humans and has loss of wild instinct. Usually mother and sun bear cubs will stay together in the wild for two to three years, as they should be. It is likely that Wawa and Dodop’s mothers were killed by poachers. Their mother defends them, warms them, nurses them and teaches them survival skills. Sun bear cubs require around the clock care. This is undoubtedly why Dodop looks so sad and depressed when her care taker is not around.

So our Bear Care unitmade the decision that Dodop and Wawa need to be introduced to have their first ever bear friend. Finally the big day arrived on 25th June 2016, where we integrated Dodop with Wawa. Dodop is 11 months old and Wawa is 7 months old. She is bigger than Wawa. On that day, Dodop was transferred to an adjacent den. It was a new environment for Dodop at the beginning but she quickly adapted to it.

As soon as Wawa saw Dodop, she kept barking in a deep voice at Dodop for the first 15 minutes. Dodop was shocked and barked back. But Wawa being the curious one went into the den where Dodop was located, and tried to approach, and sniff her. Wawa wrestled her and was teaching Dodop to fight back by showing small, strong canines and small, sharp claws! The cubs wrestled and pawed non-stop with one another for about 30 minutes before one of them gave up for a rest.

Wawa was very curious towards Dodop and barked on her during their first meeting.

This is a special day for Dodop and Wawa. This could be their first contact with another sun bear after a very long time.

They still definitely curious!

This friend as something to say…

Wawa already start her curiosity and playfulness.


Wawa and Dodop share the same large dens. Wawa is willing to let Dodop explore the world but only on her terms! They spend a lot of time climbing enrichment structures, wresting each other, chasing, sharing the same enrichment and taking naps inside the hammock or basket. They have developed and acquired new survival skills as wild bears. They have big appetites! They keep putting on weight and eating a variety of food, including milk, sweet corn, banana, papaya, honey dew, watermelon and honey. Both of them tend to get more fruits on themselves than in their mouth!  Wawa now weighs 16.10kg and Dodop weighs 20.90 kg. Wawa is the more outgoing of the two cubs. Dodop’s condition is continuing to improve and she has becomea more confident little cub after meeting her new friend, Wawa.

Wawa is the kind of bear who is up for anything…

Dodop has a distinct personality and habits that are unique to her. She enjoys the love and attention she receives.

They spend a great deal of their time playing and wrestling together.

They spend a great deal of their time playing and wrestling together.

They spend a great deal of their time playing and wrestling together.

A great new playmate!! Dodop (left) is pawing Wawa (right).

Wawa show to Dodop that she has strength too!

Wawa show to Dodop that she has strength too!

All happily grasped between grateful paws.


Bear cub keepers give the cubs various enrichment items – these could be dead logs, puzzle feeders, the Aussie dog ball, dry leaves, green leaves,a fire hose pocket filled with peanut butter and many others. Both of them are extremely playful and love to investigate the new toys together. They socialize with each other and explore their surroundings.

Wawa shows more dominance compared to Dodop. Although being the youngest and smallest, she never feels threatened by Dodop. For the rest of the weeks, they integrated well and cared for each other better. No serious aggression was noted. They spend more time learning how to be in a beautiful friendship, and to be happy, healthy, agile sun bears after all that they have been through. For them, life is full of happiness and filled with new things to explore which is just the way it should be for a sun bear cub.

Even Wawa was smaller than Dodop. Wawa is total boss.

They love to mock wrestle with each other.

They are full of enthusiasm who enjoys making the maximum use of enrichments in the dens.

They are full of enthusiasm who enjoys making the maximum use of enrichments in the dens.

They are full of enthusiasm who enjoys making the maximum use of enrichments in the dens.

They are full of enthusiasm who enjoys making the maximum use of enrichments in the dens.

They are full of enthusiasm who enjoys making the maximum use of enrichments in the dens.

They are full of enthusiasm who enjoys making the maximum use of enrichments in the dens.

Sometimes they play, sometimes they find a tasty snack, and sometimes they nap far above the ground.

So much happier with their pain and trauma removed.

They are many more sun bears suffering due to habitat loss, hunting and illegal wildlife trade. The number of sun bears have fallen by at least 30% over the past 30 years. We need to highlight ending wildlife trafficking which includes ending demand, strengthening wildlife laws and enforcement. We need to stand up and do our part!

Habitat loss and poaching threatens survival of Sun Bears


SANDAKAN: Habitat loss and poaching have led to a decline of up to 30 per cent of the Malayan sun bear population in the last three decades, according to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC).

In Borneo, this smallest of the world’s eight bear species is also seeing a drop in numbers following their illegal capture for the pet trade and when they are wrongly perceived as pests and gunned down, said BSBCC founder and chief executive officer Wong Siew Te.

The Polar Bear, Brown Bear, American Black Bear, Spectacled Bear, Sloth Bear, Giant Panda and Asiatic Black Bear are other better known bear species.

Found throughout mainland Asia, Sumatra in Indonesia and Borneo, the exact number of sun bears in the wild is unknown, making it even more pressing toreduce pressure on a species that is classified as “vulnerable” on the IUCN(International Union for Conservation of Nature) 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 the Sumatran Rhinoceros.

Wong said the sun bear was divided into two sub-species – the Helarctosmalayanus malayanus and the Helarctos malayanus euryspilus, with the latter, smaller bear found only in Borneo.

“In other words, sun bears in Borneo are even smaller than the sun bears found in other parts of Malaysia and the region.

We hope to share with more locals how fortunate we are that such a unique bear is found here in Borneo, and right here in Sabah,” he said in a statement.

He said the shrinking forest cover made poaching and capturing of wild bear seasier due to increased contact with human settlements.

“Our centre is now holding 28 rescued bears. Some were illegally kept as pets and others were trapped in the forest, and sent here.

“Bears here are trained to adapt to the forest within an enclosed area as some have never been in the wild, having been kept as pets from a young age. They are then evaluated to see if they can be released into the wild,” he said.

The centre is located adjacent to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, here.

“In Borneo, sun bears continue to face threat from habitat destruction and poaching. We need to protect the remaining forest cover if we are to secure the future of the sun bears and, at the same time, eliminate any poaching of these bears in the wild,” Wong said.

He said awareness activities would be stepped up once the centre was officially opened to the public, tentatively by early next year.   — BERNAMA

Read more: Habitat loss and poaching threatens survival of Sun Bears – Latest – New Straits Times

Felda settlets find dead sun bear






Big Tree Little Bear and Tiny Termites -video

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Malaysian government to launch RSPO rival for palm oil certification

Repost from

Malaysian government to launch RSPO rival for palm oil certification
August 02, 2011

The Malaysian government is developing its own certification system for palm oil production, potentially creating another rival to the certification system run by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), reports Malaysia’s Business Times.

Speaking in Australia, Malaysian Commodities Minister Bernard Dompok said the government is in the “preliminary stage” of developing a sustainability standard for palm oil production to counter tighter standards being pushed by the RSPO.

“We will go ahead because the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil keeps on changing its goal posts on how to produce sustainable palm oil,” he was quoted as saying. “We will come up with a national certification scheme.”

Indonesia — the world’s top palm oil producer — has already announced its own certification scheme, which is primarily based on compliance with Indonesian law and is therefore compulsory.

Malaysian Palm Oil Council Chief Yusof Basiron said Malaysia’s certification standard would be similar and aim to address concerns raised by environmentalists.

  palm oil fruit
Oil palm seed. Palm oil is used widely in processed foods. By virtue of its high yield, palm oil is a cheaper substitute than other vegetable oils. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

“The industry is already highly monitored. We will just tweak it a little bit and look at what the market and the NGOs want,” Basiron was quoted as saying.

“If they don’t want deforestation, then we will include it in the certification requirements. If they don’t want orang utan to be destroyed, we will include it too.”

The remarks came as both officials met in Australia to voice opposition to an Australian bill that would require separate listing of palm oil on product labels. Presently palm oil can be generically listed as “vegetable oil” under Australian food regulations, but green groups, concerned over deforestation associated with some palm oil production, have pushed for stricter labeling requirements. The Malaysian palm oil industry says labeling — which only applies to palm oil, not other vegetable oils — could lead to discrimination against palm oil-containing products. Up to half of processed food products in some markets contain palm oil, according to the environmental group WWF, which is pushing RSPO certification.

While the creation of another certification standard could create confusion in the marketplace, at least one RSPO member welcomed the move.

“The fact that they are creating their own system (just as Indonesia before them), means RSPO is transforming the system,” said the member, who requested anonymity since he wasn’t authorized to speak on behalf of the organization. “It is, essentially, a race to the top instead of the bottom. Our standard will move towards sustainability and the market will respond.”

“In short, we welcome such developments,” he continued. “If anything, it reinforces what we hope to achieve.”

The RSPO was launched in 2004 as a way to address growing concerns over palm oil production. Its code of conduct includes an explicit commitment to “continual improvement” of its standards.

The first shipments of RSPO-certified palm oil reached market in late 2008. Since then, production has surged, reaching 4.7 million metric tons through the first three months of 2011. A number of the world’s largest producers, traders, financiers, and buyers have now joined the RSPO, including Walmart, Hersheys and CitiBank last week.

But the RSPO has faced criticism from some environmentalists, who say its monitoring and enforcement mechanisms remain weak.

The RSPO recently took action against IOI Group, a Malaysia-based member accused of particularly egregious breaches of RSPO’s code, including social conflict with forest people and clearing of rainforests. Last year the body booted PT SMART, Indonesia’s largest palm oil producer, after it was found to be in violation of RSPO standards. PT SMART has since announced a strict forest policy that will allow it to attain RSPO certification.

Pet trade, palm oil, and poaching: the challenges of saving the ‘forgotten bear’

Pet trade, palm oil, and poaching: the challenges of saving the ‘forgotten bear’
By Laurel Neme, special to
March 20, 2011


This interview originally aired May 17, 2010. It was transcribed by Diane Hannigan.



Siew Te Wong is one of the few scientists who study sun bears (Ursus malayanus). He spoke with Laurel Neme on her “The WildLife” radio show and podcast about the interesting biological characteristics of this rare Southeast Asian bear, threats to the species and what is being done to help them.

Sun bears are the smallest of the eight bear species. They’re about half the size of a North American black bear and typically sport a tan crescent on their chests. Similar to the “moon bear,” or Asian black bear, the sun bear’s name comes from this marking, which looks like a rising or setting sun.

Sun bears live in Southeast Asia and are probably the least known bear species in the world. They have been so long neglected that Wong refers to them as “the forgotten bear species.” One of the reasons may be that they are difficult to study because they’re nocturnal and spend most of their time up in the trees.

Nobody knows how many sun bears remain in the wild. However, they are under significant threat and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) lists them under Appendix I. Habitat loss is the primary concern but these diminutive bears are also threatened by the pet trade and poaching for their parts, which are used in traditional Asian medicine.


 Siew Te Wong with sun bear cub. Photo by: Siew Te Wong.

Siew Te Wong with sun bear cub. Photo by: Siew Te Wong.


For the last 14 years, Wong has dedicated his life the study and ecological conservation of the sun bear. Wong’s research has taken him to the most threatened wildlife habitat on Earth, where fieldwork is exceedingly difficult.

His pioneering studies of sun bear ecology in the Borneo rainforest revealed the elusive life history of the sun bear in the dense jungle.

While rapid habitat destruction from unsustainable logging practices, the conversion of the sun bear’s habitat into palm oil plantations and uncontrolled poaching activities paint a bleak picture for the future of the sun bear, Wong is helping sun bears both through his research and through the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, which he founded in 2008.

Wong is one of a handful of Malaysian wildlife biologists who has trained in a western country. He did both his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees at the University of Montana in Missoula, and is finishing his doctorate there. He is former co-chair of the Sun Bear Expert Team, under the IUCN/Species Survival Commission’s Bear Specialist Group, and a current member of three IUCN/SSC Specialist Groups. His dedication was recognized when he was named a fellow of the Flying Elephants Foundation, which awards individuals from a broad range of disciplines in the arts and sciences who have demonstrated singular creativity, passion, integrity and leadership and whose work inspires a reverence for the natural world.

The following is an excerpt from The WildLife with Laurel Neme, a program that probes the mysteries of the animal world through interviews with scientists and other wildlife investigators. The WildLife airs every Monday from 1-2 pm Eastern Standard Time on WOMM-LP, 105.9 FM in Burlington, Vermont. You can livestream it at or download the podcast from iTunes,, or This interview originally aired May 17, 2010. It was transcribed by Diane Hannigan.


Laurel Neme:

What’s special about sun bears?
Siew Te Wong: They’re very unique to me! When you ask that question to biologists they’ll tell you the species they’re studying is always special, always unique, because they love them so much. So, it will be the same for me!


Laurel Neme:

Where do they live? Are they unusual because they are an arboreal bear?


Siew Te Wong: Sun bears are found in Southeast Asia in ten different countries… ranging from the eastern tip of India to the southern tip of China in Yunnan province, across Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, islands of Sumatra, and the island of Borneo. It’s a tropical bear. They’re the smallest of all the bears [family Ursidae], and weigh [about] a hundred pounds.


 Map of sun bear range: brown—extant, black—former, dark grey—presence uncertain. Map courtesy of IUCN Red List.




Laurel Neme:

How many people study sun bears?
Siew Te Wong: At the time I started my study back in 1998, there were three people, including myself, studying sun bears in Borneo. I was working on my Masters degree and the other two were working on their PhDs. Last year there were three or four additional projects—two in Sumatra, and one in Thailand, and one on the peninsula of Malaysia. So, after all these years, less than 10 people in the world have ever studied sun bears. Period. Compared to other large mammal species, the numbers are so low. We are so behind in generating scientific information on sun bears.


Laurel Neme:

Do all of you exchange information? What’s a party like between all of you? [Laughs].
Siew Te Wong: I’m working really hard trying to get everyone to collaborate and exchange information as much as possible. Since I’m one of the first people to do this work, I want to assist as many students and biologists as possible to do their work. I have spent a lot of time in the forest to learn about sun bears the hard way. If I can pass my knowledge on to others, they don’t have to learn the hard way. I’d love to do that. Almost everyone is in close contact with me. I try to give my advice and my opinion as much as possible—even help them do their studies.


Laurel Neme:

Given that they are so difficult to find in the forest, how do you go about studying them?


   Juvenile sun bear. Photo by: Siew Te Wong.
Juvenile sun bear. Photo by: Siew Te Wong.









Siew Te Wong: The first challenge is to catch them and put a radio collar on them. To study large mammals like sun bears [the first thing to do is] put a radio collar on them to follow them in the forest. [Then] we try to get close to them and see what they do. We collect their [fecal matter]. [From that] we can know how large their range is and so on.

[Early on] we tried to catch them without any sort of experience. Back in 1999, I had some help from some bear biologists from here, [and] they helped me set up traps out of wood and metal.

Laurel Neme:

What did the traps look like?
Siew Te Wong: At the time, we used three kinds of traps. The first kind of trap was a wooden box trap, made out of 3’x3’ lumber. It’s similar to the trap used in North America to trap wolverines. [Then] there’s the aluminum culvert trap that we custom-made in Montana. The beauty of this trap is that it can be taken apart into nine pieces and then we can backpack the whole trap into the forest and then put it back together. The third kind [of trap] is the 55-gallon barrel trap.


Laurel Neme:

How did you bait them?
Siew Te Wong: At the time, no one had trapped sun bears before, so I tried all different kinds of bait including all the fruits and honey. After months of trial and error, I figured it out. The best bait to catch sun bears is chicken guts. It’s cheap, it’s smelly, and the bears love it. [Laughs]



Laurel Neme:

Sun bears are not strictly herbivorous?
Siew Te Wong: Sun bears are bears. They’re carnivores in design, but they end up eating whatever they can find. Fruits, of course, are one of the items they can find in the forest. If they could find carcasses or hunt prey, I’m sure they would.


Laurel Neme:

Was that known before you started studying what they eat?
Siew Te Wong: Yes and no. From captive animals we knew they are omnivores and eat almost everything. The zookeepers give them meat. Other species do the same thing. The sloth bear, or the spectacled bear, or the Indian bear, we know they eat a lot of plant material but they’ll also eat meat [if they have access to it].


Laurel Neme:

Will sun bears kill prey or are they simply opportunistic, in that if they’ll find a carcass they’ll consume it]?
Siew Te Wong: They’re more opportunistic. In the forest, if there are some prey items that are easier to catch, then they’ll definitely go for it. For example, they prey quite a bit on tortoises.


Laurel Neme:

They can get at the tortoises with the shell?
Siew Te Wong: Apparently they can use their long claws. The shell is not closed up completely. There are some soft spots where the bears can easily use their claws and canines to damage and kill it.


Laurel Neme:

What else do the bears eat? You mentioned earlier that they eat insects.



    Sun bear at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). Photo by: Siew Te Wong.
Sun bear at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). Photo by: Siew Te Wong.















Siew Te Wong: In 1999-2000, during my first ecological study of sun bears, the forest did not have any fruit in season. The bears were feeding on invertebrates like termites, beetles, beetle larvae, earthworms and any insects they could get.

[Beetle] larvae can grow to as much as three to four inches long. They’re packed with fat and protein. A sun bear can spend an hour or two digging at a decayed [piece of] wood trying to fish out beetle larvae. The moment they fish one out, you can tell from their facial expression—[it’s like] they’re having the best chocolate in their life!

Laurel Neme:

What does this happy expression look like?
Siew Te Wong: First of all, they close their eyes! I’m not sure if you can notice or not, but bears smile like humans or dogs. When they smile, they pull their facial muscles backwards, so it looks like their smiling. They’re just like humans when tasting a nice piece of chocolate. You close your eyes and let the chocolate melt in your mouth. It’s exactly the same expression when they have big, fat, juicy, packed-with-protein beetle larvae in their mouth.


Laurel Neme:

Have you tried the beetle larvae?
Siew Te Wong: No! I’m not that desperate!


Laurel Neme:

[Laughs] They still eat the larvae even when fruit is available in the forest?
Siew Te Wong: Yes! And the forests of Borneo have a unique feature where they don’t fruit annually. The forest goes through something called mass fruiting. The mass fruiting occurs every two to eleven years. During the non-fruiting years, the bears feed on invertebrates. Also, there are a few species of plants that do not follow the mass fruiting, like fig and ficus.


Laurel Neme:

Is there a lot of competition for the fig and ficus?


   Adult sun bear at the Basel Zoo in Switzerland.
Adult sun bear at the Basel Zoo in Switzerland.

















Siew Te Wong: There’s a lot of competition between the bears in a period when there is no fruit around. From my study, from the bears that I captured, they all have different kinds of scars and wounds from fighting. They have a tough life. They compete with each other because food resources are so low.

But for the ficus, it’s something different. They’re big and can produce big crops. There’s no need to compete for this kind of fruit. The resources are available [to the bears] for a period of two weeks or so. One strangling fig [a kind of ficus] can put out about 2 million fruits at a time, so there’s no need for competition. I have evidence of three different bears feeding on the same tree at the same time. I’ve also witnessed one of my radio collar bears feeding on top of a fig tree, and then on the same tree there was a female orangutan with babies, a binturong (Asian bearcat) with babies, gibbons, and all kinds of birds and squirrels. It’s a very spectacular sight.

Laurel Neme:

Is the fruiting seasonal or by year?
Siew Te Wong: The fig tree is not seasonal. They fruit individually throughout the year. Some species fruit twice a year, some put out three different crops a year. The reason they do it [that way] is to maintain a healthy population of fig wasps, their only pollinators.



Laurel Neme:

What’s the role of sun bears in the ecosystem?
Siew Te Wong: They do two big things for the forest. One, they are frugivores. They’re large mammals, so they eat big fruit with big seeds, for example, durian—the king of fruits in Southeast Asia. When they eat the fruit they disperse the seeds. Sun bears are important for seed dispersal in the forest ecosystem. They pretty much plant the forest. The seeds need to be carried far away from the mother tree to enhance the germination period and the survival rate of the trees.


[Second], by feeding on invertebrates like termites, they break the termite mound and they break apart decaying wood. They are actually creating another type of niche, another type of feeding site for other animals. They don’t finish everything, which leaves another site for other animals to feed on.

They’re considered an ecosystem engineer. [Another example is that] they feed on beehives. The beehives are in tree cavities, so they have to break into the main trunk of the tree in order to get to the beehives and they create cavities. These will later be used by [other animals like flying squirrels] to make nests. [Since they] prey on a lot of termites, they actually maintain healthy forests because termites have the reputation of killing or infesting trees. By reducing the number of insects that are harming plants, they do the plant community a good thing by keeping these pests at a healthy level.


Laurel Neme:

What is the conservation status of sun bears? Are they endangered?
Siew Te Wong: Yes, they are an endangered species. They are listed under the IUCN Red List as a Vulnerable species. They just got this status in 2008. Before that, they were listed as data deficient because so few people had studied them. We didn’t have the scientific information to know how many sun bears there are in the world. Now, we have estimates.


Looking at the big picture, looking at the deforestation rates in Southeast Asia and with the forest disappearing so fast, we know the sun bears are in big trouble. We know their population has declined by more than 30 percent over the last 30 years. With all the poaching, hunting, and pet trade going on in the region, [we know] sun bears are in trouble. Although I do not have the numbers of how many sun bears there are, from my experience working in the forests of Borneo, I know the numbers are lower than orangutans, for sure.

Laurel Neme:

What would it take to do a population census? Is it possible?
Siew Te Wong: Yes and no. I tried to estimate the number of bears in the forest and I pretty much failed because I haven’t come up with a reliable method to do it. Right now the method that people use most is called catch and recapture. By assessing the capture rate and recapture rate, we can estimate how many there are in the wild.


This method has been widely used by tiger biologists. [But they can use it because] individual tigers are recognized by cameras. This method is not applicable to sun bears because individuals cannot be identified from a camera picture because they’re just black; they don’t have a special marking.

Laurel Neme:

What’s an alternative method that researchers commonly use for population studies?
Siew Te Wong: Another method is to use DNA. So far, a bear’s DNA is quite difficult to collect because in a tropical forest it rains every day and the genetic material is very difficult to obtain.



Laurel Neme:

What are some of the biggest threats to sun bears? You talked about habitat destruction, poaching, hunting, and pet trade. Which is most important?


   Detail of sun bear cub. Photo by: Siew Te Wong.
Sun bear cub. Photo by: Siew Te Wong.










Siew Te Wong: What you mentioned are all threats but, by far, habitat destruction is the biggest threat for sun bears in Southeast Asia.

Laurel Neme:

Why is that?
Siew Te Wong: Sun bears are a forest-dependent species; they have to live in a forest. When you see a landscape being cleared, a forest being cut down and replaced with plantations, replaced with development, sun bears have lost their home forever. The deforestation rate in Southeast Asia is horrible, with plantations replacing the tropical rainforest. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see how seriously sun bears are affected by deforestation.


The second threat, which I mentioned earlier, is the poaching for bear parts. This is still ongoing. They’re poached for their gallbladder, their claws, their canines, their meat, and many [other] purposes, especially for traditional Asian medicine.

Laurel Neme:

Then there is the pet trade.
Siew Te Wong: Sun bears are really cute. They’re the smallest of the bears. Because they are small and cute, people love to keep them as pets. [At the same time] deforestation [provides greater access to the interior of the forest] and baby bears are more vulnerable. People poach the mother, capture the baby, and then the baby becomes a commodity in pet trade.


Laurel Neme:

Do they make good pets, or do they grow up?
Siew Te Wong: They absolutely do not made good pets! They’re big animals with big claws and strong canines; they’re very destructive. No one can tame a bear. In the end, they’re locked up in metal cages, which is very sad. The situation is quite desperate.



Laurel Neme:

You helped found the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) in Sabah, Malaysia in 2008. How did the Center come to be? Is that the reason behind founding it?
Siew Te Wong: At first, back in 1998, it was just a project. I noticed there were a lot of sun bears being held in captivity. Private owners kept them as pets, or [they were] on crocodile farms or zoos. [All these places] had a lot of sun bears, and they were all very sad. They roam the forest but [at these places] they were locked up in small cages. They shook their heads all day long with stereotypical behaviors [of animals in captivity]. No one tried to do anything about it. Sun bears are a protected species in all of the countries where they are found. No one is allowed to hunt sun bears by law or keep them as pets. But, because of the lack of law enforcement and lack of interest to conserve the species, these kind of things happen.


[If you keep one as a pet], you need to obtain a special permit. Southeast Asia is a developing country; wildlife crimes are of little priority compared to crimes against humans, so a lot of the laws are not enforced. People keep bears because they’ll never get caught.

Given the lack of interest among other NGOs, I decided “[if] you guys aren’t going to do [something,] I’m going to do it.” The first group of animals that I wanted to help was the caged animals. [I think] people had to be told, “No, you can’t keep sun bears as pets. It’s against the law!” [So, when] I founded the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, the first thing we wanted to do was rescue the caged bears.

The second thing was to educate the people. We needed to show them how special and unique sun bears are and what important role they play in forest ecosystems. We wanted to do conservation work, rehabilitate those sun bears back into the forest, and continue to do research.

Laurel Neme:

How did you get funding for it?
Siew Te Wong: Funding is very challenging. This project I didn’t do myself; it wasn’t possible to do all by myself. I was very fortunate to have help from a local NGO from Sabah called LEAP. It stands for Land Empowerment Animals People. They helped me establish [the project] and we created a partnership between the Sabah Wildlife Department and the Sabah Forestry Department. These were the two agencies that helped establish the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.


Laurel Neme:

It’s unusual to have government agencies so involved in something like this.
Siew Te Wong: Yes. There’s usually lack of interest to set up [conservation] centers by the government. As biologists, as conservationists, we work together to assist the governments to set up the Center. The resources came from private entities and they collaborated with the government. The bears actually “belong” to the government, to the country, so we need to have the Sabah Wildlife Department be involved in the project in order to make it successful. [Plus,] the land that we release the bears into actually belongs to the Forestry Department. It makes sense that [these two departments] are partners on this project.


The funding for this project was not cheap. We needed about $1 million to set it up. Because we had no money to start with we had to raise this money. We divided the project into three different phases. Phase one needed about $400,000. In November 2008, we held a fundraising dinner where we raised close to $300,000 in one evening. That evening the government declared a matching fund. So, this project is half funded by the Sabah government.

The first phase of the project was finished in March 2010 and involved construction of a bear house that can house 20 bears and also a 1-hectare forest enclosure. Now, we’re officially in stage two. This includes refurbishment and upgrading of the old bear house and also renovation of the offices. We’ll have a visitor gallery, boardwalks, and an observation boardwalk for people coming to visit. [Phase III consists of the construction of the second block of bear houses and forested enclosures for 20 additional bears.]

One of the unique things about our project is our location. Our enclosure is next to a well-known orangutan rehabilitation center [Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SOURC)], where hundreds of tourists come. We want to open our facility as well because we want to educate those people about sun bears and let them see sun bears in their natural environment. We also want to generate revenue from tickets to run our conservation and education program. We are side-by-side. The (orangutan) rehabilitation center is run by the Sabah Wildlife Department and my project with sun bears is also a Sabah Wildlife Department Project. So, we share the same facilities. [Due to their close proximity, the BSBCC utilizes existing SOURC veterinary facilities and personnel, parking, access roads and ticket gates. It also links to existing forest trails and boardwalks at SOURC.]

Laurel Neme:

How many bears do you currently have?
Siew Te Wong: The bears at our Center were confiscated by the Sabah Wildlife Department. We have twelve bears right now (May 2010). After our bear house is built, we’ll have another four bears come in about two weeks from now. After that, we have an additional ten other bears lined up to come in. We’ll be at capacity about one month after we finish our first bear house.


This will lead us to phase three in which we build another bear house and another forest enclosure. As you can see, there are a lot of bears in captivity that need to be rescued and taken care of.


Laurel Neme:

Do you have an idea of how many bears need to be rescued?


   Juvenile sun bear. Photo by: Siew Te Wong.
Sun bear at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). Photo by: Siew Te Wong.















Siew Te Wong: In Sabah, there are at least 50 bears that need to be rescued. I’m sure there will be more in the future. [In other places in Southeast Asia] there are hundreds to thousands. Different locations have their own problems.

Laurel Neme:

Are there plans to release them into the wild and what would it take to release them?
Siew Te Wong: It takes a lot of time, resources and manpower to release them. But I think it is the right thing to do and I believe they are [able to be rehabilitated]. It is not easy. It is very time consuming. What we plan to do is select the bears that still have strong instinct and walk them in the forest every day. This is a slow process. We don’t bring the bear into the forest, open a cage, and say “good luck.” We live with the bears in the forest for years until they are strong enough to fend for themselves, until they are knowledgeable enough to know where food is, and until they have established their home range.


Laurel Neme:

Have you already begun to identify bears for release?
Siew Te Wong: Well, we just started. We just moved bears to the bear house and forest enclosure, so we’re just starting to study the individual animals to see who can be the first potential candidates to be released into the wild.



Laurel Neme:

Tell me about some of the bears you have rescued.
Siew Te Wong: One is a bear cub is named Chura. Chura is with us right now. Chura is a good candidate [for rehabilitation and release]. [We have a couple other females] that we’re trying to establish a relationship with the keepers. The bears will trust our keepers and then we’ll eventually be able to walk the bear in the forest hopefully in the next year or so. You can see on my YouTube channel about big males that may or may not be good candidates. We’ll have to observe how they perform in the forest enclosure first. [Note: Beartrek, a big screen movie produced by Wild Life Media about bear research will feature Siew Te Wong trying to reintroduce baby bears into the wild. The promo, available on YouTube, shows Chura.] Laurel Neme:

What makes Chura a good candidate?
Siew Te Wong: Instinct is very crucial. It’s actually pretty sad. For sun bears kept in captivity, they have been kept in small cages or have walked on cement floors for years. They have been fed with human food. [They reach] a point where they lose their instincts. They can’t recognize, for example, termites as their natural food. We have to identify those that still have their instincts. We’ll give them the opportunity to eat termites and present them with decaying wood. They’ll pick it up right away, sniff it, and break it apart, and see what they can get out of the termite nest, or they’ll just leave it alone. The bears that have lost their instincts do not associate that kind of thing as their natural food. These would be bad candidates to release.


Bears are just like humans in that they have different personalities. Some are smarter than others, more alert than others, or more cautious than others. We want to pick out the bears that are alert, smart, and have a strong instinct to forage in the wild. These are the components to their success.


   Detail of sun bear cub. Photo by: Siew Te Wong.
Detail of sun bear cub. Photo by: Siew Te Wong.
















Laurel Neme:

What can people do to help if they get interested in sun bears? Where can they go for more information?
Siew Te Wong: People ask, “How can I help?” I always answer,”whatever you do best!” Artists, help us paint paintings of sun bears and sell it at auctions to raise funds. Reporters report about our work. And, of course, everyone is on Facebook. Join our sun bear conservation Facebook cause. Get in touch with us. Anyone can help.


Understand that sun bears are the least known bears in the world. There are so many people that have heard about polar bears, grizzly bears and giant pandas, but they’ve never heard about sun bears. By helping to spread the word about sun bears, showing people pictures of them, by putting stories about sun bears on Facebook, they help us to promote awareness. Unfortunately, our conservation work spends money. Generally, the amount of money we raise reflects the amount of work we can do to help a species. [But] fundraising for an animal that is not well known is not easy.

Remembering Ah Chong


 Ah Chong our sweet male bear has left us on the morning of February 15th, 2011 due to Congestive Heart Failure caused by an abnormal heart that associated with genetic abnormality. Ah Chong was sent to Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre from Telupid, interior Sabah on Sep 6, 2001, as an adult pet bear locked up in small cage for years. Ever since he was captured as pet, he never touches soil, climb a tree, nor have any contact to the forest, until he was moved to the BSBCC’s first bear house and forest enclosures in April 2010. At his new home, Ah Chong dug the soil, sniffed the forest air, and be like a wild bear. Sometime, he preferred to stay at his indoor den than staying outside in the forest enclosure, because physiologically he thought indoor was safer than in the outdoor as majority of his life was actually spent behind bars on concrete floor.

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We will remember Ah Chong although he is no longer with us anymore. Om the sun bear, Ah Chong’s long time playmate, seem more quite than before, probably grief over the loss of his long time friend. The story of Ah Chong tells the story of a typical caged sun bear. Habitat lost, human encroachment, poaching, female bears being killed, bear cub being captured for pet trade, follows by years and years of living behind bars and confines in small cages for many years until they died from old age, diseases, or mentally breakdown.

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An Chong is finally free from suffering as a sun bear who live in captivity all his life because of human’s cruelty, greed, and naivetivity. From of your supports and help, Ah Chong finally got a chance to live like a wild bear at the very end of his life at the BSBCC’s forest enclosure.


May you rest in peace Ah Chong, we will always miss you and remember you!



Help us protect sun bear and other wildlife habitat in Borneo.

SOS From Borneo to the world!
Thanks to Cynthia Ong of LEAP, and the Green SURF coalition of Sabah, Malaysia, a proposed coal-fired power plant has gone from “done deal” to being debated in the Malaysian Parliament!

To continue this important work, LEAP needs your support and action NOW!
Please share the petition with your network! We need to keep pressure up until the Prime Minister reverses his position!

Thank YOU!!

Land Empowerment Animals People

P/S: Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is a LEAP project

Volunteer’s Diary:sun bears & human-animal conflict

In the next few days, I will post blogs written by Mark Rusli, another voluneet from Singapore who is also an ex-animal keeper at Night Safari Singapore.

You can read all of his original posting at =========================================================

sun bears & human-animal conflict

 By Mark Rusli

As human populations expand and natural habitats shrink, people and animals are increasing coming into conflict over living space and food. The consequences are often huge: people lose their livestock, crops, property, sometimes even their lives. The animals, regardless of whether they are endangered or threatened, are often killed in retaliation, or to prevent future conflicts.

Human-animal conflict is present everywhere.

In the case of the sun bears in Borneo, the large factor contributing to this is the astonishing large number of plantations, mostly palm oil. Large amounts of primary rainforests were cleared for agricultural purposes; until today agriculture plays a huge part in the country’s economy.

The situation gets extremely tricky for the bears: most wildlife seen in plantations are killed on sight because their foraging methods may have destructive long-terms effects on the agriculture grown. If you chase them way, they will come back – killing is justified as a more immediate solution.

Most bear populations are also isolated, scattered to various parts of Borneo. At times they travel to find a mate, or change territory, and this often involves crossing plantations. Even if the bears have no intention of stealing crops, how do farmers know the difference?

Traditional Medicine also contributes to the illegal trade in their products. I’m not just referring to Chinese medicine – the indigenous locals surprisingly have considerable beliefs that link sun bear body parts with having medicinal properties. Some of these beliefs have decades of history, and this makes it hard to combat. They were also brought up associating medicine as a form of mysticism, usually involving magic. Western medicine is probably something they avoid, because it is alien, different and new.

Also, judging from my personal experience with the medical infrastructure here, access to western medicine is really, really limited. If they don’t expand these facilities and make it easier for locals to have access to them, acclimatisation to this new institution will take a painfully long time. Why wait 3 hours for a person in a white suit to jab, probe and give you weird-looking pills, when your village elder, parents and neighbours ALL tell you that bear gall bladder gives you INSTANT! effects?

I’m not sure how many sun bears are still kept as pets, but I think I can safely assume that it is the rich (usually the Chinese) who sustained this practice. It is a status symbol, a wealth indicator, an avenue to express Man’s naked power over other beings….

These problems are not just exclusive to sun bears. As long as both humans and animals are present together, conflict is inevitable. They don’t have a choice, we just barge in their homes and dirty their floors without asking: it’s the equivalent of forced entry. We, on the other hand, have that decision to make. We don’t have a jail-term if found guilty, but we still have to live with it for the rest of our lives.

Unfortunately some of us don’t have that conscience. Is it too late to breed that?

Sunday, May 16th 2010 12:34am

Clips from Orangutan Diary showing the devastating events of habitat destruction in Borneo.

People say a photo is worth a thousand words. I say a video is worth a thousand photos.

Watch for yourself to see how serious is the deforestation in Borneo in the name of producing palm oil to feed human needs and greed.

I just watched the BBC’s Orangutan Diary series few days ago. Although I have seen these deforestations with my own eyes in Borneo, seeing the same thing again from my computer’s screen was equally disturbing. As what Steve put it, “We don’t have to do this!”

Every time when the presenters of the show, Steve Leonard and Michaela Strachan, mentioned that the habitats of orangutans being destroyed due to deforestation and logging, the same thing applied to other Bornean wildlife such as sun bears, clouded leopards, pygmy elephants, critically endangered Sumatran rhinos, gibbons, and many more wild mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibian, etc., etc.

Although disturbing to watch, the world need to see this and know that this is actually happening on the other part of the world where they watch the video from. We are living on the same planet, what ever happen on Borneo or other part of the world, will eventually effect us.

Please help. Please spread the words about the deforestation in Borneo! 

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