KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) hopes awareness on the protection of sun bears in Borneo will increase when a conservation centre dedicated to the mammal in Sandakan opens to the public on Thursday.
SWD director Datuk Dr Laurentius Ambu called on those who were keeping the protected species, especially its cubs as pets, to surrender them to the department or the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC).
Speaking during a press conference to announce the event, he said the centre housed 28 rescued bears since its inception in April 2008.
The centre would be officially opened in May and aims to educate the public about the threats to wildlife.
Sun bears are listed as an endangered species, the same as orang-utans and Sumatran rhinoceros. Killing or keeping a sun bear, even just having body parts like claws or gall bladders, could result in a punishment of up to five years' jail or a RM50,000 fine, or both.
The BSBCC, was established through a collaboration with SWD, Sabah Forestry Department and non-governmental organisation Land Empowerment Animals People. Aimed at promoting sun bear conservation through rehabilitation, education and research, it covers 2.5ha land, which includes 2ha of enclosed forest and key facilities, such as an observation platform, two bear houses and a visitor centre.
The centre founder, Wong Siew Te, a world known biologist and the first Malaysian to study sun bears, said it was difficult to estimate how many were left in the wild because of the lack of research.
Found throughout Southeast Asia, sun bears are the smallest of the world's eight bear species. Habitat loss and poaching for body parts for use in traditional medicine are among key threats that led to a 30 per cent drop in population in the last three decades.