Friday July 17th, 2009 saw the ground breaking for the long anticipated Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), which will be adjacent to the famous Sepilok Orangutan Centre, 14 miles outside of Sandakan, Sabah. The event marked the commencement of construction of the first phase of BSBCC, which aims to provide rehabilitation and care for captive Sun Bears, and will be the first of its kind in Sabah.
The guest of honour, YB Datuk Masidi Manjun Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, was accompanied by partners of the project, Laurentius Ambu, Director of the Sabah Wildlife Department, Fred Kugan, Deputy Director of the Sabah Forestry Department and Cynthia Ong, executive director of LEAP. The event was attended by an international array of Scottish and Malaysian Scouts, Raleigh International volunteers, Rainforest Discovery Centre Junior Rangers and members of the private sector, all of whom came to show support for BSBCC and celebrate the start of this pioneering project.
The ceremony itself was as innovative as the concept of BSBCC promises to be. After two heartfelt speeches from YB Datuk Masidi Manjun and Cynthia Ong, four Bobohizans (traditional Kadazan Dusun healers/high priestesses) entered the center of a human circle to perform a ritual for the spirits to cleanse the area of past activities and prepare it for new life, protection and hope for the Sun Bears and the Centre.
Once the symbolic ritual had been completed, Datuk Masidi Manjun, Laurentius Ambu, Fred Kugan and Cynthia Ong gathered to officially break ground under the auspices of the Bobohizans. This was followed by Malaysian singer-songwriter Amir Yussof performing Calling on You, a song that he wrote about the Sun Bears’ plight for the fundraising event in November 2008 that enabled the first phase of BSBCC to be built. During the song, Malaysian Junior Rangers provided interesting facts and information about Sun Bears for the crowd. The inclusion of old tradition and knowledge coupled with young environmental leaders, highlighted the need for connection and cohesion between old and new when addressing conservation issues. The ceremony ended with the guests being serenaded by Scottish Scouts playing the bagpipes. This final touch paid tribute to the interconnectivity of the people represented at the event and brought into focus the international and regional significance and responsibility of stewardship of land and animals.
The ground breaking ceremony was especially significant to us, all the BSBCC and LEAP staff, who felt proud and moved to see the culmination of a year and a half of hard work celebrated by our partners and friends.