It all started with a young boy from Bukit Mertajam with a deep interest in the wildlife surrounding him.
Fast forward a few decades, to where he is currently a proud CEO and founder of a sun bear conservation
centre in Sabah, the only centre in the world which focuses on the welfare of the Bornean Sun Bears. And
he is still willing to travel around to spread awareness, doing what he does best: to share his stories and
experiences in sun bear conservation.
The last two months of 2019 have been a hectic journey, with talks given to live and television audiences in and out of the country: Awareness talk at The North Borneo Rainforest Festival (Kota Kinabalu, Sabah), “熊爸雨林” talk at the National Museum of Natural Science Taiwan (Taichung, Taiwan), “The Soul of the Rainforest - Sun Bears” 雨林中的靈魂- 馬來熊 talk at Dong Xing Elementary School 新竹縣竹北市東興國民小學 (Hsinchu, Taiwan), “Biodiversity of Sabah, Borneo” talk for Wild Bird Association of Taiwan 台灣野鳥協會(Taichung, Taiwan), the making of wildlife documentary “黑熊來了” “Black Bears coming” TV show (China TV CTV studio, Taiwan), and Awareness talk for Pelangi Publishing Group’s 40 cents charity carnival (Bangi, Selangor).
Keep the inspiration juice flowing, Dr Wong!
Text by Ng Xin Hao
Photos by Chiew Lin May
I am Xin Hao , I am 17 years old and I am from Penang, Malaysia. I started my very first time volunteering for animals at Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) in Sabah, Malaysia. Getting to know what a sun bear is and learning their behaviour was a very crazy and awesome experience.
The first thing I noticed at the bear house was the bear cage. The cage is very clean and does not have a bad and heavy smell. We soon get into the daily routine like cleaning the cages, preparing food for the bears, feeding the bears and creating enrichment for the bears to play. For me, I am creating a swing for Mamatai, the fattest bear in the bear house.
Before coming to Sabah, in Penang I rarely walked into the jungle. But at the BSBCC, every day we have to go into the jungle to have all the fences checked before letting the bears out of their cages. When it was my turn to go for the fence check, I try to escape from it because in the jungle there are leeches and I scared of them. But one day I been told to go into the jungle for 5 times, what a scary day that was for me. All the bear house staff were trying to bring me into the jungle.
Before getting to be a volunteer there was an interview with the staff at BSBCC to receive more information from us volunteers. When I was being interviewed, I always asked about getting physical contact with the bears. But the staff there told me there is no physical contact or touching the bears because the bears are given a second chance to be released back to the wild where they belong and we do not want the bears gets habituated.
After volunteering for 4 days, I was informed that I am going to assist in the medical check for the bears! And I was lucky enough to go on four medical checks with Dr. Yeoh Boon Nie. You could see Dr Yeoh is cleaning the bear’s teeth and taking blood sample from the bear.
We even have a chance to meet Dr Wong Siew Te himself. We asked him a lot of question about the sun bear, BSBCC and how he started before BSBCC. Dr Wong answered our question one by one with a story behind. A huge thank to all the staff, Paganakan Dii and other volunteers for making my first time experience in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre a great time.
Video by Chiew Lin May
Do you remember Logan?
Since his arrival at the BSBCC one year ago, he has captured our heart through his brave spirit nature! He was found abandoned near the river and this little Logan has been separated from her mother at a very young age. Little Logan took his own time to adapt his new life to learning essential survival skills as a free sun bear- trusting his new forest home, first bear friends and surrogate mother. Even though his left paw was malformed, he never gives up trying to climb trees.
Logan, 2 years old now, has grown up to inquisitive, happy and playful bear who enjoys his life basking in the sun, foraging lots of yummy food, rolling on the forest floor and absolutely loves climbing trees play fight with friends in lush forest!
We are so grateful for all the love and care you have given him.
Catch a glimpse of Logan's beautiful journey of freedom here.
Text by Lok Yen Chi
Photos by Lok Yen Chi & Chiew Lin May
My name is Yen Chi and I graduated from University of Malaysia Sabah in 2016 with a Bachelor in Conservation Biology. I was born and grew up here in Sandakan. Having a career out of conservation made me miss working in the field very, very much. That was the moment that I decided, maybe I should go volunteering, since I have sufficient holidays to do so. Plus, BSBCC was one of the places that I have never volunteered before. So, why not?
As much as I am fascinated by the sun bears here, I found the people here are even more fascinating. These people could have chosen careers that are way more comfortable than going into the forests looking for dropped collars, travelling long distances to rescue bears, dealing with wild, sometimes unpredictable animals, and working in challenging environment, but they did not.
Instead, they chose to help the helpless, easily exploited animals like the sun bears, who will not be able to return the favours. These are the people whose intentions are genuine, worth respecting and looking up to. Be it the officers, researchers, veterinarians, staff, senior or even junior keepers, whatever they do here is for the sake of the bears’ welfare and well-being. They go way beyond what is in the job scope just to make sure the smallest bears in the world get the rightful care and rehabilitation trainings. This has doubled my already deep respect towards the people in wildlife rehabilitation.
Another highlight of my volunteering here is to see how the once scared-of-forests Ronnie Boy taking his first steps to go back to the wild. It was the sixth day of fence training when I first observed him, where he barely even dared to stick out his nose to sniff the air outside. However, at the time of me writing this, he is already brave enough to approach the entrance to the forest enclosure, stay there to look and sniff around without getting scared easily.
I am also very glad that they allowed us to help a team from UMS to check the mist and harp traps for their medical researches. To be honest, entering the forest at night was not my favourite thing to do but after this opportunity, I guess it is not as bad as I thought.
Last but not least, though it is a bit cliché, I need to express my gratitude towards Bithrenley, my buddy keeper. I am very honoured to be your first buddy in your bear-keeping career. Hopefully the bears will love the Beary Tunnel we made (Idea courtesy of Bit). Thank you too to Dr. Wong, Dr. Boon, Lin May, Thye Lim and Pradeep for constantly teaching me about sun bear conservations. To the other keepers, Jeniur, Roger, Adneen, Adrian, David, Danny, and Mizuno, thank you for sharing your amazing stories, laughter and skills with me. Of course, not to be forgotten, my friend, Nursyahidah Hassim for coming all the way from Kota Kinabalu to volunteer with me this time.
Lots of Beary Love,
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!