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The untold story – Sun Bears and their impacts



May, 29, 2013 – 5:58 pm

The untold story – Sun Bears and their impacts

A Sun Bear digging decayed wood in search of termites and other wood burrowing invertebrates. – Photo courtesy of BSBCC.

A Sun Bear digging decayed wood in search of termites and other wood burrowing invertebrates. – Photo courtesy of BSBCC.

By Jaswinder Kler

SANDAKAN: From dispersing fruit seeds to carving out narrow holes on trees, later used by hornbills and squirrels to nest in, the Malayan Sun Bear contributes to a thriving forest.

The smallest of the world’s bears serve as forest doctors, engineers and planters and by foraging for termites and other insects, help mix nutrients in the soil.

Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) founder and chief executive officer Wong Siew Te said the species that lives in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia plays important roles in the ecosystem.

Describing the Sun Bear’s task as a forest doctor, Wong said the species uses its claws to scrape off and destroy termite nests around tree bark, and this in turn saves the host tree from dying due to termite infestation.

“Sun Bears do this to get termites and their larvae, an important food source for these bears. If they do not do this, the termites will eventually kill the host tree by feeding on the wood fiber from the inside.

“Uncontrolled termite populations could lead to the death of many trees,” he said in a statement issued by the BSBCC to create awareness on the Sun Bear which is listed as “Vulnerable” on The IUCN Red List and at risk of becoming endangered unless circumstances threatening their survival improve.

Threats including habitat loss, poaching and the pet trade have led to a decline by at least 30 per cent of the species in the last three decades. Their actual numbers in the wild are unknown.

Wong Siew Te examining a tree cavity dug by a Sun Bear looking for honey. – Photo courtesy of BSBCC.

Wong Siew Te examining a tree cavity dug by a Sun Bear looking for honey. – Photo courtesy of BSBCC.

Wong said Sun Bears are fond of eating honey, creating holes in trees when extracting honey of stingless bees that build nests under tree bark.

“Holes that Sun Bears create are eventually used by hornbills or squirrels to nest in. They build homes for other forest dwellers and this is why we call Sun Bears forest engineers,” he said, adding that in Bahasa Malaysia, the species is known as beruang madu since it likes consuming honey (madu is the Bahasa Malaysia word for honey).

He said as forest planters, Sun Bears spread seeds of large fruits such as durian and jackfruit when travelling in a wide home range of about 14 square kilometers.

“They are among the largest mammals in the tropical rainforest and through their travels, they defecate swallowed seeds, away from the mother tree which increases chances of the seeds’ survival.

“Through their role as nutrient mixers, Sun Bears facilitate soil turn over and regeneration when they forage for termites and other insects,” he said.

Wong said despite the many important functions that Sun Bears serve, their long term survival in the wild depends on the continuous existence of natural forests.

A Sun Bear destroying a termite nest to hunt for termites. – Photo courtesy of BSBCC.

A Sun Bear destroying a termite nest to hunt for termites. – Photo courtesy of BSBCC.

He stressed that as forest dependent species, Sun Bears cannot survive in oil palm or other agricultural plantations.

“They need large tracts of natural forests in order for them to sustain viable populations where they can search for food, shelter and reproduce. There is so much that Sun Bears are doing for the forest and this is something we all need to understand and appreciate.

“Today, their numbers are going down and more are ending up in captivity,” he said.

The BSBCC located adjacent to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre is currently housing 28 rescued bears. Some were illegally kept as pets and others were found trapped following forest clearing.

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

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

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

To learn more about Sun Bears, visit www.bsbcc.org.my and Facebook page www.facebook.com/ sunbear.bsbcc.

Habitat loss and poaching threatens survival of Sun Bears



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

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

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

Found throughout mainland Asia, Sumatra in Indonesia and Borneo, the exact number of sun bears in the wild is unknown, making it even more pressing toreduce pressure on a species that is classified as “vulnerable” on the IUCN(International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List, and at risk of becoming endangered unless circumstances threatening their survival improve.

Sun bears are also classified as a totally protected species under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, providing it the same status as the Orang Utan and the Sumatran Rhinoceros.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more: Habitat loss and poaching threatens survival of Sun Bears – Latest – New Straits Times http://www.nst.com.my/latest/habitat-loss-and-poaching-threatens-survival-of-sun-bears-1.283981#ixzz2U5JxJsxD

Boost for sun bear conservation


Published: Fri, 29 Mar 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Now secondary school students will learn about sun bear and BSBCC

By Wong Siew Te

Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) was first discovered in Malay Peninsula and described to science by American naturalist in 1825. Ironically, after 187 year, many Malaysians, along with most people in the world, do not know about this world’s smallest bear species. One of the reasons for this phenomenon is the lack of education materials on sun bear in the school’s curriculum in this country. However, this phenomenon is about to change.

Penerbitan Pelangi Sdn Bhd (Pelangi Publisher Ltd. Co.) (www.pelangibooks.com) is determined to help BSBCC and to raise awareness of sun bear and BSBCC among the secondary schools students in Malaysia. The publishing company is producing 300,000 copies of science reference books for Malaysian schools  with BSBCC’s logo and website printed on the book’s cover. In addition, Pelangi Publisher also donated RM10,000 to support BSBCC as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) project. Soon, more and more Malaysian students will learn and know more about sun bears and the important roles that they play in the forest ecosystem.

BSBCC would like to thank Penerbitan Pelangi Sdn Bhd for their generous support and their initiative to help educate students about sun bears. We hope this CSR project will catalyze more corporations to play their parts to protect sun bears in this region and support BSBCC in the future!  


TV3 filmed BSBCC

Text and photos by Wong Siew Te 

Malaysian TV station TV3 came to make a TV program for their popular TV documentary series Majalah 3 from September 14 – 19, 2012. The filming crew is consisted of the host and producer of the program, Irin Putri, a camera man, and a sound technician. The film crew has taken many rare footages of the sun bears in both the forest enclosures and in the bear house, and filmed the daily busy routine of BSBCC. They also managed to film the moving of Fulung and Bongkut, the sun bear yearlings, to the new bear house, interviewed Wong and Wai Pak, and many others.

 In conjunction of the broadcasting of the TV program, Wong will be interview in TV3’s morning talk show Malaysia Hari Ini (Today’s Malaysia) from 7:30 am – 9 am Friday Oct 12.  The program is schedule to be air nationally through TV3 at 9 pm on October 13. On the following day, “Big Dream Little Bear” will be premier at the Kuala Lumpur Ecofilm Festival ay al 6 pm Sunday October 14, Experimental Theatre, Universiti Malaya.

 This weekend, millions of Malaysians will learn about Malayan sun bear!

Mr Camera Man and the sound man!

The host and the producer of the program Irin Putri from TV3. Irin has communicated with me since early last year for this project. I am so glad that we finally did it! Thank you Irin!

How can a show on sun bear without sun bear? Here is Kuamut posting on her role in the program!

Irin is making an enrichment toy for one of the sun bear at BSBCC.

Interviewing Wai Pak, the project manager of BSBCC. Wai Pak is by far the most important person and dedicated staff of BSBCC who make this project possible.

We also did a health check on Fulung and Bongkud when we sedated and moved them from the old bear house to the new bear house.

After four days of filming around the clock, we finally took enough footages of the program. Here are the TV3 and BSBCC’s crews at the observation platform after the final shot.

Nanyang Technological University students visit BSBCC

Text and photos by Gloria Ganang

A group of 12 Singaporean students from Nanyang Technological University visited the centre today at 3pm. They are journalism students and spent few hours at our observation platform watching the sun bears at the enclosure as well as an interview session with Wong. Thanks for visiting us and help us spread the words about sun bears! Cheers!

Anglo Chinese School Independent (ACSI) students visit to BSBCC

Text by Gloria Ganang and photos by Thye Lim and Ade Kurniawan

Yesterday was another meaningful day at the BSBCC. We had an educatonal visit from a group of teens from the Anglo Chinese School Independent (ACSI), Singapore. They consist of 23 students of the age 17-18 years old, accompanied by 2 teachers. The visit was organized by the Animal Project & Environmental Education (APE) Malaysia to give the students an experience about animal conservation. The teens get to involve in hands on activities of the sun bear rehabilitation process which consists of doing pre enrichment and post enrichment behavioral observation on the sun bears at the centre.

Students observing bear behavior from the observation platform

Observing bears at the bear house

They also get the chance to do enrichment for the bears in between their observation sessions. The enrichment materials were provided and the students created the enrichment using their imagination of what would be is suitable for sun bears. This is to build awareness among students about the importance of stimulating animal natural behavior through enrichment.

Preparing enrichment for the bears

Bear enrichment!

Bear enrichment!

Bear enrichment!

Bears playing with the enrichment made by the students.

Before they left the centre, our Project Manager, Wai Pak explained to the students about the bears reaction towards the enrichments they made. They were also told about the bears in the centre going through rehabilitation process and the threats of sun bears as well.

Wai Pak explaining about sun bear threats

ACSI students with APE Malaysia and BSBCC staff

Lastly, we would like to express our many thanks to the APE Malaysia team for organizing such beneficial activity for the centre especially in terms of education. Thanks to the ACSI students as well for spending time with us learning about sun bear rehabilitation!

Best wishes from BSBCC team!

Papa bear’s story
















Text by Gloria Ganang and photo by Dawn Tukalan & Thye Lim

The day at BSBCC on the 4th of July started with a big preparation for the Environmental Education Race (EERace) activity at the centre. The EERace is an environmental education programme held annually in the heart of Borneo districts of Sabah. It is organized by the Rainforest Discovery Centre (RDC) under the Sabah Forestry Department, together with many government and private organizations. The aim of the race is to enhance and deepen teacher’s knowledge and experiences on the environment.

A team of 4 participants and 3 facilitators reached the centre at 9.30 am with no idea of what was planned for them. The first activity was the “Bear Acting” activity where the participants was placed in cages as displayed animals. The BSBCC staff and facilitators acted as visitors. They were camera flashes and food thrown from outside the cages. The participants were also ignored for a few minutes, when everyone stepped away from the cages. The purpose of this activity is to allow the participants to experience what it feels like to be badly treated by people who visits displayed animals. Later, the participants shared their experience to everyone. They felt awful and threatened of the “visitor’s” way of treating them. This unique experience encourages participants to understand the importance of  prioritizing animal feelings and welfare.

EERace participant inside the cage

BSBCC staff and facilitators throwing candy from outside the cages

Participant relaxing inside tyre enrichment.

Participants sharing their "displayed animals" experience

The next activity was preparing “toys” or enrichment for the bears. The participants were given various materials such as cardboard, ginger leaves, ropes, honey, peanut butter and many kinds of spices. They were encouraged to use their creativity to construct “toys” for the bears. They produced great enrichment and the bears loved it!

Inventing toys for the bears

Toys ready to be ripped off by the bears

Mamatai (adult female) enjoying one of the toys made by EERace participant

The participants took a brief 30 minutes break before they continued with the tour around the centre. This focuses more on sun bear ecology and the aims of BSBCC as a conservation and rehabilitation centre for sun bears in Sabah. Since the sun bear is known as the “least known” species among the bears in the world, describing the sun bear facts to the participants are fresh and fascinating. The activity ended with participants detecting sun bear claw marks on the trees along the boardwalk. We hope the participants enjoyed their half day activities at BSBCC. Looking forward for more exciting activities on next year’s EERace!

Participant found claw mark on a tree along boards walk

Wai Pak showing methods to estimate age of sun bear through claw marks on trees

BSBCC staff with EErace participants and facilitator

A Bear’s Eye View of Sun Bears



Published on Jun 30, 2012 by


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Annamiticus presents “Behind the Schemes” — a web series and podcast which discusses how commerce, corruption, and counterfeit cures are destroying our Planet’s precious wildlife. In this episode, host Rhishja Cota-Larson is getting “A Bear’s Eye View of Sun Bears” with Siew Te Wong, founder and CEO of the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.

Join us each week as we feature international guests discussing the challenges of protecting wildlife in the modern world.

Learn more about our web series “Behind the Schemes” at ?http://behindtheschemes.org? and subscribe to the BTS podcast on iTunes: ?http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/behind-the-schemes/id508618386?