Happy New Year everyone!
We have done it! The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre and I have achieved most of the targets to which we directed ourselves in 2019, thanks to you and your support and the conscientious, hard work of all the BSBCC staff, volunteers, and intern students! I would like to say a huge THANK YOU and a send a big bear hug to all of you!
Although BSBCC has been through an amazing year, the wildlife and environmental crisis across the world and Malaysia have not. In 2019 we experienced the worst wildfire season in the rainforest of the Amazon, Sumatra and Kalimantan; many ancient and pristine rainforests in these areas suffered total destruction in a very short period of time. These destructive fires decimated and entire wildlife populations. The situation is even worse in the southern hemisphere, where Australian bushfires have burned for months, killing an estimated 500 million creatures, including the iconic koalas. “Apocalyptic” is the word I would use to describe these bushfires. All of these extreme weather patterns and disasters are related to global climatic change and human activities on our planet.
Back home, the situation is not getting any better. In 2019, Malaysia and the entire world mourned the loss of our last male and female Sumatra rhino, Tam and Iman. It is estimated that only 200 wild Malayan tigers and 300-500 sun bears are left in Peninsular Malaysia. In Sabah, the situation of Bornean pygmy elephants is worsening as more and more elephants are being put to death as a result of human-elephant conflicts. Pangolin seizures by the authorities have reached a record high. Poaching, illegal snaring of wildlife for the body part trades and pet trades are out of control in Malaysia. We can even find sun bears and other protected wildlife species being openly sold online in the social media and kept as pets in condominiums! We must stop all the illegal madness that is harming our wildlife in this New Year. Because if we fail, they will disappear forever, just like the Sumatra rhino in Malaysia.
It has been 24 years since I began work with the Malaysia Nature Society in the field of wildlife conservation. Throughout this period, I have studied how we conserve and manage our wildlife in Malaysia and have noted that all of our larger wildlife species, who require a lot of forest and resources, are slowly leaving us for obvious reasons: Large scale deforestation for timber, followed by agricultural activities to produce food for global markets are destroying wildlife habitats to the point of no return. The situation is further exacerbated by poaching of the remaining wildlife, the widening of gaps between rich and poor, the popularity of e-commerce, and weak legal enforcement. However, things have recently begun to change. The Malaysian government is allocating more efforts to improve the condition of wildlife conservation, and more small NGOs, individuals, and member of the general public are joining forces to help conserve our remaining wildlife.
I am blessed to have been able to work with sun bears and to lead the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre for the past 12 years. As a small, grassroots NGO specifically focusing on sun bears in Sabah, we have managed to grow from a two-person team into a 30 member staff organization, with close to 5000 volunteers coming to help us over the past 12 years. We have rescued 61 sun bears and feel confident that we have almost completely eradicated the problem of illegal possession of sun bears as pets in Sabah. Last year we were only required to rescue one pet sun bear, a sign that awareness and education are effective in dissuading the general public from keeping sun bears as exotic pets (I do hope this is a good sign as the local protection of sun bears might also reduce the number of wild sun bears being illegally captured and kept as pets). We have released three rehabilitated sun bears in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, in April of 2019. This release event was accompanied by Dame Judi Dench, and was documented in the documentary Judi Dench’s Wild Borneo Adventure! As for visitors to BSBCC, 2019 attained a record high of 84,495 visitors from all around the world, with approximately 10,268 school students and teachers, and 1,199 communities who joined our outreach environmental education programs around Sabah. BSBCC and I have also received several awards recognizing our achievements, among them the Kinabalu Award given by the Sabah State Government.
I thank you for your support and help in making us what we are today. We have proven that a small grassroots NGO can contribute significantly to the conservation of our wildlife and environment. Therefore I urge you to continue to support our work and other small, grassroot NGOs who make the world a better place and who began small, but may eventually grow as much as BSBCC has done. Lastly, I hope all of us will BE COURAGEOUS ENOUGH to speak up for the environment and for wildlife who do not speak human language and do not have a vote during elections. We HAVE TO learn from our mistakes of the past and make sure we DO NOT repeat them. With the many crises we face now across the world, the year 2020 is the NOW or NEVER year! Together WE CAN make a better world!
Once again, I wish you a Happy New Year! May the New Year bring happiness, joy, peace, and safety to all beings on Earth!