SANDAKAN: The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) opened its doors to the public in hope raising awareness on the iconic species and encourage research on the world’s smallest bear.
The centre, placed next to the world renowned Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, is equipped with key facilities including an observation platform, boardwalk and visitor centre.
Two bear houses that shelter 28 sun bears in their natural habitat would not be accessible to visitors at the centre that was officially opened on Thursday.
The centre is open daily from 9am to 3.30pm.
Fees are fixed at RM5 for Malaysians above the age of 17 years, and RM2 for citizens between the ages of 12 and 17.
The fee for non-Malaysians is RM30 (above 17 years old) and RM15 (12 to 17 years).
Admission is free for all children under the age of 12.
The BSBCC, the first and only facility of its kind in the world, is a non-governmental organisation set up in 2008 through collaboration of the Sabah Forestry Department, Sabah Wildlife Department and LEAP.
Ong described the soft opening as a “landmark moment” acknowledging the support of many people all over the world and those who worked hard behind the scenes including at LEAP, to bring the centre to where it is today.
In his speech, Mannan said he had agreed to the idea of the centre when Ong met him six years ago to address the problem of bears being kept illegally in captivity, and space was then set aside for the purpose.
“I am impressed with what I have seen so far and my message is that we at the department have no monopoly over good ideas or resources.
“We appreciate the point of views that others have, as we do not know everything.
“We must also ensure that the sun bear habitats will be there in perpetuity. Failure to address this is why we have a centre now (to care for sun bears),” Mannan said.
Habitat loss and poaching for parts used in traditional medicine are among key threats that have led to a decline by at least 30% of its population in the last three decades.
Other threats include illegal capture for the pet trade and when they are killed when wrongly perceived as pests.
Found throughout mainland Asia, Sumatra in Indonesia and Borneo, the exact number of sun bears in the wild is unknown.
This makes it even more pressing to reduce pressure on a species that is classified as “vulnerable” on The IUCN Red List and at risk of becoming endangered unless circumstances threatening their survival improve.
Meanwhile, Ambu said the Wildlife Department will endeavour to increase enforcement efforts in clamping down on those who keep the species or trade its parts, stressing that no licences were issued for anyone to own sun bears except for the BSBCC and the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park.
“Our department will also work tirelessly to ensure that sun bears can be released back to the wild, subject to their adaptation to the habitat.
“It is also our hope that this centre will facilitate and catalyse research on sun bears, and conduct outreach programmes to raise awareness on dangers of keeping this species in captivity,” Ambu said.
Sun bears are classified as a Totally Protected Species under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, providing it the same status as the orang utan and sumatran rhinoceros.