Text by Chiew Lin May Photos by Seng Yen Wah & Chiew Lin May
Kicking off this month, we focus on more enrichment activities! Enrichment is one of the important key aspects for rescued sun bears in rehabilitation and plays a huge role in the volunteers work. Spending time in the forest is not always easy, but we are always grateful to the volunteers who spend their time and skills to help sun bears. The bear care team will tell you what volunteering life is like on a typical day in Borneo as a sun bear assistant, and why volunteers play such an important part in contributing to the causes. It will never be the same experience twice, but that is all the more reason to keep volunteers coming back to BSBCC! It feels like it had only just begun! Groups of volunteers were split into smaller working groups with bear care team leaders and were assigned to varied tasks. Everyone has been busy working alongside the volunteers to complete the maintenance, construction and making enrichment project. Volunteers learnt as much as they could and soaked everything in. The team’s constantly were coming up with new ideas to stimulate and challenge these rescued sun bears. Volunteers got their hands dirty and ended up with stinky clothes!
Team A’s Project (Azzry, Sumira, Chee Yoong, Georgia and Sophie)
The team built an “Olivia Tower” inside the forest enclosure of Pen E. In Latin, the meaning of the name Olivia is Olive, a symbol of peace. This Olivia Tower is specially made for one of our rescued adult female sun bears, Chin. It is her playground. The variety of climbing frames is for helping Chin to build strength and she can also take a sweet nap. This tower helps to stimulate Chin’s natural behavior in the wild. They can observe how Chin makes her way into the forest for her daily rehabilitation process. The teams focus was on building, mixing cement, and digging!
The team carried the hardest wood (i.e. Iron wood) with foundations been dug, installed the woods and vanish the wood to avoid termites. When it comes to sun bears, the tower structures have to be sun bear proof! It is amazing to see the creativity they build.
Many thanks to Team A for working hard in the sun and rain to get the Olivia Tower finished in time. The team was very enthusiastic and created a great learning environment. Again, big thanks to our awesome volunteer, Barbara Katsifolis, for your donation and supportive voice for the sun bears.
Team M’s Project (Mizuno, Batrisyia and Alexander)
The team focused on building a rustic-looking house for Bjorn Hala’s dog – Momo. The wooden house will serve as a safe den for Momo to deliver and raise her puppies. They made it out of recycled iron wood and made sure they provided the puppies with enough space to eat, play and sleep. The wooden house will keep them warm and cozy. The team has worked tirelessly to spread love for Momo. It was brilliant fun for everyone who took part! Congratulations! On July 15th, 2017 Momo gave birth to two cute puppies. Momo looks quite happy inside her little home!
Team R’s Project (Roger, Syaqil, Simon and Shannon)
This team is helping to design and build an essential access walkway outside the perimeter of Pen A and Pen K. The old walkway was facing deterioration and was muddy. They will construct a new walkway with durable material to ease the access for staff to the outside perimeter to observe, check or feed the bears. This project involves lots of sawing and hammering. Doing whatever else is useful!
Team B’s Project (Brandon, David, Athirah and Lawrence)
Cleaning and general upkeep of the enclosures is an important task for us. It is challenging to maintain structures in the Bornean rainforest. The team makes sure the sun bears have a comfortable and safe forest enclosure to use by taking good care of their living spaces. Thanks to the dedication from the team who got the project done.
All teams also engaged fantastically with the enrichment activities! We had so much pleasure observing these sun bears as they rolled around and were quite playful with the enrichment created by volunteers and staff. The juvenile bears enjoy rotating through a list of toys. There is nothing more rewarding than discovering some enrichment that lights up the day of sun bears!
Photos shows the difference types of enrichment:
Hanging Ginger Leaves
Ginger Leaves Proposal
Gunny Sack Bag
Sun Bear Cot
Dry Leaves Cage
Aussie Dog Ball filled with Honey
Phin's Ramp (On progress)
The volunteers have fallen madly in love with each of the sun bears. They were a hardworking, dedicated bunch from all walks of life! They worked tirelessly to provide these bears with the needs to survive and had many laughs. We can see that each project offered a very difference experience and was unique. Enthusiasm was always high and we were able to achieve great goals to save the forgotten bear - Sun bear. Knowing that we have made a big difference…
Sumira, Syaqil, Athirah, Batrisya, Chee Yoong, Laurence, Shannon, Simon, Sophie, Georgia, Kimberly Louise and bear care team, thanks for being a part of our enrichment project! Good job team! A loud cheer for all your efforts!
The first ever Labuk Bay Carnival 2017 was held on today, 30th July 2017 at the Mile 19 Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary. A lot of activities was held during this event and our team (BSBCC) was happy to be part of it! The Labuk Bay Carnival started off with the Fun Run 8KM and Fun Ride 20KM early at 6.30 in the morning. Other activities held were boat paddle, mini games, lucky draws and performance by Chris Aban. Besides that, booths and exhibition from the BSBCC, the Sandakan Borneo Bird Club, Artlex Centre and the Sandakan Fire & Rescue Department were also there to make this carnival to be more happening. Thanks to the organizer for inviting us to participate in this carnival and congratulations to all the winners!
Fun Ride 20KM for cyclists
Flag off for the Fun Run 8KM
BSBCC educational booth
After the run, the runners took some time to visit our booth
Our volunteer, Syaqil interacting with the visitors of our booth
Booth by Artflex Centre
The registration for International Run for Orang Utan 2018 is now open!
BSBCC's volunteers also participated in the run. Congratulations!
Refreshment from Indocafe
Demonstration from the Sandakan Fire & Rescue Department
Prize giving for the winners of the Fun Run and Fun Ride
Known as "Papa Bear," Wong's Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre is the only sun bear sanctuary in the world.
Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia (CNN): With his wire-rimmed glasses and mild manner, Siew Te Wong could be described as a Malaysian Clark Kent.
This wildlife biologist is a Superman of sorts -- a tireless defender of the world's smallest bear species: the sun bear.
"I often call the sun bear a forgotten species," Wong said. "When I first started, 20 years ago, no one has ever studied sun bears. Most people do not know that they even exist."
As he studied the animal and realized the threats it faced from deforestation and hunting/poaching, he knew the bears were in serious trouble. "The more I learn about them, the more I care. The more I care, the more I worry," he said. "I have to help them."
oday, Wong's nonprofit, the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, is the only sun bear sanctuary in the world.
Wong -- known as "Papa Bear" -- and his team have rehabilitated and cared for 55 rescued sun bears since 2008. The group now also educates the public about these animals.
Sun bears are found in the rainforests of south Asia, and the small bears play a big role in keeping these woodlands healthy. Many plants and animals depend on them to spread seeds, create nesting sites and control the termite population -- functions that keep the ecosystems in balance. Healthy rainforests provide clean air and water to the entire world.
Currently, 44 sun bears live at Wong's center -- all of them were orphaned by poachers or rescued from captivity. The center has also become one of the leading tourist destinations in the area, helping to raise awareness about the sun bear's plight.
A sun bear explores the forest at the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre.
"They can see how special the sun bear is and learn about how their survival (is) important to ours," Wong said, "so they can take some action when they go back to home."
For Wong, this work is simply his responsibility.
"Sun bears became part of my family. When they're endangered, I care for them. When they are in trouble, I speak for them," he said. "I want to be the voice for the sun bear, to fight for the sun bear, to ensure the survival of the sun bear."
"But my ultimate goal is to save the entire forest ecosystem ... that is so important to the survival of mankind."
CNN spoke with Wong about his work. Below is an edited version of the conversation.
CNN: How did you get involved with the sun bear?
Siew Te Wong: I grew up keeping different pets and rescuing birds that fell from nests. I always wanted to be an animal expert or a veterinarian. After high school, I went to Taiwan to study veterinary science, and that's where I got involved with studying wildlife. In 1994, I came to the University of Montana to study wildlife biology and I met a professor, Christopher Servheen. He was looking for a Malaysian student to do a study on sun bears. I said, "I'm your man!"
CNN: Tell me more about the threats these animals face.
Wong: Over the last 50 years, many of the tropical forests in this region have been cleared, and with deforestation, sun bears have lost their habitat. And even though sun bears are a protected species, they are hunted for their meat and their body parts, which are used in traditional Asian medicines. This is literally wiping out local populations. Their babies are also kept as illegal pets. Their cubs are really cute, but people don't realize that this baby bear will turn into a destructive beast. In the end, they will either kill the bears or lock (them) in small cages. We are doing lots of educational awareness to make sure that people don't keep bears anymore.
CNN: How do the animals spend their time at the center? Wong: Every day after breakfast, we release the bears into the forest enclosure. This is where they learn to forage, climb trees, build nests and socialize. All of those activities help them get ready to be released and survive in the forest.
CNN Hero Siew Te Wong
At 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., we give the bears different fruits, and at 4pm, the bears come back and have dinner in the bear house. We keep them inside at night because this level of bear density in the forest is not natural. We also want to monitor their well-being. However, there are a few bears left out for the night, which is good. One day, they will live there all the time.
CNN: How many bears have you been able to release?
Wong: We have released two bears so far, and this year we plan to release four more. There are many bears that we cannot release because they were in captivity for a long time. They lost their instinct to find food, they're habituated to people, and many that were rescued as adults cannot climb trees. There are also bears who (were) malnourished or who had their claws chopped off. They don't have the skills to survive in the forest, so they have to stay here for the rest of their lives.
Hopefully in the future, there'll be more bears ready to be released. I want bears to live in the forest and not in captivity. (That) is where they belong. It is their home. Want to get involved? Check out the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre website and see how to help. To donate to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, click the CrowdRise widget below. DONATE NOW Donations are accepted through LEAP (or their full name, Land Empowerment Animals People), a U.S. 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
Yesterday, on the 27th July 2017, BSBCC was invited to do awareness programme in Sandakan Baptist Church Kindergarten and today the school group came to visit our centre. The school children were accompanied by their teacher and parents. BSBCC’s Education Team gave a brief introduction and safety precautions before they were brought to the observation platform. After observing the bears in the forest enclosure, the school group engaged with the activity, bear origami. One of our aims in BSBCC is to raise awareness among the public about sun bears. We were glad to share our knowledge on sun bears to them and they really enjoyed learning! Thanks to teachers and parents for their efforts and time to take the school children to visit to our centre and learn about sun bears.
Bear observation on the platform
The children met our Founder and CEO, Dr Wong Siew Te
They can't wait to see the bear through the spotting scope
They patiently wait in line to have a look through the scope
Bellinda, assisting the children to make bear origami step by step
Today BSBCC was invited to do an awareness programme on sun bear in Sandakan Baptist Church Kindergarten. Approximately 75 students aged four to six were involved in this programme. The students and teachers got excited and eager to learn more about the sun bears. The programme started with a story telling (The Wild Tree Houses) session by Ms. Gloria, Environmental Education Executive. After listening to “The Wild Tree Houses” story, Ms. Gloria conducted a wildlife game for the students. Our sun bear mascot, Sunny was also present to help the students understand better about physical characters of a sun bear. We also set up display booth at the school. All of the students enjoyed their time learning about the environment and wildlife species through exhibitions. We hope that they can gain more knowledge on the importance of protecting the environment and our precious wildlife species. Thanks for inviting us!
Video show about sun bears
Story telling session by Gloria
Gloria reading out the story 'The Wild Tree House of Borneo' to the children.
Wildlife game - Guess who am I?
The teacher assist the child during the game
She need to guess the wildlife picture on her back by asking her friends on the clues
Waiting for surprise!
Introduction about sun bears using mascot
The school children were also given the chance to ask questions during the programme
Group photo with Sunny
BSBCC team and Baptist Church Kindergarten students and teachers
Gloria showing bear skull to the children
Showing them the termite's nest
Gloria also explain how sharp is the bear claws by showing them the Aussie Dog Ball full with bear scratches
Visiting BSBCC educational booth after the activities completed
Presenting certificate of appreciation to the school
A total of 46 preschool children of Tadika Tai Tong, Sandakan and 24 preschool teachers and parents visited BSBCC today (25th July 2017). Our staff conducted a brief introduction on sun bears to the group by using our sun bear mascot. After that, the children were brought along with their teachers and parents to the observation platforms to see the bears roaming in the forest enclosure. We are happy to all of them enjoy their time learning about sun bears and its environment. We believe that environmental education can help in the efforts to save sun bears and their habitat for generations to come.
Preschool children of Tadika Tai Tong, Sandakan
Before they had a tour at the bear observation platform, they were given a brief introduction about sun bears using mascot.
Group photo with Sunny, the sun bear mascot
The teachers also does not want to miss their chance to take photo with Sunny
The children were divided into two different groups to go to the observation platform
Seeing the sun bears for the first time!
The children view the bears roaming in the forest enclosure with supervision from their teachers and our staff.
The teachers also enjoyed their time observing the bears in the forest
“They call them bear farms but they are more like bear torture camps,” said Dr Chris R. Shepherd, immediate past chief of wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic Southeast Asia.
“The bears are poorly treated. Some are confined to ‘crush cages’ so tight they can’t stand, sit or move,” he explained at a recent interview. “Some bears show scars as they keep bashing their heads against the cage bars.” Others have the added misery of wearing “metal jackets” designed to restrain them and with sharp metal spikes to stop them bending their heads.
There is also often a permanent catheter running from the bear’s abdomen to a bile collection pouch.
Metal pins, hooks and other makeshift devices are often crudely inserted right into the gall bladder to hold the catheter in place.
This is often done in conditions ripe for infection so the bears are fed antibiotics to keep them alive.
“Some bears are put into cages as cubs and never released,” said Robinson. And after 10, 20 or even 30 years of captivity, bears stop producing enough bile and are then killed and their body parts sold.
Some have badly worn teeth, with raw and exposed nerves, from trying to chew through the bars.
These bear concentration camps are found mostly in China, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Laos noted Dr Shepherd. Even Hong Kong movie stars such as Karen Mok and Jackie Chan have felt compelled to launch campaigns against bear bile farming.
Robinson said, “In Malaysia, there are no such farms, but wild sun bears are poached and killed and their gall bladders are removed for sale.”
Gloria Ganang, from the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, said poachers are even entering protected forest reserves to hunt for bears.
Heal not harmThe main driver of this horrific “industry” is the high value of bear bile in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
But luckily, the cruelty can stop as there are many alternative medicines, as reiterated last week at a joint one-day conference by the Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine Dealers Associations of Malaysia and Traffic Southeast Asia in Kuala Lumpur.
Federation president Ting Ka Hua said, “The purpose of traditional Chinese medicine is to save lives. But if you have to kill or torture animals to do that, then it defeats the purpose.
“Extraction of bear bile either kills bears or means horrible lives for bears in cages.”
He added, “Since there are over 50 substitutes for bear bile with similar healing powers, why don’t we use those instead?
“Our industry is different from others, it is to heal, not to harm. We are responsible for what we sell and use, and we urge everyone to stop using bear bile and medicine from endangered species.”
Kanitha Krishnasamy, acting regional director for Traffic Southeast Asia, said the organisation is very glad to be partnering with Malaysia’s largest TCM community to end illegal trade in wildlife.
Alex Choo, the federation’s secretary-general, said, “I was trained as a Chinese physician in Penang. We were not taught how to use bear bile in our text books. “I believe Chinese physicians will not prescribe bear bile, though some shops may still sell it.”
He likens the campaign to move away from bear bile to the one on shark fin. “The younger generation will probably support it, but the mindset of older folks will be harder to change.”
About 80 TCM practitioners, physicians and lecturers attended the conference. This included Dr Feng Yibin, associate director at the University of Hong Kong’s (HKU) School of Chinese Medicine. According to him, the best alternative to bear bile is the herb huanglian, also known as berberis, Chinese goldthread, or by its Latin name Coptis chinensis.
During the conference, Dr Feng showed his scientific studies on the biogenetics, phytochemical properties, protein/DNA analysis and bioactivity of the herb in cellular and animal studies.
He explained that huanglian can be used like bear bile in the traditional cures of “removing damp heat”, “purging fire”, and “detoxifying”.
His conclusion: huanglian is just as effective as bear bile, and sometimes even better, in treating liver disease and cancer, two of the main uses for bear bile. The studies have been published in 25 international medical journals.
Dr Feng himself has seen improvements when patients with liver problems were treated with huanglian.
His team at HKU also investigated bile from cows and found that it has similar effects on liver inflammation and other diseases.
Dr Feng said that because bears are now endangered and bear bile is expensive, some people think that “if they pay more, it will be better”.
But being expensive is a doubled-edged sword as “some bear bile is fake or mixed with other substances”, he said.
What makes bear bile even less desirable is that it’s often extracted in backyard (often illegal) operations in unhygienic conditions.
The wounds where the catheters are poked into the bear are often infected and this can cause contamination of the bile (with bacteria or antibiotics).
“A bear can spend 30 years of its life in a cage in extreme pain every day while bile is extracted from its gall bladder,” said Dr Feng.
“It is our duty to use scientific research to find a substitute and stop this cruel practice. “We should modernise traditional Chinese medical knowledge with science. This not only benefits wildlife but also humans.” Shepherd concluded, “We don’t want to demonise the (TCM) industry. We want to work with them to improve it, and this is a huge step forward.” When the buying stops, the abuse and killing will stop too.
The sad facts and figures behind bear bile cruelty
Fact about the bear bile business from Traffic Southeast Asia and other sources: > Malaysia is ranked at No.4 of 17 countries surveyed as a key source and consumer of bear parts and derivatives.
> All bear bile, whether local or imported, is illegal in Malaysia. But 175 of 365 traditional medicine shops (48%) in every state in Malaysia had bear bile openly for sale according to a survey by Traffic in 2012. Nobody has ever been punished for this.
> In Peninsular Malaysia, the sun bear has total protection under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, and anyone who hunts, keeps or trades it without a special permit can be punished with a fine up to RM100,000 or jail up to three years, or both.
> In addition, under the International Trade in Endangered Species Act 2008, someone possessing bear bile can be fined up to an aggregate of RM1mil, or up to seven years jail, or both.
> The trade in bear bile in China is worth about US$250mil (RM1bil) It’s even used as an ingredient in mundane stuff like shampoo and skin creams. Apart from animal cruelty, it may become a political issue (that embarrasses China), according to Hong Kong scientist Dr Feng Yibin.
> Seizures and raids by the Wildlife Department in Malaysia have been increasing. In August 2016, dozens of bear parts (teeth, claws, gall bladders, etc) were seized in raids in Peninsular Malaysia. In the same month in Sabah, two men were arrested for trying to sell bear parts. In October 2016, a man in Pahang was arrested for trying to sell a sun bear online.
> Sun bears are being hunted and killed in Sarawak and Sabah. Two sun bear carcasses were found disembowelled with both paws chopped off in the Kulamba Wildlife Reserve in eastern Sabah in 2015.
> In the Belum-Temengor forests of northern Perak, sun bears have been found (dead or still living) with limbs caught in snares. Some are seen missing a limb, which would have probably been crushed in traps.