Text by Evangeline Majawat & Julia Chan
3rd November 2015
"THEY are so cute."
These words usually set off alarm bells for wildlife biologist Wong Siew Te. He believes that the greatest enemy of his beloved Malayan sun bear are humans. He has lost count of the number of times these animals were hunted and kept just because people found them "cute"."
It's very easy to like these animals, and yes, they're cute, especially the cubs. The problem starts when people think they can keep them as pets. These are wild animals. They're not meant to be held in captivity."
Captive bears are treated inhumanely and kept in disgraceful conditions.
He added that captive bears also suffered from severe malnutrition due to an unbalanced and unhealthy diet. Cubs suffer the most as they are fed a constant diet of condensed milk.
"These cubs are dependent on their mother's milk. But because they were forcefully taken from their mothers, they lose out on nutrition," said Wong.
These cubs are often scrawny and have sparse fur, which is light in colour. Healthy cubs, on the other hand, have silky black fur.
Wong said people also kept these bears as a status symbol. "In Asian culture, the bear is a strong, brave and fierce animal. Whoever owns a bear is said to possess such qualities."
People's urge to domesticate sun bears is an issue which opens the floodgate to other problems. Hunters, well aware that bear cubs are prized above the adults, often kill the mother bears in their bid to cater to the demand.
Bears are also killed to satiate appetites for xiong zhang, a dish made from bear paw, and for their bile.Widespread deforestation is a major threat, too.
"These bears are jungle-dependent. No jungle, no bears. It's as simple as that," said Wong.