Harian Ekspres, 26th May 2015
Harian Ekspres, 26th May 2015
Text by BSBCC
Photos by BSBCC & Scuba Zoo
Finally able to breathe true freedom in the wild…
Just before Christmas 2010 baby cub Natalie was rescued from illegal pet trade and sent to Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) on December 23rd. It was claimed that she was found alone and abandoned by her mother. However, we suspected that her mother was killed by poachers and she was captured and illegally kept as a pet.
A 5 year old adult female beautiful Natalie built up her survival skills, independence and learned to behave like a wild sun bear. Her improvement in her survival skills in the forest enclosure has been excellent. She became an exceptional climber and tree nest maker. After learning in BSBCC for five years Natalie is ready to be released back to where she belongs – the forest. The ultimate goal of BSBCC is to return rehabilitated sun bears back to the wild and on Sunday May 17th, 2015 it was time to follow this goal; BSBCC started the journey to release Natalie back to the protected forest. Previous to her journey she was fitted with a satellite collar to keep track of her even after her release. In order to transport the sun bear to the forest as far as possible we chose to use a helicopter. After a long discussion, Wong decided that the helicopter model Layang-Layang Aerospace Sdn Bhd (BO105) was suitable for our purposes because it could fit transportation cage. This is the first time that a captive sun bear got reintroduced to its natural habitat in Sabah using a helicopter and is monitored post release with the help of a satellite collar. Natalie is ready to live a new life as a truly wild sun bear in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve. The experience she has gathered throughout her 5 years at the rehabilitation centre will help her explore her true home in the core area of Tabin Wildlife Reserve. The core area encompasses 120500 hectares and is a pristine rainforest with no human disturbances but lots of big trees, fig trees and a variety of wildlife.
It was a challenging day. All hopes and prayers were solely for this release activity to go as smoothly as planned. The release team’s preparations already started at 3pm on May 16th, 2015 at the bear house of BSBCC when Sabah Wildlife Department vet, Dr. Laura Benedict started the sedation process. A full physical health examination showed that Natalie was completely healthy at 45kg of weight. Dr. Laura Benedict inserted a microchip into Natalie’s body.
Natalie was then moved to her translocation cage. Natalie’s journey started on a WRU truck to Wildlife Department Quarter Lahad Datu in the east of Sabah, two hours from BSBCC. Natalie was kept in the translocation cage overnight close to the veterinarians, the WRU team and the team of BSBCC. She was under constant observation and fed with water, honey and banana. Natalie seemed to be stressed in the translocation cage, but freedom was just around the corner.
The team woke up early in the morning on May 17th 2015, and got ready at Tabin Headquarter at 6.30 am. After a full assessment, the weather was considered safe for the helicopter to land at Tabin Headquarter. Once the helicopter arrived, the operation was split into three different trips. With the first two trips the team entered the mud volcano of Tabin to evaluate and identify the most suitable release site.
At 10.17 am, it was Natalie’s turn to be flown to Tabin mud volcano
Once Natalie arrived, the team set up the translocation cage in the correct direction for release. Dr. Laura conducted a final check, to ensure that Natalie was ready to enter her new home!
A 20 m rope was tied to the sliding gate of the cage. The team stood 15 m away from the translocation cage.
As soon as the door of her cage was opened, Natalie straight headed into the forest. She explored everything, sniffed the air of Tabin and assessed her new environment before disappearing into the tall tree canopy of the forest. Tabin Wildlife Reserve has welcomed her into a new protected home. The emotions running through the forest while watching Natalie enjoying her newfound freedom are un-describable. A heart-warming moment filled with tears of joy.
Wildlife Rescue Unit team, Tabin Rangers, BSBCC team and Scuba Zoo Filming Crews in Tabin Headquarter. Thanks for all your support in helping sun bear and release work.
Natalie! Stay healthy, happy and keep growing gracefully!
You will always be in our hearts!
The Rakyat Post, 25th May 2015
SANDAKAN, May 25, 2015:
Almost five years after she was found abandoned as a cub in the forest, a sun bear named Natalie returned to her natural habitat deep in a wildlife reserve near Lahad Datu on May 17.
Natalie’s release also created history for the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC).
She is the first rescued bear to be released to the wild since the centre started receiving and caring for orphaned and rescued sun bears seven years ago.
The BSBCC and Sabah Wildlife Department are monitoring Natalie’s movements and progress at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve through a satellite collar fitted on her.
She was airlifted by a helicopter from Layang-Layang Aerospace Sdn Bhd into the interior of the protected area, away from settlements and oil palm plantations.
BSBCC’s chief executive officer and founder Wong Siew Te said Natalie, which was surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department in Lahad Datu by a local man in December 2010, had matured into a healthy young adult under its care.
Wong said Natalie was about three months old when she arrived at the centre, and that it was suspected that, like so many other bear cubs, her mother was killed by a poacher and captured to be kept illegally as a pet.
The person who surrendered her claimed she was found abandoned in the forest.
“She has grown well into adulthood at our centre for over four years. We walked with her in the forest (in Sepilok) during her first year.
“Such walks are an important part of rehabilitation for rescued pet sun bears so that they can learn to live like wild bears by developing essential survival skills like foraging, climbing, nest building and socialising.
“Natalie grew up in natural forest enclosures in BSBCC with tall trees, dense vegetation and significant amounts of natural food items such as termites, earthworms, insects and honey from beehives,” said Wong in a statement today.
He said the release of Natalie was a joint effort of BSBCC, Sabah Wildlife Department and the Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU), Danau Girang Field Centre.
Wong also noted WRU head Dr Sen Nathan and veterinarian Dr Laura Benedict and Dr Diana Ramirez’s dedication and contribution in the effort.
Meanwhile, department director William Baya commended BSBCC for initiating the release project.
“The release of Natalie is a sign of BSBCC’s success and I believe more bears will be released into the wild in the near future,” William said.
Sun bears are a totally protected species under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.
Malay Mail Online, 25th May 2015
Text by Julia Chan
KOTA KINABALU, May 25 — Natalie, the sun bear in Sabah who was rescued after poachers killed her mother, became the first to be released into the wild after she returned to the reserve forests of Lahad Datu last week.
Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) founder Wong Siew Te said Natalie, who arrived at the centre in December 2010 aged three months, has come of age in the four and a half years under their care and that the rare sun bear is now ready to fend for herself.
“Releasing her was a moment of bittersweet joy,” Wong told Malay Mail Online today.
“I cared for her like a daughter. I had brought her for walks in the forest, fed her, taught her what food to identify and played with her. It was sad to let her go but I know she belongs in the forest,” he added.
Natalie was transported to her new home in a Lahad Datu forest reserve by a helicopter provided by Layang-Layang Aerospace Sdn Bhd.Natalie was one of 35 sun bears kept in captivity, most of which were brought there as cubs after their mothers were killed by poachers. BSBCC has kept a total of 43 sun bears, which are the smallest bear species in the world, since the centre was established.
“Young sun bears are cute and people want to keep them as pets. The person who surrendered her claimed she was found abandoned in the forest,” Wong said.
The BSBCC and Sabah Wildlife Department have been monitoring Natalie’s movements and progress at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve through a satellite collar fitted on her, after she was airlifted by a helicopter from Layang-Layang Aerospace Sdn Bhd into the protected area, away from settlements and oil palm plantations.
Part of Natalie’s rehabilitation process included walks in the forest to learn to live like wild bears by developing essential survival skills like foraging, climbing, nest building and socialising.
“Natalie grew up in natural forest enclosures in BSBCC with tall trees, dense vegetation and significant amounts of natural food items such as termites, earthworms, insects and honey from bee hives,” said Wong.
He expressed confidence of her survival especially after an escape last year that saw her fend for herself for 37 days before she was recaptured and brought home in a healthy condition.
The field crew carried Natalie to the release spot.He said the release of Natalie was a joint effort of BSBCC, SWD and the Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU), Danau Girang Field Centre.
“The release of Natalie is a sign of BSBCC’s success and I believe more bears will be released into the wild in the near future,” said SWD director William Baya.
Meanwhile, Wong stressed that BSBCC aims to protect sun bears through a holistic approach that incorporates improvement of animal welfare for captive bears, education, research and rehabilitation.
Natalie’s first moments of freedom in the wild.Sun bears are a Totally Protected Species under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997. It is not known how many sun bears are in the wild but Wong estimated the numbers to be less than orangutans, which number about 11,000 in Sabah.
The Bornean sun bear is a subspecies of the Malayan sun bears. Its main threats are habitat loss and human poachers.
Traditional Asian medicine practitioners believes bear fat, gall, bile, meat, paws, spinal cord, blood, and bones can cure a range of complaints from baldness to rheumatism. The profitability of the bear’s gallbladder has been likened to the heroin trade, as dried gall can sell for 18 times the price of gold.
In Sabah, any offenders who are found guilty of harming, keeping sun bears, or possessing sun bear parts are subject to imprisonment of five years and a fine of RM50,000, or both.
In addition, killing a sun bear is punishable with a mandatory jail sentence of no less than six months but not exceeding five years.
Bernama.com, 25th May 2015
SANDAKAN, 25 Mei (Bernama) — Selepas hampir lima tahun ditemui terbiar dalam hutan, seekor beruang madu betina bernama Natalie kembali ke habitat asal di kawasan hutan simpan hidupan liar berhampiran Lahad Datu pada 17 Mei lalu.
Pelepasan Natalie juga mencatat sejarah tersendiri kepada Pusat Pemuliharaan Beruang Madu Borneo (BSBCC) memandangkan ia merupakan beruang pertama dilepaskan ke habitat asal sejak pusat itu mula menerima dan menjaga beruang-beruang madu yang kehilangan induk sejak tujuh tahun lalu.
BSBCC dan Jabatan Hidupan Liar Sabah juga memantau pergerakan Natalie dan perkembangannya di Hutan Simpan Hidupan Liar Tabin melalui kolar satelit pada lehernya, selepas ia dibawa menggunakan helikopter dari Layang-Layang Aerospace Sdn Bhd ke kawasan pedalaman yang dilindungi, jauh dari penempatan dan ladang kelapa sawit.
Ketua pegawai eksekutif dan pengasas BSBCC Wong Siew Te berkata Natalie yang diserahkan kepada Jabatan Hidupan Liar Sabah di Lahad Datu oleh seorang penduduk tempatan pada Disember 2010 telah matang dan dewasa di bawah penjagaan pihaknya.
Wong berkata Natalie hanya berusia tiga bulan semasa tiba di pusat itu dan dipercayai seperti anak-anak beruang madu lain, induknya dibunuh oleh pemburu haram sementara ia ditangkap dan dipelihara secara tidak sah sebagai binatang kesayangan walaupun orang yang menyerahkannya mendakwa ia ditemui terbiar di dalam hutan.
“Ia telah membesar sehingga dewasa di pusat ini sejak empat tahun lalu. Kami berjalan-jalan di hutan (di Sepilok) dengannya pada tahun pertama. Ia amat penting dalam proses pemulihan beruang madu yang terselamat supaya ia belajar untuk hidup di habitat asal seperti beruang liar dengan melatihnya kemahiran asas untuk hidup seperti memanjat, membuat sarang, bergaul dan mencari makanan.
“Natalie membesar dalam hutan semula jadi di BSBCC dengan pokok-pokok tinggi, tumbuhan yang padat dan makanan semula jadi yang banyak seperti semut, cacing tanah, serangga dan madu,” kata Wong dalam kenyataan di sini Isnin.
Beliau berkata pelepasan Natalie itu merupakan hasil usaha sama antara BSBCC, Jabatan Hidupan Liar Sabah dan Unit Menyelamat Hidupan Liar (WRU), Pusat Lapangan Danau Girang, serta ucapan terima kasih kepada ketua WRU Dr Sen Nathan dan doktor haiwan Drs Laura Benedict serta Diana Ramirez atas sikap dedikasi mereka membantu beruang madu itu dan kerja-kerja pelepasannya.
Pengarah jabatan William Baya turut memuji BSBCC berhubung usaha menjaga dan melepaskan beruang madu terbabit.
“Pelepasan Natalie merupakan tanda kejayaan BSBCC dan saya percaya lebih banyak beruang madu akan dilepaskan ke habitat asal pada masa akan datang,” kata William.
Sementara itu, Wong menjelaskan BSBCC mahu melindungi beruang madu melalui pendekatan holistik membabitkan pembaikan kebajikan haiwan untuk beruang-beruang yang ditangkap, pendidikan, penyelidikan dan pemulihan.
Beruang madu merupakan Spesies Yang Dilindungi Sepenuhnya di bawah Enakmen Pemuliharaan Hidupan Liar Sabah 1997.
Sesiapa yang didapati bersalah mencedera, memiliki, atau menyimpan mana-mana bahagian beruang madu boleh dipenjara sehingga lima tahun dan denda RM50,000 atau kedua-duanya.
Sebagai tambahan, membunuh beruang madu akan dipenjara mandatori tidak kurang enam bulan dan tidak lebih lima tahun.
Orang ramai digesa melaporkan kepada jabatan atau BSBCC jika mengetahui sebarang kegiatan haram berkaitan beruang madu.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Kala, is the youngest female cub of the many sun bears being cared for at the BSBCC. She was originally bought by someone in Kalabakan, near the Maliau Basin. The owner had intended to save the cub, but soon thereafter Kala was surrendered to the Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit. When she arrived at the BSBCC on January 21st 2015 very little was known about her circumstances other than she has been separated from her mother at a very young age. The poachers usually kill the mothers in the forest in order to poach the bear cubs, which are then kept as pets or sold to illegal wildlife traders in South East Asia.
She was emaciated and malnourished upon arrival but the BSBCC staff has been caring for her around the clock to make her feel secure and confident. Kala has gained weight over the past few months and now weighs 10.35 kg. She has made much progress in the last three months, and we are very happy for her. Kala has a good appetite and eats and drinks all of the milk and fruit given to her. We have also noticed that she is starting to get her permanent teeth.
Kala is everything a cub should be – playful, inquisitive and sweet natured. It is a great joy to report that Kala finished her quarantine time on February 21st, 2015. We began regularly taking her out for walks in the forest on February 26th, 2015. This forest walk helps the sun bear cubs become wild bears again.
She adjusted quickly to her new surroundings and demonstrated her ability to find forest foods and travel in the canopy. Kala enjoys searching for termites and earthworms in the soil, which are some of the most important food sources for sun bears.
She has a unique behavior of eating soil, which is something another sub-adult bear named Mary does. When she comes across something unexpected like a millipede or giant ant she is very cautious, shows little interest, and then runs away.
Kala loves spending her time lying on forest floor and grabbing dry leaves or branches to bite and play with. She has become more active and energetic, and her favorite activities include digging, eating soil, and playing. After she has exhausted herself exploring, she will rest for a while before continuing on to her next activity.
After she has exhausted herself exploring, she will rest for a while before continuing on to her next activity.
Sun bear cubs often play fight to help develop skills they will need in the wild. When Kala wants to play with the BSBCC staff, she grabs at their boots to initiate a play fight. She also likes to show off her small canines and claws while she is playing.
Sun bears are arboreal animals; however Kala was not quite so confident when it came to her climbing skills. She can be a bit fussy when we put her up in the trees for a climbing lesson.
In order for her to learn how to climb trees, our bear keeper and volunteer, Rica and Thomas, built a new climbing structure for little Kala. This type of enrichment was specially made to help prepare her for the life back to the wild. Kala has taken great delight in learning how to climb the structure, and will soon be enjoying all of the enrichment structures provided in the den.
On March 28th, 2015 it was great to observe the confidence Kala demonstrated when using her claws and canine strength to climb the liana. Now, she is keeping rather busy with her own activities and likes digging dead wood, resting, and playing.
Sun bear cubs depend on and stay with their mothers for about two to three years. Kala lost her mother at a very young age and now has to learn by herself how to survive in the wild. She has a long way to go through rehabilitation, but we are happy that her forest skills are improving day by day. We are absolutely delighted that Kala will have the second chance to live in the wild again once she is ready for life in the real forest.
Sun bears are the smallest bear species in the world. Please help spread the word that this animal belongs in the wild and should not be kept as a pet, no matter what the circumstance may be. Together we make the difference!
Hi my name is Ryan and I am from Melbourne, Australia. I recently volunteered at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, and what an amazing experience it was. Where do I start?
I have never worked with such a fantastic, smart, dedicated, motivated, helpful and caring group of people before. All the staff at the centre are truly dedicated and passionate about what they are doing. This comes through clearly when you work along side them. You only have to talk to the founder of the centre, Wong, for a few seconds before you see his passion for the Sun Bears and his vision of what they are working towards achieving at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre. Working with all the other staff you can definitely see Wong’s passion and drive is shared amongst all at the centre.
Next up is the beautiful Sun Bears. My time volunteering at the centre was my first ever encounter with the worlds smallest bears. Working with this unique and amazing animals has definitely left a deep and lasting impression on me.
Each of the bears have their own unique personalities and characters. When I first started working with the bears I thought that I would never be able to tell them apart. But with in a few days working I start to figure out each bears unique traits and personalities. From the aggressive male Bermuda, to the independent female Natalie, to the portly Kuamut, or best friends Cerah and Jelita. Each of the bears also have their own unique chest marking which can be helpful in telling them apart.
One of my favourite experiences with the bears was when we gave them new enrichment. It is so fascinating to watch them trying to figure out how to open up a nest ball or bamboo puzzle. A highlight is definitely coconut time. When the bears get their paws on a coconut this is a sight to behold. They start by grabbing the coconut and tapping around the fruit until they find a weak spot. Once the weakness is exposed they immediately sink a claw in and set at ripping it apart. Within seconds the coconut is down to just the centre. The bears then grab the remainder of the nut and repeatedly throw it against the hard ground until they hear it crack open. Now its time to lie on their back and drizzle the watery contents into their mouths.
For me it is sad that the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre even has to exist in the first place (though I am very happy it does exist to help these Bears in need). From the illegal pet trade, to poaching, and palm plantation deforestation, there are many threats to these amazing animals, which all stem from human greed and carelessness.
The bears are very lucky to have the amazingly people at BSBCC looking after them. It is very satisfying to know that all the hard work and dedicating of the staff and volunteers is leading towards the eventual release of the bears back to the forest where they belong.
Working at the BSBCC is a challenging and rewarding experience. The day starts with cleaning. We would set to work on cleaning the bear pens. Scrubbing, brushing, hosing and wheelbarrows full of bear faeces. Good hard tiring work, but enjoyable none the less. Then food preparation. Weighing, washing and cutting of an assortment of different fruits and vegetables (Bananas, Papaya, Sweet Potato, Durian, Coconut, Eggs and Duku)
Next up is the morning feeding of the bears. We started off with feeding the bears that have remained in their cages for the day. We would grab to grab two large handfuls of fruits and throw them to the top of the their cages. This makes the bears climb to the top of their cages, making them have to work for their food and having to try and pull the fruit through the top bars.
We then walked around the Outdoor Enclosure throwing fruit to the active outside bears. We would sit there for a while watching them enjoy their meal before then making our way back to the kitchen to prepare the bears afternoon snack of porridge (I know right… Goldielocks and all).
PORRIDGE TIME! All the bears return to their pens for the night so it is time for their porridge treat. Each bear receives one tray of porridge. The tray is slid into the cage through a slot in the door. The bears know what is going on as they sit at the doors eagerly anticipating their afternoon treat. SLURP. Within seconds the tray is licked completely clean.
The afternoon tasks changed daily. From trekking into the forest to collect logs and woods for the bears, to making bear enrichment such as nest balls, or constructing hammocks for the bears to play in. It was always exciting to come back to work after lunch to find out what I would be working on that afternoon.
Other tasks we worked on were decorating the day pen for the young Sun Bear cubs in quarantine with dry leaves, logs and fresh leaves and branches. I also got to assist with installing same sections of electrified fencing in the outdoor enclosure.
Part of the volunteer program also included working at the visitors viewing platform. Here we talked to the visitors about the bears and I did my best at trying to answer any of the question they had about the bears and the what goes on at the centre. I found this a great opportunity for myself to learn more about Sun Bears and the conservation efforts that are being implemented to help them.
Natalies New Hammock
One definite highlight was they day that my fellow volunteers and myself got to construct a new hammock for Sun Bear Natalie.
Azzry (one of the keepers) lead us to the supply closet were we procured 2 large fire hoses, a drill and a bucket of nuts and bolts. We took all of our supplies out into the yard and rolled out the hoses. The hoses were then cut into sections of equal length, and these lengths were then weaved through each others. At the end we fixed the sections of fire hoses together by drilling holes through them and using nuts and bolts to secure them. Once all of the hose sections had been secured together we drilled holes in each corner and passed rope through them (so we could secure the hammock to the sides of Natalie’s cage).
We dragged our creation inside and into Natalie’s cage. Using a ladder I secured the hammock to the top corners of the cage. Happy with my work I decided to test out my work (I wanted to make sure that it wouldn’t break when Natalie got on it). I jumped into the hammock and to my surprise it was stable and comfortable (and I knew it wouldn’t have any trouble holding the bears weight, as I weigh 2 and bit Natalie’s.
It was now time to get Natalie’s opinion on her new addition to her cage. The keepers secured the door of the cage and let Natalie in so we could get her reaction. The Sun Bear slowly walked into her cage realising that something was different from the last time she was in there. Looking up she immediately noticed the hammock and instantly scaled the side of the cage to get in. Getting in the hammock she sniffed around a little at first, then started rolling and playing on it. This was one of the most satisfying moments of my trip. To see one of these beautiful animals enjoying and playing on something that I worked hard on to build is amazing. It gave me real goosebumps to see her roll around playing on our fire hose construction.
Sad to leave
It has been very hard for me to adjust and return back home to Australia. I miss everything from my time volunteering. I miss Sabah, I miss Sandakan, I miss the rainforest, I miss the constant noises of the forest, I miss the wonderful local people, I miss the wild animals that surround the centre, I really miss the all the Sun Bears, and most of all I miss all the amazing people I had the pleasure of working with at the BSBCC. I am eagerly anticipating the news of the first release from the centre of Sun Bear Natalie.
I will definitely be visiting again soon. Thank you.
Text and Photos by Chiew Lin May
Kudat, a seven year old adult male bear came into BSBCC in July 2010, after he and a female sun bear, named Panda were rescued from a private zoo in Kampung Perapat, Kudat, Malaysia called Victory Mini Zoo.
Kudat spent more than two years of his life in the forest enclosure. The majority of his daily activity is exploring, digging for food, and eating and resting. He is halfway to his new life as a wild forest dweller but is not quite confident when it comes to climbing trees.
What is done inside the forest enclosure though can make a world of difference to Kudat. There is really no limit to enrichment either. On January 8th, 2015, Thye Lim, our Centre Operation Executive, and our bear team had an idea that we could achieve a significant change in Kudat’s behaviour through creative and consistent enrichment which encouraged Kudat to learn to climb a tree.
We are delighted to report that Kudat is now climbing high in the trees. He started practicing his climbing skills by heading straight to the tops of the trees to explore the enrichments. We.We found that he was not aware he was climbing trees like true wild sun bears do. Sun bears have long, curve claws which help them to climb trees. It was no surprise that Kudat became confident and has adapted to arboreal life in the forest.
This news of Kudat learning to climb trees in the forest brought us all great joy and is a good example for the other adult male bears!
By Lauren Hill
Amidst the lush rainforest of Sabah, orangutans swing through the forest canopy, hornbills sail overhead and Borneo’s distinctive Proboscis monkeys congregate by the riverbanks. But there’s a far less known endemic species that’s recently been receiving more attention, thanks to the opening of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, founded by conservationist Wong Siew Te.
“Sun Bears are such a special animal from head to toe,” Wong says passionately, “When I build up a relationship with our rescued orphan sun bear cubs, they trust me 100 percent and treat me like their real mother. This feeling is so precious, yet very sad for the bears.”
“SUN BEARS ARE SUCH A SPECIAL ANIMAL FROM HEAD TO TOE. WHEN I BUILD UP A RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR RESCUED ORPHAN SUN BEAR CUBS, THEY TRUST ME 100 PERCENT.”
Hailing from Malaysia, Wong first became interested in sun bears while studying at university in the United States, so on returning to his home country he started to undertake his own fieldwork on the nation’s rare sun bears. It was at this time that Wong realised the importance of protecting this species.
“I learned that many sun bears were being kept in captivity,” he explains, “all of these captive sun bears suffered tremendously. I felt their stress and fear when I saw them locked in small cages. I felt so sorry for these animals and became concerned with their welfare and future.”
Over in Sabah, Wong set out to create a charity and conservation centre that could protect Borneo’s endemic sun bear.
Overcoming the challenges of funding such a big project, Wong founded the conservation centre alongside the neighbouring Sepilok orangutan sanctuary, and since January 2014 it has been open to the public.
“When we’re walking the rescued orphaned sun bear cubs in the forest, we act like their mothers. They trust us with all of their heart and are totally dependent on us for their future. I often say to myself, what could be more meaningful than helping these poor little creatures.”
The centre focuses on the welfare of the rescued sun bears, and the bears’ eventual rehabilitation into the wild, as well as education and research. “We provide a proper facility to house and care for sun bears that have been captive,” Wong explains, “In short, we improve their welfare and their living conditions that were once very poor.”
“Sun bears are the least known of all bears,” he continues, “so many people aren’t aware of their presence in the forest and their conservation status, let alone the importance of sun bears to the forest ecosystem, and the importance of the forest to all living organisms on Earth.”
“SUN BEARS ARE THE LEAST KNOWN OF ALL BEARS, SO MANY PEOPLE AREN’T AWARE OF THEIR PRESENCE IN THE FOREST AND THEIR CONSERVATION STATUS.”
“The very first step to conserving sun bears is to educate the public of the bears’ plight. Since sun bears are still the least understood bears in the world, we hope the centre can be an important hub for sun bear research.”
After being kept in quarantine for 30 days and having their health checked, the bears are free to move to the bear house where they start the integration process, before being released into the natural forest enclosure.
Ultimately, the centre hopes to release each bear back into the wild. “Sun bears belong in the wild and not in captivity, so we would like to give the bears a second chance.
Visitors to the centre have the opportunity to see these sun bears in their natural environment, from an observation platform. “This is unique,” Wong says, “because sun bears are very difficult to observe in the wild. They are very rare and shy, and they live in dense tropical forest. Here, visitors can observe, photograph, and video their natural behaviour in the forest enclosure, and sometimes see the bears climb as high as 40 metres above the ground.” Around the observation platform, guides are on-hand to talk about the sun bears.
“SUN BEARS BELONG IN THE WILD AND NOT IN CAPTIVITY, SO WE WOULD LIKE TO GIVE THE BEARS A SECOND CHANCE.”
Wong concludes: “I hope more and more people learn about these bears and their plight, and take more action to help them. And I hope that people no longer harm the bears or damage their habitat. I hope more people can support the work we do to protect sun bears, as well as their rainforest habitat.”
Find out more about the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre and make a donation through the charity’s website.
Text and Photo Chiew Lin May
Look who is moving on up! In June this year, something exciting happened in the forest. Damai, a beautiful two-years-old sub adult female sun bear with black eyes full of curiosity and energy is finally stepped onto the forest floor on last week 3rd June 2014.
Currently, Damai shares her enclosure with six other sun bears, namely Mary, Debbie, Koko, Ah Bui, Fulung and Bongkud. It was observed that once Damai was out in the forest enclosure, she tried to avoid the other bear friends. She ran, stood on her hind legs and kept growling, this might be due to her fearfulness and insecurity in the new environment. The other bears were curious and puzzled, they seemed like “What happening to Damai?” All of them, especially Koko tried to approach and sniff her. It took sometimes for Damai to feel more relaxed and began to explore the surroundings. The door of bear house will be kept open for one week so that Damai could go in and out as she wishes until she gains back her confidence and sense of security.
Damai is independent in nature. She knows what she wants and tries to take care of her own needs all by herself. She seldom interacts with the other female playmates except for Fulung, the sub adult male bear. When the other female bears try to approach her, she will start growling, try not to have anything to do with them and walks off alone into the forest. It seems that the other five female bears have to be gentle with little Damai.
When it comes to feeding time, the staffs scatter the food, Damai would usually be the last in line, while the other bears help themselves with the fruits first. Nevertheless, Damai is an excellent forager in the wild. Even with her small size, she would enthusiastically searching for insects and fruits in the forest enclosure.
Remember that when come to walking in the forest with the bear staffs, Damai behaves the same way as when she was first brought to walk in the forest at the age of five months. It is amazing to watch Damai getting back her freedom, foraging for food, roaming around the forest and in tune with the new surroundings. She never hesitates to climb trees as high as she could go and keep perfecting her arboreal skills. Damai likes to gaze up into the trees and into the sky. It stole our heart to know that she is still a wild sun bear. This is such an exciting moment!
After spending hours in the forest observing Damai’s behaviour, we hope that after a few months, Damai will adapt herself with the life in the forest enclosure and with the other new bears. We are certain that one day Damai will be happy and live freely as a wild sun bear in the forest.