Tag Archives: conservation

Two rare Malayan sun bears found in abandoned Cambodian garment factory

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/02/22/two-rare-malayan-sun-bears-found-in-abandoned-cambodian-garment-factory/

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, February 22, 2013 9:15 EST

Sun bear Dawy at Phnom Tamao Zoo south of Phnom Penh in 2008. (AFP)

 
 

Two rare Malayan sun bears have been rescued in Cambodia after being discovered in an abandoned garment factory, a zoo official said Friday.

The male and female bears were rescued by officials from the Phnom Tamao Zoo and the Wildlife Alliance, who found them in the factory in southern Kandal province last week, according to zoo director Nhek Rattanak Pich.

“The bears were left with no food and no one to care for them after the factory owner fled the country,” the Wildlife Alliance said on its website.

The group said local authorities had called them after the bears were found in purpose-built cages at the factory, which closed without notice in December.

The bears are now being cared for at the zoo, its director said, adding that he did not know why they had been kept at the factory.

The Malayan sun bear is found primarily in Southeast Asia and is classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Bears are among many species that have been decimated by wildlife trafficking in Asia, which is fuelled in large part by China’s massive appetite for exotic meats and animal parts for traditional medicine.

 
 
 
 

Medicine practitioners urged to help reduce bear bile demand

http://www.traffic.org/home/2012/11/16/medicine-practitioners-urged-to-help-reduce-bear-bile-demand.html

Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia 16th November 2012—“Traditional medicine practitioners have a crucial role to play in reducing the demand for bear bile and gallbladder that drives the illegal trade in South-East Asia’s bears,” TRAFFIC told delegates to the 9th World Congress of Chinese Medicine held in Kuching, Sarawak in Malaysia last week.

The Congress, one of the industry’s most important annual gatherings, serves as a platform for specialists from all over the world to present the latest developments in Chinese medicine. The theme of this year’s Congress was Traditional Chinese Medicine—contributing factor to the harmony of humans and nature.

Speaking at the Congress, TRAFFIC Deputy Regional Director in South-East Asia, Dr Chris R. Shepherd, described how TRAFFIC’s research had shown that continued demand for traditional medicines made from bear parts and derivatives posed a severe threat to wild bear populations in Asia.

Both bear species in South-East Asia—the Asian Black Bear Ursus thibetanus and Sun Bear Helarctos malayanus—are hunted, especially for their gallbladder, which contains bile—a key ingredient in some traditional medicines.

A 2011 TRAFFIC study, Pills, Powders, Vials & Flakes: The bear bile trade in Asia (PDF, 1 MB), had shown such trade to be widespread, often carried out openly, despite it being illegal, and revealed that many of the farms supplying bear gallbladder and bile are stocking their facilities with wild-caught bears and not captive bred ones as often claimed.

Surveys have repeatedly found China to be the main source of the bear bile products on sale throughout South-East Asia. Such international trade in South-East Asian bears, and their parts and derivatives, is strictly prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Both South-East Asian bear species are listed in Appendix I of the Convention, which prohibits international commercial trade. They are also both listed as Vulnerable by IUCN, because of their declining populations in the wild.

In September 2012, a Motion to phase out bear bile extraction facilities stocked with wild-caught bears was overwhelmingly passed at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, held in Jeju, South Korea.

The Motion also recommended Parties to CITES to implement fully the legislation to prevent illegal international trade in Asian Black and Sun Bears and products derived from them, and promote greater public awareness of these issues to reduce the demand for bear products.

“While the IUCN Motion is a step in the right direction, it is absolutely critical too that efforts be made to reduce greatly the demand for bear bile. In addition to increased enforcement efforts, active participation from the traditional medicine practitioners and retailers is essential to meet this goal,” said Shepherd.

TRAFFIC is also urging authorities to step up their efforts to shut down the illegal trade, and ensure those violating CITES and national legislations are penalized.

“There are legal herbal alternatives to bear bile – consumers need to be made aware of this and be persuaded to stop using medicine containing bear bile,” added Shepherd.

 

Saving the World’s Smallest Bear –

 http://behindtheschemes.org/2012/02/25/saving-the-worlds-smallest-bear/

Episode 2: “Saving the World’s Smallest Bear”
Guest: Siew Te Wong, Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre
Host: Rhishja Cota-Larson

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/UOSKfkXsueA" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Farmer mistakes kin for sun bear and shoots him

Original posted at http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2012/2/18/nation/10759114&sec=nation

A FARMER mistook his cousin for a bear and shot and killed him in Sabah, Harian Metro reported.

The 42-year-old farmer said he went on a hunting trip with Nuis Upil, 36, and two other friends at about 2pm in Ulu Sungai Mususur, Tambunan, on Wednesday.

The farmer aimed his bakakuk (home-made gun) at a rambutan tree and fired, causing Nuis to fall from the tree that he had been climbing.

The hunting party then started searching for the “animal” and was shocked to see Nuis lying in a pool of blood.

Keningau OCPD Deputy Supt Zahari Mohamed confirmed that the farmer and his friends were in custody to assist in investigations.

> The daily also reported that exotic animal parts are a big hit, especially among senior citizens wanting to boost their sexual energy.

Otters and crocodiles are among the most sought after, it said.

It is illegal to trade animal organs and sellers can be charged under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010. However, this had not stopped traders from selling their products in villages as well as public places.

According to an Indonesian trader, his products were very popular among male senior citizens.

“Money is not an issue for my customers because most of them are desperate to improve their sexual performance, especially men who have younger wives,” he said.

Kelantan Perhilitan director Rahmat Topani said those who continued to sell animal parts of protected species would have to face the consequences.

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Wong’s notes:

This sad accident indicated a few things:

1) Conservation education is HIGHLY needed to educate local communities about the protection status of many wildlife. Most local folks and communities do not aware of the legal status of a bear. Sun bears are totally protected species. No one is allow to kill, harass, keep, eat, or harm sun bear by any mean.

2) Sun bear still highly sought by the poachers. Their hunting/poaching pressures are still high despite national laws and state law prohibit anyone to do so.

3) Conservation and protection of sun bears need every one to take part – local communities, general public, stakeholders, land owners, biologists, government officials, law enforcements.

My condolence to the victim family.

Evidence mounting on snared sun bears

The three-footed sun bear reported at The Bornean Post recently is not the first of its kind.

THE VICTIM: The three-footed Malayan sun bear. Its injury is consistent with an animal having lost a limb while trying to free itself from a snare. — Photo by WWF-Malaysia/Mark Rayan.

THE VICTIM: The three-footed Malayan sun bear. Its injury is consistent with an animal having lost a limb while trying to free itself from a snare. — Photo by WWF-Malaysia/Mark Rayan.

The photo of this three-footed sun bear was captured by camera traps set by WWF Malaysia Team in the forest of Belum-Temengor Forest Reserve, northern West Malaysia. The bear was another victim of snares set to trap wildlife illegally in the forest. All terrestrial animals that roam the forest floor- from pheasants, lizards, pangolins, mouse deer, muntjacs, sambar deer, tigers, leopards, sun bears, tapirs, to elephants, can easily become targets of snares set by poachers in this region.

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Snare or “jerat” in local Malay name, is a very common method of catching wildlife in this part of the world. The snares are simple, easy to construct and set, but effective and deadly to any wildlife that comes across its path. Only a piece of wire, cable, nylon rope, or heavy fishing line is needed from the poachers and the rest of the materials are taken from the surrounding to construct a snare: a tree sampling that act as a spring, few twigs as stepping board and triggering device. These snares are set on animal trails, near water wallows, salt licks, and other important wildlife traveling paths to increase successful catch. Sometime the poachers also construct simple but effective “fences” with a few small gaps (doors) where snares are set on these gaps. The fences drive/channel wildlife traveling on the forest floor to the gaps and the deadly snares. These fences often measured hundreds of meters with several dozens to a hundred of snares set on a “snare line” are norm to keen poachers.      

 Snare fence with a little "door" that funnel terrestrial wildlife into this particular spot with a snare loop set underneath this "door."

Snare fence with a little "door" that funnel terrestrial wildlife into this particular spot with a snare loop set underneath this "door."

Victims of snares typically being killed slowly from injuries at the snare sites, after days of struggling to break free from the snares before the poachers came to check for their captures. Injuries from doing so cause excessive blood loss, broken bones, dehydration, stress, and infection. In some rare cases, other predatory species may prey upon the snared victims for an easy meal. Some animals that were slightly luckier managed to break free from snares by either pulling and twisting the snares with immense force until it was broken (imagine that snares are typically made from steel cable, wire, nylon ropes, and heavy fishing lines, breaking those tough materials are not easy tusk), or, in most cases where the snares failed to break, their caught arm or feet, “broke”. In these cases, the victims deliberately chewed their paws/arm off so that their arm/feet can be freed from the snare and escaped. The escaped victims can either die slowly from these injuries from blood loss and infection, or, their body successfully fought the infection and wounds from the missing feet/arm/leg healed, such as this sun bear featured in this newspaper article.

With more researchers studying wildlife in Southeast Asia recently, we see more and more evidence of sun bears victimized by snares in the forest. This year alone, I have known of five different cases of sun bears being injured by snares. They represent a tip of an iceberg as many of the snared victims were injured and being killed unnoticed.   

These sun bears were the survivals of snared victims:

Krau Wildlife Reserve, Pahang, West Malaysia. I was on a field operation to assist a local Malaysia student trapping wild sun bear for a radio-telemetry study on March 2011, we caught this 77 kg male sun bear with a missing front paw. “Beruang kudung” or “the amputated bear” is what the local aborigines called him. The missing paw probably resulted from the bear chewed off his own paw in an attempt to escape from snare. The wound healed. The bear survived! Lucky bear indeed!

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Two weeks earlier, the same team caught another male bears with old snared wound on his hind foot, and fresh snared wound on his front foot. This bear was snared at least twice!

Kerinchi National Park, Sumatra. 2011: Sun Bear researcher Wai Ming Wong from Kent University, UK., photographed this three-footed bear from camera trap. The wound on the foot was almost a clean cut like being amputated on a surgical table.

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Batang Turu Forest, Sumatra. 2011: Gabriella Frederickson, a well known sun bear biologist, set up camera traps in the forest reserve and took this picture of sun bear with two snare wounds in its right arm. Obviously the bear managed to escape with minor injuries. Will this bear be so lucky the next time when it is snare again?

 Capture

 

Belum-Temengor Forest Reserve, Perak, West Malaysia. 2011. WWF-Malaysia team working with tiger photographed this sun bear with missing paw with camera traps. 

THE VICTIM: The three-footed Malayan sun bear. Its injury is consistent with an animal having lost a limb while trying to free itself from a snare. — Photo by WWF-Malaysia/Mark Rayan.

THE VICTIM: The three-footed Malayan sun bear. Its injury is consistent with an animal having lost a limb while trying to free itself from a snare. — Photo by WWF-Malaysia/Mark Rayan.

Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo. On October 2007, three collage students from Germany who visited Danum Valley Field Center, saw a wild adult sun bear sitting on a open sandy ground beside of the Segama River, and concentrated licking on its arm, without noticing the presence of the students. The students watched the bears quietly and took photos and videos of the bear from the middle of the bridge. About 5 minutes later, the bear seems to pick up some sense from the air, sniffing and then limping away slowly. When the bear change its posture, the students can clearly see the bear’s left arm has a rounded open wound and a rope imbedded, and about a foot long rope was dangling at the other end. The left shoulder of the bear seems awkward, a bit out of place. The bear left the place.

After examined the photos and video clips they took, it seem clearly that the bear has a fresh wound from a snare set by poacher. The material of the snare seem to made from thick fishing lines and snapped off when the bear was pulling hard trying to escape. The struggling to escape seem intense as the rope cut through the bear’s skin, wounded the arm, and dislocate the socket on the left arm and thus the limping and awkward shoulder. The bear has a black sleek coat but emaciated with protruding ribs, hip, and leg bones. I strongly believe that the bear will slowly die from unable to feed properly with the injured arm. Read more about this snared sun bear here.

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There is no question that poaching is a big threat of the survival of many wildlife in this region including sun bear. Saving wildlife from the hand of poachers is not just the job for law enforcement agencies but a responsibility for all of us at difference levels in the society. In development countries such as all the range countries of sun bears in SE Asia, enforcement of wildlife protection laws is not a high priority because of limited resources and lack of interest from the authorities. This is why the participations by people ranging from local communities to international NGOs and individual is becoming even more important, if we were to combat poachers and save our wildlife from extinction.

Please report any unlawful poaching and wildlife exploitation activities to the local wildlife authorities. If you have more information about poaching, snaring, and other illegal activities on sun bear, please contact me at [email protected] or calling +60 16 555 1256. 

More readings in poaching and snaring activities here:

We need your help to protect wildlife in Malaysia

Plight of the wild sun bears

 Category Archives: poaching

Poachers still ravaging M’sia’s wildlife

How to fight organized wildlife crime in East Asia

Repost from http://news.mongabay.com/2011/0727-hance_wildlifecrime_seasia.html

How to fight organized wildlife crime in East Asia
Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com
July 27, 2011

 Slow lorises, like these caged individuals, are imperiled in Southeast Asia for the illegal pet trade. In the wild, traders kill loris parents to take their babies. Pet lorises have their teeth pulled out to make them appear 'cuter'. Photo courtesy of the Wildlife Conservaiton Society (WCS).
Slow lorises, like these caged individuals, are imperiled in Southeast Asia for the illegal pet trade. In the wild, traders kill loris parents to take their babies. Pet lorises have their teeth pulled out to make them appear ‘cuter’. Photo courtesy of the Wildlife Conservaiton Society (WCS).

Organized criminal syndicates are wiping out some of the world’s most charismatic wildlife to feed a growing appetite for animal parts in East Asia#8212;and so far governments and law enforcement are dropping the ball. This is the conclusion from a new paper in Oryx, which warns unless officials start taking wildlife crime seriously a number of important species could vanish from the Earth.

“We are failing to conserve some of the world’s most beloved and charismatic species,” Elizabeth Bennett, author of the paper, said in a press release. “We are rapidly losing big, spectacular animals to an entirely new type of trade driven by criminalized syndicates. It is deeply alarming, and the world is not yet taking it seriously. When these criminal networks wipe out wildlife, conservation loses, and local people lose the wildlife on which their livelihoods often depend.”

Organized criminals are decimating some of the world’s favorite species: rhinos, elephants, and tigers are all imperiled by the bloody trade. However, the trade has also hit lesser-known species, such as pangolins, saiga, slow lorises, sun bears, and any number of bird and reptile species. The consequences of this trade are massive: tigers are down to a few thousand survivors, two species of rhino are now dubbed Critically Endangered, the saiga antelope has seen its population drop by 95 percent in two decades, and many forests in Southeast Asia have been described as eerily quiet due to a lack of wildlife.

 
Songbirds sold in a Laos market for food. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

 

 

Songbirds sold in a Laos market for food. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

In the struggle to save these species from the illegal trade, officials are being out-witted and out-funded by sophisticated smugglers who employ the newest technology, clever techniques, and corruption to avoid arrest. Perhaps, even more importantly, wildlife crime is simply not seen as a priority in many parts of the world, where enforcement is lacking and laws are out-of-date.

“The trade is large-scale and commercialized: elaborate and costly hidden compartments in shipping containers or below wholesale shipments of sawn timber, fish or scrap products, in which are concealed massive quantities of wildlife products from ivory to bear paws and frozen pangolins. The traders are also light on their feet, frequently changing routes and modes of operation as enforcement commences in any one place, and continually working through the routes and means of least resistance. […] Trade through e-commerce from web sites whose location is difficult to detect and who operate beyond the current realms of wildlife legislation and enforcement is a further challenge,” Bennett, who began her career in conservation more than 25 years ago in Asia, writes in the paper. She now works for Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

Bennett says the ultimate responsibility for this wholesale decimation of species is due to rising demand for wildlife products in countries like China, Vietnam, and Thailand. In many cases consumers are paying high prices for illegal wildlife products which they believe are curatives. However scientists have shown that animal parts such as rhino horns have no medicinal benefits whatsoever.

According to Bennett there is only one way to stop the criminal activity in time to save species from extinction: law enforcement.

“Enforcement is critical: old fashioned in concept but needing increasingly advanced methods to challenge the ever-more sophisticated methods of smuggling. When enforcement is thorough, and with sufficient resources and personnel, it works,” she writes. Although ‘old-fashioned’ Bennett says tools such as DNA testing kits, smartphone apps for species ID, and high-tech software for Internet crime need to be employed.

Currently enforcement is especially lacking along trade routes and in markets. In many parts of Southeast Asia one can finds illegal wildlife parts sold openly with no fear of punishment.

“We must dedicate the intellectual, funding and personnel resources needed to supersede those of the criminal organizations involved,” she writes. “This requires greatly increased numbers of highly trained and well equipped staff at all points along the trade chain: most especially in core sites where the species are being hunted but also along key transportation routes and in end markets.”

  Dealer shows off coats of wild cats in market in China. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Dealer shows off coats of wild cats in market in China. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laws that were crafted before the current crisis of the illegal trade also must be updated.

Bennett says that changing the cultural beliefs that prop up this illegal trade should pursued, but laments that such changes ‘is likely to be on a generational time scale.’

“We do not have that luxury of time for many of the species currently targeted by trade,” she explains. “In the short-term the only practical way to reduce demand is through enforcement, both acting as a deterrent and also demonstrating that this is not a socially acceptable norm,” Bennett writes.

In the end, the survival of elephants, tigers, and rhinos, along with innumerable other species, depends on law enforcement, the judiciary, governments, NGOs, and the public coming together to tackle the below-the-radar problem.

“Unless we start taking wildlife crime seriously and allocating the commitment of resources appropriate to tackling sophisticated, well-funded, globally-linked criminal operations, population of some of the most beloved but economically prized, charismatic species will continue to wink out across their range, and, appallingly, altogether,” Bennett warns.

CITATION: Elizabeth L. Bennett. Another inconvenient truth: the failure of enforcement systems to save charismatic species. Oryx. doi:10.1017/S003060531000178X.

Illegal bear bile trade rampant in Asia

http://www.traffic.org/home/2011/5/11/illegal-bear-bile-trade-rampant-in-asia.html

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 11th May 2011—Poaching and illegal trade of bears, driven largely by the demand for bile, used in traditional medicine and folk remedies continues unabated across Asia on a large scale, a new report by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, has found.

report-spread
Bear bile products were found on sale in Traditional Medicine outlets in all but one of the 13 countries/territories surveyed says the report entitled Pills, Powders, Vials & Flakes: The bear bile trade in Asia (PDF, 2 MB). The exception is Macao.

Products were most frequently observed in mainland China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Myanmar and Viet Nam, where they were recorded in over half of all outlets surveyed. The most frequently encountered products were whole bear gall bladders and pills—found in half of the outlets surveyed.

Bears are kept for their bile, used in traditional Asian medicine Click photo to enlarge © TRAFFIC Southeast Asia

Bears are kept for their bile, used in traditional Asian medicine Click photo to enlarge © TRAFFIC Southeast Asia

TRAFFIC’s research suggests a complex and robust trade in bear products. Several of the countries/territories surveyed were either producers or consumers of bear bile products, while in some cases they acted as both.

Mainland China was the most commonly reported place of origin for these products across the region.

In Myanmar, internationally sourced gall bladders were reported to come solely from Lao PDR; in Hong Kong, in cases where the source was known, products were reported to have originated in Japan and over half of those offered for sale in the South Korea were from wild sources in Russia.

Domestic trade of bear bile is legal under strict regulation within mainland China and Japan but is illegal in Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam. Regardless of the legality of trade within countries, international trade is not allowed.

Asiatic Black Bears (predominant in this trade) and Sun Bears are both listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which prohibits international commercial trade in the species, its parts and derivatives.

An analysis of the origin of bear bile products found in these surveys makes it clear that import and export regulations are commonly flouted demonstrating a failure to implement CITES requirements to stop illegal international bear bile trade effectively and protect bears from exploitation.

“Unbridled illegal trade in bear parts and products continues to undermine CITES which should be the world’s most powerful tool to regulate cross-border wildlife trade,” said Kaitlyn-Elizabeth Foley, lead author of the report and Senior Programme Officer of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.

The study found that the vast majority of the bear farms surveyed in Lao PDR, Myanmar and Viet Nam did not have captive breeding programmes, suggesting they depend on bears captured from the wild.

“The study makes a clear case for authorities to shut down businesses selling illegal bear products and prosecute individuals caught selling, buying, transporting or keeping bears illegally,” said Foley.

“Both the Asiatic Black Bear and the Sun Bear are threatened by poaching and illegal trade. The demand for bile is one of the greatest drivers behind this trade and must be reduced if bear conservation efforts are to succeed,” added Foley.

“Even legal bear bile producers are circumventing domestic and international regulations by exporting products internationally,” said Dr Jill Robinson MBE, Founder and CEO of Animals Asia Foundation, which rescues bears from farms in China and Viet Nam.

“This report, in addition to Animals Asia’s years of research, shows that the bear bile industry is engaging in illegal practices. As pressure mounts on the wild bear population, there are serious questions to be answered on the welfare and pathology of farmed bears, and the risks to human health in those who consume the contaminated bile from such sick and diseased bears,” said Robinson.

ENDS

Notes:
The study’s main findings are:
•    Bear bile products were observed in traditional medicine outlets in 12 out of 13 Asian countries/territories surveyed
•    Bear bile products were available at 50% or more of traditional medicine outlets surveyed in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Myanmar and Viet Nam.
•    China is the most commonly reported source for bear bile products

A short presentation can be viewed at:
http://prezi.com/y_mqfj2c8acx/the-bear-bile-trade-in-asia/

 
For further information:

Kaitlyn Elizabeth-Foley, Senior Programme Officer, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Tel: ++603 7880 3940, [email protected]
Elizabeth John, Senior Communications Officer, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia, Tel: ++603 7880 3940, [email protected]
Richard Thomas, Communications Co-ordinator, TRAFFIC. Tel: +44 1223 279068, email: [email protected]

Long way to go- Wildlife Matters – By Azrina Abdullah

http://www.thesundaily.com/article.cfm?id=60213

This article was printed from Sun2Surf

Article’s URL: http://www.thesundaily.com/article.cfm?id=60213

—————————

Long way to go

By Azrina Abdullah

By: (Sun, 24 Apr 2011)

National Geographic Magazine published last year The Kingpin, an expose on wildlife smuggling. The story’s author, Bryan Christy, recently won a Genesis Award by the Humane Society for ‘Most Outstanding Written Word’. I caught up with him to get his thoughts on the impact of the story and Malaysia’s progress in wildlife trade management. WHAT has your story and the award achieved for conservation?
There is a history of treating wildlife traffickers as amusing, small-time smugglers who are only smuggling a couple of parrots. Wildlife traffickers like Anson Wong move endangered species around the world and employ all the same techniques as other criminal syndicate heads, whether drug traffickers, human traffickers, or arms traffickers. Hopefully, the article and the award will get more media to treat commercial-scale, wildlife traffickers as the global criminals they are.

 

When the story was published, it received an overwhelming response from many Malaysians. Were you expecting such a response from Malaysia?
I was surprised. When you spend enough time on wildlife-related crime you get used to people not caring. But the response from the Malaysian people, journalists, politicians and NGOs was immediate and commendable. Everybody got involved. The people took the lead. Letters flooded newspapers demanding reform, Op-Eds were published. Major policy influencers such as yourself made sure Perhilitan (Wildlife and National Parks Department) could not hide from its record. NGOs including Traffic, Sahabat Alam Malaysia, and NatureAlert pressed for administrative and legislative reform. Members of Parliament demanded change. As a result, the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry finally announced action. The results demonstrate there is an ecosystem that can address cancers like wildlife traffickers if everyone in the system plays his or her part.

You have been following Malaysia’s efforts on addressing its illegal wildlife trade matters over the past few years and of course, Anson Wong’s imprisonment. Thoughts?
The demand for reform has been amazing. Last year, Malaysia passed the Wildlife Conservation Act. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) raided Perhilitan. The ministry changed its special permits programme and promised to revamp Perhilitan management. Anson was caught and sentenced to prison, his business was closed, his licences were cancelled, and his animals, including his tigers, seized. But, when you peel these back a little you see that not everything is as it appears. The ministry has not followed through with its promise to revamp Perhilitan. The MACC investigation went nowhere. When Anson Wong was arrested, the government seized his cell phones and laptop. This was one of the most important wildlife crime intelligence opportunities ever, not just for Malaysia but for the world. Wong’s emails, documents, and contacts listed could expose the network of wildlife traders around the world, but the government has not pursued that opportunity. Amazingly, I’m told Perhilitan has taken possession of Wong’s equipment.

It’s been three years since I first wrote about Anson Wong in my book The Lizard King, in that time we have not seen a single additional major wildlife trafficker exposed in Malaysia …. it seems it will only do something after the people demand it. If that’s the case, it’s up to the people, NGOs and journalists to expose other wildlife traffickers in Malaysia.

I’ve touched on corruption among government officers in my column but have never found a satisfactory answer to the question of how we should deal with it. Your National Geographic article tells the story of how a wildlife trafficker prospered for this very reason. What are your thoughts on addressing this problem?
Before I respond, I want to say first that your column has been critically important to wildlife conservation. You have consistently shone a bright light on problem areas, with very positive results for reform in Malaysia and around the world. I hope you will keep doing it, and that others will join you in speaking out.

We did not emphasise the word corruption in the story. We didn’t have to. Malaysia’s record on stopping wildlife smuggling is disastrous. Until he was caught by an airport employee smuggling snakes through KLIA last year, Perhilitan’s leadership denied Anson Wong had ever committed a crime. In 1997, after the US Government caught Wong smuggling wildlife, he confessed in a US federal court to years of smuggling endangered species. Instead of investigating him, Perhilitan’s deputy director-general accused the US Government of framing him. When The Lizard King first came out the deprtment issued a press statement attacking me as a liar and called my book “completely made up”.

Wildlife traffickers around the world use Malaysia as a hub. From African gorillas to Malagasy tortoises, rare species are moved to and through Malaysia by wildlife kingpins. It has been going on for decades. As government agencies, Perhilitan and Customs bear primary responsibility for the success of wildlife traffickers.

In general, I am not talking about lower level officers. I’ve met a lot of dedicated Perhilitan officers and rangers. If given strong leadership, I believe those officers could make a positive difference. The problem is not Perhilitan, it is Perhilitan’s top leadership.

As for fixing corruption, there is a relatively simple test for who should be allowed to lead wildlife-related law enforcement institutions: Have wildlife traffickers significantly prospered during a government official’s tenure? Whether the reason is corruption, incompetence, or some other excuse is not as important as having the right people in the right jobs. A small group of government officials have presided over Malaysia’s rise to become one of the world’s worst wildlife trafficking hubs. Ineffective governance is a far greater threat to rare wildlife than any single wildlife trafficker.

Azrina has completed a report on the link between Orang Asli and wildlife trade in Belum-Temengor. She hopes the government will read it. Comments: [email protected]

— end —

http://www.wildlife.gov.my/

 http://www.wildlife.gov.my/printed_material/lt/lt2009.pdf

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 mongabay.com
March 20, 2011

http://news.mongabay.com/2011/0320-neme_sunbears_wong.html

 

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 www.theradiator.org or download the podcast from iTunes, www.laurelneme.com, or http://laurelneme.podbean.com. This interview originally aired May 17, 2010. It was transcribed by Diane Hannigan.

INTERVIEW WITH SIEW TE WONG

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.

 

 

SUN BEAR RESEARCH

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]

 

SUN BEAR DIETS

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.

 

ROLE OF SUN BEARS IN ECOSYSTEM

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.

ESTIMATING SUN BEAR POPULATIONS

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.

 

THREATS TO SUN BEARS

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.

 

BORNEAN SUN BEAR CONSERVATION CENTRE

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.

SUN BEAR REHABILITATION AND RELEASE

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.

 

TALES OF RESCUED BEARS

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.

HOW TO HELP SUN BEARS

   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.

International Bear News: highlighting professionals behind the scenes

 

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