Photo and Text by Ian Hall
Our site being low lying and barely above the water table has degenerated into bottomless gloop. Luckily most of the building was up before the rainy season but materials deliveries and availability of dry working space has suffered. Under the conditions the contractor has done us proud and the quality of workmanship in the most important components, the cages, is excellent.
One final hurdle remains after that, to connect the forest enclosure electric fencing to the building so that the bears’ release into a natural environment can be controlled. There has been much chin scratching on the part of all partners; Wildlife, Forestry and BSBCC on this one. Wildlife Dept are concerned about orang-utans getting into the bear enclosure and Forestry Dept are concerned about how they are going to prune trees to prevent arboreal bears from escaping the enclosure!
It was never going to be an easy task ensuring that captive bears have controlled access to primary rainforest however this is the feature that will set this sanctuary / conservation centre apart from any other.
The year of 2009 was sure a quick year to pass. Without much notice, we entered a new decade. For me, 2010 is a year of anticipation and a year of bearing fruits after many years of hard works. It will be this year that the mission impossible become possible.
Back in 2004, I conducted a nationwide survey of sun bear status in Malaysia and visited many zoos, private menageries, mini zoos, crocodile farms, etc., including Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (SORC) in Sandakan, to better understand the situation of the captive sun bears in Malaysia. It is here at SORC that the Sabah Wildlife Department housed all of the confiscated sun bears in separate cells. These cells are “cell”, cages with nothing in it. Like all of the captive sun bears which I called “caged sun bears”, they looked sad, stress and nervous. The only activity that these bears did all day was pacing. Regardless of the sizes of the cages, they paced from one end of the cage to the other end of the cage. For those even more unfortunate bears with tiny cages to a point where pacing is not possible, they jiggled their head in circle, sometime so fast that I cannot keep track of the movement.
It may not mean anything to an ordinary local folk who treated an animal as an animal. But to me, I can tell from years of loving and care for animals that these bears were suffering, in severe stress and pain under this kind of unacceptable living environment. If this were to happen to a human, he or she would have physiological breakdown or turn crazy in days. However, because they are bears, one of very tough animal in the Kingdom Animalia (Animal), they will stay alive until they die of old age in this kind of living condition for years, as long as they are being fed with any kind of food. I mean, “any kind,” as long as it is food!
It was here I first met Ann, a SORC’s volunteer from UK probably at her 60s.
Her face full of wrinkles but she has a strong heart full of love for animals, especially the orangutans. She grasped my hand with her strong arm when I first told her who I was (co-chair of the newly formed Sin Bear Expert Team, under the IUCN Bear Specialist Group), “YOU MUST HELP THESE BEARS! YOU MUST!!” she said with shaking voice. “I WILL help these bears, Ann. I will help you all bears” I reassured her and the bears again and again before I left.
It was not easy for me to found the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). It took six years for us to come this far to what it is today. By March this year, the Phase one of the constructions will be completed and the 12 sun bears under our care now will be move to the new bear house with forest enclosure. We can rescue more cage bears that live in horrible condition because after March this year we will have the facility to house them and taking care of them, all. To all of them, this will be the first time that they step on earth, sniff the forest, and dig the soil, since they were captured by poachers as a baby bear many years ago. By March this year, I can look into Ann’s eyes and say, “I have helped them, Ann.” “I have kept my promise to help you, bears!”
This year is an important year for sun bear not only our first new bear house will be completed and all the hard work that we have been doing for the past two years can finally paid off. It is also the year that sun bear gain more attention and helps for the first time around the world. Ursa Freedon Project, a new NGO founded last year with the aim to help all the eight species of bears, will put their effort this year to help sun bear and BSBCC. There are 3 sun bear studies in the wild stated last year with additional three or more will join the team of sun bear researchers this year in different parts of Southeast Asia. I will soon complete my doctorate degree and return to Malaysia to serve the rest of my life and career for the sun bears and BSBCC. All of these activities will make sun bears receive the attentions and supports that never happens before in the past. This year is not just the year of the tiger, but is also the year for the sun bear as well.
I have high hope that many can be achieve this year with a lot of helps from across the world. The next challenge for BSBCC is to raise additional UD$400,000 in order to complete the Phase 2 and 3. It is only when we completed the Phase 2 of the construction (the visitor gallery and viewing facility), we could then open our facility to the public and visitor who wish to learn more about sun bear and see our sun bear in natural enclosures. We can also generate revenue from the visitors to pay for our expenses and our education, conservation and research programs. In other word, we will be self sustained after the completion of Phase 2.
I sincerely thank all of you over and over again for your immense helps over the past many years in many ways to help us grow and help sun bears. It is your helps, contribution, and supports that make us come this far. However, we still need your help to bring a better future for sun bears and all of the wildlife and nature that we care and love so much. Please help us spread the words of our work and the plight of the sun bear during your free time. You can easily tell your friends about it, post our news in your facebook and other social networking tool online. Even better, help us raise fund, contribute your time working with us, study sun bears, and many other things that you do best.
I can do all the works to study the sun bears in the rainforest of Borneo and live there for 6 years; I can do all the works of founding BSBCC; I can do all the emailing and bloging to send the message out to you in every corner of the world as long as there are internet connection. However, I simply cannot do a lot more that needed to be done without your help for saving all of the sun bears and protecting their habitat and other wildlife and wild place
The year 2010 is the year of sun bear and we have high hope for more helps is coming during this year. Together we could make a difference and a better world for the bears and for ourselves.