Sabah Chief Minister, Datuk Musa Aman, said that Sabah’s sun bears are one of the world’s eight bear species, and noted that research has shown Borneo, particularly Sabah, to be amongst the last few habitats for sun bears. He added that the state wants to protect the mammal, which is considered a unique species.
“Conservation efforts must include getting them back into the wild,” he said at a fund-raising event held recently for the establishment of the RM1.2 million conservation centre in Sepilok, Sandakan. He added that another major task is to raise awareness on this little-known animal.
Known as the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC), the facility will be the first of its kind in Asia. It is being jointly developed by Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), Sabah Forestry Department (SFD) and a non-governmental organisation, Land Empowerment of Animal and People (LEAP).
The centre will provide opportunities for research on the animal apart from serving as a focal point for studies on sun bears in Asia. It will also be developed as an educational and awareness facility as it is located next to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre and the Rainforest Discovery Centre.
Spearheading the project is sun bear researcher and conservationist, Wong Siew Te. A local non-profit company, Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre Sdn Bhd, has been set up with Wong as the CEO. A Memorandum of Understanding between SWD, SFD and LEAP was signed in November 2008.
Construction work, to begin in March 2009, is scheduled for completion by end-2009. According to Wong, the establishment of the centre will be carried out in three phases with phase one costing RM1.1 million and RM1.5 million for phase two and phase three.
An enclosure will be built under the first phase, which can house 20 sun bears. The second phase involves the construction of an observatory platform, exhibition centre and a gallery for visitors to view the sun bears in their natural habitat. For phase three, a second bear house will be built. Phase two will commence in early 2010 and be completed within six months while work on phase three will start in the later part of 2010.
There are presently 12 sun bears confiscated by the SWD and housed at its facilities in Sepilok. “The centre is crucial for the survival of the bears as there is no appropriate facility in Sabah to shelter the number of sun bears rescued by SWD from captivity or after they have been left orphaned,” he said.“Even though the sun bears are kept in captivity, they can gain access to the natural forest to enjoy life in the wild once the centre is completed.
This innovative project aims to provide a holistic approach to the conservation of the Sun Bear, combining improved facilities for captive bears with increased public awareness both at the local and international levels. Perhaps most importantly, they can be released back into the wild after being rehabilitated,” concludes Wong.