Fireflyz Issue003, Jan 2014
By Ravinder Kaur
Ravinder Kaur shares her experience and her love for these vulnerable creatures
When I was a child, a zookeeper brought a Sun Bear cub towards me. The cub placed its paw in my hand and I was taken aback. Even at such a tender age, the bear had very menacing claws! Most Malaysians are unaware of the fact that there are bears in their tropical rain forest. The smallest of all bear species in the world, the Sun Bear roams the tropical evergreen rainforest of Borneo, Sumatra, and Peninsular Malaysia.
Being omnivores by nature, they feed on termites, ants, honey and figs. They are usually solitary animals and do not hibernate. Interestingly the female bears use natural tree hollows as bathing sites. The two major threats to sun bears are habitat loss and commercial hunting. The sun bear has been listed as a vulnerable species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
Being a Malaysian, I take pride in the fact that The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) in the only sun bear conservation centre in the world. It was founded in Sabah in the year 2008 as a two stage effort to provide care, rehabilitation and release of orphaned and captive sun bears. It also aims to increase awareness about these majestic bears. For more information on these bears, talk to the expects directly at www.bsbcc.org.my
theguardian, 6th January 2014
by Ami Sedghi
South-east Asia's endangered bears losing habitat to palm oil plantations as poachers target them for their bile and meat
Like a proud dad, Siew Te Wong's office walls and desk are covered in baby pictures, but unlike ordinary infants these possess four-inch claws and a taste for insects and honey. Wong, a leading sun bear researcher, has a heartfelt passion for the world's smallest bear that is as big as the problems facing the species.
The sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) lives in south-east Asia, Sumatra and Borneo and was first listed as "vulnerable" on the IUCN's "red list" of threatened species in 2007. Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network, said in 2011 that the sun bear population was suspected to have declined by more than 30% in the past 30 years. Deforestation, uncontrolled exploitation for trade and illegal poaching were named as major causes.
Named sun-bear man by the local Malayan press, Wong is working hard to raise awareness of what he calls the "forgotten bears species". TheBornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, nestled next door to the Sepilok Orangutang sanctuary in Sabah, Malaysia, is set to be the first of its like in the world. Due to open to the public on 16 January, it will focus onanimal welfare, education, research and rehabilitation.
"We need the public, from all levels, to understand the importance of the rainforest," says Wong. "I think education is fundamental because sun bears are still lacking in terms of the conservation work and research. And a lot of that boils down to the fact that people do not know about the species, people do not care about the species."
WWF says that the global demand for palm oil has been a major driver in the level of deforestation seen in Indonesia, while Greenpeace warnsthat Indonesia is planning for another 4m hectares of pam oil plantations by 2015, in addition to the existing 6m.
When asked about palm oil, which is used in a variety of food products from margarine to biscuits, Wong sighs and says: "Yes, but again, who causes it? You and me. You know, we are responsible." He points to human population growth and the demand it creates for more resources and the destruction of habitat that, in turn, threatens wildlife.
Despite the species being protected by law for decades, Wong thinks more can be done to enforce wildlife law – the maximum penalty is five years in jail or 100,000 ringgit (almost £20,000) or both. "It's always considered not to be a priority," he explains, "so the law is rarely being enforced and sometimes people don't know that it's actually against the law."
He tells stories of encounters with villagers keeping sun bear cubs as pets; "oh, my grandfather used to have two bears, my father used to have one bear, why can I not have one bear?" and shocking use of the bear's paws for food, a dish he tells me that was once considered an Emperor's dish. "If you Google bear paw stew you can actually find recipes on the internet. They teach you how to cook bear paw stew, can you believe that?" he shakes his head incredulously. "It's crazy. Absolutely crazy."
Among the piles of reports on his desk, horror stories of bears squashed into tiny cages, being farmed for their bile, Wong picks up a picture of him in his younger years with a rescued sun bear cub after its mother was killed by poachers. "I just cannot turn a blind eye," he says, glancing at the image. "Even though the number may not be great, it has to be taken care of."
Oakland Zoo, 3rd January 2014
by Amy Gotliffe
Time with Bears:
Fulong means forest in Lundayieh, a tribal language in Borneo. A tiny sun bear cub, the smallest of all bear species, was found in the forest by a hunter’s dog and brought to the master who gave him the name Fulong. The man kept the bear in a cage as a pet — but when he found out he could give her a better life, he relinquished her to the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre, where we sat this morning in rapt attention as Gloria, the head of education, told us the history of some of the beautiful sun bears at the centre.
Sun bears and the work of Siew Te Wong was our inspiration to embark on a conservation expedition to Borneo in the first place. We have been in full support of his efforts to give a wonderful home to sun bears that all have a different conservation back story. This new center is right next to the Sepilok Orangutan Center and sure to be a hit. Many visitors to Borneo know about Orangutans, and now many will know about this amazing bear.
After six years of helping Wong work as the founder and raise funds for this center, it is a THRILL for our group to be here to help them get ready for their soft opening to the public in January. After a survey of our skills and their needs — Gloria and I put together a schedule – and we rolled up our sleeves and got to work!
What a day we are having! In the rain and heat, one group is moving gravel with shovels and wheelbarrows, watching for venomous snakes and tiger leeches. Another is in the bear house, chopping diets of banana, papaya, green beans – and heating an oatmeal-like super nutritious bear meal. Some even enjoy cleaning the night houses in this sparkling new facility.
Carol and Jereld are off with Ling Mai to set up camera traps. We then work with her to create a matrix for observing bears which we will try out this afternoon. Diana then helps create a program to illustrate the data that will be gathered. Carol and Rob sit together at a laptop editing copy for the educational signage for hours and hours, quite happily. Tina then gives her ideas around signage design. We hardly want to break for lunch, but we do, ‘cause it is hot and we have worked up quite an appetite.
After lunch with the bear staff, Lovesong and Mary go off with the bear keepers, exchanging stories and ideas on how to best care for a sun bear. A crew works with Gloria to envision the visitor center’s future displays and interactives. Another crew gathers around Ernie to discuss the gift shop and other ways to bring in extra funds to the program. Apparently t-shirts and postcards are the big sellers, but creativity is flowing. I get to download about education programs, volunteer positions and conservation action and messaging. I also got the pleasure of taking portraits of the staff for their website.
As the afternoon rolls along, I feel so fortunate to have gotten to be here on this day atthis time in the center’s history. What a joy to share what we could with them, and how inspiring to meet this talented and dedicated staff who shared so much with us. We are all lucky, especially bears like Fulong!
The Independent, 3rd January 2014
The country accounts for 70 per cent of global ivory demand, but awareness is growing
Shopkeepers hunch over takeaway boxes at Beijing’s Dongfangbobao Market as sporadic lunchtime visitors wander between displays of jade, gold, bronze and bone curios. The market’s sleepy air belies its past as a dependable source of illegal ivory. Enquiries for “elephant teeth,” as it is known in Chinese, are now met with dismissive waves.
Antique dealer Ren Wenzhuo produces an intricately carved pendant from a glass display case before retrieving three more trinkets from a locked safe, each costing between 6,000 and 7,000 RMB (£607-708). But these small pieces, one of which allegedly dates from the 18th century, are of little concern to Chinese authorities. It is newly smuggled items that directly contribute to the decimation of Africa’s elephant population.
“We used to sell new ivory here but not any more,” says Ren. “Haven’t you seen the news? Ivory is like tiger skins; it harms animals.”
Dongfangbobao appears to be one of the latest targets of a reported government crackdown on illegal ivory marked by awareness campaigns in state-owned media, tougher sentences for unlicensed dealers and contraband seizures.
But the capital’s ivory shoppers need not look far for the coveted “white gold.”
Just over a mile north at Beijing Curio City, customers can find celestial scenes, imperial ships, and herds of water buffaloes carved from full-length elephant tusks. Accreditation certificates hang on the walls and each piece comes with a registration number.
By legitimising the sale of ivory sourced from natural elephant deaths, culls and police seizures, the registration system was introduced in 2004 to cut prices and profits in the black market. It has had the reverse effect. The wholesale price of ivory has tripled over the last nine years.
Legal retailers regularly use their businesses as a cover for unlawful sales. An investigation by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in 2011 found that almost 60 percent of authorised sellers and carving factories were involved in some form of laundering. Vendors regularly discourage customers from taking products’ identity cards and reuse them with illicit items.
Conservationists believe that the very existence of a licensed trade only serves to fuel demand in China, where ivory carving is considered a traditional art form. Revered as a status symbol by the country’s growing middle classes, ivory is also seen as a lucrative bet for investors facing diminishing returns on equity and real estate.
While the international ban in 1989 is widely credited with curtailing trade in the West, China is now the largest ivory market in the world and accounts for an estimated 70 per cent of global demand.
Its continued popularity may stem from a lack of knowledge about the scale and environmental impact of the trade, according to WildAid, the wildlife protection group behind a new awareness campaign. The organisation is using high-profile figures to highlight poaching and the quantity of illegal products in the Chinese market.
Fronting the campaign is former NBA basketball player and Olympic flag bearer Yao Ming, whose public influence in the recent campaign against shark fin soup has been widely lauded.
The drive appears to have yielded remarkable results. During this year’s Spring Festival, when shark fin soup is commonly eaten, the Chinese Commerce Ministry reported a 70 per cent drop in consumption compared with the previous year.
This success sets an encouraging precedent for ivory campaigners, according to WildAid’s chief representative in China, May Mei.
“Things move so quickly in China and as we are seeing with shark fin, it is possible to make a completely desirable product quickly unfashionable,” she says.
Mei also credits a government ban on the soup at official banquets with the turnaround in demand.
“If the government takes a strong stance on ivory, such as announcing no further legal imports or announcing a ban [on] officials giving ivory as gifts, the impact will be enormous,” she argues.
There have been promising signs from Chinese authorities. In the first conviction of its kind, a court in Fujian Province sentenced a licensed dealer found importing and selling illegal products to 15 years in prison in May.
Moves to curb illegal sales on unregulated online marketplaces have also seen the government ban all online wildlife trade and monitor key search terms. Conservation groups are working with search engine giant Baidu to purge illegal wildlife listings and shut down forums that facilitate black-market trade.
But with as many as 100 African elephants killed a day, attempts to tame this vast and elusive industry remain frustratingly, and perhaps fatally, slow. Although Illegal ivory is shrinking from view in markets like Dongfangbobao, its place in Chinese consumers’ eyes continues to pose the single greatest threat to the species’ survival.
New Straits Times, 1st January 2014
By SULAIMAN JAAFAR AND SHARIFAH MAHSINAH ABDULLAH
RAMPANT: They even lend their guns to syndicate members to kill animalsKOTA BARU: WILDLIFE poaching syndicates have been running wild in the jungles of Kelantan, hunting down endangered animals, such as tigers and elephants, in Jeli and Kuala Krai.
However, it has emerged that the syndicates have been getting a helping hand from People's Volunteer Corp (Rela) members.
It was learnt that the syndicates, from outside the state, have been engaging Rela members as trackers for their activities, with a lucrative payday awaiting the members in the event of a good haul.
Rela members not only lead the syndicates to their prizes, but also offer them the use of their government-issued firearms to kill animals.
Sources said the Wildlife Department had identified at least three groups, all of which have one or two Rela members in each group.
They are joined in their hunt by syndicate members from other states and foreigners.
"The activity has been going on for at least five years. It is an easy job for the Rela men as they have the firearm licences and are also familiar with the local jungle. That is why their services are much sought after by the syndicates."
It is believed that the discovery of carcasses of a tiger and four leopards in a taxi in Tumpat in September was linked to one of the groups. The taxi driver has been charged and faces 25 years in prison.
A former state wildlife director said poaching was not so serious in the past but it had become rampant lately, especially in the Gunong Basor forest reserve in Jeli.
"Most of the wildlife killed are tigers and elephants. They are hunted for their skin, tusks and other organs, which are smuggled to Thailand and onward to other countries, including China.
"The syndicates are making big money from their activities as tiger meat can fetch around RM300 per kg while an elephant tusk can go for more than RM1,000 each."
The "harvest" from the animals are believed to be used for a variety of purposes, including to make traditional medicine.
According to sources, the activities were previously limited to Jeli, but the poachers have since expanded to neighbouring Kuala Krai, especially Dabong and Jelawang, which form part of the Gunong Stong state park.
The source said the authorities, especially the Wildlife Department, had identified those involved but could not detain them due to lack of evidence.
"Wildlife officers have gone into the jungle to track them down but only managed to find tents, which had been abandoned by the syndicate members."
It was learnt that the department's rangers were still monitoring the areas round-the-clock to prevent the group from entering the jungles.
"Sometimes, the officers go undercover to avoid detection. However, they were at times spotted by syndicate members who then abort their mission into the jungle," said a villager who declined to be named.
The villager claimed some syndicate members were not locals and would return to the area when the department's officers were no longer present in the vicinity.
"I recognised the hunters as they regularly stop at a nearby coffee shop and would spend hours there discussing their plans or waiting for friends," said the villager. Additional reporting by Aliza Shah